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.

Black Flage, Blue Waters

Eric Jay Dolin, Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America's Most Notorious Pirates (New York: Liveright Publishing), 2018


eric dolin black flags blue waters
OK, I'm not exactly sure how I ended up reading a history of pirates. I like books about sailing and water adventures, and I read a review of this book in a boating magazine, but it is hardly a book about boats and boating. Pirates traded boats at a rapid pace, depending on what they could seize from those who fell victim to their ways. The book, however, is well researched and well written and it reads very easily. It provided several nights of entertainment in a busy season of my life. So I can't complain.

On the other hand, I don't know if I can truly recommend this book unless you are interested in the subject of piracy and the history of American pirates. There are stories of some of the famous pirates like Black Beard, Captain Kidd, Edward Low. There are references to non pirates who were among the enemies of the seafarers such as Cotton Mather, Benjamin Franklin and John Winthrop. The book is helpful at cutting through misconceptions and stereotypes. And the book has many illustrations from the period covered as well as from more recent books that provide a good context to the stories told.

The story of pirates is always filled with intrigue, mutiny and the lust for riches. But modern movies such as the Pirates of the Caribbean series probably miss the mark when it comes to historical accuracy. But then, again, I think my favorite pirate movie is Muppets Treasure island, so don't take me as an expert.

Dolin, however, is an expert and his book is expertly written.

The Adults

Caroline Hulse, The Adults: A Novel (New York: Random House), 2018


caroline hulse
I was looking for a light-hearted novel for travel and ran across a review of this book. I wouldn’t describe it as light-hearted, but it is an easy read. The scenario of the novel is a couple with a child, who are divorced and both connected with new partners, decide to go on a Christmas holiday with everyone - the two of them with their child and their current mates. The scenario sounds impossible and it is. The complex dynamics of the couples results in all kinds of chaos, from hurt feelings to hints of renewed passion to a breakup and even violence. The narrative story is interspersed with fictional notes of a crime investigation involving the characters. From the beginning, the investigation notes lead one to believe that the investigators aren’t getting the straight story, but it is a bit difficult to figure out who has done what until the narrative story gets to the point. The writing introduces just enough complexity to make the book engaging.

As a relaxing read the book is equally fun simply because the characters’ situations are nearly impossible. I don’t know people who would allow themselves to be put into such impossible situations. It isn’t a serious crime novel, either. Most laypersons know enough about investigations and the collection of physical evidence to recognize flaws in the techniques of the police in the novel. This, however, isn’t a problem for the reader because there is no attempt at surface realism. The reader is perfectly willing to suspend reality for the sake of a good story. It isn’t a great novel, but it is a fun story and worth a read for relaxation.

Spineless

Juli Berwald, Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone (New York: Riverhead Books), 2017


juli berwald
Juli Berwald is a marine scientist or at least a serious marine science writer. She developed a passion for jellyfish and began to explore their impact as indicators of the health of ocean ecosystems. The book is not quite what I expected, however, it is part memoir, part science, part reporting on the research of other scientists, and part ecology all wrapped into a very readable package. I am not usually one to read books about science, but this book kept me engaged from start to finish.

One of the tasks of scientists in this world with its rapidly changing global climate change and huge swings in populations of marine and land-based populations is the job of documenting just what is going on. Berwald is good at describing what has been observed in jellyfish populations and what that might mean for the health of the planet. Along the way she explores the sting of jellyfish and the different toxins with their treatments and descriptions of the pain that is inflicted. She teaches the reader not to draw premature conclusions. A large jellyfish bloom is not necessarily an indication of positive or negative factors in the environment. One has to look deeper to discern what it means.

Jellyfish are among the oldest creatures. The fossil record shows jellyfish very similar to contemporary species were existing during the time of the great dinosaurs. A creature that can survive so well through so many changes may have much to teach us about living in our world. She explore the so-called immortal jellyfish that has been observed reversing the normal cycle of age and returning to a younger, less mature state.

At first glance this book looks like it is for science geeks only. Reading it, however, reveals that it is a book for anyone who is interested in the world in which we live.