Updated: Jul 25, 2020
Sorry for the slight delay in getting this list up! I hope you enjoy this summer selection. The four books chosen are a blend of philosophy, psychology, religion, biography, and eco-infused wellbeing.
If you have loved any of the book club recommendations, I always love to hear about it! Just drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org!
By Matthieu Ricard
A few weeks ago, I found myself reaching into my bookshelf to pick up an old favorite book of mine, Happiness: A Guide for Developing Life’s Most Important Skill by French Tibetan Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard. Of all the made-for-the-masses Buddhist books, this one, by far, is the best I’ve come across at detailing Buddhist psychology: underscoring what a Buddhist understanding of what happiness is, detailing helpful and afflictive emotional states, how to consciously neutralize afflictive emotions, and parsing through tricky areas like anger, desire, love, and attachment. Ricard’s pre-monk life as a scientist has made him a meticulous communicator who is as comfortable sharing scientific research as 2,000-year-old Buddhist philosophy. Ricard chooses to illustrate the basic information with a blend of real-life stories, parables, Buddhist scripture, and contemporary scientific research. I highly recommend this one.
By Florence Williams
In this book, Florence Williams spends time with a series of researchers dedicated to uncovering how and why humans thrive in natural environments. The survey is largely divided between the senses: human smell (i.e., phytoncides in the forest), sound (i.e., the impact of man-made sound on stress levels), and sight (i.e., the health impact of viewing green spaces). This book aims to explain the research outcomes to the broadest possible audience by weaving science with story-telling. Overall, I found the book interesting (especially on forest bathing). Some readers may take issue with William's occasionally snarky remarks and indelicate descriptions of various people she interfaces with. My one annoyance is the author's repeated diminishing of meditation based on the research of one person (and a really inaccurate description of nirvana). However, when addressing her task at hand: exploring the health benefits of spending time in the natural world, she succeeds in providing a comfortable overview. Enjoy this summertime read—hopefully while sitting under a tree.
By Michelle Goldberg
Indra Devi (born, Eugenie Peterson) is widely known by many yoga practitioners as one figure who helped export yoga into American culture in the early 20th century. But to know more about Indra's journey beyond this simple antidote is when it gets really interesting. The events of her life are so spectacularly unbelievable (driven by a temperament that at times is equally as exasperating), I finished the book quietly hoping it would be adapted to film (like I did with Freda Bedi’s biography). Born to Russian aristocrats, Indra barely escaped with her life during the Russian revolution. She left the country with her mother to set up shop in Berlin as a touring actress and dancer in the 1920s. She eventually discovered Indian spirituality after meeting Jiddu Krishnamurti and the Theosophical Society crew and never looked back. But that’s only the beginning (trust me). The fact that Indra Devi was constantly on move, setting up temporary homes in different countries, often under different names, made researching her life an incredibly laborious, multilingual affair; this alone inspires much respect for Michelle Goldberg's endeavor. I love this wild story and plan to read it again.
By Thomas Merton
While I was attending Goddard College, I became curious about the writings and life of Trappist monk, writer, mystic, and activist Thomas Merton. I decided to focus on Merton’s later works, when he was engaged in comparative studies between Christianity and Asian religions, with special attention placed on mystical experience, Buddhism, and in this case, Zen. Zen and the Birds of Appetite is one of the treasures I discovered during my research. The slim volume is divided into two parts: essays on Zen and Christianity by Merton and a smaller section of letters between Zen exporter and scholar, D.T. Suzuki, and Merton. While contemporary scholarship would critique Merton and Suzuki’s conception of Zen, it does not take away from the poetic richness and depth of Merton’s reflections. Enjoy this one, it's a classic.
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Enjoy your summer reading!