Friday, January 6, 2012

A Book List

I normally think of December and January, not to mention February and parts of March, as a good time of the year to snuggle up in a big puffy blanket with a hot cup of cocoa and a good book. I say normally because here in Victoria it's about 7 degrees Celsius (which is about 45 Fahrenheit, for those of you who live in Jamaica, Belize or the United States), as opposed to the -20 that I'm used to at this time of year.

And so I thought I'd take a few minutes to share a bit of what I'm reading these days.

"The Maxwells of Montreal" (406 pages) - This is a wonderful book about May and Sutherland Maxwell, filled with all sorts of anecdotes and previously unpublished letters. It's by Violette Nakhjavani, with assistance from Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, and I have to tell you, I'm glad for Bahiyyih's assistance. I've also been reading Violette's book about Ruhiyyih Khanum, May and Sutherland's daughter, called "The Great African Safari" (586 pages), and it's a slog to get through. I mean, I love the various stories and extracts from talks in it, they're priceless, but it's just overwhelmed with too much detail about how bad the roads were and the names of every single individual they met during the journey. Some day I would love to extract the "good bits" and read the 60 pages that are left. And this is not to say don't read TGAS, because those good bits are worth the rest of the book. But The Maxwells is incredible. It reads so beautifully and is just chock-filled with stories and anecdotes that you will want to share with your family, your neighbours, your neighbour's family, their cousins and the cousin's dog, too. There are some wonderful letters from the Master to May and Sutherland, not to mention other people, and even a beautiful prayer by Mirza Abu'l-Fadl. You really begin to get an idea of why May is considered one of the greatest teachers in Baha'i history. Through the love she showed, and how others reacted to her, we can learn so much about how to improve our own teaching work. This book is truly a treasure for the ages. And it's only volume one. I can't wait for volume two.

The second book I'm reading, as I mentioned above, is "The Great African Safari" (586 pages), by Violette Nakhjavani. I don't have anything else to add to what I said above, except that it really does have some great bits in it.

The third book is "Rejoice in My Gladness: the Life of Tahirih" (331 pages), by Janet Ruhe-Schoen. Again, it is a fantastic book, filled with lots of stories and anecdotes that I hadn't read before. I am finding it a bit more difficult to read than The Maxwells, but I think that is more me than the book. For anyone who wants to read about Tahirih's life from the perspective of a very gifted writer and historian, they could do no better than this one. It is a great companion volume to those other books about her poetry by Hatcher and Hemmat, "Adam's Wish" and "The Poetry of Tahirih". As I haven't read too much of it yet, I can't say more about it at this time.

I just finished "I Loved Thy Creation" (495 pages), the short story works of Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, one of my favorite fantasy authors. She has a marvelous way of incorporating the Baha'i teachings into her work, and I dearly wish she'd write more (hint hint, just in case she's reading this). While I still prefer her full length novels (The Meri, The Crystal Rose, and Taminy, in particular), these short stories give an insight into how we can use the teachings of the Faith in the arts. The first in the collection, Hand Me Down Town, is a beautiful example of taking a very sad real life occurrence, applying the teachings, and seeing what could happen. In this case, it's the absurd law that a California town passed outlawing homelessness. By applying the idea of true generosity, she comes up with a beautiful and touching little story.

"Abraham: One God, Three Wives, Five Religions" (210 pages) is another interesting read. While the story is pretty much what you would expect, that of Abraham's life, it is very well written and enjoyable. What I liked most, though, was the author says in the introduction. She says that her basic rules for gathering the information are quite simple: when scripture and tradition disagree, scripture wins; and when old and new scripture disagree the newest scripture wins because it is the newest Word of God.

"'Abdu'l-Baha in Their Midst" (337 pages) was an absolute joy. This book, which filled in many gaps for me in my knowledge of the Master's visit to the West, is one that I have referred to many times in this blog. If we are ever looking for more examples of how we should act towards others, how we should behave in our teaching work, this book is a must.

Another one that goes so well here is "Lighting the Western Sky" (276 pages), the story of the first pilgrimage group from the West. In fact, looking over this list again, I realize just how amazing it is to read "The Maxwells" along with these last two books all at the same time. We are talking so much about the importance of developing community, and how to reach out and teach other souls, and we have so many incredible examples right here. Time and again I see these signs, t-shirts or whatever that ask "What would Jesus do", and the truth is that we don't know. He was a Manifestation of God and acted in such a way as to transform an entire civilization. But here, in this religion, we can ask ourselves "What would Abdu'l-Baha do" and see clear examples in the stories from just a couple generations ago. These three books are not only filled with priceless stories of what the Master did in some fairly unusual circumstances, as well as some other situations that we still face every day, but they also contain stories of how our own communities were founded by such heroes as May Maxwell and Lua Getsinger.

The last book I'm reading right now is "Wonderstruck" (629 pages). This is another great work of fiction, ostensibly written for children, but good for kids of all ages. I'm not listing the other myriad works of fiction that I've been reading, for most of them are not worthy of mention. But Wonderstruck is beautiful. It is filled with gorgeous illustrations, and helps remind us of the wonder that is to be found everywhere in the world. I know it's not a Baha'i book, nor is the author Baha'i, but who cares? We need to look at all areas of human knowledge, not just what is found within our own small community. So this is another book I can highly recommend.

Last but not least, you may have noticed that the running total is 3270 pages, not counting the 8 or 9 other works of fiction that I didn't count, which total approximately 3500 pages, nor the Sacred Texts that I read every day, nor what I read on the internet. Conservatively, I've probably read about 7500 pages in the last few months, and this is average for me. I read while I'm eating by myself, on the bus, waiting for someone, every chance I get. I read about a page a minute, and easily find 90 minutes in total throughout the day, so 100 per day is not all that much. While I do read faster than the average person, it's not really all that fast. Most of us can easily read a page every two minutes, and can easily find random minutes throughout the day when we can open up a book and read a page or two.

Why do I mention this? Simple. Many years ago I had the incredible opportunity to take a class by one of my favorite writers. At the end of it, he made us all swear that, if we wanted to really be a writer, we would read for at least 20 minutes a night before going to bed, in addition to all the other reading we do during the day. If we miss our reading one night, we are to read for an hour the next. This was back in 1986, and I've missed very few nights since that time. Do the math. It comes out to nearly 3045 hours of additional reading.

In other words, in addition to all the reading I do in my daily life, I still read an extra 20 minutes each night. (You can ask my wife. She'll vouch for me.) That comes to an additional 120 hours per year. How much, I ask you, can you read in 120 hours? It adds up pretty fast.

I wasn't a Baha'i when I began this little night-time reading. Now I am. And Baha'u'llah tells us to read a bit of Sacred Text each evening. Combine these two, and we can easily read an additional 120 hours of Sacred Text every year. Pretty awesome that.

Besides, there really isn't much that is more comforting than snuggling up in that blanket with a good book and nice hot cup of whatever. Hmm. It's getting late. It's dark outside. And I sense a cup of tea calling my name. I wonder what I'll read now?


  1. I just finished reading the Millennium trilogy the other day. Also saw the new film version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which was a great adaptation of the first book.

  2. Oh, I've been wanting to read that for a while now. I should probably check it out of the library just as soon as my "to read" pile gets a bit smaller. Thanks for the reminder.