I bought six Audible books at the last sale and am reading (listening) through them now. The books are in a variety of genres including spiritual fiction (Buddhist), crime, and a general fiction. A couple of the books had been on my wish list (Harlan Coben and Don Winslow), but the others were all new to me.
Anyway, first up – Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo, a spiritual book with emphasis on a variety of Tibetan Buddhism. I liked it much more than I expected.
Breakfast with Buddha: A Novel
by Roland Merullo
2007 / 336 pages
read by Sean Runnette 9h 34m
rating – 8 / spiritual (Buddhist)
Otto Ringling is a normal guy, lives in New Jersey with his wife and two teenage children and commutes to New York where he works at a publishing house which specializes in food books. When his parents who lived in western North Dakota both die in a car collision he has to go back and settle the estate. His “nutty” sister was going to go with him, but she cancels and sends her friend, Volya Rinpoche – a Rinpoche is a Tibetan spiritual teacher. It seems Cecelia is giving her share of the farm to this guru so he can build a school there.
In some way this is a travelogue, but with a very spiritual twist – so it’s a “quest” book.
We know at the outset that Otto is nominally Christian and that he will return to New Jersey, but that he will have been changed somehow. He’s not pleased with the prospect of RInpoche as his traveling companion, but he’s a nice guy so he does it – grudgingly.
He decides to show this Rinpochet America and I was able to follow their progress on the Google maps. The trip is full of disillusion at what has happened in America, but also Rinpoche’s alternate attitude and there are twists and turns about all sorts of things, including Christianity – which Otto does not entirely buy into. . But they sometimes listen to talk radio and the religious programs and talk shows – this leads to conversations.
An odd thing is that this fits so neatly with Hillbilly Elegy (J.D. Vance) and White Trash (Nancy Isenberg) which I just read earlier this month. Breakfast with Buddha was written in 2007 so it’s not about the recent elections at all, but there’s a difference between what Otto lives in New York and the people who come to Rinpoche’s lectures in Youngstown, Ohio where the plants were closed or other places.
The food in the heartland is also different but that’s how some people are met and others are avoided. (Otto’s parents used to order hamburgers in Chinese cafes.) Food is a huge part of the novel because the eating places are limited, but they find the unlikely ones – a Hungarian place, a Thai place, as well as the tried and true greasy spoons of the midwest. And in addition to this, Ottis has a problem with over-eating. Addiction is another theme of sorts.
They see Americana from a bowling alley to a baseball game to miniature golf and other things. And they meet people here. It’s all pretty realistically presented. (Not perfect, I suppose.)
The questions addressed in this, again, “spiritual novel” include “Why are we good?” and “How pure can or should we be?” “Coincidence.” And of course there’s death and reincarnation and meditation and so on.
As it turns out this is the first of a series of three books – Lunch with Buddha (2012) is second and Dinner with Buddha (2015) is third. I don’t know – I’ll put them on my wish list but just to remind myself they exist – maybe in 6 months. On the other hand, maybe after only one or two books from my little stash.