Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Waves and the Second Noble Truth

The Waves and
The Four Noble Truths
Part 2

 The second Noble Truth is that there is an origin of suffering. It comes from somewhere.

“[The] teaching [of interdependent co-arising] applied to history or nature indicates that we are all conditioned, historical beings, as are our cultures and civilizations. They are not absolutes to be uncritically valued and maintained. In connection with Nature, Buddhism is compatible with science, because it understands the principle of cause and effect and the evolving nature of things. All reality is a flow whose essential quality is energy down to the smallest particle or wave in micro-scientific analysis or the evolution of life and the expansion of the universe in the macro-world” (from The Central Concept of Buddhism: The Teaching of Interdependent Co-arising By Alfred Bloom, Emeritus Professor, University of Hawaii, on the American Buddhist Study Center website). Interdependent co-arising tells us that one thing depends on another – there is a cause and an effect. For example, in regard to the four Noble Truths: we suffer because we don’t see reality clearly, and the reason we don’t see reality clearly is because our minds are clouded by desire. Desire, or “clinging,” is the cause of our suffering.

So we’re not supposed to have any desires? That’s impossible! you might say. Well, it’s definitely not easy. That’s why you don’t hear about too many people overcoming it and finding enlightenment. Especially in our capitalistic society, where desire is considered healthy for our economy, and good for our state, people are encouraged to want more, not less. We look down on people without ambition, who are content just where they are. But Buddhism, and Virginia Woolf, suggest that this might not be the “right view.” Let me give you a personal example that might make it more clear.

Right now, I am looking for a job (or multiple jobs, as the case may be). I need a way to make some money. At least, I really want a way to make some money, and, perhaps even more importantly, I really want something impressive to say to both my own and my husband’s friends, family, and co-workers when they (lovingly) ask about what I “do” and what I write. I want to have an answer that deflects and prevents comments about how I’m going to write a NY Times Bestseller (probably not). The fact that I have this desire, and that it’s not being fulfilled, is really causing me to suffer right now. The more days that go by without any strong, definite responses to my applications, the tighter my mind grips this idea: I must have a job! Nothing will be okay until I have a job! Everything is on hold until then. 

But the truth is that actually I do not have to have a job to live. Yes, it is a financially and emotionally responsible thing for me to keep looking for one (and in particular, one that I will enjoy), but in reality my husband has a job that can (albeit just barely) support us both. I have health insurance, plenty of food, a comfortable home, and am in no danger of losing any of these things because of my work situation. All in all, I am better than fine: I am well loved and taken care of. I even have writing and thinking and study that occupies my mind and makes me happy. If the society I live in dictated that intellectual fulfillment, rather than money, were to be the basis of our self-esteem, I'd be doing great! 

But it doesn't, and so I want a job, and everything that (I hope) will come with it: new clothes, a haircut (ohmygod so expensive in NYC!!), and respect – both from myself and from others. Buddhist thought doesn’t suggest that I should give up looking for a job, or that my desire to get one is necessarily a bad thing. But what it does suggest is that I look at the situation more honestly. It is actually my desire – my thoughts about the situation, the way my mind runs to all the “if onlys” and “what ifs” and “must nows!” and "what will they thinks" – that are actually causing my suffering, not the situation itself. Buddhism helps me acknowledge that, and in so doing, get some perspective on my suffering, and thus some relief, too. 

The same truth about clinging to desires can be discussed in regard to the characters in The Waves. Woolf spends a lot of time outlining what each character desires, and looking at them, and how their desire colors and affects their lives (in comparison, say, to Rhoda, who has no “face,” i.e. no façade, or Bernard, who has blissful moments free from desire) have helped me understand the second Noble Truth better. I think it will help you too; but you'll have to wait until tomorrow.

Until then, consider: what are the causes of your suffering? Remember to ask yourself whether it is really someone else, or a situation that is causing your suffering, or if it is your reaction and attitude about it. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Krakauer wins! And future contenders.

Looks like Krakauer was the favorite. I began my reading on the peaceful banks of the Jersey Shore yesterday, and so far am really into it. Into Thin Air is the story of the 1996 Mt. Everest expedition that Krakauer was on to report a story for Outside magazine. The expedition was a disaster and several people died. The book is Krakauer's attempt to figure out what happened and why it happened. It's going to be a bit dark, and sometimes gruesome and scary, I think. But I'm up for it. And, I have to say, it's already really making me want to travel to Tibet and Nepal, the countries that are home to Everest. Not to climb Everest, but just to see it. The images of prayer flags strung across the mountain top villages, yaks, sherpas, potatoes growing on the steppes... it's hard to resist. Especially for a little newbie Buddhist like me.

In other news: New York was gracious enough this weekend to offer up a few freebie books lying out on the  sidewalk. I picked up The World According to Garp, The Girl Who Played with Fire (except I haven't read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo....), and something called The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot by Naomi Wolf. Wonder what that's all about...

I love free books!!

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Waves, Woolf, part 1

The Waves
Virginia Woolf

"I have been traversing the sunless territory of non-identity. A strange land. I have heard in my moment of appeasement, in my moment of obliteration satisfaction, the sigh, as it goes in, comes out, of the tide that draws beyond this circle of bright light, this drumming of insensate fury. I have had one moment of enormous peace. This is perhaps happiness. Now I am drawn back by pricking sensations; by curiosity, greed (I am hungry) and the irresistible desire to be myself.”

Virginia Woolf is generally considered a Modernist. But if Modernism is concerned with the individual, as I have argued here before (, then The Waves is an odd example of it. Woolf doesn’t ask the question, “Who am I?” in the usual way. Identity in The Waves, I would argue, not only doesn’t have anything to do with what one is like, but in fact the particularities of our personalities actually cover up the truth about what we are. As Louis says, "It is Percival … who makes us aware that these attempts to say, 'I am this, I am that,' which we make, coming together, like separated parts of one body and soul, are false. Something has been left out from fear. Something has been altered, from vanity. We have tried to accentuate differences. From the desire to be separate we have laid stress upon our faults, and what is particular to us. But there is a chain whirling round, round, in a steel-blue circle beneath" (99, italics mine). To describe ourselves as individuals, Woolf says, is to miss the ever-present “steel-blue circle” just beneath. We desperately want to dwell on, to hold on to what makes us unique, special, different – but it is precisely this desire which makes us miss out on the truth.  

To say that our differences don’t matter is an unusual conclusion, but The Waves is definitely not an average novel. In fact, Woolf herself did not describe it as a novel at all, but as a “play-poem.” This makes sense in that the whole book is dialogue, yet the characters never really “speak.” For the most part, the dialogue is internal (even though we’re notified of the speaker each time by the convention “Rhoda said,” “Bernard said,” etc.) The book follows six characters – Rhoda, Jinny, Susan, Neville, Louis, and Bernard  - from nursery school to late middle age. A seventh central character, Percival, is silent, though much spoken of.

No one would blame you if you finished reading The Waves, put it down, and said, “What the hell?” It is hard to figure out. Unless of course you read it through the lens of Buddhist thought; in which case, it makes all the sense in the world. But how can I explain what I mean, without getting deep into Buddhism, and without knowing how much you know about that? You’ve probably heard it has something to do with enlightenment, and maybe you’ve seen a monk or two wearing the saffron robes, but my guess is that the majority of my readers probably feel a little bit lost when I hop on my Buddhist soapbox. So how about if I just tell you a little bit about it? Virginia Woolf is hard to understand, and Buddhism is hard to understand, too. But I think looking at the two together will make things easier. Let’s try.

The first thing to know about Buddhism is that it’s based on the Four Noble Truths. Let’s start with just the first one for now.

The first Noble Truth is that there is suffering. Maybe you have heard something about this before. I think the first noble truth can seem, by turns, both completely obvious, and completely misleading. First of all, you might think, as I did when I first heard it – well, duh! Obviously life is full of suffering. I’ve been suffering this whole time – that’s why I’m coming to Buddhism in the first place, to somehow get rid of this suffering. What I mean when I say that it’s misleading, is that many people, myself included, when they first hear about the first noble truth, take it to mean that all of life is suffering. But actually, to say that everything is suffering is quite different than to say that there is suffering. Buddhism is saying the latter, not the former. Buddhism in fact recognizes that there are a lot of spaces for pleasure in the world, and that it is okay and even good to acknowledge the possibility of pleasure, as long as we don’t cling to it (but we’ll come back to that later). It is important to recognize that the first noble truth merely admits the existence of suffering; it does not personalize it.  
In fiction, and in religious texts, phrasing is important. The first noble truth does not say “I suffer,” or “I have pain,” or “I feel sad, scared, anxious, alone, afraid,” etc. etc. It doesn’t mention mine or yours at all. It only says, “there is.” One of the central tenets of Buddhism is the idea of non-self, that this notion we have of ourselves as possessing certain qualities and emotions is false. We are not “selves,” individually, but small parts of the vast whole which is made up of everything in the world. Maybe the monk Ajahn Sumedho can explain it better than I can. In The Four Noble Truths he explains that “to let go of suffering, we have to admit it into consciousness. But the admission in Buddhist meditation is not from a position of: ‘I am suffering’ but rather, ‘There is the presence of suffering’ because we are not trying to identify with the problem but simply acknowledge that there is one. It is unskillful to think in terms of ; ‘I am an angry person; I get angry so easily; how do I get rid of it?’ – that triggers off all the underlying assumptions of self and it is very hard to get any perspective on that. … We tend to grasp and identify rather than to observe, witness and understand things as they are” (17). The first noble truth does not judge; it simply acknowledges.
Upon reading The Waves for the second time, I noticed that some of the characters speak in this non-possessive way. "There is agitation and trouble here. There is gloom. … There is anguish here" (8). "I shoot to the bottom among the weeds and see envy, jealousy, hatred and spite scuttle like crabs over the sand as she speaks. They are our companions. … Here are hate, jealousy, hurry, and indifference frothed into the wild semblance of life. These are our companions" (116). Interestingly, these two examples come from Bernard and Rhoda, respectively, the two characters I believe to be most advanced on the path to enlightenment, or seeing things as they truly are. In contrast, some of the other characters speak in a less “skillful” way: Susan, “Now I will wrap my agony inside my pocket-handkerchief" (7), and Neville, “I excite pity in the crises of life, not love. Therefore I suffer horribly" (93). Unable as they are to separate the “violence” of emotion from their concept of them“selves,” they struggle to see beyond the “veil” into the truth of reality.

The second Noble Truth is that there is an origin of suffering, and that the origin of suffering is attachment to desire. But more on that later – this is enough to think about for one day!    

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Golden Compass, Addendum

Once I went to a lecture by a Buddhist nun at the World Fellowship of Buddhists in Bangkok. Many of the things she said that day really struck me, and I have thought of them often since. One was that, “The mind is a vicious beast.” While I was meditating the other day, I started thinking about that. Sitting on the empty floor of my new home, I tried to quiet my mind, but instead it swam with all the things I had to do and buy and organize. I was distracted and stressed; this was not what I came to the floor for. But then another thought popped into my mind, something Thich Naht Hahn wrote in The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings about embracing our anxiety, fear, anger, and loneliness. He calls these kinds of emotions “habit energies,” and advises that when we see a habit energy arising, we should not push it away or be annoyed or feel guilty at our failure to maintain composure. Instead, we should pull our habit energies close to us and hug them (metaphorically), saying “Hello, anxiety. I see you, my old friend.” “Oh, there you are again, despair. I know you, my friend.” In other words, Hahn encourages us to treat the vicious beast that is our mind as though it were a sweet, purring kitten. I think the idea is that by changing our perception of emotions, we will change our experience of them too.  

This got me thinking about daemons. In The Golden Compass, the external animal spirits take on the emotions felt by their human. If you are sad, your daemon comforts you, but he feels, and acts, sad too. Is Pullman playing on an image of the mind as an animal – wild or domesticated depending on our ability to control it? Those who have read all three books probably have a better idea of whether or not that’s a possibility, but I’ve only read the first, and all I know is that the daemons seem crucially important, as is the question of whether or not they are “souls,” and thus, what is a soul and what does it mean to be human. I guess I’m not necessarily closer to knowing what Pullman is getting at with the daemon thing, but the image keeps coming back to me again and again. And now, it’s going to be a helpful image for me. Next time I feel a strong emotion, I’m going to cuddle it close to my heart, like Lyra snuggling Pan.  


So it turns out the books were here the whole time! There was just one more box in the car that I didn't know about. Lesson learned: when your husband is doing back to back night shifts in his first year of residency in the ER, and he tells you he finished bringing the boxes up, you might want to double check that story.

All the books are here on my shelf now, and I am glad. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Great! Except...

I'm trying not to, but I'm having a little bit of a hard time not feeling sad tonight. As I opened my boxes of books and arranged them on my shelves, I kept leaving the top left position free, saving it for the books I use most frequently, books on writing and, because of the project I'm working on at the moment, books on Virginia Woolf. Guess which box seems to have been lost in transit? That's right; it's the most important books that don't seem to have made the journey with me. 

This is particularly frustrating because while we were staying at my friend's place before moving in here, I saw the boxes of books I'd shipped and suspected that at least one was missing. I remembered sending 9, I thought, and there were only 7 there. But, there was not space to be unpacking all those boxes in her house, so I just left them until now. I sent them through a small Postal Annex in Portland, so I can easily call to complain, but it's been a month. What good will it do? What other options are there? 

It will be okay, I know. But I am just a little bit sad. 

What to read next?

Right now I'm finishing up re-reading The Waves, and also making my way slowly but surely through a crossover academic/spiritual text called In the Company of Rilke: Why a 20th Century Visionary Poet Speaks so Eloquently to 21st Century Readers. But I'm going to be done with The Waves soon and I'll need to pick up another novel. As I desperately need to save money, it's got to be one of the books I acquired from a friend who was downsizing. So here are the contenders:

Cat's Cradle, by Vonnegut: Obviously, a classic. And I'm pretty sure I haven't read it yet. Read and totally loved Slaughterhouse 5, so I'm definitely going to read this book at some point, if not absolutely next.

Two novels by Kathy Acker: Blood and Guts in High School, and Empire of the Senseless: These seem pretty weird indeed. The description on the back of the first one starts like this: "Janey lived in the locked room. Twice a day the Persian slave trader came in and taught her to be a whore. Otherwise there was nothing." It says Acker's work has been described as everything from "post-punk porn to post-punk feminism." At least we all agree it's "post-punk," whatever that is. The other one is some post-apocalyptic thing about a pirate and a part-robot part-human. Okay guys, I'm really not sure about these ones... anybody got any support for Kathy Acker they want to share?

Into Thin Air by Jon Kakauer: This best-selling piece of narrative nonfiction describes Krakauer's "ill-fated expedition" climbing Mt. Everest. It's supposed to be good, right? And I'm getting more into nonfiction these days, so maybe I should give this one a go.

Okay, friends, I need your advice. What should I read next??

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A House Without Books...

So, as I mentioned, I’ve recently moved across the country, and have been busy arranging things and making our new little place a home. (It’s NYC, so I mean “little” quite literally). Most of my things are here around me now, which feels good, but I’m still missing my books. I shipped them media mail to a friend, and have yet to lug them down her stairs, into my car, across the borough, and up my own 3 flights of stairs. But tomorrow is the day for that, and I am excited. It will be so good to have my old friends back home with me.  

I have been thinking about my books since I last saw them, wondering if all arrived safely, reciting their titles in my head. As you may have gathered from reading my blog, I’m a Buddhist, and so I try not to be attached to material things, but books are hard for me. I still think about the ones I had to leave behind and sell when I lived in London, Copenhagen, and Bangkok. Some of them I’ve bought again, others I just call up in my memory now and then, gazing at their covers with my mind, flipping through their pages. It’s funny, but I can remember what many of them looked and felt like, often just as well as what was inside their pages. I am re-reading Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, now, but the old, yellowed copy with the crumbling cover, with the watercolor picture of waves on it, that I borrowed from Dee in Bangkok, is never far from my thoughts, nor is the grass in the park in which I so often read then.  

Why am I so attached to my books? Why does a house not feel like a home without cobbled together bits of paper with words on them strewn about it? My friend Jessica had a good explanation for it. She said it’s because the books on our shelves are our trophies. I had never thought of it that way before, but she’s right, don’t you think? When I look at that copy of The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, or that big honkin Ulysses up there on my shelf (or think of them, far across Brooklyn, in their boxes) I feel a sense of pride knowing that I have read that, and a sense of accomplishment, a box I have ticked off. Even the small, thin books tell a story beyond what is in their pages: they tell a story about me, who I am, what I know and what I have thought about. I guess that’s another reason I like to see my books around me: they remind me who I am, what I know that I’ve forgotten, what wisdom was once imparted to me, that could be picked up again any moment by opening the pages, or even just by looking at a spine.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Julie & Julia, Powell

Julie & Julia
Julie Powell

            Having seen the movie before reading the memoir, I was surprised to find that Julie Powell paints herself as an insecure, judgmental crazy woman who constantly throws hissy fits and collapses on the dirty floor. On the one hand this presentation might seem “honest,” or “brave,” since after all it does avoid the memoir-trap of presenting oneself as “better,” or more put-together than one actually is. On the other hand, though, it seems to go too far in the other direction. Truth be told, I just didn’t always buy it. The voice feels constrained by its negativity; Powell wants us to think she’s tough, yet the concern for how others will view her undermines that assertion. For example, Powell avoids talking about her success for the most part, and when she does discuss the interviews and press she starts to get because of her blog, she is dismissive and off-hand, focusing on the tedious parts of doing TV interviews, only for very brief instants expressing any kind of happiness or excitement about the fame that seems to be coming her way. She seems not to want to piss the other jealous bitches off - she knows only too well how annoying it is when someone other than you has a reason to be happy – so she pretends that she doesn’t really care about any of it, and the interviewers and journalists asking her questions, she says, are pretty stupid, anyway.
 Which is fine, I guess. And understandable, because Powell lives in New York, and because while people here crave success and attention, they also know that others may not be 100% psyched for them if they achieve it, so they’d better not get too (openly) happy about it. In fact, they’d better not get too happy in general, because everything will of course come crashing down again at any moment. So instead of getting our hopes up we pretend a toughness that may or may not really be there; in Powell’s case, she tells us out how disgusted she is by the word “joy,” a point that’s obviously meant to prove she’s not naïve and silly enough to actually believe in such a thing. For me, this is the problem with Julie & Julia: Powell admires Julia Child for the exact qualities she herself either does not have or cannot express – joy, hope, wild abandonment of societal opinion, glee. While Powell’s depiction of herself might be “honest,” I don’t think it’s completely true. I don’t think she’s quite brave enough to really tell the truth here, and while I don’t think it makes for a great memoir, I do think it’s completely understandable. For me, too cynicism is often more comfortable than hope. 
            The premise of Julie & Julia is unique and interesting – a dissatisfied secretary cooks her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year while blogging about it. There are a few heartwarming moments, some funny moments, and a lot of relatable moments. While Powell is very good at describing her disgusting kitchen covered in dirty dishes and kitty litter, her descriptions of the tastes and textures of the food are less evocative. The best parts of the book are the infrequent interludes in which Powell fictionalizes brief episodes of Julia’s life, giving us a hint of what the iconic chef was like. Nora Ephron, who wrote and directed the movie version, obviously agrees with me. The movie reverses the focus of the book, staying primarily with Julia Child, played by Meryl Streep, and her husband Paul, in their post-war Paris apartment as Julia goes to cooking school, becomes a chef, and eventually writes MtAoFC. Amy Adams, as Julie Powell, is sweeter, cuter, funnier, and less foulmouthed than the book Julie, all of which makes for a more enjoyable experience.
            If I supposedly value honesty so much, I should put in a disclaimer here. We all come to books with our own needs and desires and hang-ups and I, like everyone else, read through the lens of whatever else is going on in my life. Right now, I have just moved back to New York City after five years away. Given my circumstances, it’s probably no big surprise that I’m troubled by the portrait of an angry, hostile woman in a callous, dirty city. Getting to know Julie Powell brought me uncomfortably close to the reasons I ran away from New York the first time around. While I was away I seem to have calmed down a bit, and the angry demon that used to consume me is sleeping, for now, but the truth is that I’m completely terrified that all that sadness and desperation will come rushing right back now that I’m back in the big bad city. Powell’s memoir made it harder for me to pretend I wasn’t feeling those fears.  
I could leave. But as it’s love that’s brought me here, I’m going to stay. I could fall into cynicism and despair, but as I want to have a happy life I’m going to keep on doing the hard thing, which is choosing hope again and again, a thousand times a day. Like reminding myself that Julie & Julia was written in another time. 2005 is a long time ago, not just for me, but for all of us. Our old concerns about money and status and power just don’t seem as important now that we’ve seen how easily they can be taken away, and how much we have to depend on each other when that happens. I won’t go so far as to say that snark is “dead,” but it’s dead to me, and because of that this book feels like a relic of some dark, uncivilized past. It’s true that I live in New York again, but at least I don’t live there anymore.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Golden Compass, Pullman

The Golden Compass (USA)/Northern Lights (UK)
Philip Pullman

“There is a curious prophecy about this child: she is destined to bring about the end of destiny. But she must do so without knowing what she is doing, as if it were her nature and not her destiny to do it.”

I’ve been talking like a crazy person lately. Ever since I started reading The Golden Compass, the first in the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman (thanks for the recommendation Turner and Josh!). Apparently, it’s fine to talk about quidditch, or Edward and Jacob or whoever, as though they’re real things, but start talking about Dust and daemons, and people start to look at you funny. Which is not fair, because The Golden Compass is a really good book, and definitely up there with Harry Potter in terms of depth of subject matter, if not description.

I’ll admit I had a little trouble getting into this book at first. I guess it started too “en medias res” for me, too much in the middle of things, because I didn’t know what a daemon was, or what the Retiring Room was, or tokay, or any of it. But soon I figured it out, and my engrossment progressed quickly from there. Like Rowling, Pullman explores ideas that should be of importance to everyone, from a 14 year old to a 49 year old. But he does so in a way that’s more subtle than Rowling’s, and thus open to more ambiguity and complexity. Whereas Rowling uses the figure of Dumbledore to give Harry hints about meanings of everything, all of the adult characters in Pullman’s text are fraught with moral complications; none can be completely trusted. This may be a fight between the forces of good and evil, but what is good and what is evil here is a lot harder to figure out – and that is precisely the dilemma for the rough-and-tumble female heroine, Lyra. While Lyra has to go through serious physical trauma in the novel, the moral dilemmas prove to be more troubling. There is no Dumbledore to tell Lyra that she really must trust the Master of her college, in spite of seeing him try to poison someone – she has to decide all of that on her own.
One can’t really talk about the novel without reference to two things – daemons, and Dust. First, a daemon is kind of like a spirit animal. I don’t know about you but there was a period of time in college when my friends and I liked nothing better than to discuss what our spirit animals might be. For some, it was easy – mine would be a cat, my friend Pfeif’s, a squirrel. For others it was a lot harder; many animals worked and we could imagine it going a lot of ways. A daemon is kind of like a spirit animal, except that it’s an actual animal that goes with you everywhere, speaks, and basically acts as your emotional support for life. It can change its form until you reach  puberty, at which time it takes the shape in which it will remain for the rest of your life. In The Golden Compass every human has a daemon; they are so crucial to being human, in fact, that they are referred to several times (by Lyra, in her own thoughts, it seems worth pointing out) as humans’ ‘souls’. Whether or not a person can remain a person, if separated from his or her daemon, is one of the central questions of the text.

The second major issue involves something referred to as “Dust.” Dust is far more mysterious, in the world of The Golden Compass, than daemons, because it is a new phenomenon. Neither readers nor Lyra really has any idea what it might be until the final third of the book, when its discovery is explained. In a fitting echo of Blake, Pullman has Lord Asriel, a scientist, and Lyra’s father, call Dust “a physical proof that something happen[s] when innocence change[s] into experience.” Asriel compares Dust to “original sin,” or “greed,” and yet it’s still not really clear what it is. It’s a physical substance that can only be seen through a scientific process, but which makes it possible to see into other worlds. Lord Asriel wants to use it to build a bridge through the Northern Lights to the alternate universe he can see on the other side. Whether this is a good idea – whether or not the price of knowledge is too high – is a question we continue to ask ourselves, and which continues to harbor grave and exciting consequences to this day. Questioning the meaning of life via the effects and benefits of science, i.e. human’s changes to the “natural” order of things - it doesn’t get much deeper than that.

What I loved about this book was the way the author used physical (albeit magical or fantastical) objects –daemons, Dust – to talk about metaphysical questions – is this the only world that exists? What is a soul? And more. One thing I did not love, though, was the times when Pullman seemed to get a teensy bit lazy in his imaginings. If he took the trouble to come up with something as cool as panserbjørne, or armored bears, it seems like he could come up with something better than simply switching “gypsies” to “gyptians.” “Svalbard” is a real place in the North, but “Bolvanger” is made up. WHY, Philip Pullman? Why?

Other than that, though, great book. I’ll definitely be picking up the next one.