I received a copy of Lunch with Buddha by Roland Merullo from TLC Book Tours for review.
About the Book:
It’s been six years since brothers-in-law Otto Ringling and Volya Rinpoche took their first road trip together in Breakfast with Buddha. Otto has recently lost his wife, Jeannie, to cancer, and his family and his sister’s have met on the west coast in order to scatter Jeannie’s ashes. The painful ceremony concluded, the rest of the family boards a train back to North Dakota, where Rinpoche (a world-renowned spiritual leader) and his wife (Otto’s sister) run a retreat center on the Ringling family’s land. Otto and Rinpoche climb into Uma, a rickety old pickup truck donated to Rinpoche by one of his devotees, to drive the new acquisition the week, give or take, back to North Dakota.
Thus begins the chronicle of a memorable road trip, one that mixes quirky Americana with spiritual teachings, a food-obsessed New York City editor with a Buddhist-like monk, the pleasure of simple things with the bottomless pain of losing a loved one. Through unlikely circumstances and in the moments he least expects it, Otto begins to grapple with what has come to pass…and what is still to come.
Lunch with Buddha is the third of Roland Merullo’s novels I’ve read (Breakfast with Buddha and American Savior being the first two), and I found it no less delightful than the others. Though it is the sequel to Breakfast with Buddha, by no means must you read one to appreciate the other.
There is a quality to Merullo’s writing that is subtle yet unique, so that reading the first paragraphs of Lunch with Buddha felt familiar somehow — even though it’s been several years since I read something from Merullo’s pen. His style is, if you can imagine it, a blend of fanciful and practical, imaginative and down to earth, good sturdy storytelling grounded in reality yet laced with the loveliest of metaphors and moments. I had, in fact, forgotten how much I enjoyed his particular blend.
Merullo also has a knack for creating characters. His are never so crazy that you can’t recognize in them some familiar archetype: the doubting, practical protagonist; his woo-woo sister; a pair of mostly good children; an enigmatic monk. Yet never do they feel stale. Merullo manages across the board to breathe fresh life into his cast, to make them unique without rendering them unrecognizable. I find it quite enjoyable to spend time with them.
Because Otto narrates the story, we get to know him best. Born and bred in North Dakota, having spent most of his adult life in New York City, he is a practical man, almost cynical at times — and yet there is a yearning in him to hear what Rinpoche has to say. The book ventures, at times, quite far into the realm of spirituality, yet because Otto is our guide, it doesn’t feel like too much. Maybe it’s because we know the blend of curiosity and skepticism ourselves. Add to this Otto’s efforts to cope with his wife’s recent passing and you have a complex, endearing, very human narrator.
Volya Rinpoche is an excellent complement to Otto. Stout and fearless, enigmatic and jolly, he dispenses maddeningly opaque bits of wisdom in broken English and at seemingly random times. He is a constant source of both frustration and delight, for both Otto and the reader. And the way in which he interprets the spiritual lessons in ordinary events for Otto is superb.
There is very much a spiritual side to Lunch with Buddha. What I appreciate about Merullo’s approach is how seamlessly he integrates his exploration of the less concrete side of existence into the fabric of the narrative. It doesn’t feel like a stretch, like you’re reading two different books whose anecdotes have been interspersed. And there doesn’t seem to be much of an agenda, beyond allowing Otto (and, through him, the reader) to explore the worldview of one Volya Rinpoche. This added layer provides depth to the characters and the story without hampering the tale.
Overall, I found Lunch with Buddha to be an enjoyable, relaxing, enlightening read — gentle, funny, touching, and full of food for thought. I’m happy to have been reminded to check out more by Roland Merullo!
Those are my thoughts. Check out Lunch with Buddha by Roland Merullo on Goodreads or LibraryThing! You can also check out the rest of the tour stops for some other bloggers’ perspectives.
What novels have you encountered that combine big themes into something really enjoyable to read? If you’ve read others by Merullo, what should I pick up next?
Despite being MIA lately, I realized my very favorite event — the Readathon, of course — was happening this weekend, and I could not bring myself to miss it. So here I am, ready to read!
My goal for the day: get through as many library books and/or short, potentially donate-able books as possible. (I’m working on purging my shelves.)
I’ll be updating here occasionally, adding on to the bottom of this post. It’s good to be back! Happy reading!
5.5 hours in. It’s been a pretty relaxed day so far. Got started on actually reading late, and just took a break for some life-related stuff. So far, I’ve read half of An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (excellent so far!) and listened to a chunk of The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande (fascinating!) while quilting. Grocery shopping and lunch coming up, then perhaps I’ll listen some more while cleaning the apartment. I love audiobooks!
12.5 hours in…aaaaand I might be done. It’s been a really laid back, half Readathon day. I did finish The Checklist Manifesto and took a really good chunk out of An Abundance of Katherines. I also finally started some Robertson Davies, loading The Fifth Business onto my iPod to listen to while I cleaned. The rest of my night will be spent quilting and watching me some football.
I hope everyone’s had a great Readathon so far and gotten lots read! Thanks for the comments!
Alright, guys. Remember when I said I was taking an indefinite break from reviewing? Well, I just read a book that made me change my mind. I came across Cel & Anna because the author, Lindsay Edmunds, is in my book group. It’s not the sort of book I usually pick up. But man, am I glad I made an exception!
About the Book:
Cel is a computer. A Celebra, to be precise — a worker computer designed to serve a human in his or her home. Cel belongs to Anna Ringer, an UnderWorlder who escaped her humble beginnings through a stroke of luck and some in-demand psychic abilities.
One day, though, Cel does something unexpected and unheard of: he seems to acquire consciousness, confessing all kinds of un-computer-like things — including his love for Anna. In trying to sort out what’s happening, Anna finds herself seeking the help of her neighbor, Taz Night, a shy computer genius with a rare penchant for real food instead of society’s usual Food+ fare.
And the more this unlikely trio explores the situation, the weirder and more dangerous things get.
I cannot tell you how delighted I was by this book. It’s sci-fi, of a sort, but not like most of what I’ve read. Edmunds is clearly interested in our relationship with machines and about the direction we are heading together. Through her novel, she explores some really fascinating themes involving technology, human beings, and the natural world. The images she conjures for the reader are all the more impactful because of how deftly she plays with what we expect to see.
The three main characters — Anna, Taz, and Cel — hold the story down just fine by themselves. But Edmunds introduces very real secondary characters as needed, including (but not limited to) a government flunkie, a rural innkeeper, and Anna’s spiritually inclined car. And the book is funny — there were several times when I actually snickered out loud, usually at something Cel said. He is not at all what you might expect from an ascended machine, and yet he is also absolutely perfect.
The Author’s Thoughts
I always enjoy hearing a little bit of background about a novel from the author, so I asked Lindsay Edmunds if she’d like to contribute a few thoughts on Cel & Anna. Here’s what she has to say:
My understanding of high tech is like Marilyn Monroe’s understanding of millionaires in Some Like It Hot: irresistibly attractive but occupying another plane of reality altogether. So how did I come to write a high-tech science fiction novel?
The roots of Cel & Anna reach back into the mid-1990s. I was living in Washington, DC, and already owned my second Mac. Personal computers were about to change the world forever and everyone knew it. Memories of that time informed the plot of Cel & Anna, which features another hinge in history: the ascension of a machine into life.
The oddest moment of inspiration came when I was formatting the paperback version. I had a crystal clear dream that told me to set the text in Caslon. That was odd because I didn’t own the font and didn’t know what it looked like. Still, it was a vivid dream. Furthermore, it was the only one I had. That is why the print edition features this elegant and graceful font.
So yeah! Cel & Anna by Lindsay Edmunds — worth a read, even if it’s a bit of a deviation from your usual reading fare. Check out Cel & Anna on Goodreads (you can read an excerpt there, too). If you’d like to visit the author at her internet home base, head over to Writer’s Rest.
Cel & Anna is available as an ebook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. It’s also on sale for $2.99 from now until October 8, 2012. Woo hoo!
What was the last book outside your usual reading comfort zone that absolutely delighted you?
Well, Reading Buddies, here we are at our last (at least, for now) wrap-up. How did you like Possession by A.S. Byatt? It seemed, to me, an acceptable way to close out the past year and a half of reading together. I wasn’t totally sold on it at the halfway point, but it won me over in the end.
Beware — as always, spoilers are fair game!
I really didn’t know what to expect going in. I bought a used copy at a library sale because Amanda was quite adamant about her love for it. I can’t say I adored it, but I was, overall, rather impressed.
I must admit, the inclusion of all the correspondence and textual evidence annoyed me at times. I felt like the passages were so long and slow to read. But! I grudgingly appreciated that Byatt gave us all the pieces. She did not, as most writers do, include only a key phrase or two. She constructed an entire body of text on which to base her story, and she revealed that corpus to us pretty completely. So, though I found it slow to read through, I would not have wished it away. I think it’s one of the things that makes Possession stand out.
I was a bit disappointed to realize I was able to guess most of the plot twists and mysteries in advance. I can’t usually do that. I do think a lot of the evidence was there, though. I knew Christabel was talking about Blanche, not the child, when Ash disrupted the seance. I knew her child was alive and had a hunch one of the prominent characters would turn out to be a descendant of him/her. That sort of thing. I wonder, though, if part of the characters’ slowness to realize these things was perhaps because of their proximity to the people involved. They were so intimately familiar with their respective poets, so steeped in the accepted “facts,” that they were slower to see the errors and truths than the reader.
I liked how we didn’t hear the end of the contemporary story. What did Roland decide? Did Maud get the papers? Where did the papers end up? What happened to Cropper? I realized, as I finished the book, that it wasn’t about them. We got a touch of closure with Roland and Maud’s relationship, but that was it. And I think that’s fine.
I also very much enjoyed how LaMotte and Ash grew from stiff, lifeless historical figures under careful academic study into intricate human beings, alive and complicated and flawed. What is so cool is that Byatt achieved this effect almost exclusively through the use of letters and poems. The poets themselves — and other characters, like Ellen — are almost never seen first-hand by the reader, and yet they come so gloriously to life.
Which brings me to my central question: Why did Byatt include those few scenes set during the poets’ lifetimes? Why did the reader get this glimpse of truth when the characters themselves did not? I’m not sure I liked those parts. I think I would have preferred to get the story along with the characters, to leave the gaps empty or have them filled in, at least partially, by other textual evidence. Am I the only one who feels that way?
So! Overall, really glad I finally read this one. I hope you are, too. I’ll be honest — it’s made me wonder what other fascinating stories are hidden in correspondence and the like!
If you read along, or if you’ve read Possession in the past, what are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them!
Hey Reading Buddies! Welcome to the discussion post for Possession by A.S. Byatt.
It’s a bit of a chunkster, and kind of dense at that, so I’m making my way through rather slowly. I’m about 200 pages in, right in the middle of the Ash/LaMotte letters, which I’m finding kind of hard to get through. Perhaps it’s just not the best bedtime book. I’d better get my butt in gear if I’m going to finish in two weeks, though. I’ll never do it at the rate I’m going!
So, I’d heard mixed things about Possession going in. Some bloggers have declared undying love for it, while others were sort of…meh. It’s far too early to form my own opinions on the overall book of course. I’m enjoying it, but I’m not totally hooked.
I quite like Roland. And Maud, and Joan, for that matter. I find all the poetry and such a little hard to get through, except for the few short stories we’ve gotten so far. Those I really like. It’s definitely not light reading though.
I think what’s kept me interested is that I cannot figure out where the story is going. A full-out Roland-and-Val drama? Not yet, at least. A Roland-and-Maud romance? Not so far. The uncovering of a secret set of letters? Well, yes…but that’s happened less than half way through the book. So I am quite curious to know where it is all going, even if the story itself hasn’t completely sucked me in.
That’s about all I feel I can say at this point. More in two weeks!
If you’re reading along or have read Possession, what are your thoughts?
Hey Reading Buddies! As you may know, July will be the last month for this program, at least for now. We’ve chosen a great book to finish up with, and I hope you’ll be able to read along!
We’re reading A.S. Byatt’s Possession, which you can find out more about . . . → Read More: Reading Buddies Finale: “Possession” by AS Byatt
Welcome, Reading Buddies! Just a reminder that next month, for our last RB read (at least for now), we’ll be tackling Possession by A.S. Byatt. Hope you can join in for a last hurrah!
As always, spoilers are fair game here. I’ll get into some major ones later on, but I’ll warn again . . . → Read More: Reading Buddies Wrap-Up: “Year of Wonders” by Geraldine Brooks
Welcome, Reading Buddies! (If you missed my announcement last week, be sure to check it out.)
Year of Wonders is the first novel by Geraldine Brooks I’ve actually stuck with. I tried People of the Book a couple of years ago and just couldn’t get into it. I’m happy to report Year of . . . → Read More: Reading Buddies Discussion: “Year of Wonders” by Geraldine Brooks
Just a reminder that there’s still plenty of time to jump on board for our June read, which is Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. I started it last night, and I’m definitely interested already. It’s my first of Brooks’ books.
July’s book won with a landslide! We’ll be reading . . . → Read More: Reading Buddies: July Pick and an Announcement
Okay guys. I totally failed this month. After giving myself permission to skip around in Moments of Being a couple of weeks ago, I proceeded to get distracted. I had a crazy last week at my job. I’ve spent lots of time helping with a wedding I’m in later this month. But really, the . . . → Read More: Reading Buddies Wrap-Up: “Moments of Being” by Virginia Woolf