Tag Archives: Roland Merullo

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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Book Review: Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Murello (3/5)

20 Apr

Another book club selection here. Never would have picked it myself and I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it. A bit middle of the road. But hey, you need that sometimes, right? Good books only stand out next to bad and OK books. I’d rather read an OK than a bad book, so I’m okay with this. I digress.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo

Summary from Goodreads:

When his sister tricks him into taking her guru on a trip to their childhood home, Otto Ringling, a confirmed skeptic, is not amused. Six days on the road with an enigmatic holy man who answers every question with a riddle is not what he’d planned. But in an effort to westernize his passenger—and amuse himself—he decides to show the monk some “American fun” along the way. From a chocolate factory in Hershey to a bowling alley in South Bend, from a Cubs game at Wrigley field to his family farm near Bismarck, Otto is given the remarkable opportunity to see his world—and more important, his life—through someone else’s eyes. Gradually, skepticism yields to amazement as he realizes that his companion might just be the real thing.

For a ‘spiritual’ book, this was very light. Merullo wasn’t trying to push an idea or convince the reader that he or she was going to hell for some reason or another. I guess there was a tinge of a minimalist lifestyle in here, but nothing smashing you in the face or over the top. I read this quickly; the short chapters made that easy, but I didn’t overly enjoy it and it wasn’t a book I couldn’t put down. It was perfectly OK.

I liked Otto as a character. He was flawed in many of the ways most American’s are, but not so much so that I pitied him at all. He had a good relationship with his wife, so much so that it seemed like a stretch, but still believable. I’m not sure if I think Rinpoche was believable or not, but I liked him. I pictured him like the fat, smiling Buddha on the cover, but I realize he was probably a thin, stout, sturdy man. He always talked about eating less, he couldn’t be very big!

Rinpoche was easily my favorite of the two. Browsing the reviews on Goodreads, not many people mention Rinpoche, instead concentrating on Otto’s journey. Rinpoche was the teacher instead of the pupil even though Merullo tried to write in that Rinpoche was learning, too. I didn’t feel he changed much as a person during the drive. But I liked how calm and happy he was. That’s something I would like for myself so I admired Rinpoche for his ability and I thought about some of his lessons.

Otto’s struggle to live like Rinpoche reminded me of my struggle to live a life more in line with the Catholic Church. Some days, it’s a struggle to reject small sins (no snacking on Ash Wednesday, no sausage on Fridays in Lent, etc.) but when you boil it down, it’s about freeing our minds to spend more quality time with God and learning from that. I could relate to Otto a lot and based on the response to this book, I think a lot of people could, no matter their religion.

Roland Merullo Image via 'Lunch with Buddha' website

Roland Merullo
Image via ‘Lunch with Buddha’ website

I liked the scene where they stopped in Hershey, PA. I thought that was a very classic and touristy thing for the pair to do and was so perfect at the time. Rinpoche’s reaction to Kisses was great, too, and it was an early indication of his self-control and commitment to overall wellness.

My least favorite part came at the end, so skip this paragraph if you intend to read and don’t want something spoiled for you. I was mad when Otto knew Cecilia was pregnant. To some extent, you could tell she was romantically involved with Rinpoche, but I never saw that one coming. I guess he knew his sister really well, but I felt that as the reader, I was being kept in the dark. So much of the novel is filled with Otto’s thoughts, but this one was left out. Why? I felt like Otto was lying to me.

I feel like I was supposed to learn something from this novel, but I’m not sure what. I don’t feel preached to or lectured to in any way that gives me a take away spiritually, but I think this was a spiritual book. What to think. Perhaps not to indulge so often in whatever is our vice. For Otto it was food and Rinpoche told him repeatedly to eat less. For me, it might be reading or knitting. Do that less. And what instead? Meditate, clear your mind of anything that makes it impure or unable to communicate with God. Maybe for me this should be pray instead of mediate. Or both, I’m not sure.

Writer’s Takeaway: Merullo had a very conversational style which was easy as a reader. I liked the way he took us through Otto’s spiritual transformation by showing us his skepticism and misgivings. I liked this because I find it unbelievable when characters jump in with both feet.  I’ve already pointed out the one time Merullo didn’t do this and it bothered me, but for the most part, it was well written.

Good but not outstanding. A bit of a muddled message. Three out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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

Related Posts:
Interview with Roland Merullo by Chris Beal | Buddhist Fiction Blog
Breakfast with Buddha, Roland Merullo | Your Next Best Book

Friday Book Memes, 17-April-15

17 Apr

Welcome to the ‘It’s Spring!’ edition of Book Beginnings and The Friday 56 hosted by Rose City Reader and Freda on Freda’s Voice. It’s likely that I’m on a plane as you read this. Head on over there and check out the other participating blogs.


My newest book is A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick, which I’m reading for a book club. Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Bob Arctor is a junkie and a drug dealer, both using and selling the mind-altering Substance D. Fred is a law enforcement agent, tasked with bringing Bob down. It sounds like a standard case. The only problem is that Bob and Fred are the same person. Substance D doesn’t just alter the mind, it splits it in two, and neither side knows what the other is doing or that it even exists. Now, both sides are growing increasingly paranoid as Bob tries to evade Fred while Fred tries to evade his suspicious bosses.

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Book Beginnings is all about that very important opening sentence (or two) that us writers are always worrying about!

Once a guy stood all day shaking bugs from his hair. The doctor told him there were no bugs in his hair.

This is not one of my favorite book beginnings. I didn’t like the first few pages of this novel, really, but I’m getting more into it now. The book starts with the druggies the summary refers to but I didn’t know that and it made me a little hesitant to get into the book. Things are going better for me now.


Friday 56

The way this meme works is pretty simple. If you want to join in, head over to Freda’s blog and add your link.

Rules:
*Grab a book, any book (I grab the one I’m currently reading)
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader
*Find any sentence, (or few, just don’t spoil it) that grab you.
*Post it.

Page 56 is a conversation between the main character and one of his coworkers.

“I’ll tell you one that’ll get you for sure. You’re aware of the three babies over at Fairfield Hospital that they have to give hits of smack to every day, that are too young to withdraw yet?”

I haven’t gotten here yet, but seeing as how the book follows a narcotics officer, this doesn’t particularly surprise me. It’s sad to think about the children of drug abuse but I’m sure there are tons of stories like this one about how children are affected by drug use and I wonder how much of this story is fiction or if Dick ripped some of it from the headlines. Kinda creepy to think about.

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!

Friday Book Memes, 10-April-15

10 Apr

Welcome to the ‘I’m in Cleveland’ edition of Book Blogger Hop, Book Beginnings and The Friday 56 hosted by Coffee Addicted WriterRose City Reader and Freda on Freda’s Voice. It’s likely that I’m on a plane as you read this. Head on over there and check out the other participating blogs.

Book Blogger Hop

This is my first Book Blogger Hop and I plan to make this a recurring thing (as long as I like the questions!). This week’s question is,

Have you ever received a bound galley from a publisher for review? What did you think about it? Were you surprised at anything?

I’m more familiar with the term ARC, but yes, I’ve received a few. Some of them, I won through Goodreads and some through blog competitions and one or two directly from the authors themselves. I like the idea of having a book before it’s available, which seems so forbidden! I think of the scene in The Devil Wears Prada where the main character gets advanced copies of the next Harry Potter books for her boss’s children. Sometimes I find mistakes that I hope are caught before publication. Sometimes I’m surprised at how big the release of the book is. I received an ARC once that I hated and then saw it on the front shelves at Barnes and Noble a few months later. Ugh.


My newest book is The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, which I’m reading for my work book club. Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

The white tiger of this novel is Balram Halwai, a poor Indian villager whose great ambition leads him to the zenith of Indian business culture, the world of the Bangalore entrepreneur. On the occasion of the president of China’s impending trip to Bangalore, Balram writes a letter to him describing his transformation and his experience as driver and servant to a wealthy Indian family, which he thinks exemplifies the contradictions and complications of Indian society.

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Book Beginnings is all about that very important opening sentence (or two) that us writers are always worrying about!

Mr. Premier,

Sir.

Neither you nor I speak English, but there are some things that can only be said in English.

Not going to sugar coat it, I love this beginning. It’s a little intimidating because it makes me wonder if the book is going to be written in broken English, but at the same time, it’s pulled me in completely. I want to know what’s so important to the speaker and who he’s writing to. I want to read more.


Friday 56

The way this meme works is pretty simple. If you want to join in, head over to Freda’s blog and add your link.

Rules:
*Grab a book, any book (I grab the one I’m currently reading)
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader
*Find any sentence, (or few, just don’t spoil it) that grab you.
*Post it.

Page 56 is a scene where the main character is trying to get a job as a taxi driver and he’s speaking to the man who will give him driving lessons.

‘That’s like getting coals to make ice for you.. Mastering a car’ -he moved the stick of an invisible gearbox- ‘it’s like taming a wild stallion – only  a boy from the warrior castes can manage that. You need to have aggression in your blood. Muslims, Rajputs, Sikhs – they’re fighters, they can become drivers. You think sweet-makers can last long in fourth gear?’

Coal was taught to make ice, starting the next morning at six.

I haven’t gotten to this point in the book yet, so I’m a little lost on the plot. However, the imagery of this scene is great. I love the speaker and the snark of the protagonist. He’s determined and very happy when he gets his way. It will be fun to get into this book.

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!

WWW Wednesday, 8-April-2015

8 Apr

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at Should be Reading and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

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The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?


SombraCurrently reading:  No movement with La Sombra del Viento by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It’s on hold for a while as I work my way through some book club selections.
I got Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins back! Nothing major with this one, just moving forward slowly. I hope I can hang on to it for a while and make some more progress with it.
The audiobook is Stonehenge by Bernard Cornwell. It’s interesting but a really long story. The characters’ names a bit hard to keep separate because they’re all so strange and 2000 BC-esque. I’ll have to look up a character list to write the audiobook review.
I’m really enjoying Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo. It’s a lighter story in my opinion, which doesn’t seem to go with the subject well but is still enjoyable.

Recently finished: Fail, again. Nothing new. On the bright side, I posted a review of The Round House by Louise Erdrich yesterday. Check it out!

White TigerReading Next: I’m now very definitive that The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga will be my next book. I promise I’ll get to it soon and I hope to speed through it to get back to ‘Sombra.’


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

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

Friday Book Memes, 3-April-15

3 Apr

Welcome to the busiest week of my life edition of Book Blogger Hop, Book Beginnings and The Friday 56 hosted by Coffee Addicted WriterRose City Reader and Freda on Freda’s Voice. It’s likely that I’m on a plane as you read this. Head on over there and check out the other participating blogs.

Book Blogger Hop

This is my first Book Blogger Hop and I plan to make this a recurring thing (as long as I like the questions!). This week’s question is,

Is there one book you will NEVER forget?

Wow, that’s hard to answer. I guess the answer for this would have to be my favorite book, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. The story has stayed with me for so long and I think about it all the time. I’m ordering jewelry with a quote from the book on it. It’s a timeless story to me.


I’ve finally started a new book! It’s for my book club and I’ve only just gotten to page 56 in Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo. Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

When his sister tricks him into taking her guru on a trip to their childhood home, Otto Ringling, a confirmed skeptic, is not amused. Six days on the road with an enigmatic holy man who answers every question with a riddle is not what he’d planned. But in an effort to westernize his passenger—and amuse himself—he decides to show the monk some “American fun” along the way. From a chocolate factory in Hershey to a bowling alley in South Bend, from a Cubs game at Wrigley field to his family farm near Bismarck, Otto is given the remarkable opportunity to see his world—and more important, his life—through someone else’s eyes. Gradually, skepticism yields to amazement as he realizes that his companion might just be the real thing.

BB.Button

Book Beginnings is all about that very important opening sentence (or two) that us writers are always worrying about!

My name is Otto Ringling (no circus jokes, please) and I have a strange story to tell.

I like this strange turn on a cliché opening. I like that there’s a parenthetical comment from Otto because it lets us know that we’ll be in his head a lot. I also like that he’s upfront that his story is strange. On the same note, it seems a very forward way to start a book. Kind of mixed feelings on this one.


Friday 56

The way this meme works is pretty simple. If you want to join in, head over to Freda’s blog and add your link.

Rules:
*Grab a book, any book (I grab the one I’m currently reading)
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader
*Find any sentence, (or few, just don’t spoil it) that grab you.
*Post it.

Page 56 is one of the first conversations between Otto and the ‘buddha’ he’s traveling with, Rinpoche.

I ask you what you do, what Rinpoches do, and you say, ‘I sit.’ That’s cryptic. That’s not what we call in this country an open conversational style.

I like this quote because it shows how much Otto is struggling to get along with his traveling companion. I’m not much further than this point in the book and I’m curious to see how this relationship will develop as I read. Otto seems very much the everyman and I think this book will try to take me on his spiritual journey with him. I’m not sure how this is going to go, but we’ll see!

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!

WWW Wednesday, 1-April-2015

1 Apr

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at Should be Reading and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

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The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?


BreakfastCurrently reading:  There’s been a lot of forward movement on La Sombra del Viento by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I took the book with me on a flight to Texas over the weekend and made a big dent in it. I still have about 200 pages to go, but I’m a lot closer.
I lost my eBook, Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins until another copy becomes available. I hope it comes back soon, I’m missing this book!
The audiobook on my phone is Stonehenge by Bernard Cornwell. This is my only audiobook at the moment so I’m hoping to make some big progress on it this week and next.
I got a new book club selection this week! I’ll be reading Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo this month and I know nothing about it. We’ll see where this goes.

round houseRecently finished: Yes, I actually finished something. I got to the end of The Round House by Louise Erdrich on Friday. It was a great book and I really enjoyed it! I’m excited for the book club discussion of it on the 8th.

White TigerReading Next: Yes, I know The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga has been on here for ages, but I finally have my copy of it! Big steps here. I’ll get to it after ‘Buddha’ so it might be a bit, but at least we’re making forward progress.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

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