The Books I Read in 2012

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These are the books I’ve read this year…

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NonFiction

  • The Antidote:  Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman (2012)
  • Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle by Chris Hedges (2009)
  • My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read and Shop edited by Ronald Rice
  • More Baths Less Talking by Nick Hornby (2012)
  • What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel (2102)
  • Soccer vs. The State: Tackling Football and Radical Politics by Gabriel Kuhn (2011)
  • Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website by Daniel Domscheit-Berg (2011)
  • Zeitoun by Dave Eggers (2009)

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Books on Writing

  • The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life by Dinty W. Moore (2012)
  • On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner (1983)
  • Writing Begins with the Breath: Embodying Your Authentic Voice by Laraine Herring (2007)
  • One Year to a Writing Life: Twelve Lessons to Deepen Every Writer’s Art and Craft by Susan M. Tiberghien (2007)

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Fiction

  • House of Holes by Nicholson Baker (2011)
  • The Green Shore by Natalie Bakopoulos (2012)
  • Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks (2011)
  • A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers (2012)
  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (2005)
  • The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson (2009)
  • The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson (2009)
  • Say Nice Things About Detroit by Scott Lasser (2012)
  • The Odds by Stewart O’Nan (2012)

“My Bookstore” is more than the commerce of books

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If you are the kind of person that can lose yourself in the maze of book shelves of a book store; who cherishes the physical structure of the book with its artistic covers surrounding the thickness of pages between; who can smell the wood of the shelves you lean upon as you open one, seeing within not merely black-typed letters on a white page, but rather the gateway to a world of new friends and foes; and that a bookstore is a destination wherein hours are freely and joyfully relinquished and dollars willingly spent, then you are like me, and I would recommend that My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop is the book for you.

This tome is a bucket-list of book stores to visit; a collection of business success stories based on love, appreciation and mutual respect between bookseller and readers/writers/communities around the art of the book and the writing within them.  It is about 84 unique independent book stores around the country, demonstrating diversity and resisting a society seeking monocultural consumerism, by the writers who pay tribute to them.

Two stores I have visited and love are recognized.

Politics & Prose in Washington DC has been a must-stop every visit to the nation’s capital, ever since my first visit when Naomi Klein was reading and signing her book, The Shock Doctrine shortly after its release.  At a later visit, I was headed out of town hours before Barbara Ehrenreich was reading and signing her book, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.  I paid for the book, and they shipped it to me after she signed it.

The Book Loft of German Village in Columbus, OH I just discovered this year during an extended visit for a Columbus Crew match.  Last year, we added the Columbus Zoo as a planned visit while taking in a match of the closest Major League Soccer team to Detroit, but now the Book Loft is another definite stop while in town.

Through this book, I discovered Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor, and have since made two visits; the second of which children’s book writer Nancy Shaw was reading and signing her contribution to My Bookstore about Nicola’s Books.  The book also introduced me to two other indy book stores in Michigan – Saturn Booksellers in Gaylord and McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petosky – that are now on the list of places to find my way to.

I hope that My Bookstore is a success, both in steering readers to the indy bookstores that carry on the tradition of book selling as the heartbeat of the community that no online mega-corp or cookie-cutter franchise can ever replace, and to encourage a second volume which left out two book stores that immediately come to mind – Horizon Books and Brilliant Books in Traverse City – and hopefully many more like them.

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Goals for 2013? None!

In the fall of 2009, I joined a bowling league.  It was a men’s league in St. Clair Shores, and I was fortunate that an opening was on a team of senior citizens (two over the age of 70, and two over the age of 80).  They were the last place team and participated for the exercise and fun.  They had been in the league for decades.  I hadn’t bowled in a league since around 1982 or 1983, where I carried a 155 average.  This is considered a low average in a men’s league like the one I joined.  Still, I was determined to apply the wisdom I gained over the years to make myself a better bowler, and I set the goal of a 150 average to start.

The league was on Thursday nights, and the bowling alley had a special on Mondays where bowling cost $1.50 per game.  I would practice on Monday, then bowl on Thursday night, in an attempt to improve.  When the 2009-10 season ended, I held the fourth lowest average in the league (144).

I bought a new ball and practiced a couple times a week during the summer and entered the 2010-11 season with the goal of improving my average to a 150.

I played all the mind games – that a 150 average would mean 9 misses or less in three games on the night; that knowing how many frames were left in the game, I would know what my score would be.  I ended the season with a 147 average.  Closer to the 150, and an improvement on the previous season.

In 2011-12, I continued the routine.  I didn’t bowl as often during the summer, but maintained the Monday practice/Thursday league routine.  I applied the same mental games as before, and set that 150 mark as a goal.  There was some frustration that, back in the day, a 150 or better was the norm, and that it was not translating after two seasons and practice almost 30 years later.  My average at the conclusion of this season was again a 147.

For a period in my life I swam in the waters of “positive thinking”; of goal-setting and all that mental focus on living in prosperity.  I read the books and listened to the cassettes, and attended a church that was infused with what Oliver Burkeman in his book, The Antidote:  Happiness for People who can’t stand Positive Thinking (Faber & Faber, Inc. 2012), called the “cult of optimism.”  Since 1991 I drafted and tracked goals on a semi-annual basis.  Some goals were accomplished, others not, and others abandoned because my heart was never into it when I first wrote the goal down. I stopped after 2001 because life was traveling at a dizzying pace.

So I knew the drill, and I set out on this bowling adventure attempting to use this “positive thinking” and “goal-setting” approach, despite feeling the contradiction of this mentality with my Buddhist practice.

Goal setting creates a mindset that you’re not “happy” or “good enough” or “successful” in the present moment.  So you set a goal for a future event that will define you or your work as a success, and thus delay happiness to that point.  To quote Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary, the future is “(t)hat period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true and our happiness assured.”

In the chapter titled “Goal Crazy: When Trying to Control the Future Doesn’t Work,” Burkeman demonstrates how goal setting backfires with, in some cases, deadly consequences.  “In theology, the term ‘theodicy’ refers to the effort to maintain a belief in a benevolent god, despite the prevalence of evil in the world; the phrase is occasionally used to describe the effort to maintain any belief in the face of contradictory evidence.  Borrowing that language, Chris Kayes termed the syndrome he identified as ‘goalodicy.'” (Burkeman, pg. 78-79).  Furthermore, Burkeman sites a study that shows that those motivated by a goal are more apt to cheat (as well as proves that that the Yale Study of Goals – commonly sited by the positive thinking/goal-setting gurus – does not exist).

Burkeman reasons that goal-setting fails because it doesn’t address the issue we’re really trying to resolve – our uncertainty of the future.  “Faced with anxiety of not knowing what the future holds, we invest ever more fiercely in our preferred vision of that future – not because it will help us achieve it, but because it helps rid us of feelings of uncertainty in the present.” (Burkeman, pg. 86).

After graduating from law school in 2004, and prior to studying for the Bar, I wanted to revisit the goal setting process. However, my deeper practice and study of Zen made the goal-setting process superficial and empty. In re-reading those entries from the twice-a-year logging of goals achieved, shelved, and committed to, I found that there was a lack of satisfaction. There were some things that created great memories. But it felt like an unending checklist that, once some goal was achieved, there had to be something else to replace it. And worse, concepts like being “prosperous” or “intelligent” or “wealthy” or “something better” lacked substance. What is wealthy? When does “wealthy” become achieved? It was like the hungry ghosts of Buddhist teachings, where the ghosts’ mouths are so small, yet their hungry bellies are so large, that no amount of “wealth” or “prosperity” or “intelligence” will be enough to fill them.

I sought to reconcile this and came upon a talk by Sangharakshita called “Nirvana”   In the talk, Sangharakshita discusses “The psychology of goal-setting.” He defines a goal as an objective or “something you strive for.”

“You could, if you like, draw a distinction between striving to be and striving to have. But actually, the two come to the same thing: ‘having’ is a sort of vicarious ‘being.’ A goal is in the end something that you want to be.”

This makes sense to those who have goals of being wealthy, or being intelligent. Then, Sangharakshita takes it to the next step.

“There is one really crucial (if obvious) precondition for setting a goal: it must represent something you aren’t. You don’t want to have or to be what you already are. You can only want to be what you aren’t – which suggests, obviously, that you’re dissatisfied with what you are. If you’re not dissatisfied with what you are, you will never strive to be what you aren’t.”

This dissatisfaction ultimately is a desire to achieve happiness. No one seeks unhappiness. And these concepts of “prosperity” or “intelligence” or “appreciated” or “respected” are never ultimately achieved. Why? Because at any level, there will be felt a need to be more prosperous, or more intelligent or more appreciated or more respected, or for something better. They are the empty bellies of hungry ghosts.

What does Sangharakshita suggest is the fix to this? A change of attitude.

“Rather than trying to escape from ourselves, we need to begin to acknowledge the reality of what we are. We need to understand – and not just intellectually – why we are what we are. If we are suffering, well, we don’t just reach out for a chocolate. We need to recognize the fact that we suffer and look at it more and more deeply. Or – as the case may be – if we’re happy we need to recognize that fully, take it in more and more deeply. Instead of running from it into guilt, or into some sort of excitable intoxication, we need to understand why, what the true nature of that happiness is, where it really comes from. And again, this isn’t just intellectual; it’s something that has to go very deep down indeed.”

It’s now the 2012-13 bowling season.  I did not practice at all during the summer.  I have not practiced on Mondays, but left the bowling to Thursday nights, and Thursday nights only.  I haven’t played the mind games of setting a goal of a 150 average, or calculating in my head what I need to achieve a score in a particular game.  Instead, I’ve shifted my focus to the present frame, the present throw, be it the first one, or, if not a strike, the second one.  With one week left in the first half of the season, my average is a 154.  And the season has been more relaxed and fun than the previous three.

So what are my goals for 2013?  I have none, other than enjoying life, including the uncertainty of it.

Photo by Anna Bruce.
Photo by Anna Bruce.

Favorite quotes from “My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop”

“A ‘text’ existing only on a screen and in the mind is not, to me, a book. To me, it is not enough that a book is thought realized in language; it must also be language further realized in print on paper pages bound between covers. It is a material artifact, a thing made not only to be seen but also to be held and smelled, containing language that can be touched and underlined with an actual pencil, with margins that can be actually written on. And so a book, a real book, language incarnate, becomes a part of one’s bodily life.”

Wendell Berry – “Carmichael’s Bookstore, Louisville, KY”

“People in a good bookstore use their feet differently; there is never a full step as we are reluctant to drift too fast past the anthologies of fiction, some familiar some new.”

Ron Carlson, “Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe, Arizona,”

…I start to explain to my toddler that there’s a difference between coffee shops and independent bookstores – and it’s not just that people will happily overpay for a cup of coffee that costs just pennies to make though prefer to pay pennies for a book that costs thousands to produce, but also that, generally speaking, people really need a cup of coffee at 7 a.m., whereas no one really needs a book until mid-morning, earliest, which is why Starbucks is open and Daniel’s (Boswell Book Company) is not.”

Liam Callanan, “Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI”

“But that’s the thing: To Dick, books matter. They are not to be downloaded and deleted. Books are loved and treasured. It is this love, this appreciation of the written word, that suffuses the air of Nantucket Bookworks.”

Elin Hilderbrand, “Nantucket Bookworks, Nantucket, Massachuesetts”

“I’ve visited more bookstores than I can count, and every time I walk into one of them, I get that rush of first love again.”

Ann Hood, “Island Books, Middletown, Rhode Island.”

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Two of my favorite Indy bookstores;  Brilliant Books and Horizon Books, both in Traverse City, MI