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I read four books during the week in question. Here are three of them.

1) 禅、シンプルな生活のすすめ - 枡野 俊明
     Zen, Shimpuruna Seikatsu no Susume - Masuno Shunmyo

Written by a Soto priest, this book is a quick read and a mixed bag. Masuno is at his best when writing about Buddhist doctrine or Zen rock gardening (his specialty), tolerable when dispensing life advice that, shorn of Buddhist doctrine, becomes standard self-help fare, and at his worst when championing the adoption of temple routines and activities without realising they might not be feasible for anyone not employed as a full time priest. Final verdict: I'm not sorry I read this volume, but I probably didn't need to buy it.

2) Wench - Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Wench is the story of four slave women whose masters bring them as mistresses to a northern hotel each summer. It is a powerhouse of a book. Perkins-Valdez has an expert ear for dialogue, a deft hand at plot development, and the rare ability to portray the abject misery of her protagonists' situations without wallowing or seeming as if she's going through a checklist. Like all good historical fiction novelists, she uses her narrative to demonstrate how emotions, reactions, and situations that seem so incomprehensible in the 21st century were perfectly rational at the time. Wench is Perkins-Valdez's first novel, but rest assured I will be reading anything else she publishes.

3) Starting Out or Starting Over - James Kramon
I picked this book up because it looked like it provided clear and concise guidelines for (among other things) purchasing insurance and writing legal letters, and ended up reading the whole thing cover to cover. A lawyer by trade, Kramon gives lucid advice for boring--but necessary--activities like buying or leasing property and services, negotiating with HMOs, and settling disputes, all of it provided in a "Complete Idiot's Guide To" knockoff layout. To be sure, it's not the most exciting of reads, but Kramon does a good job of keeping things as interesting as possible without being hokey, and his suggestions all seemed feasible and sound. Final verdict: worthwhile reading for anyone who needs to know this stuff.

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January 2012

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