Erotic Love Poems from India by Andrew Schelling. Shambhala Publications, January 2019, $14.95, 136 pp., paper.
Sleepless nights, jealousy, deceit, a parrot who “chatters out” the passionate pillow talk overheard the night before for the whole household to hear—these 8th-century poems by an anonymous author cover the full spectrum of love and heartbreak. Although they have long been read and treasured in Southeast Asia, an English version was not available until Andrew Schelling published his translation in 2004. The book is being reissued this year to reach a new generation of readers.
Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells by Pico Iyer. Knopf, April 2019, $25.95, 256 pp., cloth.
According to the well-known travel writer Pico Iyer, autumn is Japan’s “secret heart.” Iyer’s latest book uses his adopted country’s brilliant light and its radiant foliage that accompanies the short days and longer nights as a backdrop for the year that followed his father-in-law’s death at the age of 91. The resulting book is a reflection on relationships, loss, and impermanence, and a portrait of a country where frequent occasions to honor the dead ensure that the departed are never forgotten.
Buddhism: An Introduction to the Buddha’s Life, Teachings, and Practices by Joan Duncan Oliver. St. Martin’s Essentials, April 2019, $14.99, 128 pp., paper.
If you want to learn more about the foundations of Buddhism, let Joan Duncan Oliver be your guide. A practitioner for the last 40 years, Oliver swiftly moves through chapters on the Buddha’s life, how the tradition changed in the centuries following his death, and his teachings and practices.
All readers will appreciate the handy glossary that covers highlighted terms in the book, so you can turn to the back—instead of Google—if you’re unsure what arahant, lama, or upaya means.
Ann Gleig, a professor at the University of Central Florida who specializes in contemporary Buddhism and Hinduism, leaves no stone unturned in American Dharma (Yale University Press, February 2019, $35, 376 pp., cloth), the first scholarly work to examine recent and rapid changes among the “meditation-based convert Buddhist modern lineages in North America.” American Dharma’s six case studies offer a comprehensive look at this new landscape, from diversity issues and the commitment to social justice to improper or abusive relationships between teachers and students to the emphasis on individual meditation that often discards the ritual and community practices of Asian Buddhists. What results is a dense but engaging read on the trends that have shaped the tradition while it takes root in the West.
WHAT WE’RE REREADING
In his 1970s bestseller The Culture of Narcissism, historian and critic Christopher Lasch observed that “the left has too often served as a refuge from the terrors of the inner life.” Despite his trenchant critique of the self-absorption of the “me-decade,” Lasch did much to expose the “oversimplified divide between ‘real’ issues and personal issues,” a misleading distinction that persists to this day. He likewise debunked the popular notion that the therapeutic pursuits of the era addressed psychic ills peculiar to the well-off, arguing that the desperation and alienation afflicting the urban poor had merely (and finally) caught up with the rest of society. Among other things, The Culture of Narcissism has a lot to say about the much misunderstood relationship between political and inner life in our own time.
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