Mari Fujimoto, Ikigai & Other Japanese Words to Live By (London: Modern Books), 2019

fujimoto ikigai
After our visit to Japan last year and the remarkable circumstances that mean we will return to Japan again this year, it makes sense that since we are unable to gain a command of the language in the time that we have, at least we should learn a few words and a few concepts that give us an insight into the culture and the people.

This small book can best be described as a series of meditations on important Japanese philosophical concepts. Stunning black and white photographs by Michael Kenna are combined with artwork and calligraphy by David Buchler and haiku by Motsuo Basho and intertwined with interpretive text by Mari Fujimoto. The result is a series of reflections that invite the reader to pause on each page. It is the kind of book to which one will return again and again.

Now that I use a tablet computer for most of my reading, it seems elegant and even a bit indulgent to hold a real paper book in my hands. It seems even more indulgent to pack such a volume into my luggage when I am traveling light. However, I suspect that this small book will be tucked into my backpack when I head to Japan this summer.

The Obelisk Gate, The Stone Sky

N. K. Jemisin, The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth Book 2) (London: Orbit Books), 2016N. K. Jemisin, The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth Book 3) (London: Orbit Books), 2017

jemisin obelisk gate
Once I had read The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin, it seemed natural to pursue the other two books in the trilogy. They were remarkably engaging. The basic themes of The Fifth Season continued - the fear that some people had when encountering those who are different, the challenges of working with others, the pain of intimate relationships, a fractured family, and the quest for some sense of peace and security in a frightening and uncertain world. Of course all of these are exaggerated in the characters in the book because they have supernatural powers that make them more different and more dangerous than the kind of folks who currently inhabit our planet. Jemisin plays with the concepts in bold strokes in part because she has created a world that at once is kind of like our world - that has some geological principles that are similar to those in our world - while at the same time being very different from the world that we know.

jemisin stone sky
The trilogy makes a remarkable package and represents something much more than would be the case were it presented as a single volume. I don't know how well the second and third volumes stand alone, having read them in quick succession following the initial book, but it seems to me that each is a complete story in and of itself. While the experience of having read the previous volumes helps, I'm not sure that it would be completely required in order to get a taste of Jemisin's remarkable story. What wouldn't work, in my opinion, would be to read the books in reverse order.

Jemisin has created a remarkable and memorable trilogy - one that I'm grateful to have discovered. Jemisin has been remarkably prolific. Her genre isn't my favorite, but I may find myself looking up more of her books as time goes by. She explores such a wide variety of themes and provides some important insights on cultural conflict and oppression. The awards she has received for her work are well placed.

The Fifth Season

N. K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth Book 1) (London: Orbit Books), 2015

jemisin fifth season
I'm not a big fan of science fiction, but when this book was selected as the Science Friday book club selection, I decided to read it so I could follow along with the radio discussion. I guess one might call it science fiction in the mode of "Journey to the Center of the Earth," but mostly it is a fiction/fantasy novel that employs a bit of scientifically accurate information about geology, plate tectonics, volcanoes and earthquakes. It was interesting how much discussion about the specifics of the geology reflected in the book was discussed on the radio given the simple fact that one would not need to know the science behind the story in order to make it an enjoyable book to read.

The story, however, is compelling and well-told and it is easy to get into the characters. I didn't make all of the connections between the story lines at first, but soon I understood that there were multiple story lines from different points in the life of the same character. The story is tantalizingly complex and just challenging enough to keep one interested while still being a quick and easy read.

The book was enjoyable enough that I decided to read the other books in the trilogy. I wasn't disappointed.

True Love

Tich Nhat Hanh, True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart (Boston: Shambhala), 2011

tich nach hanh true love
Like other books by Tich Nhat Hanh, this book doesn't waste words. Just reading the words takes little time and understanding the basic concepts is also fairly simple. The book, however, focuses on four specific meditations that are potentially lifelong commitments. One can become engaged in layer upon layer of meaning as one practices these disciplines.

Hanh is not talking about love in the sense of a puff of emotion, but rather about an abiding, self-giving, deep connection of spirt and mind with another human being. Learning to be genuine in your own personality and genuinely listening and getting to know another is a huge undertaking, but one worthy of the time and energy invested. The book has practical skills for couples and individuals who are interested in learning more about the nature of love and the ways to experience and practice true love.

My orientation isn't Buddhist. I am a Christian. I do not, however, find anything in this or the other books by Hanh that I have read that threatens my faith or my worldview. The training offered by this book is valuable to people of all faiths.

This is the kind of book that you could read over and over again and return to at various points of your life's journey.

Tired of Apologizing for a Church

Lillian Daniel, Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don't Belong To: Spiritual without Stereotypes, Religion without Ranting (New York: Faithwords), 2016

Lillian Daniel
I'm with Daniel. I, too, find myself often in conversations where people are describing their experiences with religion and the church and their perceptions of the church are so different from my experience and the institution I serve that I simply have to admit that there are institutions that call themselves churches that simply are not the same as the one with which I am affiliated. The book is an expansion of Daniel's earlier work, "When Spiritual But Not Religious is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church. Lillian Daniel is a bit of a heroine in the United Church of Christ because her ideas resonate with so many of us.

You don't have to be judgmental, homophobic, opposed to science, or a condemning hypocrite to be a Christian. There are churches that are open, affirming, accepting and non judgmental. Three is nothing in the Gospel of Jesus Christ or the history of the church that demands sexism, racism or other negative traits that have been exhibited by Christian institutions.

Daniel's book combines her sense of humor with her honest candor about her own journey as a pastor to provide a good entry into Christianity for those who have previously chosen not to participate as well as putting to words ideas that many of us inside of the church have impressed.

The book is an easy and light read. Just right for an evening or afternoon.