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Reviews of A Year of Reading, Meditations from the Mat, Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere, Karma 101 and World's Top Photogra-phers

By Richard Hunt · December 26th, 2002 · The Fine Print

Looking back isn't nearly as exciting as looking forward. Perhaps it's the numbers -- with that nearly-incomprehensible avalanche of 50,000 new books published every year, which translates to 138 new ones every day -- it would be arrogant, indefensible and plain old ludicrous to think that any one person could pick out which ones were the best.

What's most crucial within this whole crazy mix is this: For whatever precious time you're able to spend with a book, you want that book to sing to you. Many, many books can do that -- and provide whatever you might need at that moment (distraction or illumination; resonance or raciness; humor or humbleness). All in all, you want a book to make you better, in some real way.

One way to go is with A Year of Reading: A Month-by-Month Guide to Classics and Crowd-Pleasers for You or Your Book Group. This book is like going to the same restaurant once a month, opening the menu and finding 10 new dishes to choose from: five fiction, five non-fiction. The months/chapters are sub-divided into "Crowd-pleaser's," "Challenges," "Memoirs," "Classics" and "Potluck." You quickly begin to trust the authors' choices if -- after reading one of their picks -- you find you like it for many of the same reasons they did.

After that, there's no looking back, and all of 2003 will be your literary Yellow Brick Road.

Meditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga almost sounds too New Year's resolution-like, and we all know how long those self-made promises last. Meditations is different. It's not a book on doing yoga. Instead, the days are presented as bits of insight. Whether you mull the varying points over while stretching or sitting is irrelevant. The viewpoints have flowed out of Rolf Gates' years of practice as a yoga instructor, but the material draws from quoting Rock lyrics, inspirational figures, historical references and much more. It's really a roll-up of moments of contemporary clarity that the reader can share.

Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere by Jan Morris is the final work by one of the most interesting, engaging and well-traveled writers in the last half century. Although virtually all of Morris' writing is wonderful, Trieste seems more important because it's the last of her career. As one reads about a region that not too long ago was one of the world's primary seaports, it's the metaphor that this exploration has in terms of the author's life that is most profound. With Morris as your tour guide, the reader is in exceptionally good hands, and heart, and mind. I guarantee there is no way to finish this book without being measurably better for the journey.

Ready for a little fun? A little enlightenment? Maybe Grand-ma's holiday feast is rendering any heavy reading just too much to stomach. You might want to try karma101 for some lighter fare that will leave you better off than when you began, which is more than you can say about that cheesecake. Karma, like Jerry Lewis, is often bandied-about, so misunderstood. For instance, I learned that the whole reincarnation-karma thing is not that if you're bad in this life you're doomed to come back as some President's dog (see, there is a lower-than-low). Instead some of us will pass along the natural mineral-life chain so that parts of you and me and even the folks in Bora-Bora will rise again. It's inevitable. It's karma. Don't let the small size of this book fool you -- believe it or not, there's plenty to not just snack on, but feed and nourish yourself within these words.

Ah, there is one best of 2002 that should be pointed out, only because it might not be the first title on the Gift List, but deserves to be. The World's Top Photogra-phers: Wildlife is a breathtaking, stunning, literally amazing collection of photos that bring the entire spectrum of life on this planet into your home. An international all-star team of photographers possess the knowledge to frame and expose the shot, having the patience of Job to wait days and nights for the right moment to present itself. Readers will come away with a whole new reverence for animals in their habitats and how people are just one part of the spectrum, and perhaps not even the most adorable, nor wily, nor resourceful. It's just we've got the guns -- which we hide behind when facing these remarkable examples of courage and action and grace in the wild.



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