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Lions Roar : January 2017
By Andrea Miller REVIEWS UPSTREAM Selected Essays By Mary Oliver Penguin Press 2016; 178 pp., $26 (cloth) In this collection of essays, Pulit- zer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver delves deeply into her two driving passions: writing and nature. On the writing side, she offers compelling homages to some of literature’s largest lumi- naries: Emerson, Poe, Whitman, Wordsworth. On the nature side, she brings to bear the full force of her poetic powers, revealing both the beauty and violence of the wild world. No matter what she is describing, Oliver always urges readers to pay attention, to open their eyes to the distinct and singular wonder of everything. “One tree is like another tree, but not too much,” she writes in the opening essay. “One tulip is like the next tulip, but not altogether. More or less like people— the general outline, then the stunning individual strokes.” A GUIDED TOUR OF HELL A Graphic Memoir By Samuel Bercholz Shambhala Publications 2016; 128 pp., $29.95 (cloth) In Tibetan literature, there are many near-death accounts by advanced meditators known as delogs, or returners from death. Their job is to come back and tell us what it’s really like on the other side. Vajrayana Buddhist teacher Sam Bercholz is perhaps the first American in this fascinat- ing tradition. A Guided Tour of Hell tells the hair-raising story of his near-death experience in the aftermath of heart surgery. He says that the hell realms he visited are real to those experiencing them, but outside of ordi- nary space and time. He keeps his descriptions from becoming inaccessible by weaving in a little fiction. He uses character vignettes to explain how humans create suffering for themselves and others and, as a result, end up in hell. This graphic novel’s terrifying illustrations are by Pema Namdol Thaye, a master of traditional sacred arts who is also a talented illustrator of comic book art. CHASING WATER Elegy of an Olympian By Anthony Ervin and Constantine Markides Edge of Sports 2016; 320 pp., $15.95 (paper) In 2000, gold medal-winner Anthony Ervin was hailed as the first U.S. Olympic swimmer of African American descent. To Ervin, this was just one more way that competitive sports were trying to make him con- form to a particular identity. He stopped competing and spiraled into difficult times—depres- sion, drug use, and even a sui- cide attempt. But he eventually carved out a path for himself. He meditated at Zen temples, took a job at a tattoo parlor, got a motorcycle, joined a rock band, experimented with cross-dressing, and earned a degree in English literature. And finally, he went back to swimming. At the 2016 Olympics, Ervin placed first in the fifty-meter free- style, making him, at age thirty-five, the oldest individual gold medal swimmer. THE WELL-TEMPERED CITY What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations, and Human Nature Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life By Jonathan F. P. Rose Harper Wave 2016; 480 pp., $29.99 (cloth) A longtime Buddhist prac- titioner, Jonathan Rose is cofounder of the Garrison Institute, a nonprofit orga- nization working to apply the power of contemplation to social and environmental change. He’s also the founder of Jonathan Rose Companies, an award-winning investment, development, and urban plan- ning firm that has helped plan or redevelop urban commu- nities from New York to Sao Paolo. In The Well-Tempered City, Rose takes an intriguing look at the conditions that gave rise to the world’s first cities and how the purpose and structure of cities have changed over the millennia. Readers come away with a rich understanding of the pressures facing today’s metropolitan regions and what our vision might be for these regions going forward. LION’S ROAR | JANUARY 2017 77