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February 21st, 2008

Updated to note the first come, first served below:

Jena tagged me for the meme that I’ve seen a number of you do already. Like most exercises, it is useful. I am to take the book closest to me and open it to page 123, then go to the fifth sentence and quote the next three sentences, or some such. I’m not being too exact with these instructions because, well, I wasn’t too exact when I did this and you’ll see that it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we do it at all, and the how just takes care of itself.

I honestly did reach for the book closest to me here at my desk. It is a book that sits, indeed lives, under my desk. A number of books live under my desk, because literally and figuratively, that’s where my writing grows out of: the underneath. A box of books I wrote sits under my desk. But the book closest isn’t one I wrote. It is a book that I endeavor to rewrite daily through my life itself. It is my muse and inspiration, “The Way of Everyday Life” by Maezumi Roshi. This happens to be a self-published publication from 1978. It is out of print. And because it has that circa-1978 zen spin, it doesn’t even have page numbers. So I turned to what I would like to think is page 123 and I scrolled down a bit and chose not three but four sentences:

Some people think that until they complete their practice and attain enlightenment, they can’t help other people. But such a time will never come, because practice is our life itself, and continues endlessly. So, according to the demands of each situation, we do our best. That’s our way.

We do our best. That’s not only our way, it’s the only way. We are always doing our best. When I see these words, so simple and clear, I want to weep for all the times that I have forgotten them.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading (and writing) lately. Because of these appetites and my deep belief in the beneficent and reciprocal power of circulation, I have books to pass on to you. This post gives me a way โ€“ the best way โ€“ to offer up some fine paperback reads for your taking, and this is the only kind of tagging I do. I will send any of these by very cheap, excruciatingly slow media mail service to anyone who claims a title by name in a comment. Then email me separately with your address. Please take only one so more can benefit. I enjoyed them all in their own original way. According each to its situation, they were the best. The one you choose will be the best for you. That is our way.

The books have been claimed by the following readers, many of whom pledge to pass their copies along in good faith, and whether they do or not it will be good enough. I am delighted to have heard from so many first-time commenters and I encourage you to keep coming so together we can keep going:

A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton/The Conspirator
Handling Sin by Michael Malone/Mama Zen
Life of Pi by Yann Martel/Jennifer The Word Cellar
Oil by Upton Sinclair/Kathryn
Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan/Someone Being Me
Snow Flower and The Secret Fan by Lisa See/Kirsten Michelle
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafรณn/Jena
Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett/Backpacker Momma


  1. Snow Flower and The Secret Fan.

    this is such a lovely idea, karen.
    i’ll be sure and pass it along when i’m finished.

    Comment by Kirsten Michelle — February 21, 2008 @ 3:12 pm

  2. Wow, what a gernerous giveaway! I woudl love to take apeek at Truth and Beauty. I too, will figure out how to forward it on once completed…Thank you!

    Comment by Backpacker momma — February 21, 2008 @ 3:26 pm

  3. I would really like to read Life of Pi. I love this idea of sharing books. I, most certainly, will pass it on!


    I dont have a blog so that is why i dont “sign in” ๐Ÿ™‚

    Comment by Anonymous — February 21, 2008 @ 3:31 pm

  4. I love Amy Tan. I havent read Saving Fish from Drowning so I would love to receive that if it is still open.

    Comment by Someone Being Me — February 21, 2008 @ 3:37 pm

  5. I’d love to read Oil! by Upton Sinclair.

    Comment by kathryn — February 21, 2008 @ 3:42 pm

  6. “practice is our life itself, and continues endlessly”

    I need to feel that some days. Other days I am that. Ah.

    Nice list! Those which remain are more tragic than I can do. ๐Ÿ™‚ Interesting choices.

    Comment by denise — February 21, 2008 @ 5:41 pm

  7. We do our best. My life, for now, is my book.

    Saving Fish from Drowning.

    Yes, we get just what we need. I love that.

    Comment by Jena Strong — February 21, 2008 @ 8:32 pm

  8. Melanie,
    You don’t have to have a blog, certainly. But you do need to email me (through my profile page) and give me your address or else the title Life of Pi will go to another.

    That means I need a reserve taker on Pi.

    Comment by Karen — February 21, 2008 @ 8:36 pm

  9. “But such a time will never come, because practice is our life itself, and continues endlessly.” The endless nature of story seems to be the theme of my day. Thanks for sharing this quote and the books.

    I’d like to be the reserve taker on Life of Pi if you need one. Otherwise, I’m drawn to The Shadow of the Wind.

    Comment by Jennifer/The Word Cellar — February 21, 2008 @ 9:25 pm

  10. The one you choose will be the best for you.

    I would choose “Handling Sin.” Not sure yet what THAT might mean . . .

    Thank you, Karen!

    Comment by Mama Zen — February 21, 2008 @ 10:17 pm

  11. Truth and Beauty sounds interesting, what a good spin on “pay it forward”!

    Comment by desert mom — February 22, 2008 @ 3:36 am

  12. It looks like A Map of the World is the one left for this latecomer? If so, it sounds pleasantly intense. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Blissings, April

    Comment by The Conspirator — February 22, 2008 @ 6:14 am

  13. Ah, a day late and a book short. Just my luck. I’m struggling to keep up lately … like your book exercise, though!

    Comment by Shawn — February 22, 2008 @ 12:09 pm

  14. I love the quote.

    I, too, am late, but that’s okay. What a kind thing for you to do.

    Comment by Shelli — February 22, 2008 @ 12:54 pm

  15. i love how i always get
    exactly what i need here.
    thank you.

    love and wisdom seem to
    spill out of you like water….

    mccabe xx

    Comment by mccabe — February 22, 2008 @ 4:03 pm

  16. I see that I am too late for the great book give-away. But, that’s okay. I have a new book to read – yours! I started it a couple of days ago while having a brief respite in the hospital. I’ve only read the first couple of chapters but am enjoying it immensely. And I’ve already recommended it to my friends. Thank you for your lovely views. I aspire to have more Zen in my life and you are helping me along the way.

    Comment by Shalet — March 2, 2008 @ 1:59 am

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