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Yes,  Kindler. Since I got my first Amazon Kindle, my prodigious reading habits have either improved or worsened, depending on your point of view. Though I have moved on to the Kindle app on my iPad, e-reading for me is here to stay.


I love real books: the feel of good paper, a well-designed page, and beautiful typography. But I’ve noticed that in the first six months I had my Kindle I bought— er —two actual books. The other 40 were digital downloads. The portability means that I can read wherever, whenever. And I do. (I travel a lot).


I also read a lot. Always have. More than most people. Friends who know this use me as a sort of walking bibliography.


I tend to read books in clusters on the same subject—anything that speaks to something that’s up for me in life, whether the connection is obvious or not. Sometimes I’m just peeking into another’s creative world (like last year’s reading of almost every chef memoir from the past decade), other times it speaks directly to my lifelong interests.


So, in no particular order whatsoever, here are my thoughts on some books I’ve read and enjoyed. Some are new, and some are old, but new finds for me. If it’s here on this list, I’ve probably enjoyed it and think you might too.


When I saw “Searching for Bobby Fischer” in the nineties, it instantly went on my favorite movies list. I’m not sure why. Was it a fascination with prodigies and talent? The Master/Student relationship? Larry Fishburne? All of the above.


The real-life protagonist, Josh Waitzkin, survived his prodigy years as a chess master and went on to apply all he had learned through chess to competitive Tai Chi Chuan. Having won top titles in two unrelated disciplines, he now uses his well-honed self-observer to pass along his  insights on his own process.  Written as a personal narrative, this is a book that gave me much to chew on about the process of learning. Josh is an accomplished coach in both chess and martial arts, and his learning nuggets apply to any discipline.


An epilogue: After finishing the book, I bought the DVD of Searching... for my home collections, and found a copy of Fred Waitzkin’s (Josh’s father’s) original memoir by the same name. It is a ruthlessly honest self-portrait of the thin line between supporting your child’s talent and making them carry your projections. It also proved that the movie had followed the book very closely.


Speaking of carrying the projections of others, that brings me to:


Living Your Unlived Life: Coping with Unrealized Dreams and Fulfilling Your Purpose in the Second Half of Life by Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhl

Anyone who has been to one of my services at any time has probably heard at least one quote from Robert A. Johnson, the esteemed Jungian psychologist, author, lecturer and teacher, and one of the significant influences in my own spiritual journey. This book, penned well after he said he was giving up writing, expands on the theme of one of his oft-repeated teachings: you must complete your own dreams one way or another, or risk saddling the burden on the next generation. (Or making yourself restless and miserable). Since I—and most everyone I know—am in what is commonly referred to as mid-life or beyond, this is a topic that has begun to rear its head. The inner conversations about the time that’s left, the dreams to still pursue, and how to let go of those that won’t be realized is a large part of growing older. Robert Johnson has a strong understanding of the power of the symbolic life and how to use it to advance your consciousness here. A practical manual for growing older that has nothing to do with eating fiber or taking the little blue pill.

Click the title above for the book. Click here for the Kindle version.


An Infinity of Little Hours: Five Young Men and their Trial of Faith in the Western World’s Most Austere Monastic Order, by Nancy Klein MacGuire

This year I found myself drifting towards memoirs and stories of modern monastics, like Karen Armstrong’s The Spiral Staircase, and My Life with the Saints by James Martin, SJ. I’ve often said that I don’t have the monk archetype (at least, not in this life). I’m far too extraverted. But perhaps it’s the Jungian process of calling forth your inferior function in midlife (think MBTI). Robert A. Johnson (see above) quoted Jung as saying the fourth function, your least dominant, is where your spirituality resides, and it’s the weak gate in your carefully constructed reality where God comes rushing in. Whatever the reason, I found this little book to be a gem. It is the true story of the life journeys of five Carthusian monks who entered the Charterhouse  (monastery) in England in the 1960’s for their long trial period through their final vows and beyond. We meet each one before he decided to become a monk, and then follow their stories through all the ups and downs of living in, and in some cases, leaving one of the last truly silent, cloistered orders.

The first thing I learned was what a Carthusian monk’s cell really consists of. I’d imagined a cell like the concrete-block 8 x 10 rooms I stayed in at a Catholic retreat house, or as small as the rooms at San Marco in Florence, Italy, where Fra Angelico decorated the walls of each tiny residence, or the small single cell that belonged to Padre Pio at San Giovanni Rotundo. But for Carthusians, who live their lives in silence and isolation, a cell is a small two-storey 4-room home complete with garden. Googling the Carthusian order led to illustrations and photos of actual cells. You can feel the peace and the prayer flooding right through the pictures.

Choosing to spend one’s life focused on prayer in solitude, chanting in group and little else (meals are served through a slot by a lay brother so the monk never needs to leave his cell except for group activities) forces each man to confront his inner doubts and demons sans escape through distraction. The candid recollections, gathered and merged by the author who is a Renaissance scholar married to an ex-Carthusian, allows you a glimpse not just into the physical world, but the psychic and spiritual world of the few who are really suited, in any age, to this life.

Digression:  I also learned through googling my way around, that Chartreuse liquor is produced by the Carthusians. Chartreuse is French for Carthusian, and the color we call chartreuse gets its name from the bright green elixir produced by the monks. While I knew of the drink, I didn’t know that the monks produce a tiny amount of the true herbal tonic that is said to be a real elixir of life. The recipe for Chartreuse is steeped in legend, contains 130-some ingredients, and only two monks know the process for producing it. Worth googling just for the story!

Back to the book. In an age where we have to carry our monasteries around on our insides, it’s edifying to get this respectful and eye-opening peek into the structure and history, and even a wisp of the experience of the archetype itself.

Click the title above for the book. Click here for the Kindle edition.


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OTHER aLL-TIME FAVORITES













Always on my Top Ten list: Balancing Heaven & Earth by Robert A. Johnson & Jerry M. Ruhl. Read my review: An Indispensable Guide in the right sidebar on Amazon. (click above)




Latest readings: connecting my loves of music, spirituality, and memoir.

Check linked pages for reviews....




  1. Note by Note: A Celebration of the Piano Lesson by Tricia Tunstall:

  2. The Music Lesson by Victor L. Wooten

  3. Grand Obsession by Perry Knize

  4. The Piano Shop on the Left Bank by Thad Carhart

  5. Journey of a Thousand Miles by David Ritz & Lang Lang

  6. Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon by Sheila Weller










  1. An Infinity of Little Hours by Nancy Klein Maguire

  2. Into the Great Silence (DVD)

  3. The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong

  4. Through the Narrow Gate by Karen Armstrong

  5. My Life with the Saints by James Martin, SJ

  6. Saints Behaving Badly by Thomas J. Craughwell

  7. A Long Retreat by Andrew Krivak

 

A Kindler, Gentler Book Site