Saturday, June 16, 2018

A Pretty Good Book

     Have you ever ordered a book, picked it up and starting reading it, only to find out it was nothing like you expected?  That could be a good thing, as in engaging in an engrossing read or learning something completely new, or it could be not so good, as in when you just can't connect with what the author is trying to say.

     I experienced more of the latter than the former while reading Alan Watts' Tao: The Watercourse Way. I'm sure it's just me.  It came highly recommended on Amazon, so perhaps I just wasn't in the mindset to wander and ruminate with the author.

     Alan Watts, the British author who came to California in the 60s and became a kind of a hippie guru, has written extensively on Zen Buddhism.  This was his only foray, I believe, into Taoism.  He uses each chapter to explore an aspect of Taoism, whether it be the difficulties of translating from the Chinese, or what wu-wei could mean, the yin-yang polarity, or the Taoist conception of virtuality.  However, when presenting the information or concept, he pulls in references from all sorts of places -- from Thoreau to Zen writings to Confucianism -- in an academic way.  It reminded me of a book I read years ago about Emily Dickinson, which read like a scholar's exploration in abstraction, but lacked any sort of point.  Give me the point, please.

     Sadly, Mr. Watts died before completing this book, so perhaps it lacked a fair amount of editing.  Or perhaps this is just how he wrote.  In any case, his co-author, Al Chung-liang Huang contributed an additional chapter, but the book, to me, felt incomplete.  But like I said, it did come highly recommended, so it probably is me.

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