Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: December 2011

I’ve been experimenting with all kinds of life_hack, GTD, workflow things since earlier this year. It’s been an ongoing process, as I’ve tried different methods, read various articles (and one book) on the subject, and experimented with different programs and apps. I’d like to begin sharing my experiences with others in an attempt to track my progress, learn from my mistakes and add to the general body of knowledge on the subject.

Today I attempted task batching. It’s a pretty common phrase – you can google it and bring up any number of articles. It means doing tasks of a similar type in one group or ‘batch.’ I have more advanced systems for long-term projects, but for my daily ToDo list, I use a piece of scrap paper and a pen. I generally write tasks out in a logical, chronological sequence, which I generally follow. But I allow myself to pick and choose, and now and then.

Once the idea of batching entered my mind, I began to realize how wasteful it is to change gears. It seems to be a natural fact: doing work makes me want to do work; relaxing makes me want to relax. There is a lot of wriggle room in these behavioral shackles of cause-and-effect – enough to make you think otherwise, in fact – but the fact remains that there is always a little tug. My theory is: maybe it’s all the little tugs that build up into massive resistance later on. Maybe switching between different types of tasks costs a lot more energy than I realize and lowers my sense of flow.

So I wrote up a list last night, before bed. It looked like this [comments in brackets]s:

-eat fish [a small breakfast]

-start making stock [a cooking project for the day]

-2 lessons python studies

-15 minutes of linux command reviews

-2 vim training lessons

-sit zazen

-do kettlebell exercises

-do yoga

-go running

-eat breakfast

-read 40 pages of ‘Twilight in Italy’

-basic cleaning [a group of little chores I do everyday as the bare minimum maintenance]

-process daily workflow [a topic unto itself. I use]


-write a private blog entry [a different blog I use for more journal-like posts]

-write a wordpress article [self-referential]

So here are some notes about how this went down:

What Worked Well:

Batching all my physical exercises together felt really natural. Doing all the floor exercises before running sent me out there with a lot of relaxed energy. Perfect. Sitting zazen at the beginning helped put me in a focused frame of mind, as well. I’m going to at least keep this task batch in my repertoire, if nothing else.

Batching in the morning gives me a very good feeling in the afternoon. I have not completed my list (and I probably won’t get everything done), but I feel like I spent the day with a lot of focus. I’m definitely going to be doing this again.

That being said, there were some problems and mistakes:

Problem: I woke up about an hour later than I planned [it was the snooze alarm that did me in]. Though this was an extreme example (I usually get up about 20 minutes after the alarm goes off), it’s something I need to work on.

Possible Solution: Keep alarm clock away from the bed. Sleep better [I have a few techniques up my sleeve.]

Problem: My vim training website was down when I was ready to begin my practice. I hesitated for a few moments before moving on to the next thing, which was, unfortunately, in the next batch of tasks.

Possible Solution: Though it’s a bad idea to let the batches get mixed up, I think a little leniency is definitely in order. It would be better to make a quick decision and just move on to the next thing, rather than spend any time hesitating. It’s not ideal, but it’s the most acceptable stop-gap.

Problem: My vim training lesson (whose website began working again after zazen), was structured in a confusing way that forced me to figure out how to navigate certain websites and certain directories in my system folder in order to complete it. Although this was educational in itself, it took up way more time that I had planned.

Possible Solution: Take a little more time to A. Set time limits on possibly open-ended tasks and B. Pay attention to any materials I might be using to make sure they fit within those parameters. Also, getting frustrated by this took some time. Once again, it would have been better to simply continue, rather than worry about the flow being disrupted.

Problem: Some tasks involved going outside – where I might get waylaid by neighbors who, thankfully, like me and want to talk to me, but who might take up time. Feeling uncomfortable about this prevented me from doing my outside chores for a while.

Possible Solution: I’m noticing a theme, where, in retrospect, allowing the interruption to happen is always a better decision than trying to prevent it. Though it might take some deeper work into how I relate to people, I think it would be very simple to just remind myself to do what I need to do and talk to the people I like, not look at myself as I total machine. It’s the anxiety and fogginess in my mind that eats up my time, not valuable time spent with friends. I can always clearly and kindly say that I’m busy, if I want to. It doesn’t have to be a big deal.

Problem: This list takes up most of my day.

Possible Solution: Another problem I really just need to not worry about. It’s better in the long run if I try batching and see if it works. Organizing my time this way puts everything I plan to do in the clearest perspective possible; if I get better at doing things this way, I’ll be all the more clearer about what to keep and what not to.

So I feel pretty good about this. I probably won’t have time to complete a full load of task batching until the new year, but I’m excited about trying it again: this could possibly be the most productive I’ve felt since I began studying all of this time management stuff. Go batching.

(Note: this review refers to the Second Edition of the book.)

Last July I decided to study computing in earnest, and I wanted to find a good textbook to serve as a good, solid introduction to the fundamentals of the science. But I wanted to also learn some practical skills while learning more abstract concepts. Google searches on the subject led me to the blog Programming Zen, whose author wrote an article about how to get into computing. He said that beginners should make their entry with the Python language, and that John Zelle’s book, Python Programming: An Introduction to Computer Science, was the best way to start.

I looked it up on amazon, read reader reviews, looked at a few pages and, after careful deliberation, decided it was a good choice. So I ordered it and began working through it. I’ve just finished it now, having taken a large, nearly two-month break in the middle. Accounting for that, I completed the text and its exercises in about 10 weeks, with considerable time spent (often more than 4 hours per day).

I’ve put a lot of time and effort into working through the course of the book, and so I have a lot of strong feelings about the book. There is a lot that is, frankly, quite brilliant and well done. Some things not so much, but, even then, there are some qualifications. In the end, I’d say it’s a wonderful production. It feels strange saying that, after all the frustration I’ve experienced at the hands of the text, but, a few days past it, I can really see how valuable it was. It really shines in comparison to other textbooks that I have gotten know since finishing Zelle’s.

But let’s get into the details, shall we?

1. The Name

Let’s get this out of the way. The name is problematic. Zelle states clearly in his introduction that this is not a book about Python; rather, it’s an introduction to basic concepts in computing, serving as an introductory course to computer science – using Python as an excellent way to start. Zelle is essentially using the fluidity of Python as a playground or laboratory for the archetypal, essential elements of programming he really wants to teach. In the process, you do learn a bit about Python. Enough to make significantly complicated, useful programs, in fact. But that’s almost a side effect of the actual stated goal of the book, which is to impart a deeper understanding of computing concepts. In the end, this focus on core programming concepts makes the book actually very helpful in learning how to program in all languages, including Python. Just in an immediate, “master this in 3 days” kind of way. But that’s not a very valuable way to learn anything anyway.

So I’m left calling the name problematic, instead of outright misleading. Also, you’ll notice that the blog post that led me to the book insisted this was a good way to learn Python, and I’m not criticising that statement, either. It’s a little bit of a gray area: I can see some people saying that, no, this book does not in fact teach Python. And they would be right from a technical standpoint. I happen to be someone who values core concepts and looks at them as an essential part to studying anything I truly wish to understand, so I tend to look at what Zelle is doing here as learning how to program. It’s not quite as direct as other methods, but I think it goes far deeper.

2. Structure and Topics

The thirteen chapters of the book essentially divide into three sections. The first 8 chapters, plus chapter 11, are about basic elements of computer programming: expressions, variables, functions, arrays, strings and string methods, loops and the like. Chapters 9, 10 and 12 focus on design, starting with simple simulations and moving to more complex programs and introducing object oriented design. Chapter 13 is about Algorithm Design, including recursion, and, as such, is the only chapter exclusively devoted to concepts of computer science. Sure, the rest of the book is tempered by a perspective of computer science, but the last chapter is the only one featuring any CS “meat.”

This also presents a problem in defining the scope of the book. When talking about the name, I pointed out how this is supposed to be a book about computer science that uses Python programming as a method to that end. Really, the book is getting you up to speed on programming as an art and science, rather than discussing computer science directly. That doesn’t disqualify it as a computer science textbook, but it makes the focus of the book seem even less clear.

This seems to open up another gray area, as the title did. Is a book really about computer science if it spends most of its text discussing the art of computer programming? Barely. But does spending so much time on design make it a good introduction to the science? There is no better way to introduce a science than
to lead your student to direct experience in the environment that the science works with. As I will explain in the next section, this book will provide you with hundreds of hours worth of practice experience. Practical experience is really the best route to understanding, that is, a full grasp of the concept, as opposed to knowledge.

Many tech authors decide that the best way to teach everything is to, well, teach everything. Their books become massive, monolithic braindumps that provide thorough documentation on their subject, but very little in the way of imparting wisdom or understanding. Zelle excels in this latter method, making his book a true guidebook. A nice contrast from some of the other choices available.

3. Exercises

Wow. Massive. And subtly so: the actual quantity of exercises is not that incredible. But pay close attention (and you will, if you’re trying to go through all of them), and you’ll see that many of these projects are full-scale projects. The book was intended to be a classroom textbook, so perhaps the exercise sections were designed to be picked through by an instructor, shortening the time to complete them. I read this book for self-study, however, and I soon found that the 4 hours per day I had given myself for practicing Python was not enough to complete both the chapter reading and the exercises; then it became a matter of only getting a few exercises done per day; then it got to the point where I was taking multiple days to complete one project. Toward the end, I had entered into an Ahab-like state of obsession, putting all of myself into finishing all of the exercises and coming up with something good at the end. I finished, and it was a spectacular feeling.

Now, that’s just good education. When a teacher gets you to put so much effort into something that it becomes an intense point of focus like that, he’s really throwing you into the task. For a few days at the end, my life was coding. I got to feel what it was like to commit myself to coding. This also ending up being one of those experiences, where I gain insight into myself and how I do work.

Of course, I don’t think that this intense kind of experience was Zelle’s intention – at least not directly. What I credit him for is setting me, the reader, up with a swan dive into the material. This is an excellent balance and a good model for other textbook writers: though the pace of the text is slow, steady and thorough, the exercises can be fierce enough to really challenge you and get you to a high level of real understanding.

Here are some examples of exercises I liked: everything in chapter 4, which introduces graphical concepts at a relatively early stage for a textbook, having you design programs that draw faces and houses at the click of the mouse, for example; the decoding exercises from chapter 5; the bouncing ball animation from chapter 7 (exercise 17); the greyscale conversion (exercise 14) and photo negative (exercise 15) programs from chapter 8; most of chapters 9, 10 and 12 were fun. The end of chapter 12 is really a list of massive projects, where you’re asked to create games that simulate dice, card and board games. Chapter 13 had you working out some pretty funky algorithms, but, in the end, it was too short a treatment of the subject for your projects to get all that advanced. Though it is nice to come away with a script that solves the weekly jumble.

I’d also like to point out that all the exercises are fair. I’ve looked at a few tech texts so far that pull what I would consider a rookie mistake: carelessly creating exercise lists that, while they have to do with the topic at hand, rely on understanding concepts that weren’t directly discussed in the lesson. While this might seem like a small error – I find that for me, and other people I’ve observed, this can be a huge break in the “flow” of the text that throws off the learning experience. I’ll leave it at that, though, just to say that Zelle does not make this mistake.

I want to note that there was a single exercise I didn’t complete. This was chapter 12, exercise 6, which asks you to learn the rules of contract bridge and write a program that sets up the first hand. I’m sorry, I’m not going to spend my programming time learning how to play a game I have no interest in. I know, as a coder I might be tasked in dealing with things I’m not interested in. I’d be glad to. For money.

Not to end this section on a low note, but I must mention the “Review Questions” that come at the end of each chapter, before the exercises. The discussion questions were great – but I wish there had been a lot more of them and that they were more challenging. The true/false and multiple choice exercises were so short and easy they might just as well have not been included. Some drill-like exercises would have been nice in their stead.

4. Conclusion

This was a fantastic read. A true education in the subject, any gray areas its confusing title and structure might evoke for you are really insignificant compared to the insight into programming you are going to come away with. The text is 100% ideal for absolute beginners. I would call myself an advanced beginner – someone who programmed a lot as a kid, but who is just getting back to it after a decade or two – and the level of the text was still excellent for me. There was a lot of review, but it was very constructive – I feel I have a firm grasp on these concepts now. This book is not for more advanced programmers – but they’re not going to be reading any introductions to computer science any time soon. An intermediate programmer wouldn’t get anything out of the lessons earlier, but someone who is short of complete mastery of the subject, I think, will still be able to enjoy the exercises. The easy ones won’t take much time at all – but the later ones make a nice challenge.

This one is going to stay on my shelf a while – if not for myself, then to pass on to other beginners as a strongly recommended introduction.

I am currently working toward a more solid workflow design in my life, that is, a way to manage all of my projects and get myself ready to begin working and studying again. Although the blog is temporarily suffering from that, this blog is actually part of that plan, and I will be getting back to it in due time.

My current goal is to finish a workflow design according to David Allen’s Getting Things Done program. I’m most of the way finished with the book (which, sadly, I started in August), but I am taking a very long time going through every single one of my possessions, including computer files, to make sure there is a place for everything. Naturally, this is taking a lot of time and energy, but I am pushing to complete it as soon as possible, so I should be ready to move on to something else before long.

I hope to make status updates a regular part of this blog. In my imagination, what I will do is post at the beginning of each month regularly and sporadically throughout the month. I am designing a posting schedule for the site in general, so something formal will be in place soon, whatever it is.

I’m currently focusing on a few holiday chores, as well as getting this blog online, perfecting my resume and looking for work.

My first order of business is to perhaps find another WordPress theme: the default font size is too small with this one, as much as I like everything else about it, and I have to use header formatting to get it somewhat the right size. Not too demanding, but certainly annoying.

My next review will be of the Python 3 textbook I recently finished; expect it later this week or early next week.

I’m still looking at classes, though it seems my decision to remain in Albuquerque and take classes – though it could not have been made sooner – left me with little or perhaps no time to actually sign up for a class. There is a possibility at CNM, but I won’t be able to add any classes until January 2, and by then there might not be any available slots. If that’s the case, I’m going to look into online courses.

I am of course continuing the course of self-study I’ve designed for myself. To be honest, I’m not sure that taking classes for the sake of taking classes is going to help me all that much. I enjoy teaching myself, and I have the discipline to do it effectively. I understand the value of enrolling in a program and getting outside scrutiny – so I am not putting this to rest. But I can always apply for summer courses without having to rush. I might also be eligible for more intermediate classes by that point, which would save a lot of time, effort and money.

[I was just looking at the jarring yet fascinating paintings of L.A artist Cleon Peterson, and they got me thinking a little bit about the nature of violence in our world. I have a collection of Gandhi’s articles next to bed, so his ideas were added to the mix.

I hope I can build on these ideas later. – JH]

Violence is intentional harm. Intentional can mean “willfully ignored.”

Harm is the restriction of a person’s choices, whether physical, emotional, moral, economic or otherwise.

Inequality refers to a significant imbalance of choices between two people or groups.

Violence, therefore, causes inequality.

So, if faced with inequality, work to end violence.

The fewer choices one has, the less each individual choice is able to produce an outcome favorable to everyone involved – including the one doing the choosing.

People realize this innately, and, if this lack of choices reaches a certain point, the lack of choices becomes a problem in itself.

Because inequality is an imbalance of choices, a party on one side of the imbalance is going to have fewer choices and therefore will be more likely to commit violent actions.

Inequality, therefore, causes violence.

So, if faced with violence, work to end inequality.

This leads one to consider a long chain of alternating instances of violence and inequality.

At some point, the chain will touch upon something that you yourself can do in the scope of your life – either to end an inequality or to halt an act of violence.

Do that thing.

On to Electra, Sophocles’ take on the Oresteia story you might know so well from Aeschylus. Sophocles’ play fits into the story at just about the same place as The Libation Bearers: it details the grief and desire for vengeance harbored by Electra, Agamemnon’s daughter and Orestes’ sister, and it goes right into the act of revenge itself: Orestes’ murder of his father’s slayer, Aegisthus and of his mother, Clytemnestra.

As the title might imply, there is much more of a focus on Electra in Sophocles’ play than in Aeschylus’s. After a brief introduction showing Orestes and his companions sneakily arriving at the palace, most of the rest of the play shows Electra running into various people and letting them know that her dissatisfaction with the current arrangement is coming to a head. The current arrangement being that Aegisthus is king, is Clytemnestra’s wife; Electra has been complaining this whole time, so she is on a sort of lock-down where she’s not allowed to leave the palace grounds. Her sister, Chrysothemis, insists that she, too, is interested in getting revenge, but she finds that idea too troublesome and would prefer to just get along with everybody.

Eventually Orestes’ tutor arrives and, according to plan, tells a big old yarn about Orestes’ death in a chariot race. Soon after Orestes himself arrives, in disguise. He slowly reveals himself to Electra, the two talk excitedly, the tutor comes out of the palace and says they are wasting time; Orestes then murders his mother and waits for Aegisthus to arrive; he does, and he talks calmly with Aegisthus for a few lines before leading him back to the spot of his father’s death to finish the deed.

The ending is rather abrupt in this one. With all the passionate brutality of Aeschylus’s version, this one seems very cold and calculating. It almost doesn’t seem like Greek tragedy, in that regard, how efficient and direct they are. The most striking thing about it is that there is absolutely no deliberation about Orestes killing his mother. That, too, is done with a kind of cold efficiency that, again, you wouldn’t expect in Greek tragedies. Even the chorus is largely quiet by the end.

This speed and relative terseness at the end gives the end of the play a chilling quality. The mood reminds me of a bloody Western, or maybe an old Samurai movie. Orestes is a little bit less of a character, so I guess it’s consistent to the balance of the story that we don’t get much conscience-talk from him. We do get a lot from Electra, and it’s hard not to notice that she is not very divided. She has no qualms about exacting revenge; there is no inner-struggle or even any question. Her agony seems to center on a feeling of powerlessness and victimization: she’s trapped in the palace; Orestes, in whom she has placed all her hopes for revenge, is absent and perhaps never coming back, for all she knows; everyone around her despises her and tells her to be quiet. Not that this doesn’t make sense, granted the conflict. But, just as with The Women of Trachis, the lack of inner conflict makes me wonder what I can take away from this.

Unlike Trachis, I do feel that there is something rich being portrayed here. I might read this one again, someday, just to get back into the feeling, so get a feel for Electra’s situation, for the people around her. I can’t say that the whole thing is much more than intriguing at this point, but I found myself touching a somewhat deeper bottom with this one than with the other Sophocles.

So I put this one just one increment higher than The Women of Trachis. Though the latter is a little bit more fun (in an action movie kind of way), the stronger character development ranks this play as a B-list classic, instead of a C-list. Or B instead of B minus. Definitely worth a read, without too many qualifications as to who’s doing the reading.

So that’s the end of the works of Sophocles, for me. Next I’ll be moving on to Euripides. By my current count, there are ten of his plays for me to get through, to have read all of them. This includes Rhesus, whose authenticity is debated. Well, it’s in my library, and I’ve never read it, so it’s staying on the list.

Happy reading, everyone!

I now move to the two plays by Sophocles that I’ve never read. They make an interesting pair, as they are both pretty gruesome. In fact, my by-no-means-deep study of them reveals them to be particularly heavy on the agony, the gore and general human suffering. In Philoctetes, the suffering is a real source of humanity that I feel leads to a really satisfying redemption at the end. The suffering is the center of the play, the focus of the characters’ discussions – it is, in itself the conflict that needs to be resolved.

But with these two plays, it almost seems like a novelty: the characters engage in the matters important to them, and people suffer, have suffered or will suffered, and then the play comes to a stop.

I know this is simplifying what are, in the end, well crafted plays worth staying on bookshelfs or, yes, even performed on stage. But the immense pain that the characters endure simply stands out as a defining characteristic.

Let me get into The Women of Trachis. First, this play really could use a namec change. Hollywood producers, let’s say, would never have done to name a play about the relatively insignificant chorus when you could have named it The Death of Heracles, which is an immensely attractive title and is, in fact, what the play is about.

Telling masters of Western drama how to do their work aside, it’s a fairly good read. The back-and-forth is lively, the character of Deianira is intriguing, as is the lying herald, Lichas, who carefully neglects to inform Deianira that one of the prisoners he led into the palace was her husband’s mistress. Another man tells her and, in her desperation, Deianira attempts to regain her husband’s affection by lacing a shirt with a substance she was told by one of Heracles’ enemies is a man-shackling love potion but is, surprise surprise, an absurdly painful poison. Lichas gives Heracles the shirt, and, shortly thereafter, Heracles’ skin essentially feels like it’s on fire as he dies in a maddeningly slow pace. He asks his son Hyllus to immolate him. Hyllus is, at first, reluctant, but Heracles tells him to man up and the funeral pyre gets underway.

The story is, well, engaging. You want to see what happens next, and this is not always the case with Greek Drama. Part of this might be my unfamiliarity with the intricacies of the story, even if I did know that Heracles was supposedly killed by a poisoned shirt. And, I must say, Deianira’s accidental murder of her husband was pretty ironic in the way you are introduced to the concept of irony by reading Sophocles. Destroying that thing that you are so desperately trying to claim for yourself. A good lesson on what it means to own someone’s affection – though perhaps viewing a Greek play with a modern idea of relationship in mind is a little bit inappropriate.

In the end, though, as interesting as all the events in the play are, I’m left not entirely convinced that I’m taking away a whole lot. On the other hand, I can’t really say that there’s nothing there. Again, my readings are not incredibly deep, and, of course, there is the language factor. Even in translation, Sophocles seems like the best poet among the tragedians, striking the best balance of passion and restraint. The suffering of his characters is portrayed with profound sympathy; you can’t but feel for them, and I think this is a strength found in each of his plays.

And while Trachis is no Philoctetes, this magnifying glass placed over the raw intensity of human feeling is just as present. This, combined with the sheer entertainment of the plot, gives the play an appeal beyond afficionados of the genre. I can’t say that everyone must read it, or even that everyone would enjoy it, but I think anyone who likes to pour over stories about the human condition will find this one worthwhile.

I purchased Hard Travel to Sacred Places for $3 at a library book sale three years ago. It’s been in my collection ever since. It’s a Buddhism-themed book by Shambhala Publications, a publisher I like, so I’ve been saving it for a period of time where I need a little refuge. I needed that these past two days, so I pulled it off the shelf.

It’s a simple travelogue, describing a trip to Southeast Asia by Wurlitzer and his wife, Lynn. They visit Thailand, Burma and Cambodia. The couple have a business reason for being there (Lynn is a photographer and is assigned to photograph ancient sites). In addition, they are in a period of grief following the death of Lynn’s natural and Wurlitzer’s adopted son, Ayrev, in a car accident.

I’ll be brief: I did not like this book very much. What I liked about it is twofold. First, what I like from all and any travelogue: descriptions of foreign lands, their peoples, their customs. It’s always intersting. Second, Wurlitzer is observant, patient and thoughtful, and the couple’s journey through the three countries plays like a single, slow, deliberate meditation in three movements. You really do feel the strong current of emotion in the author’s life, and it is touching in that respect. You are also grateful for the moments of insight that Wurlitzer shares with you. My favorite is when he contemplates the statue of the walking Buddha at Wat Mahathat, near Sukhothai, Thailand. He successfully translates how the frozen gestures of a statue can invoke a great amount of feeling and a sense of wonder.

The book suffers from a couple major flaws, though, that mostly diminish any of the positive effects.

The first is that we barely get anything about Lynn or Wurlitzer’s feelings towards her. There might be a good reason; there might not be; but whatever it is, Lynn is almost a non-character, and this is jarring. I feel a big lack. I know she is grieving, but I doubt she is as silent as she appears. Towards the end of the book she suffers a severe episode of mixed physical and emotional pain, and it’s dealt with using the same detachment as everything else. It could have happened to a strange woman sleeping in the next hotel room, for all the narrative is concerned.

The second might actually be a reason to explain the first. This book is overloaded with quotes from Buddhist books. It distracts from the narrative. Personally speaking, I have a serious dislike for quotes and footnotes in literature- I feel that if something cannot be explained in the narrative itself, it should be left out. Exceptions abound (Melville), but, for the most part, they ruin a book for me. And the quotes in this book ruined it for me.

Here it goes a little farther. Here the quotes don’t just add extra time – they seem to be a replacement for the author’s own thoughts and reactions to situations, which is what I would like to read in a book like this in the first place. Interestingly enough, at the very end of the book Wurlitzer wonders if all the quotations aren’t hiding him from the reality that Buddhist teaching is supposed to get him to face. The answer is yes. I suppose this gives a self-conscious quality to the detachment from the story that the quotes cause, but, even so, it was not worth it. They were tiresome, and I missed more of Wurlitzer’s own perspective on his travels. This makes it less of a travelogue: it feels like we are getting less of a description of the places he visited than of the books he was reading while he was there.

The emphasis on Buddhist texts makes the Buddhism invoked in this book very academic. I cannot ever know ultimately what Wurlitzer’s understanding of Buddhism is or was, but, for the duration of this book, it’s very idealized and not of much value to anyone interested in what I consider to be an active, practical understanding.


This book would be enjoyable for people enjoying a quiet meditation on Buddhism, grief and Southeast Asia (in that order). But – and this is important – readers must also either like or not mind a large amount of quotes from other books. If those things are true, the beautiful heart of this book will warm you.

The book has its good moments, but a lot of the passion and insight is filtered through a deadening devotion to literary Buddhism.