To Read or Not To Read, That is the Question

So enthralled was I with A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, that I hopped online to purchase its sequel My Friend Leonard, as soon as I finished the book. Part of me believes in the potential merits of Ignorance is Bliss as a working life philosophy – and it’s this part of me that wishes I’d not stumbled upon the controversy encircling these books and their author.

I picked up A Million Little Pieces from one of those quaint little free libraries situated by the side of the road. And Oprah’s circular book club sticker adhering itself to the cover was almost enough of a deterrent to sway me away from taking it. While I realize, of course, that Oprah’s rubber stamp of approval would serve to inspire many people to pick it up – and in fact was what launched this particular book to stardom – it had the opposite effect on me, as Oprah’s massive branding of herself has always rubbed me the wrong way. Though, truth be told, I also sort of admire her for it, too.

After getting a few chapters in, I started to question as to whether I had the ability to finish the book. It was a gut-twisting, heart-rendering read. I felt as though I were being put through an emotional wood-chipper with every page. But I stuck with it, figuring since he had the wherewithal to tell his story of addiction and nefarious behaviors in such a raw and honest way, the least I could do was tag along and bear witness.

Once I figured out how to roll my eyes over his clunky and stylistic approach to the book, and compute with a growing semblance of understanding what is was he was trying to convey, I was able to immerse myself into his world and started thoroughly enjoying the read. I became invested in the people and plot line he was writing so starkly about. I looked forward to reading a new chapter each morning and was over-joyed when I discovered there was a sequel.

Mention of the controversy popped up as soon as I typed My Friend Leonard into the search bar on my laptop. Turns out, both books, while touted as memoirs, are not entirely true and accurate accounts of the author’s life. Artistic license was taken. Parts were fabricated. Big parts. And Oprah, needless to say, was not happy.

At first, the dude tried denying the accusations, brought forth by the investigative website The Smoking Gun. He even went so far as to say that his publisher had diligently fact-checked his book, which turned out not to be the case. Eventually the dude fessed up. He even went back on Oprah to be interviewed about the whole messy ordeal.

My Friend Leonard was gliding through the mail on its way to my doorstep as news of this controversy sifted into my consciousness. Knowing full well that I would not have given the first book a second glance, had I known it was either based or inspired by a true story, verses being a purely non-fiction read, I was off-put in light of this new information.

Does it really matter? I asked myself. I mean, you really liked the book.
Yeah, but I really liked it because I was under the assumption it was
his story – his true story. I countered.
Hmmm. Well, maybe
most of it is true. Would that help? I asked myself.

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Knowing Thyself

To listen to me reading this blog post in audio form:

 

I’ve questioned whether I can make it through this book: A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, the likes of which I discovered propped up in one of those little free libraries situated on a quiet neighborhood street in town. I almost didn’t take it, on account of the Oprah’s Book Club sticker adhered to the cover, which was designed to be a draw, a first-class recommendation, a rubber-stamp of approval by someone people trust. For me, though, it served only the ill-affects of resigning to a fate that had been chosen – neigh, thrusted – upon the masses, as though a woman who graces the cover of every O magazine should wield the power to say what’s hot in the literary world. How does this work? Do people care so little for their own opinion that they should have cause to hold hers in such high regard as to turn over their decision making power? But, I digress.

The reason I may not get through this book has nothing, in fact, to do with the circular sticker glued to the front. Instead, it has to do with the sheer visceral magnitude of the writer’s account of getting sober – in what turns out to be the oldest residential drug and alcohol treatment facility in the world, located in the state of Minnesota. The rock-bottom nature of his experience. The clutching force of how far a human being can spiral down the black hole of depravity. The hellish descriptions of agony. But it’s the realness that keeps me reading. And I know that since he mustered the ability to relive it while coiled over his computer, hands shaky on the keys, I can settle in beside him and listen to his story.

The point? There’s a time to push through discomfort and there’s a time not to. It depends on the situation and where we’re at. If we don’t know ourselves well, it becomes almost impossible to intuit which time calls for which action. Sometimes discomfort is a sign of needing to stop engaging with something because it may trigger us in un-beneficial ways. Other times, it’s a sign to keep going because it affords us the opportunity to learn and grow. And only we ourselves can know which time is which.

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Recommended Read

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Browsing through our local Book Exchange store a few months ago I came upon this book (pictured above).  Not being an avid reader I didn’t actually get to reading it until recently.  But with my new morning routine, since coming back from my recent one-month retreat at Deer Park Monastery, I’ve been waking up early, reading, and then practicing sitting meditation.  I’m almost finished with this book entitled, A Spiritual Renegade’s Guide to the Good Life by Lama Marut.  And while I’ve not connected with everything in this book I have very much enjoyed it and would recommend it to others.

Lama Marut’s book is filled with humor, insight, real world correlations, big fancy type words I had to look up the definitions for, and a laid back approach, and did I mention humor?  On the back of the book cover it explains Lama Marut as “an ordained Buddhist monk, a university professor, a surfer, and a motorcycle enthusiast.”  And while pictures of motorcycles grace the front cover of the book and are peppered throughout the chapters, there is no real connection that I can ascertain between them and the content he writes about.  So, in case you were wondering, this book does not, as the cover may imply, have anything to do with motorcycles.  I think it is Lama Marut’s clever way of drawing us rogue spiritual types in to pick up the book :)  And apparently, in my case at least, it worked!

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