Friday, November 30, 2012

Neil Turok: Q&A Videos

On November 26, 2012 the Bookshelf and the University of Guelph College of Art's Cafe Philosophique sponsored a sold-out lecture by Neil Turok, Director of Waterloo's Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and this year's Massey Lecturer. Neil's lecture was wide-ranging; he explained the nature of quantum mechanics and explored the various implications it raised, related episodes from his own life, and examined the relationship between science and society. The crowd was rapt as it tried to digest the mind-bending scientific concepts Neil presented, and when it came time for the question and answer period, monitored by the Dean of the College of Arts, Donald Bruce, the center aisle of Lakeside Hope House was lined with people standing and sitting, eagerly awaiting their chance to ask a question.

The Q&A was so interesting that we've posted videos of the questions and Neil's responses on our Bookshelfvideos YouTube channel (where you can also find videos of Chris Hedge's presentation and a collection of cool book trailers). The audience's questions were penetrating and Neil's responses were illuminating, covering everything from space travel to the cultural foundations of physics to the relationship between quantum reality and consciousness.

Neil's Massey Lectures are published in his accessible and engaging book The Universe Within: From Quantum to Cosmos.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

High School Tutoring at the Bookshelf

Indie bookstores are dedicated to helping people find books, magazines, and other resources that will enrich and improve their lives, so it makes sense that they're great sites for tutoring and literacy programs as well. For the last two years it's been our pleasure to host in our Green Room and eBar a volunteer tutoring program coordinated by University of Guelph Family Relations and Applied Nutrition professor Susan Chuang and community activist and artist Nick Craine. Local high school students who register for the program meet with their individual tutors late weekday afternoons to work on specific subjects.

When I wander into the eBar in the afternoons, it's a buzzing center of concentration and hard work but, of course, there's also a lot of laughter, and everyone appreciates the pizza that Ox supplies for the students and tutors. Recently the University of Guelph's online publication, At Guelph, posted a story on the tutoring program. Things are wrapped up for this year, but we're looking forward to welcoming back both students and tutors early in the new year.

If you have a child who is high school age and might be interested in attending the tutoring program, or if you're interested in tutoring a student, contact Susan Chuang at schuang [at]

- Bruce

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Steph's Picks: Best Albums of 2012

2012 has been an excellent year for new music! It is always a difficult task to summarize a year in any terms, but fortunately, the world of music has made my job easy by providing an outstanding selection of albums by seasoned veterans, soon-to-be-legends, and exciting new talent. In a year that's seen new albums from the likes of Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, David Byrne and Leonard Cohen, this was a challenging list to make. Just the same, here are my mildly subjective choices for the best 2012 had to offer. 

You can purchase any of these albums from the Bookshelf. For music samples, see our Tumblr page.

Jack White, Blunderbuss

The solo debut of one of today's most prolific musicians is emotive, bluesy and hard-rocking all at once!

For fans of: The Yardbirds, Loretta Lynn, any of Jack White's 300 other bands.
Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel is Wiser...

Another awe-inspiring turn from the eloquent singer-songwriter. Apple ruminates on love and loss with an enchanting darkness all her own.

For fans of: Kate Bush, Chrissie Hynde, Tori Amos
Beach House, Bloom

At times a psychedelic wonderworld, at others a delectable lullaby, the newest from this sonically-inventive duo is a feast for the ears.

For fans of: PJ Harvey, Nico
Grizzly Bear, Shields

An incredible rock odyssey, featuring roaring guitars interspersed with more subtle arrangements. A triumph of musicianship!

For fans of: Fleet Foxes, Brian Eno, Radiohead
Purity Ring, Shrines

A marvelous debut from the Montreal-based synth-pop duo! Atmospheric yet danceable--I can't wait to hear more!

For fans of: Bjork, Lykke Li
Frank Ocean, Channel Orange

The R&B revolution will be led by this man! A provocative, sexy voice and excellent songwriting mark this soulful debut.

For fans of: Drake, Marvin Gaye, Kid Cudi
Twin Shadow, Confess

The sophomore effort of this Dominican artist is funky and wild, featuring a one-of-a-kind voice. An excellent dance record!

For fans of: Prince, Morrissey
Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream

The second album of this rising star plays like sweet soul music punctuated with energizing guitar riffs and funk fury!

For fans of: Usher, The Weekend, Pharrell Williams
Jessie Ware, Devotion

The voice of this remarkable Brit has to be heard to be believed! An album that breathes new life into dance-pop.

For fans of: Alicia Keys, Sade, Annie Lennox
Calexico, Algiers

The seventh studio LP from this alt-country group features expert songwriting and superb musicianship.

For fans of: Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Neko Case
Jamey Johnson, Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran

This wonderful tribute album includes guest appearance by the likes of Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss, and Leon Russell, among others.

For fans of: Any of the above
Lindi Ortega, Cigarettes & Truckstops

An inspired second outing for this Canadian country artist. Sweet-voiced, with a razor-sharp undertone.

For fans of: Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

An Embodied Voice

Eleanor Wachtel is the ruby in the crown of the CBC. Let’s hope that someone in the corporation realizes this. Week after week she does superb interviews with the most interesting writers in the world. She is so obviously prepared and interested that these weekly chats seem relaxed and fun. It’s almost as if she and her guest are sitting in a cafĂ© table next to us and we are allowed to eavesdrop.

As I have listened to her for years, I know her voice well. It is warm and almost edgeless, but her brain is directed and lit up. So when I found myself sitting next to her at our book table at the Guelph Lecture, the body joined the voice. She was of course charming and friendly, and she asked me "What was the best book you've read all year?" Or perhaps she might have asked "What are you reading?" because at that point I became a little flummoxed. Eleanor Wachtel was asking me a question! It took my brain scan a while to come up with this answer: Arcadia, by Lauren Groff. She actually wrote it down and thanked me.

Last week I was rambling around on the Internet and read an article on the Washington Post site called "The 10 Best Books of the Year." How satisfying to see Arcadia sitting on that list, described as poignant and gorgeously written. I immediately emailed Eleanor at the CBC. She wrote back and said that she would check it out. I’ll be listening to her future shows as attentively as ever and will be really thrilled if Lauren Groff ever shows up to chat.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Universe Within

Perhaps the thickest wall between contemporary popular science writers and their audience is the essentially unimaginable nature of modern physics. A century ago, a physics teacher could use pool tables, wheelbarrows, and spinning buckets to illustrate the forces underlying the universe. And for most of what happens in life, those examples still suffice. But anybody seeking to explain or understand the universe in contemporary terms is going to have to toss all those comfortingly concrete objects in the trash. And what examples could a contemporary writer use to illustrate the fact that space itself curves, that there is a universal equation whose result is the Greek letter psi, which represents “every possible state of the world,” or that the cosmos might consist of one-dimensional string-like universes moving within a ten-dimensional space? The untrained mind reaches out, vainly trying to lay its archaic map of the universe over this alien landscape, and slumps back, befuddled and defeated, thinking only “here be dragons.”

The 1970s saw a raft of best-selling books popularizing the “new” physics, which had already been around for a generation. Books like The Dancing Wu-Li Masters and the Tao of Physics (both of which I read and loved) related science to Eastern spiritualism, generating huge sales numbers that were in direct proportion to the wince-rate of the physicists who read them (the sleeper film What the Bleep Do We Know? continues this tradition). Physicists like Steven Weinberg and Stephen Hawking wrote back, attempting to bridge the gap between scientists and the public without stretching the science, and Neil Turok’s The Universe Within: From Quantum to Cosmos, a book based on Turok’s 2012 Massey Lecture series, continues in this noble tradition. And as the Director of Waterloo’s Perimeter Institute, a former chair of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge, and a colleague of Stephen Hawking, Turok has the chops to accurately capture the world of modern physics.

But here’s the thing. If you read fantasy literature, you’ll know that the motif of the one “true” language—the language that includes the real names for everything and allows one to know and control the relationships between all things—is ubiquitous. In a sense this language does exist, but unlike the pidgin-Latin of Harry Potter or the ancient language in Eragon, it requires more than just knowing words, and it’s devilishly intimidating for the lay-person. The language is mathematics, and without math, there’s no way to really grasp the bizarre world of quantum physics. What Turok does, though, is open the door for us a crack so that we understand enough to feel a sense of wonder about just how strange the atomic and cosmic foundations of our everyday world are, and how remarkable it is that there are minds subtle and large enough to grasp them.

Turok, like Moses or George Mallory, climbs with you for awhile and then pulls ahead into the misty heights above. Fortunately, like Moses (and unlike Mallory), Turok comes down from the mountain with the tablets from on high, etched in a language we can understand, even if we don’t get to see things face-to-face. And along with his presentations of the perplexing constructions of modern physics, he also gives us an often moving picture of the people who struggled, sometimes against considerable adversity, to advance the field, from historical figures like Maxwell and Faraday, to neglected scientists like Emmy Noether (who worked without pay as a professor at Gottingen University because she was a woman), to the adventurous African students who travel to attend the African Institute for Mathematical Science that Turok co-founded in a derelict hotel in South Africa with the goal of making “the next Einstein an African.” We also get snippets of Turok’s own background as well, so the oddities of relativistic and quantum physics are presented within a personal context. For the lay reader, it’s this human element that grounds the more esoteric ideas in the book and makes them less alienating. It certainly helps that Turok is an infallibly cheerful and accommodating travelling companion.

The Universe Within offers a glimpse into the mysteries of the cosmos that might just inspire you to follow up Turok’s recommended reading list or pore through the hilarious and addictive minutephysics videos produced by his student, Henry Reich (Got only one minute to learn what a Higgs Boson is? No problem!). In five lectures, Neil Turok can only plant a seed, but the more we know, the more we want to know, and so his book might just be the beginning of a mind-expanding journey.

- Bruce

Friday, November 23, 2012

Twitter + Grunge

I’ve recently gotten caught up in revisiting alternative music of the 1990s, from the Smashing Pumpkins and the Cranberries to Beck and the Beastie Boys. This musical nostalgia has also taken me back to memories of my teenage discovery of Grunge--those distorted electric guitar sounds, unkempt aesthetics, and melancholy lyrics. I’ve been brought back to Alice in Chains, Hole, Bush, Pearl Jam and Nirvana.

I wanted to hear more stories of Grunge as well as the musical stylings, so I began searching for a book on the genre. I came across a few titles, and then a best-selling book from last year grabbed my attention: Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge by Mark Yarm. I tweeted about it and asked for any recommendations or critiques. I received a few comments of interest and then, surprisingly, author Mark Yarm himself tweeted at me, encouraging me to read the book and acknowledging his preferences and biases. It was a quick interaction and an example of the strange new ways our world can feel a little smaller with the connectedness of social media, especially a platform like Twitter.

Thankfully, The Bookshelf has Yarm’s book in stock so I think that’s next on my list.

- Heather Jarvis

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Book Club Worth Ranting About

Rick Mercer is one of my heroes. Next Thursday night I get to chat about his new book A Nation Worth Ranting About with some interesting folks I met through Twitter. So far our book club has talked about a diversity of non-fiction topics from food to chaos theory. The book club respects different points of view (within reason) and strives to be an open conversation. A Nation Worth Ranting About will make for a funny and interesting evening.  We meet on the second floor of The Bookshelf in the Greenroom next Thursday at 7:00 pm. 

Rick Mercer has an interesting connection to Guelph via social media. Unbeknownst to him, he inspired Gracen Johnson and Yvonne Su's attempt to get young people out to vote. As Mercer put it, "Vote Mob? What's a Vote Mob? I had no idea this had something to do with me."

If you would like to come to the book club but don't have a copy of  A Nation To Rant About, you're in luck. We're giving away a copy to the first person who can tell us the day Rick Mercer received an honorary degree from The University of Guelph! Tweet us at @bookshelfnews or email

If you would like to catch the flavour of the book-club, check out the hashtag #reallongtweets.

Men In An Icy Land

I'm not sure if I believe in national character, but Michael Lewis and Arnaldur Indridason certainly do. Last month Norton released the paperback version of Lewis's Boomerang, an expose of what happened in five countries (Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Germany, and the U.S.) before, during, and after the global financial crisis. In 1990 Lewis wrote Liar's Poker, which warned of the unsupportable structure and downright subterfuge of Wall Street. Now when he talks people listen.

Indridason is Iceland's most popular writer, and his character Detective Erlendur exposes all that is rotten in the state of Iceland. Neither writer, though, has dissuaded me from my desire to visit this very small country of three hundred thousand people.

Lewis assembles a vigorous case against the men of Iceland. Pre-crash, virtually all business and political leaders were men, most of whom he describes as "mousy-haired and lumpy." In the 1970s they were fishermen whose overconfidence and lack of foresight got them into trouble: catch the maximum number of fish with the minimum amount of effort. This led to falling prices and depleted stocks. It wasn't long before some of these hyper-masculine fishermen morphed into smooth-talking bankers who created such a huge false bubble about Iceland's economy that it went down faster and more furiously than any other.

In Jar City, the third of Indriason's eleven Erlendur novels, a recluse is murdered in his house. Detective Erlendur is a lonely, unhealthy workaholic, complex and full of contradictions. He hasn't seen his ex-wife in twenty years and he has a daughter and a son who are drug addicted and difficult, and cause him a lot of grief. Late at night while he eats his frozen dinners, he constantly bemoans the state of Iceland's male citizenry. Often working on gut instinct, he slowly builds up his theories, philosophizing about this and that along the way. This really bugs his testosterone-filled co-working cops, who always want to settle for the easiest answer. In this case his patience leads him to uncover a terrible crime committed years ago by the recluse whose murder he is investigating. 

While you might think that these writers sound like they're stereotyping Icelandic men, they both have an alternative theory about how to solve Iceland's problems:  let the women of Iceland rule and things will be much better. Before 2008 the women of Iceland were very skeptical about the meteoric rising of their economy. Since 2008, there has been a flood of women into banking and business. Iceland now has a lesbian head of state, and in general things are beginning to turn around. This is not by chance. As for Indridason, most of the few positive characters in his stories are women. Erlendur treats them all with respect and listens carefully to what they have to say, even his own addicted and troubled daughter. Who would have thought that economic history and police procedurals would have so much in common!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Love, Truth, and Poetry

When Caitlin Thomas, Dylan Thomas’s wife, was asked by a journalist how she felt about having some of the most beautiful love poems in the world written to her, she reportedly shrugged and said, “Ach, he would have written them for any blond bitch.” This acidity is quite in character for Caitlin, possibly the only partner who could have kept up with party-hearty Dylan, even to the point of her drunkenly asking “Is the bloody man dead yet?” and trying to climb on top of him while he was expiring in hospital on his death-bed.

But there is some bitter truth in her remark too. Even while male poets have one eye on the women they’re trying to seduce, the other is often looking over her shoulder to the hussy they’re actually trying to bed—posterity. Is that true of female poets as well? The treasure trove of unpublished poems found under Emily Dickinson’s bed might suggest otherwise, but even the woman who damned publication as “the auction of the mind” also framed her poems as letters to the world “committed/To hands I cannot see.” In any case, for the most part the love poems that are immortal are those any lover can speak to any beloved, telling them that they shouldn’t admit any impediments to the marriage of true minds (Thanks Will!), or that it’s impossible to count the ways they’re loved (Thanks Liz!), or that, although we may momentarily repress the memory of them after they die, black-plumed birds will forevermore be sitting on busts above our doors to refresh our torments. (Thanks Edgar!...I think.)

But there’s the other kind of love poetry that merely passes itself off as universal, the Hallmark “How I was blue/Until I met you” variety that, while it attempts to speak for everybody, in fact speaks for nobody to nobody. Why do we enshrine the universal but scorn the generic, and what’s the difference between the two? Perhaps we can sense the difference between doggerel that’s scattershot into the dark somewhere above an unseen audience’s head and a poem, even on the most abstract of subjects, that’s delivered eye-to-eye and breathed into another person’s mouth. Though the poem’s not addressed to us, and may not even speak to our own situation, its intimacy and authenticity manifest the truth of Montaigne’s dictum that every person “bears the whole stamp of the human condition,” leading us through the individual to the universal and giving us a window into not just into the poet and the person addressed, but into ourselves.

- Bruce

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Is Compassion Possible?

I recently attended one of the talks hosted by Philopolis Guelph. The speaker, John Hacker-Wright, was expounding on Nietzsche’s views on compassion. Loosely paraphrasing, Nietzsche thought that most, if not all, compassion is rooted in self-interest. He provides several examples that explain our so-called altruism as ultimately self-serving. For instance, we can feel powerful and good about ourselves when we stoop down to help someone else, or take action to help relieve our own distress when we see someone else who is suffering. To this I would add the motivation “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine.”
Initially I recoiled from the arguments of Nietzsche and his rant against empathy. Through my own experience, my Tibetan Buddhist contacts, and a growing body of scientific evidence made possible through brain imaging, I have no doubt about the real possibility of compassion. However after reconsidering it, I found that his position failed as an argument against empathy, but works effectively as a tool for examining and clarifying our own motives for helping others. Nietzsche can then help us be clear about our being truly compassionate or self-interested as circumstances require.

- Ken
P.S. Philopolis is a group of philosophers from the University of Guelph who hope to bring their discipline to the broader public. This year they hosted several talks throughout the day at The Bookshelf and Planet Bean ranging from “Philosophy for Children” to “Cognitive Biases and the Illusion of Selfhood.”


Monday, November 19, 2012

The Joy of Cards

As well as having fun with books, we also have a lot of fun with cards around here. We have some terrific local talent, from water colors to whimsical photo cards.

We have cards coming from many different sources, but there are a few lines that are my favorites.

A father-and-daughter duo created Gentle Path cards, which combine original Canadian artwork from the daughter with proverbs that offer a lovely perspective. I always come away feeling calmer after ordering. As a vendor, they are prompt and very considerate; when shipping costs rise along with gas prices, they always send extra cards to help ameliorate the hit. 

Egg Press is a letterpress company that waxes affectionate with playful images. Each card is placed in an antique press so you can feel with your fingertips the indentations made by the images in the process of creation. Beautiful.

The crazy cats at Fomato never cease to make me laugh with their nonsensical ramblings. I opened up a fresh box only to find continued play with paperwork that left me smiling for a good hour afterwards. I was also thrilled to find that they have a new wedding card for the adventurous, irreverent type....

And the folks at Blue Barnhouse take the trophy for being really good at ridiculous. I would love to be a fly on the wall for their creative storyboard meetings.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Words to Live By

What makes a great reader? It’s not the same ingredients that make a great writer. Someone can have the most interesting story and fashion it intelligently and lyrically. But that doesn’t mean that they will capture you as they stand on the stage reading their text. No, it takes a very special person--one who understands, among other things, timing and tone, intonation and dramatic pauses. In other words, someone who understands the stage.

So it was with a lot of anticipation that I looked forward to hosting a reading by William Whitehead. He had just written a book called Words to Live By about his life in the arts, his love of science, and his long relationship with Timothy Findley. I knew that anyone who came to the reading was in for a memorable evening. As young booksellers, my partner Doug and I had been invited to spend a weekend with Tiff and Bill at their farm east of Toronto. It was a weekend that I will never forget because we were regaled with wonderful stories about everything from Stratford, to the CBC, to their friend Margaret Laurence. Both Tiff and Bill were thinkers without boundaries and so the conversation rolled around from science to politics to art. Not only were they thinkers without boundaries, but their command of the language was so great that their thoughts came out fully formed, in paragraphs. I have rarely experienced anything like it since.

This was how I knew that the audience that came out to hear Bill that evening would find it unforgettable. On stage, Bill never read from his book but had a few notes on a piece of paper which he basically never looked at. He just let things flow...just like he did the evening that we spent with him many years ago. One thing that I haven’t mentioned yet is that both he and Tiff were young actors and loved the whole world of live theatre, so he knew how to trap you into listening and enjoying. The audience was enthralled, laughing one moment and listening carefully the next. They really were not just words to live by but words to listen to.

At the end of his talk (I hesitate to call it a reading), I asked him a few questions. He is such an open and sweet person that I felt at ease asking him something very personal. He had slipped one sentence into his book that quite surprised me. I’m sure that he did it for dramatic effect. The sentence described how he and Tiff only had sex very briefly but lived most of their lives together. When I told him how much I admired their tenacity and asked him how they managed, he was totally unflustered and basically said that they loved the same things and just figured out how to make their relationship work. A very unusual and refreshing approach to life. Not only did Bill have an interesting story to tell, but he told it well and with verve! Everyone felt lucky that night to be part of his conversation.

- Barb

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

From Watt Pad to My Pad: The Dark Heroine

Sometimes I'm genuinely embarrassed by my lack of tech/gear knowledge. "Your phone can actually tell you to pick up milk on the way home?"  "What do you mean you can change the beats per minute of a song with a swipe of your finger?" "Bluetooth?" My facial expression and verbal "Woah" are akin to Keanu every time a friend shows me a new app on their phone.

That's not to say I don't know how to work a computer or don't own a cell phone (mine just isn't smart). For those who know me and my hatred towards e-readers, even I was surprised at my reaction to a recent online discovery. 

I just finished a new release called The Dark Heroine: Dinner with a Vampire. Yes, another vampire tale with a twist. It was entertaining and fun and if you had a rainy day and comfy chair you could easily be immersed. When I get into a book I sometimes nerd out afterwards, especially if it leaves me waiting for a sequel. I'll google the author, look at photos, bios, and the book's website, scan blogs/chat rooms for any news of the completion of book two to sate my need for more plot.

I admit to fully doing this the other day with The Dark Heroine. My mind was blown to find out author Abigail Gibbs is an eighteen-year-old student studying at Oxford and that her story was found on a site called By the time HarperCollins snatched it up for a six-figure sum, her story had 17 million hits online. Liking the 'Twilight' series but finding it not edgy or bloody enough, she started writing and submitting her own story at fourteen. This online fan fiction success story can be compared to E.L. James and her Fifty Shades of Grey success, but with better writing and minus the world domination.

The interesting thing about Wattpad is that it's free for readers and writers. You can search fiction by theme then sort by hotness, newness, completed, undiscovered, and random. As a member you are encouraged to build your niche and can offer advice or demand writers to post faster or change direction if you feel the plot lacking. Wattpad has over 8 million visitors a month and growing. It boasts of being the "YouTube for ebooks," and yes, there's an app for it. How cool is that!

I guess for someone who hates e-anythings, I was surprised how much I loved how accessible the site is to anyone, anywhere. 

I prefer my nest of books, leaning towers piled on the floor, on top of the night stand, and crammed behind pillows, and although you'll never catch me curled up in bed with an e-reader, I am all for undiscovered stories being found and loved. I'll just take mine in paper format please.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Hungarian Trio

No, this is not a Bartok trio, but a serendipitous exploration of events and lives. How did it happen that I have started three books this week that feature Hungary as a main character? Will I be able to read them all in parallel? Will themes and variations in each of them contribute to my overall understanding of Hungarian history and even my own Eastern European heritage? Only time will tell, but after reading the first 50 pages of each of them, I am already enthralled.

I’ve had my eye on Siege 13 by Tamas Dobozy for a few weeks now. It is a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award this year, and a few days ago it won the Rogers Writers’ Trust. I predict that it will also win the G.G. The cover is irresistible,  hinting at both sweet wonder and impending darkness. It is thirteen linked short stories that animate the terrible post-war period.

I started Frank Hasenfratz’ story, Driven to Succeed by Rod McQueen, a couple of weeks ago. McQueen is one of Canada’s most respected business writers, and of course Hasenfratz is the founder of Linamar, Guelph’s global success story. Frank and his family endured the war and then suffered incredibly in post-war Hungary. This is truly a story that novels are built around. It is compelling reading and I am thrilled to announce that both Frank and Rod will be presenting at The Bookshelf Cinema on December 8 at 1 p.m.

And then I came across Louis Menand’s review of Anne Applebaum’s new book, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956. Applebaum had won the Pulitzer Prize for her book Gulag. How could I resist? Now all I need is a few more hours in the day where both my eyes and my brain can capture what these intriguing books are offering me.

- Barb

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Friday, November 9, 2012

A Beginner's Buddhist Meditation Top Five

I have been studying, practising, and teaching Buddhist meditation for nearly twenty years, and this is the list of books that I would recommend to someone who wants to start practising Buddhist-style meditation.


Seeking the Heart of Wisdom by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield

The authors went to the East and practised intensely for many years. They returned to the West and have spent the ensuing decades adapting and teaching the essence of the Buddha’s teachings for modern society. With lots of stories, meditations, and insights, this book covers all of the basics. I especially value the description of vipassana in chapter four.  
Lovingkindness by Sharon Salzberg

Sharon describes how to practise and live the four brahmaviharas: loving kindess, equanimity, compassion, and sympathetic joy. I cannot recommend this book strongly enough.
The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh

Written by a Vietnamese Zen monk/poet, this simple and beautifully written volume describes how to mindfully enjoy each moment.  
Embracing Uncertainty by Susan Jeffers

Susan Jeffers points us toward finding happiness and even joy in the face of change, difficulty, and uncertainty. It is easy to read and contains forty-two exercises to help change your mind.
Living in the Light of Death by Larry Rosenberg

This "bass note" of the list covers what is traditionally known as the four messengers: aging, illness, death, and cause and effect. There will probably be some resistance to picking this book up but it will act, if applied as an antidote to many of your fears.

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