Aleph by Paul Coehlo

Indescribably amazing book. But probably not everyone’s cup of tea. Paul Coelho has really changed the publishing industry. He puts his books online for free in many places and then asks only that if people like the book, they then buy a copy. He also interacts with his readers on social media and that is very exciting. He actually discusses his books with his readers as he writes them.

This is a book for people who spend their time questioning the meaning of their lives, who undertake the work of a spiritual warrior in their quest to find out and who are interested in esoterica and spirituality. If you are a skeptic of magic/alchemy/spiritual tradition then this book is probably not for you. It has been a very long time (a significant number of years) since I have spent time underlining passages in a book. Within the first few pages I was looking for a pen and getting busy.

SPOILERS NOW

The story starts with the author in a spiritual malaise. He goes to visit his “guru” for want of a better word and in the typical mystic tradition, provides few answers and more questions to encourage the spiritual quest. “When a sense of dissatisfaction persists, that means it was placed there by God for one reason only: you need to change everything and move forward.” To this end the author undertakes a grueling book tour but the focus is primarily on a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostock.

The author, his translator, his publisher and a small entourage are ready to set off when a young violin prodigy, Hilal, approaches the author revealing that she has been called to follow him and that she is in love with him, despite the fact that he is happily married. Because of a complex issue that he is trying to resolve, he asks her to travel with the group.

As it turns out, the author, Hilal and the translator Yao are all on personal spiritual journeys. At some point, I boarded the Trans-Siberian railway and joined them. A conversation about becoming a writer between the author and Yao resonated with me: “Don’t be intimidated by other people’s opinions. Only mediocrity is sure of itself, so take risks and do what you really want to do. Seek out people who aren’t afraid of making mistakes and who, therefore, do make mistakes. They are precisely the kind of people who change the world, and after many mistakes, do something that will transform their own community completely.”

Which brings me to the Aleph. This is the first letter in the Jewish alphabet but for those familiar with the bible, it is the beginning and the end – a timelessness in which all things are always occurring at every given moment. A small aleph occurs when you find yourself at a place and time stands still so to speak. You enter the perfect moment. A large aleph occurs when two people with a strong affinity for one another meet in a small aleph and their energies merge into one. Most people think of this as “meeting one’s soul mate” but that is only one example. Two people can be together for a long time or meet only once and part, but the message is one from the divine bringing two people together to manifest love – many times people miss the opportunity for a whole variety of reasons – timing, place whatever – and so must continue meeting over “time” until they achieve their mission. In his description, the author says “Love is the only thing that can save us” and that “Dreamers will never be tamed.

The mission of the author and Hilal is to resolve a past life conflict. To this end there is some meditative and esoteric practices that unfold the back story of their past lives. There is also the unfolding story of Hilal’s unrequited love for the author. It is a complicated and delicate matter well handled in the end by both.

But there is a parallel mission between the author and his interpreter Yao. Yao is attempting to recover from the loss of his wife and to this end, has made repeated trips to a place in Siberia known for its shamans. He is seeking meaning in his wife’s death and meaning for himself to keep going. In a serendipitous turn of events, all three go to see the shamans. Hilal experiencing an event with the female shamans and Yao and the author with a male shaman. It is a very well described and explained experience and for anyone who has spent time with a mystic, it will immediately resonate.

Again there was a passage for my spiritual journey that helped me progress. It explains leaders and shamans and how originally shaman’s were women. Leadership changed and became corrupted and when men had secured and corrupted the leadership role, they then usurped the role of the shaman. “Force won out over harmony. The natural qualities of women were ignored; what mattered was their power….whenever they (women) put themselves forward however they were treated as heretics and prostitutes. If the system felt threatened by them it did not hesitate to punish them with burnings, stonings and in milder cases, exile.”

Bottom line – much is learned, some things are resolved, some are not. Time is reinterpreted. A trip is taken and completed. The mystical tradition is experienced and explained. A book is written and read.

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This is Where I leave You by Jonathan Tropper

This is the first book I have read by Jonathan Tropper but it won’t be the last. I am a fan of the dysfunctional family having grown up in one and continuing the tradition myself. I am also a closeted lover of the light romantic comedy a la Nick Hornby. This book is both.

After the death of their emotionally distant father, 3 brothers and their sister with attendant wives, husbands and significant others arrive at their parents’ home only to find that that their largely agnostic father has requested that they sit shiva for seven days.

What follows is not only a description of the seven days but flashbacks from Judd, from whose viewpoint the story is told . Nick Hornby has a knack of telling a story from a male point of view that rings true. Jonathan Tropper does too. Judd speaks of his father, his brothers his sister and his mother with a true voice.

There were a couple of times in this book where I just fell out laughing out loud. Some of the passages are so well crafted and hilarious in the telling that they bear reading more than once.

The cover intimates that there may be tears. There were no tears for me but this is a book that as you read, has you reflecting on the truths that Tropper shares. There are no fairy tales. Love comes in a lot of packages and changes sometimes on a daily basis. We aren’t all as predictable as others may think us and we are very fallible as human beings.

Spoiler here – for myself, it was apropos (unknowingly) that I started reading this on National Coming Out Day. As a gay woman, it is rare when there is a lesbian storyline, particularly one written by a man, for it to be anything other than caricature or sexual in nature. How refreshing when Judd, sitting on the roof with his sister in the early morning, watches his neighbor Linda, for the second morning in a row, sneaking home to her house.

In a matter of fact way, he and his sister work out the relationship between Linda and his mother. After a row between Linda and Hillary lasting a few days, in front of all the shiva visitors – Linda and Hillary, two 63 year old women, kiss and let everyone know that not only are they together, but that Judd’s dying father knew and approved of the relationship. Hillary is a pistol throughout the book and Linda is a steady rock. This was a sweet surprise that I had no hint of when I bought the book.

Not only is the relationship handled masterfully but it is utterly refreshing that it is two older women with life’s experiences between them who are rediscovering love. And they are happy – not melancholy, not ashamed, loving, sexually active and largely accepted by their families.

It took me less than 24 hours to read this book and it was worth every minute.

Dial C for Chihuahua by Waverly Curtis

Early confession – one of the authors is a personal friend. That being said, I got a copy of the book for a fun easy read and it was just what I needed. This isn’t one of those deep, detailed mystery stories. It is a light and breezy read, with fun characters including a talking dog.

I picked this up to read as a break from heavier novels that I am working on and it is a good respite for that. This is a book to curl up with, a cup of tea next to you on a rainy day (and hey, I live in Seattle and we know books and rain here) a fire going, your cat or dog or both by your side and drop out of reality for a fun few hours.

It doesn’t seem to adhere to conventional mystery novels – in fact it’s more about the dog Pepe, his person Geri and a host of other characters and their predicaments. There are a few pages of the next Pepe novel and the characters from the first are reprised in the second.

A rainy day or vacation novel.

Nothing to Do With Justice: The Di Fingleton Story by Diane Fingleton

I read this in two sittings. This book does have nothing to do with justice, but it does have everything to do with power and the lengths people will go to keep it. It is also a sad but all too common tale about the modern workplace. Women who exercise power or seek excellence are demonized and in this case subjected to highly unlawful punishment. It is about politically correct speech gone wild. It is about public humiliation in the widest arena possible. It is also about the human ability to prevail in the face of extraordinary odds. It is about fighting to see that justice is done, whatever the personal cost, to ensure that the greater good is ultimately served.

Keep Going: The Art of Perserverance by Joseph M. Marshall III

A friend gave me this book and then gently kept harping at me until I read it. After a particularly difficult day, I grabbed the book in a bit of huff and read it in two sittings.

The book consists of a conversation between a native American man and his grandfather. It is actually true stories compiled into one running conversation.

The crux of the matter is that without pain and sorrow, there cannot be happiness. The only way to proceed in life is to keep going – which is the central message of the book. Sometimes you go alone and sometimes with others but you always keep going.

There is something for everyone to relate to but the words that resonated with me were the following:

” A river begins its journey quietly as a small stream, usually in some obscure place. But it is a seeker determined to find its way. It does not know how to yield to obstacles, which can deter it for a time but cannot stop it. In a good season, a river grows and gathers strength from melting snows. Spring and summer rains also send down their encouragement. However, a bad season with less snow and rain may slow its flow to a mere trickle at times.

Nevertheless, the river inexorably follows the path it has made for itself, or it carves a new course if necessary. It is unstoppable.

A river can be wide or narrow, shallow or deep, swift or slow. But of all its characteristics, two are most distinctive: It creates its own path and it flows relentlessly. So long as there is winter snow in the mountains, spring rains and gravity, rivers will flow, they will persevere.”

I am in the process of carving a new path, and I have slowed to a mere trickle, and I am alone but I am a seeker. And still I flow.

Lesson learned. Thanks for making me read the book.

No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the inner Circle of Hells Angels by Jay Dobyns and Nils Johnson-Shelton

The writers of Sons of Anarchy directly used some of the characters from this book. The Hells Angels look like a bunch of bungling bandits in this memoir from an ATF agent who infiltrated the biker gang.

The agent puffs himself up to be awesome but you never feel like you are really inside of it all. It’s mostly a tale of how the agent lost himself in the world of undercover policing and Serpico was so much better for that kind of tale. The agent, Jay, is self-important and at the end of it, I had no empathy for his job or what he did. Just another glory hound living on tales from the past under the guise of a patriotic cop…blah.

Although they got a lot of guns and a few drugs and touched lightly on the seedy parts of that world, watch Sons of Anarchy if you want to feel like you are more in depth

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This is the second time I have read this book this year and the third time overall. Each and every time I have seen something new in it or got a new insight out of it. That is the mark of a great book.

The storyline is too complex to delve into a lot of detail but the basics are this: when immigrants came to America they brought their old ways of worship and belief with them from the old countries and continents they left (and the old gods came along for the ride and stayed). The new gods – the American gods – represent ideas that are culturally and uniquely American. The digital age, television, the great roadside attractions, the car and the freeway. A war seems to be brewing in which there will be a showdown between the new gods and the old.

But like all truly great works there are subtexts galore. Ideas about light and dark, good and evil, loyalty and betrayal. Ideas about life and death and the worlds between that we cannot see but that we feel and sometimes enter that hover on the periphery of our conscious life.

Ultimately it is also about belief and faith – do we have it? Did we ever really lose it? If we did how do we get it back?

In the course of reading the novel, I found out HBO is making the book into a new series. My shock and excitement were palpable. This will either be brilliant or a complete disaster. I am hoping HBO does it the justice it has done with the George RR Martin Game of Throne series. My sense is that since Gaiman is a fan of Martin’s work and saw how Thrones was handled that he was able to confidently sign off on the idea.

Loved it and will read it again and again and again.