Thursday, August 7, 2008

Nothing Special

Swing and a miss, Strike One. I picked up Nothing Special during a casual bookstore stroll. Typically I like to just wander around the aisles until a title grabs my attention. Nothing Special, by Charlotte Joko Beck, did. I suppose the dice were a little loaded; my aimless stroll was influenced by my frustration with recent difficulties. My car had been broken into, the university was messing with me about in-state residency, and so on. So perhaps finding myself in front of the Eastern Religions section was no accident. I have often found comfort and perspective in Buddhism.

Still, I thought I had a winner. A trick in picking out good Buddhist books is avoiding authors who dwell on the esoteric details of the religion. "After the third phase of insight you will advance to the second realm where you must encounter a large demon and cut off his left hand." Something like that pops up in a surprising number of the titles on the shelves. It is too concerned with orthodoxy to be relevant for me. Sort of like the angels on a pinhead debate. Who cares?

Nothing Special avoided all such jargon. Bingo. But, alas, no. Instead I learned through experience another type of Buddhist book that I dislike--the poetic metaphor kind. While I was not punished with dogma, the sappy anecdotes emerged as a worthy foe. An example: "We are like ice cubes. We need to melt and be like water." Or: "we are all whirlpools in the river of life." Those might sound good on a postcard, maybe, but don't help me do anything but feel insulted. To be fair, the last third of the book got better. Because of that strong finish, I won't advocate a book-burning.

If you are interested in reading some good Buddhist books, start elsewhere, this one was "nothing special."

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