Friday, October 16, 2009

The Gods Drink Whiskey by Stephen Asma

For the majority of people, Buddhism is linked to Tibet and the Dalai Lama. In this book, we learn about Buddhism in Cambodia called Theravada Buddhism. As it turns out, associating Tibetan Buddhism as "the" Buddhism is like associating Mormonism as "the" Christianity. Only about 6% of the world's Buddhists are Tibetan Buddhists (out of roughly 400 million Buddhists).

Asma was invited to teach Buddhism at the Cambodian Buddhist Institute to a select group of students. He covers his journey through a new country and new version of Buddhism in this really well written and engaging book.

*Tibetan Buddhism encourages deities when in reality Buddha did not want deities. People should be focused on themselves and achieving nibbana (enlightenment or cooling - having a cool heart). Although holy relics are still sacred to Theravadan Buddhists - such as Buddha's eyebrow or tooth.
*The title of the book comes from the fact that whiskey is offered up to the spirits to keep the peace. Families and businesses have little spirit houses where they make offerings to keep the bad stuff from happening to them. And in this case, spirits like whiskey.
*Theravada Buddhism is mixed with a bit of Hinduism and most still worship Vishnu and Shiva, even though Buddha says there are no gods. Most religions are a mix of others and one would probably be hard pressed to find a pure religion.
*Theravadan Buddhists meditate on corpses. This is to pound in the fact of impermanence. I don't think I want to do that.
* Cambodia is a hot mess. Politics, assassinations on the streets, Khmer Rouge. It's no wonder the peace of Buddhism is practiced.
*Penises aka phallic symbols are worshiped by some.

There is a ton more information and it's all very interesting and gives a great perspective of religion in Southeast Asia.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Rough Country by John Sandford

Another fuckin' Flowers book.

Virgil is an official favorite now, along with Davenport. Flowers gets called off his vacation to check out the body of Erica McDill, a woman found shot in the head in the water. McDill was staying at the Eagle's Nest, a women's retreat but also apparently something of a whorehouse, without the madam. Flowers digs deep, almost ends up having sex many times with a suspects sister (doesn't he always?) and finally solves the case. Doesn't he always?

Interesting twist at the end, which was nice. While I suspected who the killer was, I didn't guess the sordid history of the killer. And the fight at the end, with a classic Tyson ear biting, was pretty priceless. Poor fuckin' Flowers didn't get exactly what he wanted after all though.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

An incredibly written book, this took over 20 hours to listen to. I can't imagine what the actual book weighs.

On Beauty is a story of the Belsey family and the Kipps family. The Belseys are Howard, a white professor at Wellington, his wife Kiki, a large full of life African/American and their 3 childeren, Jerome, Levi and Zora. Howard is an academic enemy of Monty Kipps, all well as long as oceans separated them. But the Kippses end up moving to Wellington, outside of Boston, so Monty can teach at Howard's university.

What happens between and around all of this is a story of people coming together while other people are falling apart. The only really likable character, in my opinion, is Kiki. While everyone around her is making horrible decisions, she's trying to hold everything together. When the Kippses end up moving down the street from them, Kiki befriends Carlene Kipps, the matriarch of the family, who is also very ill.

There's too much to give away here, but I won't. It made it a better story having everything uncovered to me and I hope others can experience it as well.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Grave Surprise by Charlaine Harris

I needed something lighter and less intense than all the non-fiction I've been reading. This is the second, I believe, in the Harper Connelly series. As a recap, Harper was struck by lightning when she was young and now she can find corpses and see how they died. She travels with her brother on jobs, she's who people call as a last resort.

This one is a case within a case. Harper, on another assignment, actually finds a body of a child that she was asked to find (and couldn't) months earlier. In come the police, the family and everyone else. Most believe Harper is a fraud and want to know what her involvement is in the murder. Harper and her brother Tolliver believe it's too much of a coincidence that the little girl's body showed up at the new assignment. Someone was framing her.

And so on. Frankly this wasn't as entertaining as the first book. A little slow and delving into a previous case and trying to connect it all together was a little splotchy. I had figured out the whodunit part way early on and just had to wait for everyone else to catch up.