Book Review: The Zen of Oz

As a conscious being, the only thing you need to find happiness is to perceive clearly who you are. […] The very fact that the Scarecrow craves wisdom means that he already has smarts. What he really yearns for is higher consciousness, enlightenment, nirvana.

zenofozThe Zen of Oz: Ten Spiritual Lessons from Over the Rainbow by Joey Green applies a Zen reading to the movie version of The Wizard of Oz to explain why the movie has touched so many people so deeply. His argument is that the characters and situations perfectly align with Zen teachings, so he sets out to show how.

Green makes some excellent observations, and I don’t want to take away from what he does with this book, but as an academic, my reaction could basically be summed up as: What an effing racket. This dude took The Wizard of Oz and did a book-length close reading through a Zen lens and published it. THAT IS WHAT HE DID. And all I can think is: why didn’t I think of doing something like that? I mean, if I had, I would have my PhD by now.

So it was hard for me to separate my academic jealousy from the act of reading of the book.

That said, I did flag a lot of quotes on a lot of pages. Green is pretty thorough, connecting the major characters and plot points to philosophy. Very easy to follow, even for someone unfamiliar with Buddhism/Zen philosophy.

In conclusion: This book operates as an accessible look at Zen philosophy by using a familiar and popular movie as its basis. And I wish I had thought of doing something like it for my dissertation project. Dang it.

Source: I borrowed a friend’s copy

Audiobook Review: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamilloI have been having a hard time getting into audiobooks lately. I enjoy the medium, but I feel like sometimes I’m choosing the wrong kinds of books to listen to. That’s what led me to go to the children’s section of the library and scope out the shelves. One of my daughter’s best friend’s favorite books is The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, and we had just been talking about it, so when I saw it, I picked it up. The book is short (only two disks) so it seemed like a really good way to get my audiobook mojo back.

What can I say? This book is delightful. It’s the story of a very odd but beautifully crafted stuffed porcelain bunny (I told you it was odd) that gets separated from his original owner and embarks on, well, a miraculous journey. He spends time at the bottom of the ocean, with a lonely elderly woman, in a landfill, on a pole as a scarecrow, as the companion of a child with cystic fibrosis, as a vagabond on the road with a hobo and his dog, and in a dollmaker’s shop. (I’m pretty sure I missed a leg or two of his journey.) Along the way, he learns the true meaning of love—something he didn’t understand and had his heart closed to before.

I loved the narration (especially how Judith Ivey did Pellegrina. I would frequently say, “You disappoint me” in the same way because I thought the delivery was so great), and I loved the characters. All of the characters were so great, and all of the stories were both heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. DiCamillo doesn’t shy away from tough subjects, nor does she sugarcoat any of the experiences of Edward or his owners.

Aside from the other characters he encounters, Edward and his observations are hilarious. He starts the story as an arrogant, prissy, shallow, and selfish rabbit who hates being called a doll. He also hates whenever someone mistakes him for a girl rabbit. Because he goes through so many owners, his reactions when they name and dress him are so fun. He sometimes communicates with other dolls or stuffed animals, and those interactions are also hilarious, especially when he’s in the dollmaker’s shop with a hoity toity doll WHO CAN BLINK. Hahahaha. So great. Oh, Edward.

So overall, I found it to be a fun listen with some really touching and poignant moments.

Source: Library

Book Review: Silver Sparrow

Mother didn’t ruin my childhood or anyone’s marriage. She is a good person. She prepared me. Life, you see, is all about knowing things. That is why my mother and I shouldn’t be pitied.

Silver Sparrow by Tayari JonesSilver Sparrow by Tayari Jones is the story of two sisters with the same father and different mothers. No big, right? Yes, except the father is married to both of their mothers at the same time, and I’m not talking Big Love style. No, he has his main wife and family and a second, secret family.

The major tension in this book is the difference between knowing and not knowing. Dana and her mother, Gwendolyn, are well aware of Chaurisse and her mother, Laverne. Dana’s mom argues that having the knowledge gives them an advantage over James’s other family. However, it’s a dangerous kind of knowing. Dana knows from a very young age that she is second best to her father: her needs, wants, and life always come after Chaurisse’s. Because James can’t risk getting caught, Dana often lives in a holding pattern, waiting to see what activities or schools or events Chaurisse participates in before being allowed to commit to anything herself. She also has a distinct awareness that James loves Chaurisse more. Dana is the other, less important daughter, which leads to her accepting unacceptable behavior and spying on James’s other family to see what she’s missing out on.

Chaurisse, on the other hand, gets her father full time (except on Wednesdays when he “works late”).  So, in that way, her journey is a typical young adult journey. She’s not very popular, and she’s not always happy. She wants a best friend and a boyfriend. She has a good relationship with her parents. They’re comfortably middle class. Chaurisse also doesn’t live with the heavy secret Dana does. Oh, she has secrets. Her father doesn’t know she’s sexually active, for example. But, mostly, she’s on a path to learn that her parents are fallible, that they make mistakes, that she won’t always understand their choices.

What surprised me most about this novel is how sympathetic Jones makes the characters. All of the characters. I even felt a sliver of sympathy for James at one point. (A tiny, tiny sliver, but it was there.) It would have been very easy for Jones to make James, Dana’s mother, and the girls’ uncle all villains, but not once do I feel hatred towards any of them. I’m frustrated by James, I’m sad for (and, yes, at times, pity) Gwen, my heart aches for Raleigh. But I understand why they make the choices they do. I get that they’re all doing their best. I mean, sure, James creates the mess by stepping outside of his marriage in the first place, but I can see where he thinks that marrying his daughter’s mother is the right thing so the child won’t be a bastard and the mom can have some sense of respectability. I can see why Dana’s mom insists on being married, even if it means having a part-time husband. And I definitely understand Raleigh’s sense of loyalty, his willingness to go along with the lie, and his heartache. Oh, Raleigh. My hurt so much for him.

So what I’m saying is A+ characters all around.

Jones takes an interesting approach by splitting the narrative between the two girls. The first half of the story is told from Dana’s point of view and the second from Chaurisse’s. On one hand, I was so involved with Dana’s story that I wanted it to continue. On the other, I knew I wanted to hear Chaurisse’s side. Then, of course, there’s the way the second half of the novel is tinged with the best kind of dramatic irony. The audience knows so much more than Chaurisse which gives her narrative so many heartbreaking layers because she doesn’t know what the audience can see so clearly. So a risky choice, but it definitely pays off.

This book had been on my radar for a while, but I hadn’t picked it up because I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’m glad my friend Jasmine told me to read it, and I’m glad Vasilly chose it for her African-American Read-In.

Silver Sparrow is an engaging and solid read with excellent characters and an atypical but intriguing premise.

Source: Library