Book Review: The Way of Zen by Alan Watts

The Way of ZenThe Way of Zen by Alan W. Watts

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When you sit, sit. When you browse Twitter, browse Twitter… Maybe there’s a reason social media causes stress.

The Way of Zen by Alan Watts is an introduction to Zen Buddism and its roots in Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism. It was one of the first books of its kind and tries to explain “Eastern” concepts to a “Western” audience.

After my forays into various “Western” philosophers and philosophies, I thought it was time to investigate some others that weren’t just footnotes to Plato. Having already read the Dao De Jing and a more modern guide to Zen, I thought reading a bit more on Zen would be interesting. Watts certainly covers some quite different ground to Zen in the Age of Anxiety and puts the Dao in more context.

This was certainly less of a philosophy text and more of an overview or introduction to Zen. One of Watts’ central aims was to make sure the reader understood how the “Western” philosophical tradition has a strict adherence to certain logical structures which the “Eastern” philosophies like Zen do not. This was certainly an important distinction and something that must have helped popularise Zen Buddhism outside of the “East”.

 

I will have to explore this topic further.

View all my reviews

Advertisements

Book to Movie: Mary Poppins – What’s the Difference?

maxresdefault-1

This month’s What’s the Difference? from Cinefix looks at one of the movies that you probably only realised was based on a book when they made a film pointing that fact out: Mary Poppins.

Having not read the books, I don’t have much to say about this month’s What’s the Difference? I would like to segue into a topic that the recent Saving Mr Banks raised. I think there are some interesting points to be made about the differences between mediums when it comes to how and what is remembered.

Truly great books will generally be read by fewer people than the number who will watch a middling film adaptation. Make a great film from a great book and you will still reach more people with the film. I’ve previously mentioned how as many people saw the final Harry Potter movie as there were sales of all of the Harry Potter series of novels. So even if we just go on audience size alone, it is fair to say that a movie adaptation will shape people’s memory of an artwork.*

Of course, it is worth noting that the movie Saving Mr Banks is somewhat revisionist. Tad important to know this as large media companies dominate the landscape of society. I mean, next thing you know Americans will use movies to try and tell us they turned the war by capturing an Enigma machine

This video essay by Lindsay Ellis talks about the Revisionist World of Disney:

*Further to this point is should this influence the author’s decision to allow a movie/TV adaptation knowing that their writing will take second place to the more popular medium?

Fear of Ghost…Writing

ghost-writer

Is ghostwriting cheating? Well, this edition of It’s Lit discusses just that.

I think the most interesting point raised in the video is around the idea of the solitary author. This is the creative genius whose work you love or the dolt whose work you loathe. All praise and ridicule can be easily directed at one person. But outside of some indie authors, a book (or series of books) isn’t the work of one person. A lot goes into bringing a story to life and placing it in front of us readers for our entertainment. From the cover art to the editing, from the writer’s group feedback to the publisher’s request for a sequel, lots of people are involved in influencing, shaping, and ultimately creating a book.

Now, I have been known to take a dig at authors like James Patterson for their co-authoring ways. And I find it a little unseemly that Tom Clancy is still releasing new books despite having been dead for five years – seriously, half as many as his releases while alive. But that is probably as much about the mass-produced book under a name-brand that we used to associate as the domain of pulp titles. To have that become part of the big-name author stable cheapens the experience somewhat.

That cheapened feeling is probably related back to the idea of the solitary author. Or possibly that I’m not a huge fan of Patterson or Clancy. You know, one of those.

You might being asking yourself– Why do ghostwriters even exist? Isn’t that cheating? Isn’t literature supposed to be the result of one person’s agonizing need to create? Aren’t books supposed to be the blood, sweat, and tears of the tortured auteur? Well, the answer is more complicated than you think!

It’s Lit! is part of THE GREAT AMERICAN READ, an eight-part series that explores and celebrates the power of reading. Hosted by Lindsay Ellis.

Can you judge a book by its cover?

maxresdefault1

The new episodes of It’s Lit are finally making it to YouTube. In this episode, Lindsay Ellis discusses book covers.

It is interesting that everyone in the reading industry* talks about not judging a book by its cover. Yet the entire industry is built around judging books by their covers.

We have the publishers and their creative team designing covers to attract readers. We have the readers browsing the stores and picking something that catches their eye. There are plenty of statistics around showing the improved sales based upon book placement in stores, whether they are face out or not, and whether they are in big piles – which makes all sorts of subconscious suggestions to shopping readers.** All of these factors are about presenting us readers with the cover of the book in the hopes that we’ll be interested enough to buy it.

But don’t judge it by its cover!!

*I honestly think we should stop using the term publishing industry and refer to the end user instead. I think we lose sight of who matters at times.

**Online stores have similar sales statistics related to cover design. Indie authors will often talk about the success of changing covers and improving sales.

Book review: Bleak Harbor by Bryan Gruley

Bleak Harbor: A NovelBleak Harbor: A Novel by Bryan Gruley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you received a dollar for everytime someone said “X business is a license to print money” you’d have the first instance of that statement being true.

On the day before the Dragonfly Festival in Bleak Harbor, Danny Peters goes missing. Pete Peters, his stepdad, is having a quick beer after work at his medicinal marijuana shop before he and Danny go fishing when he receives a strange text message. Carey Peters is halfway through her long commute, thinking of her work problems, when she receives the message. At first, they aren’t sure if Danny has run off again or if something more sinister has happened until they receive the photo. But which of their secrets has gotten Danny in trouble?

From the very start, we see that this mystery will be built upon the layers of secrets Danny’s parents have been keeping. The twists and turns this gives us are tightly woven together. Pete and Carey feel like painfully human characters stumbling through life and now stumbling through the disappearance of their son. Danny is a refreshing and interesting portrayal of someone with autism, steering clear of the usual cliches and errors.

But I really did find it hard to engage with this novel. I liked Danny, but Pete and Carey weren’t particularly interesting or charismatic. It is hard to follow along with their trials and tribulations when you just want to slap them and tell them to talk to one another. As a result, it was hard to give this more than three stars despite how well the mystery was structured and the book was written.

I received an advance review copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

View all my reviews

Book vs Movie: Dracula – What’s the Difference?

maxresdefault1

Since the annual American lolly festival is almost upon us, Cinefix is covering one of the classics. Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Francis Coppola’s 1992 Dracula.

Time for some straight talk. I don’t know how you discuss this particular adaptation without mentioning just how bad Keanu Reeves is in this film. Embarrassingly bad.

I actually tried to rewatch Dracula a couple of years ago and just couldn’t bring myself to sit through it all. Despite it being a bit of a who’s who of actors in the cast – and people like Tom Waits – it all feels so camp and silly. Even when I first saw it in high school, I remember Dracula being only average – with possibly the best visual explanation of the link between Dracula and Vlad the Impaler ever.

It is harder for me to talk about the book as I read it so long ago. And, let’s be honest here, I’ve since read way too many Anne Rice novels to not get the details confused. I read Dracula and Frankenstein at roughly the same time; because gothic horror novels are what pre-teen kids should be reading. Neither stood out for me as novels, but it is amazing how influential they have both been to genre fiction.

I wonder if there will be any modern equivalent. A novel that establishes an entire genre that is continuously reimagined, refined, and redefined such that we get analogues ranging from True Blood (coming out of the closet analogy) to Buffy (girl power).