Book Reviews – May 2009

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The Religious Art of Zen Master Hakuin
Katsuhiro Yoshizawa
Counterpoint Press
Street: 04.15.09
Ever wonder which Zen Buddhist monk came up with the koan “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Well, Zen Master Hakuin was the mind that invented that riddle, and was the most radical of all the monks (kidding, of course). But Hakuin definitely helped shape Zen Buddhism for all of us today. In this book, author Katsuhiro Yoshizawa looks over Hakuins’ most respected ink drawings and paintings, and picks them apart to show you an underlying message on life and practice of Zen. Its cool to hear how Yoshizawa talks about each part of the painting relating to different aspects of Buddhism, but I wonder if Hakuin had this hidden message in mind when he made such masterpieces, and if the author is just making a book out of inferred thoughts about each painting. Either way, the history and story of Hakuins’ life is worth the read anyways, so pick it up and start on a Satori of reading and knowledge. –Adam Dorobiala

Hew Screw + Glue: How Things Are Made
James Innes-Smith
Abrams Image
Street: 05.01.09
Some perfumes come from the anal glands of beavers. It takes fifteen minutes to turn a raw potato into a bag of chips. Arachibutyrophobia is the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth. Everything you need to know about the making of crayons to vodka is shared in Hew Screw + Glue. For those of you who find textbook explanations dull, there are some wonderful illustrations to make it easier to understand the process behind condoms, glue, and silk. A cleaver in the back of a pig is an excellent way of letting you know that the pig must die to make hot dogs. Pictures of donuts and happy sunned pasta are a much better pick. Learning new things is nice, but many things (glass bottles, toilet paper and tennis balls) are just as boring as they were before, no matter how long the explanation.  –Jessica Davis

Northline
Willy Vlautin
Harper Perennial
Street: 05.2008
If by some wild twist of injustice, Willy Vlautin’s novels go unread and he needs work, I’d recommend seeking employment either in a bare-knuckled boxing circuit, or as The Official Bearer of Bad News in a large hospital. More than his idiosyncratic characterization, more than his intimacy with the worst corners of Reno and the saddest slums of the soul, it is Vlautin’s narration that makes Northline read like the Holy Writ of an angel, painfully aware of both his boss’ capricious nature and of humanity’s short-sighted behavior. A lesser writer would turn the sad parts into a pity party and the glimmers of hope into a sales pitch. But the unflinching manner with which Vlautin handles Allison Johnson’s sad saga makes the reader feel a deeper despair than can be remembered, sweet, shaky optimism, and an aching, quixotic urge to find the nearest shy dark-haired girl and save her life. Come discuss Northline with the Hard Boiled Book Club on Tuesday, May 26th at 7:30 at Sam Weller’s. –J.R. Boyce

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