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Live awakened – Everyday Zen by Joko Beck

I bought this book back in 1997, got half-way through it, couldn’t understand it and went on with my life of everyday living, thinking, worrying, etc. that we all do in our lives. Not until a crisis of sorts came up did I pick it up again. This time, it all made sense. Living life in the present moment, right here, now. This was the first time I had encountered the radical suggestion: Our life is our practice! I reread it many times over the years and will do again and again. Joko Beck’s attitude: „Nothing to gain, nothing to lose“ might not be something you will like to hear. And it might take you years to understand. This book could be your entry to a deeper understanding and acceptance.

„Everyday Zen“ really helped me see how Zen can operate in the midst of modern life. One of the few books I can say is worth a multiple read.

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Zen meditation and understanding – Nothing special by Charlotte Joko Beck

If you ever feel reading about selfeducation and mindfulness you should give Charlotte Beck a chance. This book has accompanied me on my search for understanding on meditation, awareness and orientation in life for well over 15 years by now. I have always been fascinated by Joko Beck’s words but had and still have a hard time to accept all the implications and deeper meanings. She is a very, very strict person and yet ever so understanding and caring. By and by I manage to accept what she says instead of hanging on with my soothing illusions. She very much helped me to accept my responsibility, toward others, the world and myself.

You might not like what she has to say but it’s very likely that you feel she’s right. There is no book I have read so often as this one. I took it with me on my hikes and travel-light holidays , have bought and recommended it again and again. It’s very serious stuff but gave me comfort and made me stop whining.

I learned more about myself, Zen and meditation from this book than from any other I’ve read about these topics. Highly recommended reading.

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Confronting your ego – The Wall by Marlen Haushofer

Marlen Haushofer’s dystopian novel „The Wall“ presents its heroine and the reader of her diary with a rather weird situation: Overnight she has become separated from the world outside by an invisible wall. Assuming her isolation to be the result of a military experiment gone awry, she begins the terrifying work of survival and self-renewal.
Normally she lives in the city. Her hosts, her cousin with her husband, have failed to return from am evening out in the village nearby. A dog, a cat and a cow, who turns out to be pregnant, are her only companions in the woods. Like a female Robinson Crusoe the first-person narrator learns to live amidst and with nature.
I really didn’t expect to find much to enjoy in The Wall, but I was wrong. It is a very elemental story,very human, simple, not complex, but very touching and emotional.  I loved the encounter with the warmth of animals, their different characters, their need and reliability, the closeness you get to them, more than to any human being.

I’m sure, men don’t like this novel. In the end, when you think the heroine has found a way to survive, there is only aggression and devastation, and you needn’t speculate long about its source: It can only be male, and this cannot but make a female reader like me very angry.
You never get an answer to questions like who put up the wall and why and if all
the living creatures outside the wall are dead. Later, when I informed myself about the author Marlen Haushofer, I read that she suffered from an unfeeling husband in an unfulfilled marriage.

 

 

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„I am Mary Dunne“ by Brian Moore

Mary Lavery, née Dunne lives in New York and is happily married to a much celebrated British playwright. But still she can’t get a grip on her life as she has three personalities who seem to be at war with each other. She suddenly begins to question her entire identity, life and choices. „Who am I any more?“ A question coming up in every one’s life, the later the more profound. You might call Mary a neurotic woman in her thirties, but this would only mean you deny your own insecurities.

To me this novel is about the struggle to know who you are, who you want to be and what put you on the track you are on. Reading the reviews to this book I began to wonder how  little appreciated introspection is by quite a lot of readers. Brian Moore found a captivating pace and gripping tension for this seemingly simple and slow-moving story.

Moore is often praised for his portraying female characters, particularly in his 1953 debut The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne. In one line Moore can say more than most authors do in 10. With „I am Mary Dunne“ Brian Moore showed again his mastery in creating a complicated insight with short and compact sentences.  He composed the story as an uninterrupted internal monologue by Mary. He stirs you up with her dense speach. You might be totally embarrassed for Mary the whole time you read the book. But don’t take your opposing feelings for Mary for a justification to blame the author.

If you are willing to go for a deeper evaluation of the plot you will find a lot of questions arising about your own life. That may cause discomfort but it’s only a proof of the well-written prose of Brian Moore, who managed to catch you off your guard. This book will make you think and you will want to read it again. After some years.

„I am Mary Dunne“ by Brian Moore from 1968 is by far not outdated. To name the novel „beautifully depressing“ was tellingly describing the very well-written book. I am glad to have rediscovered Brian Moore for myself again and dig for “we are what we remember“.

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Feel-Bad Education: Essays on Children and Schooling by Alfie Kohn

feel-bad education

feel-bad education

Der Titel „Feel-Bad Education“ von Alfie Kohn und das Titelfoto des gequält dreinschauenden Jungen auf dem Einband des Buches wirken für einen Profi beunruhigend .

So möchte ich als Lehrerin nicht gesehen werden. Man denkt doch, dass man in diesem Beruf etwas Sinnvolles leistet. Bildung zu vermitteln, sehe ich als Zuwendung zum Menschen. Und nicht als Frust-Dienst für mich und meine Schüler.

Woran die Vermittlung schon lange krankt, ist das zunehmende Desinteresse der Schüler am Lehrstoff. Das betrifft in meinem Fall Literatur genauso wie den Grammatikunterricht, im Deutschen wie im Englischen. Schüler scheinen es nicht so wichtig zu nehmen, ob sie sich fundamentales Wissen aneignen oder wie gut sie etwas beherrschen. Es ist kaum Bemühen zu erkennen, wenig Lust und Neugier. Intensive Vorbereitungen eines Projektthemas mit Kollegen ändern wenig, die Schüler und Schülerinnen springen darauf nicht an, und man selbst ist maßlos enttäuscht.

Neue Curricula, Methoden und Schulreformen der letzten Jahren haben daran nichts ändern können; ebenso wenig verbessert an der Lehr- und Lernsituation haben minutiös ausformulierte Erwartungshorizonte oder detailliert aufgelistete Kernkompetenzen.

Liegt es an der Ausrichtung all dieser Maßnahmen? Die neuen Methoden zielen im Wesentlichen auf Steigerung des Inputs. Mehr Wissen, mehr Fakten sollen in immer kürzerer Zeit an die Lernenden mit ausgeklügelten Techniken herangebracht und mit justiziablen Leistungstests auf Effizienz überprüft werden.

Neue Schulformen sind mehrheitlich auf den Lehrstoff und weniger auf die einzelnen Schüler hin orientiert. Hier setzt Alfie Kohns Kritik an. Lernen und Bildung sind mehr als ein Input-Output-Verhältnis, ein Denken, dass sich im Bildungswesen leider zunehmend breitmacht. Es funktioniert nicht, mehr anzubieten und zu fordern, also den Wissensumfang zu erhöhen, um dann in Leistungstests mehr herausholen zu können.

Leider ist es das, was wir Lehrerinnen und Lehrer heute gezwungen sind zu tun: Wir bereiten Schüler und Schülerinnen auf Leistungstests vor wie Rennstallbesitzer ihre Pferde auf Rennen. Wir befinden uns in einem Wettkampf; wir schreiben jahrgangsbezogene Vergleichsarbeiten, und wir erzeugen ganz viel Frustration auf beiden Seiten, und wenn unsere Klasse in der jeweiligen Vergleichsarbeit schlecht abschneidet, fällt das auch auf uns zurück. Schnell wird das schlechte Leistungsniveau und der fehlende Leistungswille als Entschuldigung angeführt.

Alfie Kohn zeigt auf, dass unser Blick zu wenig auf den einzelnen Schüler, die einzelne Schülerin und den Sinn und Zweck von Lerninhalten gerichtet ist. Heute bedeutet dies, im Widerspruch zu den Vorgaben des Schulamtes zu stehen. Schüler wie Lehrer werden von Amts wegen als berechenbare Größen betrachtet, die politische Normen erfüllen sollen. Jeder soll Bildung erfahren, niemand zurückgelassen und die Forderungen der Wirtschaft an die Qualifikation des Nachwuches sollen erfüllt werden.

Kohns Forderungen nach wesentlich mehr individueller Betreuung würden sowohl das Lerntempo verringern als auch Lerninhalte modifizieren. Wir würden aus dem Lehr- und Lernrhythmus bezüglich der zu schreibenden Leistungstests herausfallen. Wir dürften uns wieder mehr dem Menschen zuwenden, statt nur menschliche Roboter zu programmieren.

Das, was Alfie Kohn dem Leser immer wieder deutlich machen will, ist, dass in der schulischen Wissensvermittlung ebenso wie bei der elterlichen Erziehung zu Hause ein Aspekt nie aus dem Blickfeld geraten darf: die Fürsorge für das Kind und die bedingungslose Akzeptanz des Kindes, egal, welche Versäumnisse ihm anzulasten sind und wie gut oder schlecht es bei Leistungsüberprüfungen in der Schule abgeschnitten hat. Absolut und bedingungslos. Jedes Kind sollte sich jederzeit  in seinem So-Sein angenommen fühlen, von seinen Eltern ebenso wie von seinen Lehrern und Lehrerinnen.

Das ist eine fast unmögliche Zielsetzung, wenn man die Leistungen der Kinder weiterhin mit Zensuren von 1 bis 6 beurteilt. Was diese Einstufung für die Kinder und Jugendlichen bedeutet, scheint noch wenig erforscht zu sein. Das heutige Bildungswesen baut immensen Druck auf. Kultusministerien, Wirtschaft, europäische und weltweite Vergleichsszenarien schrauben ihre Forderungen bezüglich des Wissens-Inputs immer höher.

Schüler, Lehrer, Eltern und Länder sehen sehen sich gleichermaßen einem ständigen Vergleichswettkampf ausgesetzt. Nach dem Sinn und Zweck derartiger Vergleiche wird nicht mehr gefragt. Es geht letztlich immer nur ums Gewinnen oder Verlieren. Wer nicht zu den Oberen auf einer Rangliste zählt, hat verloren und muss sich anstrengen, um beim nächsten Mal besser abzuschneiden. Wohin dieser ‚rat race‘ führen soll, steht nicht zur Diskussion. Welche Art von Wissen und Bildung als relevant und notwendig erachtet werden angesichts so vielfältiger Veränderungen unserer Lebenswelten, wird mit den Betroffenen nicht erörtert. Aber wer entscheidet und beurteilt das? Reformen kommen von oben, und wir Lehrer und Lehrerinnen wehren uns zu wenig dagegen, weil wir sie entweder nicht gleich durchschauen, weil uns die Zeit dazu fehlt, weil wir ohnehin eine schlechte Lobby haben und wir allein auf komplexe gesellschaftliche Entwicklungen nicht korrigierend oder diese gar aufhaltend meinen einwirken zu können. Wir resignieren eher, als dass wir uns auflehnen.

Diese und andere Fragen diskutiert Alfie Kohn in seinen Essays. Aber auch seine Lösungsansätze greifen nicht weit genug. Der gesamte Komplex der neuen Medien und ihr gesellschaftlicher Einfluss bleibt ausgeblendet. Er thematisiert ausführlich das Verhalten und die teilweise überzogenen Ansprüche und Forderungen von Eltern im schulischen Kontext. Er stellt in Frage, dass Belohnungen die Motivation von Schülern steigern, hierbei anknüpfend an den tief im amerikanischen Denken verwurzelten Behaviorismus, und gelangt zu vernichtenden Urteilen über diese Methode des Lehrens und Lernens, die nur vordergründiges Interesse wecke.

Es gäbe noch so vieles zu sagen über Alfie Kohns Kritik am Bildungssystem in den USA, die weltweit übertragbar ist, wie es scheint. Doch um sensibel zu werden für diese Thematik, reicht das bisher Gesagte allemal, denke ich.

Alfie Kohn, „Feel-Bad Education“. Sehr lesenswert, nicht nur für Leute vom Fach, sondern auch für Eltern, die sich für die schulischen und familiären Aspekte der Erziehungspolitik interessieren. Als Taschenbuch
und eBook erhältlich, leider bisher nur in Englisch.

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Just a bore: Ian Rankin’s „The Complaints“

As a huge fan of Rebus, I very much looked forward to Ian Rankin’s new novel and main character Malcolm Fox. The storm was howling against my windows, the weather rainy as ever could be, still I was awaiting a very enjoyable winter weekend read on my sofa in front of the open fire and a warming drink. Maybe I was much too full of expectation not to be dissapointed. All the booze I drank instead of teetotal Inspector Fox didn’t help a bit to colour up the tedious story.

Usually my policy is not to write disapproving reviews. Time’s too precious to bother. But I feel cheated. There is absolutely nothing of any excitement going on in „The Complaints“. The plot is so slow, you wonder if there was any. If you ever were  in doubt how powerfully the team play of editors and tenure tracked reviewers could lead you on a merry dance, here’s the proof. Remarkable about ‚The Complaints“ is nothing but that it is totally unremarkable except for the fact that it’s a bestseller.

Seems Rankin got an obsession presenting the drinking habits of his characters. Didn’t count how often, but near every beverage taken in the run of a day by every protagonist was listed and described. That’s about the action. Next is the repeatedly underlining how formidably modern everybody is using computers, cell phones and what not of high tech. Is he trying to show the readers he eventually got it worked out to handle this tricky machines? Ok, let’s be fair and not jump on conclusions. But what can you expect if an author tries to cover the addiction to online games, paedophilia, abuse of women and the meltdown of finances and Scottish real estates in one plot? You’re stuffed with an endless string of forcefully connected bits of action. Rather non-actions, as all you get is what happens in Malcolm Foxes head. He and his team is tasked with investigating dirty officers getting their hands greased. Where morally impeccable DI John Rebus was not giving a damn about keeping to the rules, earnest Malcolm Fox is anxious not to step on anybody’s toes. Admittedly, times have changed and Rebus would only give a comical figure in police headquarters of today. Foxy, as he likes to be called, is a character as fascinating as a cautious tax inspector.

You could call Rankin a brave author as he risks showing to you in full broadness the drudgery of nowadays police work. You get the impression, it’s more about keeping one’s arse covered than going on criminals. We all know times are not what we would like them to be. And it’s only realistic that a modern male police officer has to get along with a boring, drunken and abused sister and an ailing father. But Fox manages too well. He’s so damn perfect, of highest moral quality and amazingly clever, he simply bored me endlessly. It was much too clear it would all work out fine without me ever having to feel seriously worried.

I will not deny, Ian Rankin is very good at getting you inside the head of his characters…masterfully even. But his main and most other characters are totally uninspiring chumps. I’m not reading a thriller because I want a pedantically realistic portraiture of everyday life. I’d like the hero to be a lot more juicy. And I certainly don’t want to spend time with such a prying, scrutinizing smart arse I have to cope with on the job anyway.

 

 

This novel „The Complaints“ does not deserve the benefit of the first doubt. Ian Rankin should have known much better as the experienced author he is. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on any future Fox novels, but do expect a lot less complacency of Malcolm Fox and Ian Rankin. Yes. Rankin and his editor are by far too certain his books will be bestsellers. Seen in the high moral light of Rebus and Fox, Rankin played a bad trick on his readers.

This novel’s only good for sending you to sleep though you suffer from insomnia. Pardon my French.

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Ian Rankin: A Scots Hard Man „Black&Blue“ A John Rebus Novel

Let me say at the outset that I am high on Rankin. I have read most of Rankin’s Rebus novels and enjoyed near every page. If you love British mysteries, he’s a dead cert. You can’t go wrong if you start with „Black&Blue“, winner of the prestigious Macallan Gold Dagger Award for Fiction (Best Mystery as awarded by the Crime Writers Association of Britain). This book is as good a place as any to get introduced with his „hard man“, the majestic DI John Rebus. I believe this is one of the best of the assortment I’ve read.

John Rebus is a complex character, a person you do not cross; who both drinks and smokes too much for his own good, is divorced, a man who is on the borderline to know how to take care of himself.  Inspector Rebus is unquestionably a hard man. DI Rebus is driven by Calvinist guilt, fuelled by whisky, ciggies and pop music and is willing, even eager, to cut corners and push boundaries in his pursuit of a pretty harsh justice. The central character in these series of fiction novels by Scots author Ian Rankin is an ex Special Air Services operative, invalided out of the army after suffering a nervous breakdown, and then becoming a detective in the Capital of Scotland, Edinburgh.  But not in an Edinburgh that would be known to those who have vacationed there. It is set in the dark underbelly of the city.

Now Rebus catches the case of an oil-rig worker, who came gruesomely to death. Don’t ask him why, but Rebus senses a connection between this murder in Edinburgh and the Godfatherlike manoeuvres of a mobster in Glasgow. Along the way, bent cops in Aberdeen suspect Rebus of being Johnny Bible, the copycat killer who started imitating the murder pattern of Bible John (a true life killer) who terrified Scotland in the late 60’s.

Rebus is reaching a crisis while tracking these two serial killers and is involved in a deadly game of cat and mouse. First, he’s been transferred to a backwater division in the wake of the fallout from his last case and his first investigation there seems to tie into both the North Sea oil industry and the mobs. Second, an old case where he and his mentor played fast and loose with the rules has been reopened. Third, Rebus seems obsessed by both killers and manages to get himself into serious trouble by annoying superior officers in three different cities at the same time. Superiors who are not painted as modern and forward thinking.

Rebus really outdoes himself in this book. He reacts erratically, and because of this seems all the more human. He doesn’t give a toss about procedure, he is insubordinate, he constantly walks a tightrope between being fired and being let off the hook. Part of the trouble even goes as far as becoming a suspect in his own investigation. The overwhelming confluence of events threatens to swamp him. Yet Rebus is a believable character and you get so engrossed in the story you almost feel you are standing there watching things unravel before your eyes. I was gripped from the moment I picked this book, and despite promising myself that I would make it last by reading just a few chapters a day, I soon found I had devoured the whole book. Who wouldn’t love a borderline alcoholic detective whose conscience won’t let him rest? He’s certainly not the brilliant hero who never does anything wrong. He’s not a bitter drunkard, not a misogynistic bastard but silently heroic compared to every other character in the book.

 

 

But be warned: the book doesn’t come easy. Some might say, in „Black and Blue“ Ian Rankin was just a little too ambitious. Not only is there a labyrinth of plots and interesting scenes like the one on a North Sea oil-rig. Rebus is flitting in and out of three cities and three cop shops, there is an awful lot of characters, particularly coppers, milling about. It takes a lot of traveling time and clues for Rebus to work all the information he gathers into a coherent pattern. And for the reader, I may add. You will occasionally get confused among them all.

For me Rankin somehow manages to juggle all these plates spinning in a really superior way. John Rebus’s fans will be satisfied with „Black and Blue“, as everything I’ve come to love about him is here in spades. You’ll have to develop some of John Rebus’s stubborness and tenacity as it takes some time until he gets to any real action in this book. The plotting is superb; it’s complicated but rewarding to stick with. Rankin has an uncanny ability to interweave the plot, keeps us guessing, and is always surprising us. This is a Rebus novel with more twists and red herrings than you can count and yet it maintains feasibility. Ian Rankin can surely write, the dialogues are realistic, packed with humour and come with the precision of a chess master. He stirs his hot pot of confused leads, unholy alliances, dirty cops, and painstakingly slow progresses to a perfect serving.

Enjoy! I did.

It really is a beast of a book, weighting in at just under 500 pages but that length never feels unjustified.

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Rose Tremain, Trespass

If I hadn’t been given „The Road Home“ as a Christmas present by an English friend, I wonder when I would have discovered Rose Tremain as the highly gifted writer that she is.

Meanwhile, I have read „Sacred Country“, „Music and Silence“, „The Colour“, and her latest novel „Trespass“. It is amazing how she is

Vallée du Galeizon Cévenne

Filou30 Vallée du Galeizon Cévenne CC

able to evoke the spirit of times and ages in creating her complex works. Her characters are endowed with convincing lives and thoughts. It seems to be no problem to her to write from any point of view imaginable, no matter what age, gender, or nationality. She shows deep insight into people’s motives for their decisions and deeds. In their pursuit of happiness her characters often leave their home countries, families, and friends – sometimes for good – and involuntarily become outsiders in their new surroundings though trying hard to accommodate themselves. Since human nature is corrupt, a lot of violation takes place in the long history of countries and families. Lands, homes, bodies, minds, relationships are treated with disrespect and made to suffer or decline into chaos. For all these ‚trespasses‘ there is hardly ever any true redemption.

„Trespass“ is set in the unforgiving dramatic landscape of the Cévennes in southern France, which the author herself is quite familiar with.

At the beginning of the story, ten-year-old Mélodie wanders away from her school party having a picnic during a school outing. She is new in her class and bullied by her classmates for her different accent and behaviour. Because of her father’s career the family has just moved from Paris to this wild region of the country, which Mélodie cannot cope with at all. Strolling through a wood she discovers something and starts screaming. However, not until the end of the novel does the reader get to know what has happened.

The once-renowned London antique dealer Anthony Verey, a snobbish man of sixty something, is failing to make money in his forbiddingly elegant shop in Chelsea. He decides to escape to his sister Veronica, a garden designer, who lives in southern France with her lover Kitty, an amateur watercolourist, whom Anthony despises. Anthony’s arrival brings disruption to the lovers‘ idyll. To Veronica, who has always taken care of her younger brother because their pleasure-seeking mother never had any time for her children, this is no problem. She loves her brother and wants to help him find a house in the area, whereas Kitty’s jealousy and hatred of Anthony become insurmountable.  She leaves shortly after Anthony is missed and keeps missing.

At the heart of the story, however, are a French brother and half-sister, Aramon and Audrun Lunel, both born after the Second World War and now in their late middle age. Aramon, a decrepit alcoholic, hopes to sell the majestic but subsiding old family stone house, the Mas Lunel, to wealthy foreigners. Anthony Verey, the first of the potential buyers, feels deterred by the fact that Audrun’s squalid modern bungalow has been built on the borderline that separates her territory from her brother’s. This private dispute between brother and sister has to be settled first before the local agents are able to sell the house.  Worldwide the recession deepens, and the local mayor declares that „displacement of local people by foreigners must end“ in the newspaper.

Audrun tries to prevent her brother from selling the house that she feels she has a right to. After their adored mother had died, Aramon was encouraged by his own father to join him in abusing Audrun, who is not his own daughter. ‚Trespass‘ – in the sense of wrong-doing – has poisoned the atmosphere between brother and sister and in Mas Lunel ever since. Aramon himself cannot come to terms with what he has done to Audrun. He neglects the stately house and the hunting dogs and often has to bid his sister to help him find or remember things. Though she takes care of him, she thinks about ways of getting rid of him so that he will not be able to sell the house and the land. Of all the novel’s characters she is the one with the most respect for her environment.

Mélodie’s piercing scream , which has been echoing through the novel, is explained when finally Anthony’s body is found in a river behind Mas Lunel. His car is found hidden in a shed, and Aramon is accused of murder. Although he cannot remember anything and thinks his mind keeps deteriorating, he admits everything and is sent to prison, where after a very long time Ausdrun visits him. He tells her he feels sorry for what had happened in the past. Not long after he had left Mas Lunel, it was destroyed by a fire that almost killed Audrun. It could be rebuilt with the insurance money, however, Audrun decides to have it demolished altogether so that, in the end, nothing is left of it.

Being on her own now, Veronica decides to return to England. ‚… Because if you left your own country, if you left it late, and made your home in someone else’s country, there was always a feeling that you were breaking an invisible law, always the irrational fear that, one day, some ‚rightful owner‘ would arrive to take it all away, and you would be driven out – back to London or Hampshire or Norfolk, to whatever place you could legitimately lay claim.‘

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