Wednesday, July 11, 2012

zen and the empty city (global reading challenge)

Zen Mind
there's a book i am reading since last November: "Zen Mind, Beginners Mind". the classic zen book by the Shunryu Suzuki, the founded of the first western zen monastery. with its 147 pages, it's not a thick book by size. but it's like an ocean of thought, with chapters about Practice, Non-Dualism, Attitude, Self-Study, Emptiness, Attachment, Experience and so on. each chapter is but an entry door, and it definitely makes sense to combine the reading with actual zen or yoga practice iself. it's similar to something like swimming: despite all the books about it, you have to get your feet wet at some point to connect to water. and vice verca, while getting your feet wet, a book can be a guide in the big ocean, a pointer between the waves of daily life.

here's a (slightly shortened) quote from the Zen book, a "metazen" reflection on talking about zen:
The purpose of my talking is to give you some idea of the way, but actually, zen is not something to talk about, but something to practice. The best way is to practice without saying anything. If we understand this point, then talking about it will be one of our practices, and listening to the talk will also be practice. And we listen withouth trying to figure out some intellectual understanding, without trying to understand from just a one-sided view.

which leads to the book that sparked this blog entry:

The Empty City by Berit Ellingsen

most of the books about zen are non-fiction: biographies, introductions, collected lectures - but recently i arrived at a zen-novel, writen by Berit Ellingsen. It was an interview in Nonduality Magazine that made me curious for it, in it, Berit explains:

"The Empty City is a short novel about nondual awakening, becoming comfortable with silence and letting go of the past. Connected themes are questioning your own beliefs and what you regard as yourself. .. I wanted to write a novel about nondual awakening, where that was central to the story. There's a lot of nondual nonfiction and poetry, but little fiction. I was curious to see if it was possible to write at all." (interview link)

reading this, of course, made me curious for the narrative of Empty City. i finished it a week ago - it's a thought-provoking, vivid read, with short chapters that move through to different level of consciousness - there are dream sequences, past memories, the present - together, the chapters form a larger mosaic. it was one of the books that i didn't want to end yet, to move on, and on. i looked for a quote to put here, but like with physical mosaics, pulling out a single piece only hints briefly at the larger image.

reading through it also points out how used we are to the established forms of narrative, and it's both refreshing and at the same time perplexing in the best of senses to follow another format - the concept of the Koan comes to mind, the riddle-like stories or notes used in Zen-pracitce to provoke the mind. It also made me think of reading "Open City" by Teju Cole earlier this year, and the line i wrote back then refers to "Empty City," too: "It isn't the typical novel, it's more on the experimental side. While reading it, i looked for interviews with the author.." (here's the Open City blog post)

the book is available both as printed book and as e-book. i picked the e-book version, which makes it my second novel read on the kindle, the first was Wild - and i guess the intro picture shows it: it's too bad that e-books don't come with the cover image - especially that in this case, the cover feels like a physical part of the story mosaic, a part of the narrative almost.

summed up, i would definitely recommend it for readers who are a) into zen / yoga and/or b) into experimental writing. if you want to read an excerpt, the first chapters are online on the book website: Empty City.


About me, more books, and Review Forward

For more about Berit Ellingsen and her writing, visit her author website

Some lines about me: I'm into roads, stories, places, crossings, and all the things they lead and connect to. I edit BluePrintReview and the blueprint book + lit blog. For more of my personal book review, click here: "Books", and for a bit more about me and the web projets i'm involved in, visit me at blueprint21. Apart from being an editor and blogger, I am also an author myself. My new book Worlds Apart just launched:

Worlds Apart - a true story about 2 friends, 2 journeys, and 10 life lessons:  
In the global world, a traveler from Europe and a teacher from Asia meet in the web, share their journeys, and the joys, longings, and life lessons that wait along the road. Captured in letters and photos that reach from China and India to Germany and the Mediterranean Sea, a dialogue across continents and cultures unfolds: Worl(d)s Apart

Review Forward: This book review is inspired by Review Forward, a new online initiative for authors & book bloggers. For more reviews, visit the facebook page or the twitter-stream.


Berit Ellingsen said...

Thank you very much for reading and reviewing The Empty City!

I'm very glad to hear you enjoyed it and found it an interesting read.

Zen Mind - Beginner's Mind is a great book and seems perfect to read along with The Empty City.

Thank you again for reviewing. I'll put a link to this review at The Empty City website.


Dorothee said...

hi Berit ~

i am really glad i happened to come across your Empty City, and in such good timing that it now turned into a parallel read to the Zen Mind book. yes, they are a perfect combination.

a realization i had while writing the review: non-dual reviews are not easy, either :)

Alles Liebe ~

Anonymous said...

Having read and cherished both Zen Mind (years ago) and The Empty City (shortly after publication), I am now inspired to reread them together. Thanks for this idea!

Berit Ellingsen said...

I hope they will be as fun to read the second time!

Thank you so much for reading both then and now, and for commenting here! :)