Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Shoemaker’s Wife

The Shoemaker's WifeThe Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Shoemaker’s Daughter, is a lush portrayal of Northern Italy and immigration to Minnesota, the Iron country—between the very early 1900’s and the Second World War. It is a story of two families, of love and loss and immigration and struggles against all odds to succeed. And we learn that the story reflects many experiences and characters from the author’s own life.

Throughout the story we glean wonderful insights into Italian food, family, relationship to the Church, and to the flora and fauna of the Alps. The same can be said when the story moves to New York and Minnesota. Added to this the Italian love of music and art. The Great Caruso makes cameo appearances. And this, an abundance of description, is the only quality that I find over the top.

Ciro and his brother are left by their grieving mother into the care of nuns in a high Italian Alpine village. The father has disappeared after immigrating to America to care for his family…we learn he died in a mining accident. The mother’s grief incapacitates her. In spite of their abandonment by their mother both boys thrive in the warm, caring atmosphere of the nuns until Ciro has to flee to America to escape the anger of their parish priest.

On a memorable occasion he kissed a girl, Enza, after helping her with the burial of her much loved sister. Enza comes from a very close and loving family, but when they lose their house and their livelihood from running a carriage up and down the mountain, Enza and her father must emigrate to America.

She goes to New York whereas he goes to Minnesota to be apprenticed to a shoemaker. How they meet after the passage of years creates a touching love story. 4 of 5.

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The Failure of Zen

Zen and Now: on the Trail of Robert Pirsig and the Art of Motorcycle MaintenanceZen and Now: on the Trail of Robert Pirsig and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Mark Richardson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Richardson, editor of the Wheels section of the Toronto Star, sets out to follow the route Robert Pirsig and his 11 year old son took from Minneapolis to San Francisco.

Pirsig’s original, “Zen and the Art of motorcyle Maintenance” was a best seller that established a cult following. The book early impressed Richardson, who now, after re-reading it investigates what happened to Pirsig then sets out to retrace his steps on his own old Suzuki dirt bike. This new book was published on the 40th anniversary of Pirsig’s ride.

The narrative is interspersed with what he learned about Pirsig, events from Pirsig’s ride, the sad relationship with his son, Chris, and what happened to him as he followed the strange philosopher.

As a travelogue, I found it interesting. Richardson has an easy style that includes many observations of the people he met and the places he stayed. Richardson also includes many new facts about Pirsig’s family, his mental illness, the failure of his marriage, his strange relationships with the colleges where he taught and the tragic murder of his son, Chris.

Since I have run into anti-social types who lived on the border between genius and madness, the book intrigued me. Truly, Pirsig was a strange man whose Zen-influenced beliefs probably contributed to his wierdness. Looking at his life through the prism of practicality, one would have to say he was a failure in all his relationships. Is that what Zen teaches? Give me the teaching of the Nazarene any time.

In trying to explain the message of Pirsig’s book, Richardson summarizes it in a truism: if a job’s worth doing, it is worth doing well…includng the repair of a motorcylce. Pirsig lamented the deterioration of standards which have been strained by the pressure to mass produce stuff for our throw-away culture. Lack of time to do something well is a huge problem. We see the decline of craftsmanship, of expertise in repairs…gone because new items can be purchased cheap from China.

Pirsig felt that the comes down to “the scientific, which he called the Classical, and the artistic, which he also called the Romantic. These are opposites that we need, the light and the dark, the yin and the yang…we need proper balance.” I would comment that we need a balance between the technological, the work related, the time driven and the artistic, meditative, relaxing side of ourselves/our lives.

So Pirsig’s message is to slow down, “the real cycle you are working on is yourself. Attain peace of mind.”(p. 145) Pirsig continually searched for the right balance, and the enthronement of Quality. That he failed in every area, seems to me to show the failure of Zen and of those who pursue it. But his thoughts do point out the failure also of our western society to achieve balance and peace and relational harmony.
Zen, peace, quality, failure, insanity, travelogue

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Grit & Character trumps IQ

Kids need grit rather than IQ or self-esteem to succeed. Interesting review of Paul Tough’s book, “How children succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character” in last Saturday’s Globe and Mail from Toronto. Kids need to learn how to manage failure and adversity. IQ is not character. Just what we saw in the background of many convention speeches in US. And hello, duh, the Bible has been saying it for millenia. “We rejoice in in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character…” (See Rom. 5:3,4 and other texts.) “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything [in character]” (James 1:2-4).