The best things I read in March

Well, shoot. We are rapidly hurtling through May, which means this post is less than timely. AND I SKIPPED A WHOLE MONTH. BUT I have an excuse (not that anyone is demanding one). April is the month where school starts kicking my butt and work starts getting crazy with end-of-the-semester events and for other work-related reasons I needed to cram in a bunch of inter-island travel before mid-May, which means this blog sort of got ignored for a couple weeks. Ok, a month. It feels good to return to this space.

BUT NOW ONTO THE GOOD THINGS, THE READING THINGS, THE BOOK THINGS. It’s what we’re all here for. I swear these are all things I actually read in March (self-reporting proof on my account). I may have had to skim some of them to remember why I chose them, but I stand by my timeline.

“The Banality of Empathy” by Namwali Serpell for The New York Review of Books: I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy lately (in part, for an upcoming podcast), and this is a beautiful and probing look at what empathy does and the forms in which it manifests. Of course I loved the allusion to Arendt. But I swear I liked this read for more than that.

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The Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren. This is the second time I’ve read this book, and I enjoyed it just as much this time around. While I skimmed some parts, overall I appreciated the exhortation flowing through each chapter to SLOW DOWN, to take a beat in the dull/frustrating/hectic moments of life, and to allow those bits of life to be part of our perfection. Warren, Jean Pierre de Caussade, and Brother Lawrence would get along swimmingly and I think I have a new “dream dinner party” crew.

The Buddhist Unconscious: the Alaya-vijnana in the context of Indian Buddhist Thought by William S. Waldron. The Abhidharmic philosophers in early Indian Buddhism had to answer for a problem that arose from their theory of dharmas: how can you account for karma (diachronic cause and effect in and across lifetimes) in a system that proclaims everything is composed of momentary dharmas that pop into and out of existence and bear no causal relation to dharmas before or after? The Yogacara philosophers created the concept of the Alaya-vijnana, a karmically netural continuous stream of subconscious that contains the “seeds” for dispositions and dharmas, and thus enables a being to build up and experience karma in her lifetime and across other lifetimes. Waldron clearly lays out the evolution of alaya-vijnana theory (not an easy task, if you’ve tried to read the source text) and this book provides a peek into a rich, complex philosophy of mind. It’s a lot of terms and concepts to have to wrestle with if you are new to Indian Buddhist philosophy (as I was), but slow and active reading provided a very satisfying payout.

Adorable, hilarious couple goals to the max: “The Couple Behind the Best NY Times Comment Exchange Ever” from The Cut. I laughed out loud several times.

And with that, I need to start gathering my reads for April because we’re already halfway through May. Oops.

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