Book Club Reflection: Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Murello

14 May

I wasn’t the only one who liked this book more than they expected to. None of us knew what we were getting ourselves into and, of course, there are a few dissenters, but on the whole we liked this book. If you want to read my thoughts, you can read my review.

We read in the author interview that Merullo did a drive similar to the one Otto describes, but not with a guru. Some in my group felt that parts of the book read like a travel journal because of all the roads and turns and towns listed, but some of us felt it made the book seem realer. We also liked that it was in the Midwest because we’re Midwesterners ourselves and thought about how much a man in a robe would stick out in our part of the country.

In the Q&A in the back (page 328 in our copy), Merullo talks about what he was trying to communicate with his book. He didn’t want to be preaching or try to convince people to act or live a certain way. He wanted to entertain. We thought he’d done well in accomplishing this goal; we were all entertained. While I felt let down that there was less of a message, others didn’t seem too perturbed. We all liked that the only religion he specifically addressed was Catholicism. Merullo was raised Catholic and that might be the only reason he chooses to use that religion, but it made a good contrast with the free-form and relaxed thought that Rinpoche stuck to.

Otto was a good narrator for this story. I thought it was a bit of a cheat to make him a writer in a first person narration. This is a personal pet peeve because writers would describe things the way the author would. Part of what makes first person narration so hard is thinking like the character and it’s easier for writers to think like their characters if their characters are like them. Think of Skeeter in The Help or Eva in We Need to Talk About Kevin. Great books, but first person narration by a writer. I’m just saying. Anyway. We liked that Otto was a food writer and could bring in all the details and joys of food. Having taste prevalent in writing is hard to do and Otto make that seem natural.

We found a lot of instances where it was clear Otto was developing as a character. The scene where the two went swimming in the lake would have embarrassed Otto in the beginning. He learned to mesh with Rinpoche’s world by the end and open his mind to a new way to do things. We liked these little changes.

One member thought Rinpoche wasn’t necessary for Otto to make his transformation. She argued that he could have had the self-reflective time by himself or with someone else. Many of us argued back that the quiet time he had with Rinpoche is what helped him open his mind and because of Rinpoche’s connection to his sister, their relationship could be healed when that would not have been possible with another person.

Otto’s transformation is even more remarkable when he confesses to having suicidal thoughts a few years before the book takes place. He says that his sleep disorder drove him to a depressed state. This reminded me of a dark time in my life when I had an undiagnosed tear in my hip. I couldn’t walk, sit, stand, or do anything in between without terrible pain. It drives you into a spiral of self-pity and hate that can go a dark way. It took me a long time to come out of that and I’m not sure I could have if my grief had been compounded by the sudden death of my parents. Otto came across as a very strong person.

The things Rinpoche preached made a lot of sense to us. We should be mindful of what’s going on around us, take things in moderation, and not worry so much about everything. Our group is split pretty evenly between Christians and Jews and we could all agree that this was a good doctrine by which to live.

I expressed my frustration about Rinpoche being the father of Cecelia’s child and one member piped up that it never said that he was the father. Disbelieving, we all looked back and couldn’t find it! If anyone can find the words, let me know! Cecelia was portrayed as a little morally loose, but I would still be surprised if there was another father. We were struck by how Cecelia’s initially selfless intentions of giving Rinpoche the land became very self-serving in the end when she choose to stay and live on the land.

We used the questions in the back of the book to guide part of our discussion. Question seven asked us what the book had to say about modern American society. Rinpoche’s stress on moderation made us realize the excess built into our country, be it food or sex or success. We are a country of self-reliant individuals who are competitive to reach the top, even if we have to put others down to get there. There’s little room for humility in a society like that. But no matter how flawed we may be we’re polite about it! We look the other way when something bothers us and try to put on a face and give a nice word when we might be embarrassed or upset.

Question twelve asked how Otto changed as a result of his quiet meditation with Rinpoche. Many of us had never been able to find that peace of mind. It’s hard to quiet your mind and be at peace when we’re racing to accomplish a million things at once (including a book blog, I might add!). Those who practiced yoga had a bit of experience but some still struggled to clear their minds. One has to focus on being of a clear mind and not let other thoughts come into one’s head. (Like how I need to pick up my delivery at 5:30 and have to remember the receipt…).

A lot of us adored the humor in the book and were literally laughing out loud. The bowling experience was a good laugh and we had a moment of schadenfreude as Otto struggled through yoga. We all related to the food obsession that comes with fasting from our own experiences with Lent and Passover. Merullo’s attempts to make us laugh were very well received.

I got an email from a member after our meeting, asking what I thought about how much we attribute to those who don’t speak much. My writer-brain went to how it’s used as a literary device. When a character doesn’t talk much, the reader and other characters listen when he does have something to say. Rinpoche knew the value of moderation so was not going to be a man to fill the hours in the car with idle conversation. He was going to talk when he needed to and when what he wanted to say would help Otto grow spiritually. I think the author wants us to attribute a lot to these types of characters and because of how they’re written, we do.

It was a great meeting and I’m looking forward to our next discussion on Brad Meltzer’s book The Inner Circle. It should be a good one.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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