Monday, 24 September 2007

What I'm reading

It's not unusual for me to be reading two or three books at once. I usually have one "recreational" and sometimes one "serious" book by my bed, and a "serious" book in the lounge that I read over breakfast (that is, in short sections and at a time in the day when my head is clearer than last thing at night).

At the moment, though, for various reasons I'm reading five (six if you count Meditations on the Tarot, the reading of which has paused for now).

Until yesterday my breakfast book was Leslie LeCron's Experimental Hypnosis, a classic in its field (I like to own classics in the fields I'm interested in). I mainly bought it for Milton Erickson's chapter on time distortion, but there's some other good stuff in it too. Because it's so old (originally published 1948 - 60 years ago!) a lot of what's in it is just common knowledge in hypno circles now, but by no means all.

(Where are today's books like this, and like Altered States of Consciousness by Charles Tart - collections of leading-edge research, by scientists, but accessible to a wider audience?)

My current breakfast book is the next one for our occasional Cityside book group: Lost Christianity by Jacob Needleman. It's an odd book, one secular-Jewish philosophy professor's very heartfelt search for the "lost Christianity" that he is sure must be out there somewhere - the one that "actually produces real change in human nature, real transformation". Sadly, I have to agree with him that that one has been lost - though also, more hopefully, that it's worth looking for.

Key quote:

I, as a professional philosopher, had long since been forced to accept that philosophical ideas by themselves change nothing in the life of an individual... through [intellectualism] modern man squanders his attention in the intellectual function while remaining cut off from the emotional and instinctual sides of his nature...

My "serious" bedside book currently is Sharon Begley's Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain - the title has an obvious relevance to my "Change Your Mind" course. It's about "neuroplasticity", the phenomenon whereby not just the content but the structure of brains is subject to change, and is based around one of the Dalai Lama's Word and Life Conferences on that topic. Begley has a slightly annoying habit of comparing an idealized Buddhism to a misconstrued Christianity, to the latter's detriment, and an also slightly annoying habit of using flashy similes in an attempt to communicate to a popular audience - though it's not anything like as annoying as the hearty stupid folksiness of a "For Dummies" book. But the research itself is fascinating, the experiments are well described and the implications carefully teased out. Basically, by concentrated attention we can change how our brains work, including making ourselves more compassionate and accepting towards others. This is definitely good news.

My two "recreational" books at the moment are George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones and Darby Conley's latest Get Fuzzy treasury, LoserPalooza. LoserPalooza is as funny as Get Fuzzy usually is, that is, very funny. I use it to relax and cheer myself up. I'm having trouble getting into A Game of Thrones; it's not really my kind of fantasy. As the Amazon review says, " There is much bloodshed, cruelty, and death", which I should have expected given that I picked it up (off a sale shelf in Vroman's Bookshop in Pasadena) based on a vague memory of it being mentioned a few times on Story-Games. I love the Story-Games folks, but they do tend to the bloodshed, cruelty and death end of things in their tastes a lot of the time. I may put it aside and come back to it later.

In a burst of confidence that anyone will read these meanderings, I've used my Amazon Associates ID to do the links and put one of Amazon's new widgets in my (now rather crowded) sidebar. I promise if I get any money for directing buyers to Amazon's site that I will spend it on books, which I will then review.

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