Review: A Death on Diamond Mountain: A True Story of Obsession, Madness, and the Path to Enlightenment

A Death on Diamond Mountain: A True Story of Obsession, Madness, and the Path to Enlightenment, Scott Carney

Amanda

Published March 17th 2015 by Gotham

Hardcover, 304 pages

Source: ARC provided by publisher

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From Goodreads…

When thirty-eight-year-old Ian Thorson died from dehydration and dysentery on a remote Arizona mountaintop in 2012, The New York Times reported the story under the headline: “Mysterious Buddhist Retreat in the Desert Ends in a Grisly Death.” Scott Carney, a journalist and anthropologist who lived in India for six years, was struck by how Thorson’s death echoed other incidents that reflected the little-talked-about connection between intensive meditation and mental instability.

Using these tragedies as a springboard, Carney explores how those who go to extremes to achieve divine revelations—and undertake it in illusory ways—can tangle with madness. He also delves into the unorthodox interpretation of Tibetan Buddhism that attracted Thorson and the bizarre teachings of its chief evangelists: Thorson’s wife, Lama Christie McNally, and her previous husband, Geshe Michael Roach, the supreme spiritual leader of Diamond Mountain University, where Thorson died.

Carney unravels how the cultlike practices of McNally and Roach and the questionable circumstances surrounding Thorson’s death illuminate a uniquely American tendency to mix and match eastern religious traditions like LEGO pieces in a quest to reach an enlightened, perfected state, no matter the cost.

Aided by Thorson’s private papers, along with cutting-edge neurological research that reveals the profound impact of intensive meditation on the brain and stories of miracles and black magic, sexualized rituals, and tantric rites from former Diamond Mountain acolytes, A Death on Diamond Mountain is a gripping work of investigative journalism that reveals how the path to enlightenment can be riddled with danger.

I started A Death on Diamond Mountain soon after reading Into Thin Air and I think that altered my expectation from what this book would be about.  The fault is totally mine.  I expected more of a discussion about Ian Thorson’s decision to be on the mountain and in such rough conditions so it took me a bit to adjust to the discussion of enlightenment and spirituality.  Once I realized what I was getting into the book’s path made much more sense to me and I was more into it!

Carney gives an abbreviated course of the history of Buddhism while also going back and giving Thorson’s personal history as told by his letters and diaries, his family and friends.  Carney also gives a history of Geshe Roache and Christie McNally and what brought them to Buddhism and then to their leadership roles at Diamond Mountain.  This was all intriguing and a bit shady at times.

This book left me feeling just sad for Thorson and his family.  He seemed so earnestly in search of something greater and yet caught up in a world over his head.  I feel like he was led astray by a fraud and it killed him.  My education is all in mental health and so that side of me wonders what would have happened if he’d turned to therapy instead of to enlightenment.  What leads people down one path versus another?

I wish Carney had been able to talk to Roach or McNally for their side of the story or to have more about where McNally is now.  It felt like a piece of the puzzle was missing for me. However, this book definitely did leave me thinking.  What drives someone to end up hiking rural India or Tibet for the path to enlightenment?  What are you really searching for if you go?  Also, how do you let someone go so far down this path like McNally:

She worried about him hurting himself further.  Then again, he was so close to greatness.

Greatness but also death!  This was an interesting read, but one that left me with more questions than answers.

3 stars

Thank you Gotham for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

2015 TBR Challenge Check-In

Well, as we’re a quarter of the way through 2015, it’s time to see how far we’ve made it in the Roofbeam Reader 2015 TBR Challenge. We each listed 12 books that we are determined to get through this year.

Click here for our lists

Holly –

I have finished 3/12. I had #4 out from the library but I didn’t get to it before it was due back, so I’m not sure which I’ll be looking to read next

Little, Big – I have moved this book countless times since 1996, and once I put it on my 2015 TBR List, I knew I had to tackle it first. In defense of the number of years it took me to read this book, I am confident that I got more out of it now than I would have had I read it at 14.

Persuasion – Check out all the fun Amanda and I had reading this book from our readalong posts. I am glad I finally got around to this Jane Austen classic, and now I’m inspired to make it to the rest of her works (maybe not in 2015…).

The Casual Vacancy – My heart is still recovering from this one.

Amanda –

I feel like a failure! I’m at 2/12.  I have started #3-The Hitchhiker’s Guide- but it was over a month ago so I don’t think that counts anymore.  Maybe I’ll start the Scarlet Pimpernel next to go along with our Lauren Willig Pink for All Seasons Readalong.  Those are kind of odd books to flip between!

Persuasion– Loved it!  See above!

Into thin Air – You’re never going to catch me climbing Everest let me just tell you!

Now less typing and more reading!

Review: All the Rage

All the Rage, Courtney Summers

Amanda

Published: April 14th 2015 by St. Martin’s Griffin

Hardcover, 336 pages

Source: Shelf Awareness Giveaway

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From Goodreads…

The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything—friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous. But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time—and they certainly won’t now — but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear. 

With a shocking conclusion and writing that will absolutely knock you out, All the Rage examines the shame and silence inflicted upon young women after an act of sexual violence, forcing us to ask ourselves: In a culture that refuses to protect its young girls, how can they survive?

ALL THE STARS to All the Rage.

I don’t read a lot of YA contemporary but something about this book drew me to request it.  While at the same time I was also honestly afraid to read it based on the description.  This book was not what I expected with respect to the sexual violence- the violence is largely in the past and Romy is an incredibly brave young woman going on every day. Romy’s rape is over, but she’s still constantly being attacked.  She can’t go to school or go out with her mother without being mocked or humiliated in some way for being brave enough to say she was raped. Yet she paints on her armor of red lipstick and nailpolish and tries to hold her head high.  Romy is not perfect by any stretch, but she feels so real.

Aside from being a powerful book addressing sexual violence, shame, abuse of power, and horrible high school classmates All the Rage has incredibly moving writing, a compelling mystery and a sweet and hopeful romance.  I’ve been trying to find the words to review this book for months and I still feel like I’m failing.  Just read it okay and talk to me about it!  Courtney Summers made me cry and made me rage and I will definitely be reading all of her books.

This is such an important book to read and discuss.  We live in a rape culture and we lose so many young women before they have a real chance.  How do we fix that?  How do we channel the rage and help our girls?

5 stars

Thank you Shelf Awareness and St. Martin’s Griffin for this advance copy!

Review: That’s Not English

That’s Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us, Erin Moore

Published March 24th 2015 by Gotham

Hardcover, 240 pages

Source: ARCs provided by publisher

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Holly –

I think it’s fair to say that I am something of an Anglophile. Amanda and I were fortunate in getting to visit London several times on family vacations growing up, and something about that city still feels a bit…magical to me. Maybe it’s the fact that the sheer age of some of the buildings boggles the mind of this Midwesterner, maybe it’s the palaces, maybe it’s my love of Henry VIII – regardless, England feels both familiar and foreign at the same time. I could happily wander London and not feel like a stranger, while at the same time, not lose my sense of wonder at the place. Speaking of which, I am probably due for a visit across the pond to visit my favorite Brit (that’s a test to see if you’re reading, Katie!).

Anyway, that sense of commonality while also being thousands of miles apart in space and in thought, is the premise of Erin Moore’s That’s Not English. Moore is an American ex-pat living in London and raising her daughter there. She takes 31 words that mean different things (or nothing) in American English and British English, and uses each word as a starting point to highlight historical, social, and cultural differences. For instance, “moreish” offers a treatise on snacking habits of Americans and Brits, while “quite” demonstrates American overenthusiasm versus British understatement.

Overall, this is a funny, poignant little book full of conversation starters. My favorite word was “crimbo,” an irreverent nickname for the Christmas season which I was not familiar with. I also appreciated a reference to “the little black dress of swears” (you can guess what word that refers to) and a letter from Jane Austen to her sister used as background for the word “sorry.”

Amanda

As usual, I agree with my sister– England does feel like a magical place, but also somewhat familiar every time I’ve been.  Maybe it’s that we were blessed to go at an early age combined with loving reading anything I can set in England.  I thought I knew what I was getting into but I’m still shocked at “crimbo”!  Do Americans know this term?  My favorite thing might have been this “Americans are really earnest – in a way that the English find faintly ridiculous.”  Well- we generally are I think!  This was a fun and engaging read, definitely a book for anyone who wants to be sure they’re speaking the Queen’s English correctly!  I quite liked it.

Some people still think of the English spoken in England as the mother tongue, and the English spoken in America as it’s wayward child. But it isn’t true. Today’s English English, like American English, evolved as a dialect from sixteenth-century English, and neither can claim to be closer to the original.”

Thank you Penguin Random House for these advance read copies in exchange for honest opinions!

Review: The Casual Vacancy

I put The Casual Vacancy on my 2015 TBR Challenge list because, after my love for the Robert Galbraith books, I decided I needed to step (back) all the way into JK Rowling’s adult fiction.

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I will admit, I went in with some trepidation. After all, this is a far cry from Hogwarts, folks.

Further, I will admit that my mom’s commentary on this book had me worried. After she read this, I think the statement she emailed to Amanda and me was “there is not a happy sentence in that book.”

So, let’s back up for a second. The Casual Vacancy is about an open local government position in the (fictional) UK town of Pagford. After a councilman’s sudden death, there is a scramble to fill his seat between two factions – warring over the issue of whether the town is responsible for the nearby council estate (low income housing), its residents, and the addiction clinic it houses. This book is dark. Everyone, well everyone except for poor Barry Fairbrother who dies on the first page thus causing the casual vacancy, has some serious skeletons in the closet – or else skeletons on full display for all the world to see. But Rowling weaves these interconnected lives together in such a way that I could hardly put this book down. I would say I’ve never been so interested in a local government election, but that would be a lie – and a story for another day.

My verdict? Five Stars. My mom, as usual, is right, but that does not mean I didn’t love this book. Unhappy sentences, maybe, but what sentences! What characters! What a portrait of complex human relationships.

What a fucking ending.

Have you read The Casual Vacancy? What did you think? Are you planning to watch the mini-series?

 

#PersuasionReadalong – Chapters 17-24

If you’ve been following, we have been reading Persuasion along with Eva at the Paperback Princess.  This is a favorite reread for Eva and a first time read for Holly and myself thanks to the Roofbeam Reader 2015 TBR Challenge.  Spoilers ahead-though as this book was published 1818 so if we ruin it for you I have to say #sorrynotsorry. Here’s a link to our thoughts on the first third and middle if you want to catch up!

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I loved Persuasion in the end! I almost wish I’d read it sooner, but I had so much fun reading it this way I’m glad I waited.

Eva: It was still great reading it this time. I think it’s more enjoyable re-reading it because you know the major plot points but you forget the details. So as you’re reading it, you know more what to look for. I think that all of JA’s work improves on re-reading.

As for the story, the action has all moved on to Bath.  Anne is now staying with with her father Sir Walter and her total poop of a sister Elizabeth.  Mrs. Clay just can’t find her way to her own home and Mr. Elliot is around all the time.  Even whiny Mary finds a way to get herself to Bath because she can’t stand thinking that she’s missing out on the fun!

Anne comes to learn that a very dear friend from school is living in Bath for her health.  Poor Mrs. Smith – she thought she married well, but her husband died in debt and she’s now nearly friendless and only goes out to the waters.  Though Sir Walter of course looks down on this connection, it doesn’t stop our kind Anne from visiting her friend often.  Mrs. Russell is in Bath as well and is hoping for Anne to make a match with Mr. Elliott about as strongly as she wished against Wentworth in the past.

Everyone seems to think Mr. Elliott is about to propose to Anne-I was expecting it while thinking of Lizzy Bennet adamantly refusing Mr. Collins.  I was wondering how Anne could talk her way out from someone she is so clearly not interested in while still being perhaps the kindest character ever. Then she goes to see her friend Mrs. Smith who congratulates her on the presumed match. When Anne explains that this marriage will never happen Mrs. Smith comes clean in a surprising rush!  Mr. Elliott not only led her poor husband into financial ruin be can’t be bothered to help Mrs. Smith claim what inheritance she may yet receive.

Holly: I thought the scene with Mrs. Smith was a little weird – she goes from being convinced her friend is going to marry Mr. Elliot to sharing all the details about his shadiness. I mean, I get that in her situation she didn’t think it was worth sharing – but again, this whole story exists because people talked young Anne out of an engagement, yet Mrs. Smith can’t make an effort to talk Anne out of this one? It’s not as if she had a lot to lose by speaking up!

Then Eva, wisely pointed out that yes, there is still a lot for Mrs. Smith to lose, perhaps: Mrs Smith had her own, rather desperate, reasons for letting Anne marry Mr. Elliot. Today, yes what Mrs. Smith almost did would be unforgivable, but you have to try and read it from the perspective of the time. Mrs. Smith has no options – she is a widow with lots of debts and no way to get the money that is rightfully hers because of her gender. She will do almost anything to change that. JA writes often about there being nothing worse than a poor woman.

Point taken, eh?

Anyway, there is an amazing scene after that where Wentworth overhears Anne talking to his friend, and he hands her a hastily written letter on his way out.

Eva: Um, that letter that Wentworth writes? It’s up there with “you must allow me to tell you how I ardently I admire and love you.”

Holly:  Half-agony, half-hope – pretty much sums up the entire experience of reading this book (even if you know that they’ll ultimately get together!).

We don’t learn too much about what happens with Sir Walter and Elizabeth, but who cares?

Eva: I do think Austen left Elizabeth and Sir Walter to sort their own shit out because they are horrible and don’t deserve a proper ending.

In summary we all agree, Jane Austen is the bomb.

 

Top Ten Tuesday – New TBR Finds

It IS still Tuesday, right?

I have to say, ever since we started blogging about books, I am constantly adding more books to my TBR list. Here are ten that caught our eyes recently.

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Thanks to the Broke and Bookish for the topic. Click here for more Top Ten Tuesdays!

Holly

  1. The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game by Mary Pilon – I need more nonfiction like this in my life
  2. Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen – because reading Persuasion was fun
  3. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh – I don’t know what this book is but Amanda is all about it
  4. The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan – I found this one after finishing Rodin’s Lover and searching for more books in the historical-fiction-about-artists genre
  5. That Summer by Lauren Willig – I am ready to try out some more Lauren Willig because I love the Pink Carnation books!

Amanda

  1. The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute by Zac Bissonnette.  Thanks Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness for catching my eye with this one!
  2. Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship by Robert Kurson
  3. The Witches by Stacy Schiff
  4. This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!  by Jonathon Evison.
  5. The Royal We by Heather Cocks

What great books have you heard about recently?