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Lions Roar : September 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2006 89 BOOKS IN BRIEF BY ANDREA MCQUILLIN TEMPTATIONS OF THE WEST How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond By Pankaj Mishra Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2006; 323 pp.; $25 (cloth) If you haven’t discovered him yet, Pankaj Mishra is a young writer and critic to watch. His first nonfiction book, An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World, was an extended per- sonal essay on the Buddha’s legacy to and relevance in the modern world. This collection of eight travelogues, broadly dealing with the clash of new and old in fractious South and Central Asia, will contribute to his growing reputation as a writer and observer. Mishra, who was born in India, is well- traveled and well-read. In Temptations of the West he brings places and people to life with vivid descriptions of the par- ticular, set against a backdrop of culture and history. Sadly, what he most often observes is conflict and tension—be- tween Hindus and Muslims, between religion and capital- ism, between the haves and the have-nots. Mishra doesn’t offer any solutions to complex problems in societies remote to many of us, but he brings humility and insight to bear in describing them. PRACTICING PEACE IN TIMES OF WAR By Pema Chödrön Shambhala Publications, 2006; 128 pp.; $15.95 (cloth) Since the best-selling Start Where You Are, readers have eager- ly awaited each installment of Pema Chödrön’s kitchen-sink explication of the Buddhist teachings. This gift-size book is a short elaboration on a subject that Chödrön returns to time and again without being tiring—working with emotions during difficult circumstances. The idea that global peace can only be created by people working with their own minds is reasonable enough, but actually doing it is another thing. Chödrön is an expert on the moment-by-moment path of “doing it” and excels at pointing out unrecognized oppor- tunities for applying the dharma. We practice peace, Chö- drön says, not by getting to some blissful, exalted state, but by relaxing in the middle of our aggression, our fear, and our insecurity: “If you want there to be peace—anything from peace of mind to peace on earth—here is the condensed in- struction: stay with the initial tightening and don’t spin off. Keep it simple.” VETERANS OF WAR, VETERANS OF PEACE Veterans Reflect on the Costs of War Edited by Maxine Hong Kingston Koa Books, 2006; 450 pp.; $17.95 (paper) This collection of essays, poems, and stories was assembled by the National Book Award-winning author/teacher Maxine Hong Kingston, who has been leading meditation-and-writ- ing workshops for veterans and their families for the last fif- teen years. These writings on the conditions of war and the struggle to come to terms with life after it have an unpolished intensity that will move you to both sorrow and anger. Ve t e r - ans is the second title from Koa Books, a new publishing house founded by Arnie Kotler, the founding director of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Parallax Press. Kotler has always promoted social ac- tivist voices, and the first two books from Koa—which means “fearless” or “warrior” in Hawaiian—show that he’s continu- ing in this vein. Koa’s first release was Not One More Mother’s Child, a collection of writings from the anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in spring 2004 in Iraq. HOW TO BE A PERFECT STRANGER The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook, 4th edition Edited by Stuart M. Matlins & Arthur J. Magida Skylight Paths, 2006; 432 pp.; $19.99 (paper) If you’ve never set foot in a mosque or broken bread with a Mennonite, How to Be a Perfect Stranger is a rough guide to the foreign spiritual places right here at home. If you’re seek- ing theology, this is not your book, but if you’ve been invited to an event at an unfamiliar church, you’ll get some helpful guidelines: what the ceremony will look like, the language that might be used, special customs in the church, and even what to wear. The information for Perfect Stranger, now in its fourth edition, was gathered through detailed questionnaires sent to each denomination’s national office. In a couple of in- stances, that methodology is problematic (for example, there’s no spiritual head office for Native Americans), and so some- times the information is too general to be helpful. The Bud- dhist section, for example, doesn’t distinguish between ethnic and convert Buddhist communities, or between the different schools of Buddhism, which are in style and language some- times very different. Still, for improving intergroup under- standing, this is a valuable handbook.