Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Book Reviews: The Faith Club and Breakfast with Buddha

I've been quite a slacker when it comes to keeping up with my goal of reading 52 books in 2011.  Initially, I was cooking right along with the rest of the group and then A Tale of Two Cities derailed me.  I really thought I was on a good path once I got beyond chapter four and stopped needing to use the dictionary every other word.  I tried with that book.  I really did try.  I tried so hard that I made it to around page 220 out of 397.  I renewed the book at the library twice.  They cut you off and make you return it after that.  I was determined to finish, but I didn't.  I finally decided after reading two or three pages at a time before getting frustrated and giving it three months that it was time to admit defeat (for now!) and move on to something else.  

 My friend Shereen's church's book club was reading The Faith Club and she suggested it to me.  The book was written by three women---a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew---about their discussions and their search for understanding about their faiths.  Initially, Priscilla, Suzanne and Ranya start meeting in an effort to write an ecumenical children's book featuring Jesus, Moses, and Muhammed.  Their discussions turn more serious the more they meet and so forms their "faith club."  The book features both transcripts from their meetings that they recorded and each also writes what they were feeling during that time.  I didn't think I had expectations going into the book, but I realized that I did when it took a different turn than I expected.  

Ranya is a liberal Muslim.  She does not wear a head covering and at the beginning of the book does not have a mosque that she attends.  Priscilla is what I would call an agnostic Jew at the beginning of the book.  She's not sure if there's a God, but attends temple and identifies herself as a Jew ethnically.  Suzanne is a former Roman Catholic turned Episcopalian whose views lean Unitarian.  These women were definitely not representative of what I would consider to be mainstream in their respective religions.  At first I thought, wouldn't this book had more value if the authors' beliefs were more conservative so they could more fervently defend their religions?  But, the more I thought about it, what is normal when it comes to faith?  Within the same religion or even the same house of worship, there are often disagreements.  Who am I to have an expectation of what others should believe?  

In the end, I thought it had value because these are real people.  These are real women who took the time to dig deep, come together, and challenge themselves.  So often our religion is mostly a result of birth.  Can you imagine what the world would be like if we actually took the time to think and question what we believe?  What would happen if we opened our hearts and minds to the views of others?  Could we finally find peace?  I enjoyed this book and recommend it.

At the same time I was reading The Faith Club, I was also reading Breakfast with Buddha.  This was my book club's pick for June (on my request I might add) and I really did like it.  When the parents of a middle aged book editor are unexpectedly killed in an auto accident, Otto needs to travel cross country to North Dakota with his sister Cecelia in order to settle their estate.  In a bizarre turn of events, Otto winds up taking the trip with his sister's Buddhist monk guru Rinpoche instead.  At first (as I'm sure most people would be), Otto is angry and confused with this change of plans.  As the trip progresses, Otto's frustration recedes and he decides to show the monk some good old fashioned American tourist attractions and fun.  No sooner does Otto begin relax, however, more surprises crop up.  Otto finds out that they need to stop on the way to North Dakota for Rinpoche to give lectures to his stateside followers...several times.  The give and take between the two main characters Otto and Rinpoche is both amusing and refreshing.  Otto takes a journey from a quick tempered, out of shape man always on the hunt for his next gourmet meal to, dare I say, an enlightened man at the end.  There's a twist at the end of the book that I found unnecessary to the plot that made me change the way I felt about the characters (i.e. it made me slightly less fond of Rinpoche and Cecelia and the way they manipulated Otto throughout the book).  But overall, I liked it.  Was it the best book I've ever read?  No.  Was it a happy diversion from A Tale of Two Cities with a unique premise?  A resounding YES.  

So what do you think I should read next?  I tried Steven Tyler's Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? briefly but I found his writing style (and I guess his ghost writer's style) to be literally a little too schizophrenic for my taste, which I find funny considering the book's title.  What did I expect?  I really don't think I can go back to A Tale of Two Cities right now.  I don't want to continue on with Jane Eyre either.  Suggestions?

1 comment:

Carri said...

Garden in the Dunes by Leslie Marmon Silko. I will let you barrow it.