Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Upon Reading a Book...

I

My online writing class ended and Jan wrote me an email: "In addition to revising the other works, do you have any thoughts on where to go from here?"

Francine Prose in her book Reading Like A Writer says, "I learned to write by writing and, by example by reading books."

Prose ends her book with these words: "If we want to write , it makes sense to read--and to read like a writer. If we wanted to grow roses, we would want to visit rose gardens and try to see them the way a rose gardener would."

II


What combines a coming of age story, a surfing story, and a spiritual journey?— Jaimal Yogis’s new book Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer's Quest to Find Zen on the Sea.

“Every surfer is seeking stoke, and every surfing memoir is an attempt to capture in words a feeling that defies description.”
Lynda Hawryluk


Perhaps every serious surfing memoir is a spiritual journey. What intrigues me about this book are the ways Yogis moves seamlessly from the narrative of a young man looking for independence and the release from a life style that is stifling to an individual moving through phases of spiritual discovery.

Yogis creates a close bond with the reader and we too embark on this journey. I stopped often while reading and thought about my own spiritual path. Instead of abstract phrases strewn around the pages, Yogis selects apt quotations to help the uninitiated understand some aspects of Zen. And he writes of real situations where he learns how to live out his spirituality in the world.

When Yogis speaks of his guru, he writes of an impaired man who must rely on caregivers. Jaimal works, for a time, as one of his caregivers.

I am reminded of Pastor Henri Nouwen's life “ Nouwen woke each morning to bathe, dress and feed a man incapable of performing those tasks for himself.” That man, and many others like him, were his gurus.

I wrote down a number of quotations to both slow down my reading and allow me to absorb the words.

“Waves are the practice of water. To speak of waves apart from water or water apart from waves is a delusion.”
— Suzuki Roshi

The descriptions of surfing run the gamut from novice wannabe to accomplished surfer, from occasional surfer to obsessed surfer, from cautious to reckless, to a middle path. Yogis’s descriptions of the surf, his explanations of the formation of waves, and his narratives of surfers feel honest. His excitement is palpable. At times I expected spindrift to wash over the page.

He follows through on the coming of age story by not allowing that thread to disappear. There’s an honesty that is refreshing. He’s a journalist who attained a Masters degree at Columbia University— he’s not opted out, but he still rues the intrusions of some of his assignments.

III

For writers—when you read this book note how Yogis blends his personal memoir with factual material. No jarring interruptions, no stopping —simply inhaling and exhaling.

Read as a writer.

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