Parakeet: A Novel

Insanely great novel about an unenthusiastic bride whose grandmother appears to her as a bird in the week leading up to her wedding, telling her to see her brother before she ties the knot. The bride ventures forth to discover her brother Tom has transitioned into her sister Simone, then she herself transmogrifies into her mother, then the painful wedding, flashes back to her past and the random stabbing and her work helping brain-traumatized clients reconstruct what they’ve lost, and finally the lackluster wedding but triumphant departure the next day when the wife leaves the new husband and flees with her sister. Tremendous writing talent, great storytelling, a perfect textile weaving story lines together with the right pacing, some of the best current writing out there.

Selected Letters of Vanessa Bell

Letters from Vanessa Bell, 1885 (as a six-year-old writing to her father) to 1961 (the year she died). Admittedly, my interest in Vanessa stems mainly from her relationship with her sister (Virginia Woolf) and the ability for these letters to color in the background details of their lives. But she is a wildly interesting character in her own right, the queen of Bloomsbury, a radical maternal figure who ended up living exactly the unconventional life she yearned for.

The letters are not quite as snarky and deliciously malicious as I’d been led to believe, but still were lively, entertaining, gossipy, and candid.

In 1904 she wrote to Virginia: “But there’s something horrible to me… in any third person’s reading what was meant to be only between two. I shall burn all my letters someday.”

 

In Love with the World: A Monk’s Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying

Excellent book, soothing wisdom to cool our overheated minds in these turbulent times. Beautifully written by Helen Tworkov’s help, the story of Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s journey as a 36-year-old hitting the road for a three year wandering of the world. He goes from being protected and cared for by his monastery to wandering homeless, begging for food, shedding the layers of his identity and continuing his meditation. The book centers around the first weeks as he endures the shock of the world, having to handle money and deal with people on his own for the first time ever, sleeping on the floor of the train and then the station and gradually making his way to a lesser-visited historical site of the Buddha. He slowly peels off his conception of who he is, finally removing the robes that confer him identity and respect, his money now run out he sleeps in a park and begs for food which poisons him, leaving him in a death-state.

Against this scaffolding, he offers meditation guidance, sometimes in the way of direct instruction (to the man who asks for advice), sometimes just by way of what he does. I found the thought meditation instruction helpful:

“Just as you have placed your mind on your breath, now place your mind on your thoughts. Whatever comes, just watch. In the same way that you could use the breath as support for meditation, now use thoughts. Breath never stays the same for an instant, but it can be a stable support. So try to practice this way, just staying aware of your thoughts, without chasing after them.”

The man comes back and says his mind goes blank when he tries to watch his thoughts, and Mingyur Rinpoche says Yes, exactly! “That is the secret of thought meditation. What you are calling blank is actually open awareness… If you can watch thoughts, it’s like watching television. You’re not in the television, you’re watching it… There is a big screen and there are many free channels. There are only two problems: The programs are quite old and there are a lot of reruns.”

“I finally discovered the only reliable liberation from suffering: not trying to get rid of the problem.”

“To enter an unmapped domain of newness, and to be completely open and available to what it offers, we must let go of our cherished ideas of how things are supposed to work.”

“In a noisy and materialistic society, to sit down and remain still and quiet is a reverse activity.”