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Book Review: The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön

Image of a digital book cover. A pond in a forest in the winter with the name of the book.

Summary:
In this book, Pema provides the tools to deal with the problems and difficulties that life throws our way, so that we may let our circumstances soften us and make us kinder, rather than making us increasingly resentful and afraid. This wisdom is always available to us, she teaches, but we usually block it with habitual patterns rooted in fear. Beyond that fear lies a state of openheartedness and tenderness. This book teaches us how to awaken our basic goodness and connect with others, to accept ourselves and others complete with faults and imperfections, and to stay in the present moment by seeing through the strategies of ego that cause us to resist life as it is. 

Review:
The majority of this book suggests that fearlessness can be accomplished via mindfulness and various types of meditation. This may be true. I’m certainly not an expert meditator. Although it is something I have been working at for many years. But it was disappointing to me how much of this book was essentially – meditate and be mindful, and you will become fearless. It’s not that it might not work; it’s that I wanted more.

Some of the more that I was wanting did come up a couple of places in the book. The first was in a story of a couple who live in a gated community. They eventually become so afraid of what is outside the gates, that they basically stop living. They get so caught up in the what if’s that they don’t live. I liked how this showed that walls can be of our own making, and being fearless is a daily practice. You don’t just suddenly wake up one day walled in, rather you build that wall gradually day by day. The older I get, the more I appreciate the value of one small step a day.

I also appreciated the introduction to the idea of training in the three difficulties. This was a new a concept to me. I’ll just post the quote, since I doubt I could explain it any clearer than it is in the book.

[It] gives us instruction on how to practice, how to interrupt our habitual reactions. The three difficulties are (1) acknowledging our neurosis as neurosis, (2) doing something different, and (3) aspiring to continue practicing this way.

29%

This reminded me of the wisdom of early sobriety. Becoming sober is largely about changing negative habits into good ones. We acknowledge what isn’t working, commit to do it differently, and practice doing that every day. I liked the idea of applying that to anything I wanted to be braver at. I also like that it has a name. The three difficulties.

If you are new to meditation, the instruction in the book is good. It’s largely focused on metta (loving-kindness) meditation and tonglen (taking and sending). Metta is one of the first types of meditation I learned, and it definitely helps me when I’m in a bad mood. I’m not personally sure that it makes me braver, though. Although, who knows, maybe I would have been much more fearful these last years without it.

Overall, this is an interesting book and a quick read. It was not what I was expecting, but also had its moments of value. Recommended more so to those who are new to meditation and mindfulness.

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 187 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Library

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Book Review: Siren by John Everson

January 3, 2013 2 comments

Woman crawling out of the ocean onto a rock.Summary:
Evan walks the seacoast of his small town every night reliving the horror of watching his son drown.  But one night he hears a beautiful song and discovers a perfectly naked, perfectly beautiful woman attached to it.  As he begins an affair, willfully oblivious to anything about the woman beyond her beauty, he fails to realize he is falling for the siren of Delilah.

Review:
I picked this up during one of the monthly kindle book sales on a whim, and am I glad I did!  This book was simultaneously terrifying and electrifying.  The flip-flop between fear and titillation was a truly delightful reading experience, and it came with a well thought-out plotline and delicious settings to boot.

Evan is not a likeable guy. In fact, Ligeia, the Siren, is more likable than he is, and she routinely rips people’s throats out with just her teeth.  But disliking Evan works for the story.  It lets the reader invest in Ligeia and see her side of things.  There are ways in which she is a monster, yes, but there are also ways in which she is quite human.  Having a deeply flawed male “victim” to her charms allows the reader to see the monster in us all.

Both the horror and the sex scenes are adeptly written.  The sex scenes are titillating without being too much, and, similarly, the horrific scenes are grotesque without going too far.  The presence of both in the story makes for an ever-changing, exciting read.  Similarly, the plot is complex without being overly so and managed to keep me guessing.  It also strikes the balance quite well.

I also really enjoyed the light commentary on hunting and eating another species.  It provides a depth to the story beyond simply lust leading one astray.

Kind of puts a whole new spin on fishing, doesn’t it?  Here you men are always out there reeling in the fish, and here’s a half-fish woman who’s reeling in the men.  (page 146)

Of course, there is also commentary on cheating and the other woman. There has to be, since Ligeia is Evan’s mistress.  I must admit that that basic plot can sometimes upset me, so I do think it distracted me a bit from enjoying the book as much as I would have otherwise.  On a similar note, the ending is not quite what I would have hoped for, although it did make sense in the context of the story.

Overall, this is an interesting mix of horror and erotica that is fast-paced and enjoyable.  Those sensitive to cheating as a plot device or explicit deaths may want to exercise caution.  Recommended to those who would enjoy their horror and erotica together.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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