An Invaluable Resource on a Major Stream of Buddhist Thought, Experience, and Practice

The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment by Philip Kapleau

4/5

This is a book that, I think, people will come to having already cultivated a degree of awareness of some of the forms of Buddhism, and of their philosophies and approaches to practice. They may currently be developing their own practices and have even attended some sesshins.

Maybe they’re experiencing some dissatisfaction with aspects of this present practice and are looking for guidance in order to improve its course and correct their path. Maybe, in the absence of access to sesshins, other practitioners, or a teacher, they are looking for an alternative, substitute support system. Maybe they want to compare their practice with the form of Zen detailed here – to adapt or see if there is anything worth cherry-picking, adopting, and incorporating, which may make it more satisfying and rewarding.

If it is approached in this way, with a discerning mind formed of experience and direct knowledge, there is a lot that can be got, and maybe dismissed (until a later date?), from this book.

As many of us will approach this text within our own frames of experience and knowledge, it is up to the individual reader to distinguish between the good and the bad, the correct and the incorrect. Suffice to say that I did find much here to assist me in my own practice, both to correct and affirm certain aspects of it, and to complement my experience. And while there are aspects here that don’t speak to me at my present level of progress, who knows how this may be reframed as experience continues to evolve? Subsequently, I do consider this book an invaluable resource to have and to have had recourse to.

Whether you adopt or dismiss, there is a lot of well presented insight here from convincing sources, which a mind already on some kind of Buddhist or mindfulness path will find very rewarding and will get a lot from. It is easy to see why this book has been so popular for so long and why it is considered a classic in many circles. And while I feel, due to it being more of a text for people already on the path, it is not as transformative, life-changing, or revelatory as maybe other Buddhist or philosophic works, it still comes highly recommended from me.

Clarity, Intelligence, Integrity

Anarchism - A Collection of Revolutionary Writings

Anarchism: A Collection of Revolutionary Writings by Peter Kropotkin

4/5

‘Anarchy,’ a non-dispassionately abused and confused term, used as a tool to stoke fear and perpetuate the institutions it threatens. In a world of misinformation and misappropriation, a collection of writings by one of anarchism’s better known proponents offers clarity.

Polemical, yes, being, as it is, a collection of writings issued in pamphlet form or for public performance. But there are sufficient enlightened gems sparkling throughout to arouse a spirit laid dormant by the fear and apathy engendered by institutional indoctrination.

Being conditioned, as the majority of us are, to evermore elaborate and convoluted linguistic and discursive contortions built out of an imperative to obscure a central deceit – a fundamental faultline underpinning an ideological foundation – its straightforward, accessible, even ‘commonsense’, style may in some ways work against it as appearing akin in tone and style to the simplistic, populist, reactionary tracts that pollute so much popular discourse.

As an open philosophy created for and by us all, its analyses and conclusions are inherently accessible in nature, and apparently self-explanatory – but they are satisfying; being built upon a body of rigorous thought, observation, and experience, it robustly withstands and negotiates intellectual and academic scrutiny.

As a platform for political action, it may or may not convince: that is for you to decide. However, if this book does nothing more than demystify what ‘anarchism’ represents, which it does with clarity, intelligence, and integrity, then that is reason enough to recommend it in this world of misinformation and misappropriation.

Great Adaptation for Polish (and English) Language Learners

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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Alicja w krainie czarów adapted by Scotia Victoria Gilroy

5*/5

As an adaptation and translation, I felt the vibe of the original Alice story, and found myself laughing and smiling throughout. I can happily say, therefore, that this was a job very well done and performed with care to the source material, allowing me to confidently recommend this to Polish language learners at around the B1/Lower Intermediate+ level who may be interested in improving their skills while enjoying an adaptation of a classic tale that talks to rather than down.

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*Of course, this mark reflects my opinion on this as an adaptation and translation rather than as a piece of literature.

Conflicting Emotions

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Rain by Don Paterson

3.5/5

A mixed-bag, within which I feel there is a little something for everyone, but I am uncertain how satisfying the overall package is. My relationship, not only with the whole collection, but with individual pieces, is in constant flux – not only from mood to mood, but from moment to moment. 

Sometimes a piece and I sing at at complementary frequencies; at others, the same piece lies flat and lifeless upon the page.

And then I don’t know: am I being overly generous because such-and-such a piece was there for me at the right time? or overly harsh because it wasn’t the right moment for it? I think it’s only fair to go with the latter, with the caveat that many of these pieces are fair-weather friends: there to reflect a mood, but not to influence or alter one.

With that in mind, if you do hit upon that particular piece at that particular moment, I’m sure you’ll find some moments to treasure. I’m similarly sure that sometimes you’ll find nothing worth your while.

Despite the low moments, it does hit some heights and there is some genuine feeling here that makes it worth visiting despite the misses – and leads me to feel that this is a slightly above average collection worth a qualified recommendation.

 

Wonderful

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Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann

4/5

I found this review difficult to write because, whilst I absolutely loved the majority of this book, I began to lose a little patience with it near the end, which initially left a sourer taste in my mouth than I think its wonderfully told story deserves.

‘Wonderfully’ because, despite any hesitations as the final part drew to a close, so initially captivated was I by the main characters’ lives, and such was my interest in the telling of their stories, that the momentum gained was more than sufficient to keep me involved until the end – and now, only a short time after completing my journey with them, an overall feeling is beginning to be felt and this wonderful connection to the whole story realised.

From the outset, this story makes its inexorable way toward its conclusion with a certain sense of inevitability and fatality. There really are no other directions the paths these characters are on can lead. This is not to suggest that the story feels predictable; merely that they inhabit a living, breathing, dynamic world, where each action and decision has real-world consequences and effects. You become so drawn into their lives, particularly in the earlier parts, that you find yourself emotionally invested in and caring about every decision and choice they make, and every step they take; feeling optimism when they go one way, or dread when they go another; and sharing in the sense of justice or injustice at the fruit that these paths may bear.

All of the main characters are sympathetically-not-sentimentally drawn as fully-rounded human-beings, and are infused with love by the author. As such, their motivations are clear and understandable. Subsequently, you find yourself able to empathise with them all, even in the face of behaviour that may appear disagreeable – and you really do care and do become emotionally invested in the outcomes of their well-meaning if misguided choices and actions.

It is these living and breathing people that populate the story that make it such a joy. This book is a lesson in characterisation. They are drawn so well, within and without, that we feel able to see how they are seen, and feel how they see – and are, therefore, able to empathise with, appreciate, and understand all of these points of view. This gives us a fully-rounded, fully-realised, believable cast inhabiting a generally fully-drawn believable world.

For those that enjoy getting invested in lives populating a convincingly told human drama against the backdrop of a realistic and generally relatable world, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I doubt this a book that will affect your worldview and, although a beautifully framed story, its structure and telling don’t break any new ground – hence the four rather than five marks. However, that’s not what it’s here to do: it’s here to tell the story of this family and various members within – and this it does wonderfully. It therefore receives a hearty recommendation from me.