21 April 2008

17. Enlightenment for Idiots

Let me begin this review with the statement that I enjoyed the book. While I did not find spiritual enlightenment, I feel sure that I now know something about the idea of enlightenment from a variety of perspectives. My only complaint about the book is that it is too long – the details and descriptions are individually stunning, but I think some could have been shortened or deleted for the sake of the book’s readability.

Enlightenment for Idiots by Anne Cushman follows twenty-nine year old Amanda as she travels across India looking for enlightenment. As she tries to untangle her failing relationships with two men, she accepts a book contract for a tourist guide to enlightenment in India. With her advance money and a somewhat broken heart, she begins her quest. The author’s descriptions of the people and places of India are stunning – from the sights, the smells, and cultural mores of the country to the sense of confusion as she navigates from place to place. To further complicate matters, she finds herself pregnant. I loved that she persevered with her journey despite recommendations from friends and family that she should return home immediately. She is sustained emotionally by a friend she met along the way – Devi Das, who has his own story. Ultimately, Amanda returns home to have her baby. Still in love with the father, she finds that things do not always work out the way you had hoped and that sometimes that is good.

Hoping to learn a little more about the author, I Googled her and found that she co-authored another book From Here to Nirvana which is a non-fiction guidebook to traveling in India. The introduction to this work gives wonderful insight to the author’s own experiences which are then filtered to Enlightenment for Idiots.

"The guidebook should give elaborate directions – complete with train schedules and hotel rates – to the sites of fleeting and unrepeatable incidents: a blessing from an ash-covered sadhu by a funeral pyre, a vision of Kali in a dream on the cramped top bunk of a sleeper train. It should advertise as coming attractions events that happened thousands of years ago: the Enlightenment of Buddha under the Bodhi Tree; Krishna seducing the milkmaids on the riverbanks near Vrindaban. And in the midst of an indecipherable bus schedule, a verse from the Upanishads should be printed, so shimmeringly beautiful that it precipitates sudden enlightenment. … A spiritual journey to India is inevitably a swan dive into the unknown." (Cushman and Jones, 1998, From Here to Nirvana, pp. 1-2)

Overall I really enjoyed the book – the author’s knowledge of yoga gave an authenticity to her writing that was very evident to the reader. Thank you for the opportunity to read and review this title. I will definitely recommend it to others.

TITLE: Enlightenment for Idiots
AUTHOR: Anne Cushman
PAGES: 384
TYPE: Fiction
RECOMMEND: I would recommend this for light reading


14 April 2008

16. The Geography Club

Russell Middlebrook is a sophomore in high school. He is also gay. He also believes that he is the only person in the school who is! As the story unfolds, Russell describes the other kids in his school – how there are cliques, with some people in and some out, and some people who no one will befriend. When he finds that one of the most popular boys in school is also gay, he confides in his best friend Min who then surprises Russell by stating that she is bisexual. The friends decide they would like to start a club, a place where they could talk about the loneliness and fear they feel about their sexuality. But they do not want everyone – no, anyone – to know. So they start what should be a very unpopular club – the Geography Club. They learn about themselves and others as their friendships are tested.

TITLE: The Geography Club
AUTHOR: Brent Hartinger
PAGES: 240
TYPE: Fiction
RECOMMEND: Yes, I suspect that this is a fair portrayal of high school attitudes toward homosexuality

15: Monster

With an unusual format and sparse illustrations, Myers allows the young narrator Steve Harmon to tell about his experiences in the criminal justice system – from his stay in prison to the courtroom to the final verdict. The story is written by the narrator as a movie screenplay with some journal entries included as well. Steve is a young African American who gets involved, at least on the periphery, in a gang. He is incarcerated after being accused of participating in a robbery in which a man is killed. From the opening statement “The best time to cry is at night, when the lights are out and someone is being beaten up and screaming for help” to the closing question, “What did she see?” the book will provide vivid descriptions of the emotional toll of gang involvement and incarceration.

TITLE: Monster
AUTHOR: Walter Dean Myers
PAGES: 281
TYPE: Fiction
RECOMMEND: Yes, anyone who enjoys young adult literature will like this uniquely formatted book


14. I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell

If there was a genre known as “dick lit” (the male version of chick lit), then Tucker Max’s I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell would be the leading title. I am not sure why I bought this book, but I must admit that some of his experiences were hilarious. As a female, I should have hated the book, but it provided interesting insights into the male mind. At least some males. If you want to hear about the crazy college conquests, road trips, and drunken escapades of one man and his friends, then this is the book for you. And I have to admit that I visited his web site, which was equally disgustingly funny, and learned they are thinking of making a movie of this book. I cannot imagine!

TITLE: I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell
AUTHOR: Tucker Max
PAGES: 288
TYPE: Non-Fiction, memoir
RECOMMEND: Hard to commit