I had been interested in the various conspiracy theories of the Kennedy assassination for a long time. Then in a trip to Dealey Plaza in 2013 I put those questions to rest, as I wrote about on this blog at the time. My interest was recently rekindled when I saw the cover of a new book by Alexandra Zapruder – Twenty-Six Seconds – A Personal History of the Zapruder Film. I had to read it.
Twenty-Six Seconds doesn’t propose any new theories on what happened on that fateful day in Dallas November 22, 1963. Instead the book gives a fascinating account of an ordinary citizen, Abraham Zapruder, and the ordeals he and his family went through as a result of Zapruder’s shocking home movie showing the death of the President in vivid detail. The author, Alexandra Zapruder, is Abraham Zapruder’s granddaughter. Though Alexandra was not born until six years after the assassination, she skillfully tells the Zapruder story through interviews with family members and other key players involved in making the Zapruder film the most famous home movie ever recorded.
I liked best the human stories in the book. “At some point over coffee that morning, Lillian asked Abe if he had brought his movie camera from home, as he had said he was planning to do a few days before,” Alexandra relates the conversation between Abraham and his wife the morning of the assassination. “Well, no, actually, he hadn’t. He had given up on the idea at the last minute, thinking that with the crowds packing the motorcade route, he would never get near enough to see, let alone film the president,” Alexandra writes in describing Abraham’s reply. Lillian eventually convinced her husband to retrieve his camera. In reading about the turmoil Abraham and his family went through as a result of the film, I wondered if Abraham had later wished he had left his camera at home that day.
Alexandra Zapruder did her homework in writing Twenty-Six Seconds. The book is very well researched, with detailed accounts of the legal struggles regarding ownership of the film. I did not find the legal details as interesting as the people stories, but I did feel these details were necessary to tell the complete history of Abraham’s home movie. “The film was but one small element in the vast, overwhelming coverage of the president’s death,” Alexandra writes in describing the growing importance of Abraham’s work. “In later years, as the grief for the president waned and questions remained about his death, the film would grow and change in significance until it would become almost one with the assassination itself.”
“I must have heard my mother say a hundred times,” Alexandra writes. “Your grandfather should have been famous for who he was, for being a good person and a funny, wonderful man, and not for the film.” Twenty-Six Seconds does achieve the goal of revealing the human side of Abraham Zapruder. At the end the book poses a question for the reader to ponder – “After learning how Abraham Zapruder struggled to reconcile the moral dilemma of selling the film, how do you think you might have behaved under those same circumstances?” Hmmmm, I’m sure I would not have handled the situation with the same grace and wisdom as Abraham Zapruder did.
“Is the Christian life centrally about believing, or is it about a relationship?” Marcus Borg writes in his book The God We Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authentic Contemporary Faith. “Is it about believing in God as a supernatural being separate from the universe or about a relationship to the Spirit who is right here and all around us? Is it about believing in a God “out there” or about a relationship with a God who is right here?”
These words resonated with me as my spirituality is about relationship with God, experiencing Spirit’s unconditional love, and not about believing the “right doctrine”. The Christianity I grew up with was all about believing the right truths. Oh there was talk of relationship with God, but only if you believed the right doctrine first. Borg challenges that approach held by many Christians today. “Though fundamentalist and conservative Christians speak about this older understanding of God and the Bible with great confidence, what they have to say makes little sense to many of us,” Borg says. “There are millions of people—within the church and the church alumni association, as well as some who have never been part of a church—for whom this older understanding of God and Christianity does not work.”
Marcus Borg passed away in 2015, but his transformative message lives on in books like The God We Never Knew. His emphasis on relationship over correct belief is one I have heard before from him before. It’s a message he wrote about in his blog, What Is A Christian? If you are intrigued by this blog entry, read The God We Never Knew for an even deeper understanding of Borg’s freeing theology.
Conservative Christians accuse liberal thinkers like Borg to be “New Age” or “Pantheistic”. He is neither. In The God We Never Knew the author explains a different way to look at God: Panentheism. “God is both more than the universe and yet everywhere present in the universe,” Borg writes. This view of God makes a lot of sense to me, and since reading Borg’s work I have come across similar views from American philosopher Ken Wilber and from teaching in the Unity church.
“The Christian life is not about pleasing God the finger-shaker and judge,” Borg writes in The God We Never Knew. “It is not about believing now or being good now for the sake of heaven later. It is about entering a relationship in the present that begins to change everything now. Spirituality is about this process: the opening of the heart to the God who is already here.” I recommend The God We Never Knew, or any of Borg’s books, for those who seek a deeper experience of God’s love, without the fear based approach of fundamentalist Christianity.
Do you need a spiritual tuneup? If so I highly recommend Patrick Paul Garlinger’s When Thought Turns to Light. The author gives helpful insights on a number of familiar topics for spiritual seekers, such as the value of meditation, forgiveness, gratitude, prayer, and more.
If you have read my past reviews you know I like books that affirm the unconditional love we receive from God/Spirit/The Universe or whatever your preferred label is for the Divine. When Thought Turns to Light emphasizes unconditional love on every page. “The Light—the energy of unconditional love—flows through all of us,” writes Garlinger. “We are always connected to the Light, and we are all capable of feeling and expressing unconditional love.” As I let those words sink in I wanted to read more.
Why don’t we always feel this unconditional love if love is our very nature? “We’re constantly thinking about the past, projecting onto the future, and completely missing the present based on things that happened to us that we misunderstood in the first place,” says Garlinger. These words reminded me of the teaching in Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. Yet I found Garlinger’s approach to “living in the now” easier to understand than Tolle’s work.
Love is always working for our highest good according to the author. “The ways in which the Light heals are not always clear to us, nor do they unfold in the way we might expect,” the author feels. I liked how each chapter had questions to ponder at the end, such as “Can you think of examples where you thought something was terrible, and later quite fortunate? What changed?” Thus When Thought Turns to Light is a good book for group study, as questions like this are sure to lead people to share experiences from their own lives.
I also liked how the book took a realistic view of positive thinking. I value positive thinking, but there are limits to being positive all the time. “The problem is when (positive thinking) perpetuates a paradigm of materialism over spirituality, or worse still, creates a sense that the Divine is nothing more than a cosmic Amazon.com, ready to ship us what we want as soon as we ask for it with enough positivity,” Garlinger writes. The phrase “cosmic Amazon.com” made me laugh at first, before I realized some of the prosperity philosophy around these days teaches exactly that.
“When you have little practice at responding with love but a lot of practice at responding with fear, it is easy to fall prey to fear. For most of us, it will be the practice of a lifetime,” says Garlinger. When Thought Turns to Light encouraged me to look at the areas in my life where I respond with fear, and motivated me to continue to work on seeing all circumstances and people through the eyes of love.
As a life long baseball fan I jumped at the chance to read and review Marty Appel’s book Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character. Casey’s playing and managing days were before my time (I started following the game as a kid in the late 60’s). Yet I found interesting the stories of Casey’s playing career and his many years of managing, including winning 10 pennants and seven World Championships with the New York Yankees.
The book is full of colorful stories – stories which make Casey Stengel come to life for those like me who only had a passing knowledge of Stengel’s accomplishments. I learned that Casey went to dental school in three off seasons while he was an active player. When he decided to make a career of baseball he quit dental school within a few weeks of graduating. “‘My quitting with just a month to go was the greatest thing that ever happened to dentistry,’ he often said, with his famous wink,” writes Appel.
Did you know Casey Stengel hit the first home run in Ebbets Field history (an inside the park job)? Or that he had four hits in four at bats in his major league debut? “Through 2015, only twelve players have gone 4-for-4 in their debut since Casey did it, including Willie McCovey and Kirby Puckett,” Appel relates. I only knew of Stengel as a great manager, and didn’t know he was a pretty good ball player in his own right, too.
The bulk of the book covers Stengel’s years managing the Yankees and the hapless New York Mets. I learned that Stengel was in baseball for 39 years before managing the Yankees, none of which were in the American League. I found interesting the accounts of Casey’s interactions with the New York stars. He became a father figure to Mickey Mantle, for example, after Mantle’s dad died at a young age. Before a World Series game one at Ebbets Field, Appel relates, Stengel took Mantle out for a tutorial on how to play Ebbett’s concrete outfield wall. “I told him I played that wall myself for eight years,” said Stengel. Casey continued, “Know what he said when I told him that? ‘The hell ya say?’ and looked at me as if I was screwy. Guess he thinks I was born at age 50 and started managing immediately.” Humorous stories like this makes the book a fun read, too.
If you were fortunate to live through Stengel’s Yankee heydays, or if you are a younger fan like myself, I think you will enjoy Appel’s book relating stories of “baseball’s greatest character.”
Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character will be available for sale in late March, just before the 2017 baseball season.
Earlier this year I thought picking my top 5 books for 2016 would be an easy task. Because of lots of travel (that’s me snowshoeing at Lake Louise, Canada in March) I just didn’t read that many books in the first half of the year. But I went on a book reading binge at year’s end, many fine books, which again made narrowing my list to just 5 a difficult assignment. Here are the top 5 books I read and reviewed on this blog for 2016 (with a link for each to my original review):
From my review: “All of us yearn for happiness and love, and sometimes we find it,” writes Marianne Willamson in her new book Tears to Triumph: The Spiritual Journey from Suffering to Enlightenment. “Yet most of us are visited at some point by sorrow as well. A relationship, a job, a particular circumstance brought us happiness—but then something went wrong.” Can you relate? I can. If you are spiritually inclined (or even if you are not) Tears to Triumph is one of the best books I have read on working through hard times.
I like positive thinking type of books, yet books that don’t deny the reality of suffering. Hell in the Hallway and Rising Strong were two of my favorites from last year with a similar theme, and Tears to Triumph is another good one.
“The point of this whole Year of Yes project is to say yes to things that scare me, that challenge me,” she writes, “So in order to YES a problem, I have to find whatever it is inside the problem that challenges me or scares me or makes me just freak out – and then I have to say yes to that thing.”
This was the book I thought of most during the year as I found myself saying “yes” to my own fears. Like snowshoeing for the first time, or volunteering to lead a book discussion group with my wife Anne at our church, or taking a class in the Fall with a bunch of people I didn’t know where deep sharing and public speaking was required. All these experiences were challenging to me at first, but ultimately rewarding. Thanks to Shonda I took more risks in 2016.
From my review: Do you consider yourself to be a creative yet sensitive person? I do, so that’s why I was drawn to Doreen Virtue’s new book – The Courage to be Creative: How to Believe in Yourself, Your Dreams and Ideas, and Your Creative Career Path. “Some of the most creative people I’ve met are also the most sensitive,” Virtue writes. “Their sensitivity makes them receptive to divinely inspired ideas. Yet, that same sensitivity makes them shy to reveal their ideas to others.” Yep, that’s me.
This book is a wonderful one to read for creative types. In my case it encouraged me to continue my blogging (on this site and on my travel and sports blogs), after I took a few months off from writing anything.
From my review: Anita Moorjani gets it. After a near death experience (NDE) that she describes in vivid detail in her first book, Dying to be Me, she came to the conclusion that “being in that state made me realize that I didn’t have to do anything to deserve being loved. I realized that I’m loved unconditionally just because I exist!” Unconditional love is the basis for my spirituality, and much of what Moorjani writes in her new book “What If This is Heaven? How Our Cultural Myths Prevent Us From Experiencing Heaven on Earth” resonated with me. Sadly, many of the belief systems of today are based in conditional love. “As soon as we put conditions on love, it becomes something else entirely,” Moorjani says.
There are lots of deep truths in What if This is Heaven. I am looking forward to discussing this book with the group my wife and I lead at our church in 2017.
Number one: When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi
From my review: A successful neurosurgeon with seemingly everything going for him, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with lung cancer at age 36. Before the disease claimed his life he kept a journal – a journal that became When Breath Becomes Air.
This was a different type of book than the usual self help fare I like to read. A moving and heartfelt memoir of Kalanithi’s challenges as a doctor and struggles with the disease that would eventually take his life. “My life had been building potential, potential that would now go unrealized,” Kalanithi writes. “My carefully planned and hard-won future no longer existed. Death, so familiar to me in my work, was now paying a personal visit.” Whoa. With words like this When Breath Becomes Air grabbed me from the start. It usually takes me two to three weeks to finish a book. I read When Breath Becomes Air in two days.
This book is summed up in the subtitle: “How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story” I enjoyed reading this skeptical reporter’s journey of exploring different spiritual teachers, and eventually finding a meditation practice that worked for him.
From my review: “Moment by moment, choice by choice, you decide whether you are only human or you are divine,” Martella-Whitsett concludes in the book’s final pages. Spiritual growth doesn’t come easy, it’s something you have to work at. That’s the main message I received from Divine Audacity, with many suggestions on how to live from Spirit every day.
“We, the collective we, have perceived GOD to be an inaccessible superhuman, which locates GOD outside and beyond us,” writes Linda Martella-Whitsett in the introduction of her book Divine Audacity. “I propose there is no such God.” Rather the author emphasizes that the Spirit of God is within all of us, a Spirit we can tap into to live from our own “divine audacity.”
Martella-Whitsett’s view of God is representative of New Thought teaching – a different approach to spirituality than traditional Christian theology. I like in Divine Audacity how the author expands on her teaching presented in How To Pray Without Talking to God, one of the best books I reviewed in 2012.
In part one Divine Audacity Martella-Whitsett attempts to make the reader comfortable with the idea that he or she has the Spirit of God within. “Most people either shy away from or reject outright the audacious claim of Divine Identity,” she writes. It was a difficult transition for her. “I was nervous because the kind of inner attunement (my teacher) promoted was dramatically at odds with my childhood faith,” she says. It is at odds with my childhood faith, too. If the words “I am God” sound extreme and heretical, I suggest not letting those words lead you to reject Martella-Whitsett’s teaching. Instead read Divine Audacity for ideas about living from the potential that resides within you, without labeling that potential as “God”.
In the second part of the book, she presents her “divine audacity” ideas divided into twelve chapters:
Each chapter gives tips on allowing that aspect of your divine audacity to flourish in your life. I like how Martella-Whitsett gives easy to understand examples in making her points. In The Light of Imagination chapter, for instance, she writes about dealing with difficult family issues. “We can revise history. We can tell ourselves a different story about our past, one that breaks the chains of habitual assumptions.”
Each chapter also has a concluding “Practice” section with practical exercises. In the Imagination chapter one exercise is “Rewrite a painful story from your past, reinterpreting it in a way that strengthens you and lifts you up.” I found the Practice sections especially helpful in a group discussion about the book that I participated in, as the exercises led people to deeply share from their own lives.
“Moment by moment, choice by choice, you decide whether you are only human or you are divine,” Martella-Whitsett concludes in the book’s final pages. Spiritual growth doesn’t come easy, it’s something you have to work at. That’s the main message I received from Divine Audacity, with many suggestions on how to live from Spirit every day.
Next week: My top 5 books of 2016.
- The Law of Pure Potentiality
- The Law of Giving and Receiving
- The Law of Karma or Cause and Effect
- The Law of Least Effort
- The Law of Intention and Desire
- The Law of Detachment
- The Law of Dharma or Purpose in Life
- “Accept people, situations, and events as they are, not a you wish they were, in this moment” (in the Law of Least Effort chapter)
- “Whatever we put our attention on grows stronger in our life, whatever we take our attention away from withers and disappears.” (in the Law of Intention and Desire chapter)
- “The Law of Detachment does not interfere with goal setting. We still have the intention of going in a certain direction, but between point A and point B there are infinite possibilities.” (in the Law of Detachment chapter)
A successful neurosurgeon with seemingly everything going for him, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with lung cancer at age 36. Before the disease claimed his life he kept a journal – a journal that became When Breath Becomes Air.
In the early chapters, where Kalanithi tells of his work as a neurosurgeon, I got a sense of the life and death choices many doctors have to make every day. “In my life, had I ever made a decision harder than choosing between a French dip and a Reuben?” Kalanithi reflects as he graduates from medical school. “How could I ever learn to make, and live with, such judgment calls? I still had a lot of practical medicine to learn, but would knowledge alone be enough, with life and death hanging in the balance?” I gained a new respect for the medical profession as I read the author’s stories of the patients he treated, and the difficult decisions he had to made. Yes doctors make the big bucks but it is not an easy profession. “Putting lifestyle first is how you find a job—not a calling,” Kalanithi writes as he gives the reader an inside look at his demanding, yet rewarding work.
Then the tables are turned. With his cancer diagnosis, suddenly Kalanithi is the patient. “My life had been building potential, potential that would now go unrealized,” he recalls. “My carefully planned and hard-won future no longer existed. Death, so familiar to me in my work, was now paying a personal visit.” As I read Kalanithi’s account of being on the other side of the doctor/patient relationship I was reminded of William Hurt’s 1991 film The Doctor, where Hurt’s Dr Jack McKee faces similar challenges. But When Breath Becomes Air is a real life story, not Hollywood fiction. Kalanithi’s vulnerability comes through in relating his thoughts and feelings as his disease progresses. “Instead of being the pastoral figure aiding a life transition, I found myself the sheep, lost and confused,” he writes.
Kalanithi’s wife Lucy is an integral part of this story, too. The couple decide to have a child, despite the dire prognosis for Paul’s recovery, and daughter Cady is born eight months before Paul passes away. “Caring for our daughter, nurturing relationships with family, publishing this book, pursuing meaningful work, visiting Paul’s grave, grieving and honoring him, persisting…my love goes on—lives on—in a way I’d never expected,” Lucy writes in the book’s Epilogue. “(Paul) was, and would have continued to be, a good person and a deep thinker. Instead, this book is a new way for him to help others, a contribution only he could make.”
Lucy Kalanithi is right. Paul Kalanithi’s words will be an inspiration to many (especially those dealing with a serious illness). I can’t imagine anyone facing death with more grace than Paul Kalanithi.
I received a complementary copy of this book for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.
Mike Love does not hold back in his book “Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy”. Love gives a thorough account of the band’s 5+ decade run. “The specific details on the origins of the Beach Boys—who played what, when, where, and how—have been recounted in many, and at times contradictory, ways over the past fifty-five years,” Love writes early in the book. “I can only offer my best memory about what happened.”
I liked Love’s honesty in Good Vibrations, detailing the high and low moments of the band and his life. “I was good at falling in love but lousy at being in love,” he writes as he tells of his many failed marriages and romances throughout the book. But Good Vibrations is primarily about the formation, challenges, and successes of the Beach Boys.
I learned of the band’s humble beginnings. “It wasn’t as if we had some big meeting and decided to create a band. It was more of a natural evolution, as we had been singing together as a family for years,” Love relates. Love and his cousins originally called themselves “The Pendletones”. After obtaining their first record deal with a small company, “it was a shock when we opened the record and saw our name: the Beach Boys,” Love recalls. This was one of many little tidbits in the book of the Beach Boys origins – sure to be interest to the band’s fans.
There are plenty of background stories in Good Vibrations on how the band’s iconic songs came to be. Such as the formation of “Catch A Wave”. “Brian (Wilson) wanted to use a harp (on that song), so he contacted the best harpist he knew—my sister Maureen,” Love remembers. “She was living in San Jose, and Brian called at ten a.m. and asked if she could be there that night. With her harp.” Many of the Beach Boys hit songs were created with spur of the moment decisions like this, and not with weeks of planning.
And there are many stories of the Beach Boys down times. Brian Wilson was the creative genius of the group, but struggled with addictions. The Manson family lived with band member Dennis Wilson for a time, before that group’s horrid murders, as Charles Manson wanted to become a rock star. While having their share of megahits of their own, there was constant pressure on the band to keep up with the Beatles.
Even with all the internal bickering, unknown to the band’s fans but revealed in Good Vibrations, the Beach Boys managed to create a unique sound that will forever be a part of American music lore. “Beach Boys’ music represents joy of life and joy of living,” said band member Carl Love as related in the book. If you are a fan of the Beach Boys, as I am, I think you will enjoy reading this behind the scenes account of the band’s ups and downs over the years.
“All of us yearn for happiness and love, and sometimes we find it,” writes Marianne Willamson in her new book Tears to Triumph: The Spiritual Journey from Suffering to Enlightenment. “Yet most of us are visited at some point by sorrow as well. A relationship, a job, a particular circumstance brought us happiness—but then something went wrong.” Can you relate? I can. If you are spiritually inclined (or even if you are not) Tears to Triumph is one of the best books I have read on working through hard times.
The author speaks from experience in writing about challenging life circumstances. “I know something about suffering, as twice I’ve been diagnosed as clinically depressed,” she says. “I’ve also experienced personal tragedy and the deaths of loved ones. I’ve suffered through devastating betrayals and disappointments. I’ve felt on more than one occasion that I had lost any chance of happiness I might have ever had.” Yet Williamson has transformed these painful events to gain new spiritual insights – insights she shares with her readers in Tears to Triumph.
Sometimes I read criticisms of a metaphysical type of spirituality, like Williamson espouses, from religious conservatives. “You deny the harsh realities of life with your positive messages,” they may say. Williamson, who bases her work on A Course in Miracles, does not shy away from darkness and pain in this book. “Grief and sadness can be part of a transformational process, one that should not be automatically labeled negative,” she believes. “Difficult emotions are at times appropriate; they can be exactly what we need to experience in order to truly heal, grow, and get to the other side of our suffering with meaningful lessons learned.”
As with another book I reviewed last year, Ellen Debenport’s Hell in the Hallway, I’m getting the message that it is healthy not to deny pain but to feel your way through it. The hope is that you come out stronger and wiser, and through the lessons learned you can be of service to others. In her book Williamson emphasizes prayer and forgiveness as aides to healing.
“A prayer for a miracle is not a request that a situation be different, but a request that we see it differently,” the author writes. I recommend reading Tears to Triumph for help in transforming your own painful experiences to something good – for yourself and for others.