Runners Who Read

Who knew? A bunch of runners who enjoy reading and discussing what they read.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

My favorite books for 2005

Kafka On The Shore, Haruki Murakami (Knopf): The only novel on my list and my introduction to the world of Murakami, where everything seems normal on the surface at first – then he slowly, teasingly starts pulling the rug out from under you. This one is a double odyssey of a 15 year-old runaway boy and an elderly eccentric who can talk to cats, following separate but mysteriously linked paths. A fascinating, patiently constructed mind-blower that took me on a real journey. And Murakami happens to be a very credible marathoner who was recently profiled in Runner’s World. I’ll be back for more next year.

The True Dharma Eye : Zen Master Dogen's Three Hundred Koans, John Daidlo Loori and Kazukai Tanahashi (Shambhala): I just picked this up last week and already can’t imagine life without it. Three hundred classic Zen koans (riddle-stories) by the ancient Chinese Zen master Dogen, accompanied by the first-ever attempt at commentaries written for a contemporary audience, courtesy of John Loori. Do I understand everything that’s going on here? I can’t honestly say I understand any of it, but it’s all enjoyable on the surface as a sort of ancient far eastern take on Samuel Beckett, the Ming Dynasty Monty Python, a sort of ancient Asian theater of the absurd. One story a day takes me out of my normal thinking patterns, at least for a few brief moments. And who knows, eventually I might learn something.

I, Wabenzi, Rafi Zabor (Farrar, Straus and Giroux): Funny, sad, completely unsentimental memoir of Zabor’s often chaotic life as a member of an immigrant Jewish family in Brooklyn, ultimately spanning the globe and decades of history in a dizzying, raucous narrative. First of four planned volumes. You’ll definitely laugh, but the passages about Zabor caring for his dying parents are so poignant and so real that they’re almost unbearable. Yep, it’s that good.

The Barn At The End of the World, Mary Rose O’Reilley (Milkweed): Really a collection of brief reflections by a Quaker and Mahayana Buddhist, concerning her experiences working on a sheep farm and at a Zen Buddhist retreat and what she has learned on her very unique spiritual journey. A clear-eyed, tough-minded spiritual work, elegantly understated and without an ounce of mushy religious sermonizing.

New and Selected Poems, Vols. 1 & 2, Mary Oliver (Beacon): On the surface it could be called nature poetry, but what Mary Oliver’s work is really about (to me) is the joy to be had , and the insight to be gained, in just being aware of the world around you. Well-crafted and often deceptively easy to follow meditations on the more intimate corners of our world. No other poet I’ve ever read better conveys the wonder of simple mindfulness better than her. An Oliver poem has often started my day this year, and I’m always glad for it.

Please share your favorites if you have the time.