I never expected to fall in love with Volya Rinpoche, a bald, squarely-built Russian monk who dresses in gold-trimmed maroon robes and sandals, has skin the color of acorns, and is a world-renowned spiritual leader and author. Neither did Otto Ringling, the narrator of Breakfast with Buddha, Lunch with Buddha and Dinner with Buddha, a trilogy of mind-bending, possibly life-changing novels by Roland Merulo . But who could resist that heart-melting smile, that endless compassion and infectious laugh? His naïve observations and whiplash fast “wessons?”
But wait. Nothing kinky here.As the story begins, Otto’s whacko, forever hippie sister tricks him into taking a road trip alone with this monk, her latest love interest. As miles and days pass, their relationship grows and Otto decides the Rimpoche is “the real deal.” Between volumes, monk marries sister, plots thicken, and Otto evolves. The novels are poignant in places, hilarious in others, always thought-provoking, and sublimely well-written. Otto’s acute observations on history, geography, philosophy and food are meticulously detailed.
I’ve always encouraged students of lifestory or memoir writing to read widely, to read like a writer, to find authors whose style they admire and immerse themselves in their work. Roland Merullo is my new hero behind the page. These digital volumes are full of pink highlights for exquisite description and gold ones for powerful points.
Although these volumes are clearly fiction, drawn from Merullo’s fertile imagination, they read like memoir. They are among those remarkable titles I occasionally find that convey Truth in concentrated form, more potent than most actual life experience could support. I consider them a prime example of the power of the fiction alternative.
The Buddha books came into my life at the perfect time (who believes in coincidence?). Over the last few months our nearly completed move from Pittsburgh to Austin has become unexpectedly complex and stressful, full of fretting and fear and second-guessing. I was convinced I had neither time nor the concentration to read. In spite of these self-imposed barriers, a book with a Buddha title slipped through the cracks.
I didn’t have time to not read these books. They reminded me of wisdom I’ve accrued over at least forty years, much of which I’ve ignored for the last many. They reminded me that I’ve largely fallen away from soul-enriching practice. They reminded me we can choose our reactions, our thoughts. Along the way, they altered and added perspective. I feel better now, stronger, and ready to forge ahead! Thank you Roland Merullo!
This is not the first time books have restored or enriched my soul and nudged me around corners. Should I include any of these time periods in a memoir, for example this move, it could not be complete without mention of these three books and their influence. I could take things further. Pat Conroy, perhaps best known for his novel, The Great Santini, wrote My Reading Life, a themed memoir devoted to books that have molded and shaped him.
What better time to snuggle down and read than these days of early darkness, of golden leaves and frosty mornings? Find an author you love and read ‘til your eyeballs cave in. Make highlights in ebooks. Put sticky tags in print ones. Collect heart-stopping phrases and notable elements of structure.
Write on: start a list of books that have affected your life and thinking. Write about these in your journal and develop your thoughts into an essay. Add a few of your favorite titles to a comment, as a tribute to the author and a beacon to fellow writers.