As part of my Summer Reading List, this book breezed by as I clocked the hours in my car. My mom recommends books all the time and I do try and make a mental note whenever she tells of a good read. Often, with all the robberies, holdups, cases, and school fights I get involved in, I hardly get a chance to squeak a main-stream book in that her lady friends are reading for book club.
I do wish this particular group of ladies would sit with their glasses of wine and discuss one of my gems. I’ll keep trying.
In this case, I listened to the Audible edition because, well, I likely wouldn’t have read it any other way.
I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the book more than I thought I would as I hit the road right along with the protagonist.
When his sister tricks him into taking her guru on a trip to their childhood home, Otto Ringling, a confirmed skeptic, is not amused. Six days on the road with an enigmatic holy man who answers every question with a riddle is not what he’d planned. But in an effort to westernize his passenger–and amuse himself–he decides to show the monk some “American fun” along the way. From a chocolate factory in Hershey to a bowling alley in South Bend, from a Cubs game at Wrigley field to his family farm near Bismarck, Otto is given the remarkable opportunity to see his world–and more important, his life–through someone else’s eyes. Gradually, skepticism yields to amazement as he realizes that his companion might just be the real thing.
In Roland Merullo’s masterful hands, Otto tells his story with all the wonder, bemusement, and wry humor of a man who unwittingly finds what he’s missing in the most unexpected place.
A sequel, entitled Lunch with Buddha, is now available. In a starred review, Kirkus magazine called this novel which continues the journey of Otto and Rinpoche, “a beautifully written and compelling story about a man’s search for meaning that earnestly and accessibly tackles some well-trodden but universal questions” and a “quiet meditation on life, death, darkness and spirituality, sprinkled with humor, tenderness and stunning landscapes.”
What I Liked about this Book:
Ok, so this book was released about ten years ago but still maintains a timeless vibe that could easily go on for another thirty years, or whenever the Americana that the book describes no longer makes sense for comparison. The narrator and protagonist is an editor of largely Cookbooks who sets out on a painful road trip with a man he was not expecting. Together they tour the northern tier of America and the narrative serves as a reflection of our shimmering reality.
I must note that I am a sucker for a road-trip or quests of any kind. I love books and movies that span a fair amount of time and physical location.
The author offers solid transitions between the internal struggles of a middle-aged man who seems to have everything, and the outward appearance of our era.
This book is a fun, candid story about growth. It offers a novel approach to understanding human nature and the capacity to learn even after you seem to know everything. The author conveys this theme well by using a clever narrative where small squabbles and large conflict are paramount.
Both the internal and external struggle of the protagonist, named Otto, lead to a revelation within the story of two very different people on a road trip. I also appreciate the glance at Buddhism, among many other religions, as I am in study. I daresay that I learned more from this book regarding my mental state than I have at some of those Beginner’s Guide to Buddhism books that are out there.
What I Didn’t Like About this Book:
Pacing. Some sections I felt were too long, while others, too short. There were some parts that could have been cut to leave room for more sights, more experiences for the pair to enjoy, fight, and reflect over. I wanted to see more of America.
I also think some of the struggles the main character goes through may fall on deaf ears. He has everything, or seems to. I do not share this comfortable reality with the protagonist: his steady job as an editor of food publications, or his wondering whether his life has meaning despite the success he has achieved.
The protagonist is pondering, against his will, whether or not there is meaning behind his comfortable life and thus, the inner struggle ensues with the help of a spiritual guide.
Difficult to relate to because so many people, myself included, are struggling for real with overdo bills, credit reports, underemployment, etc. We already know the big prize is at the end is jaded and not working. We already suspect there is more to life than one job in one career=success and happiness via a big house and 2.5 new cars. We suspect this because we have to and the target is moving.
How nice for a middle-aged man to be able to take weeks off and find himself in the rubble of America that the author seems to only want to hint at, but never dive into.
What this Does for My Writing:
Branding much? Yeah, author Roland Merullo has quite the following, along with sequels Lunch With Buddha, Dinner With Buddha, and Rinpoche’s Remarkable Ten-Week Weight Loss Clinic, among other works that defy genre. All of his work seems to have great reviews and in high numbers.
Also, if you want to write a road-trip or physical and spiritual quest style book, this would be good to read and would help serve as something of a template.
If you are in need of a pick-me-up or just feeling down, I recommend this book for at least a different perspective.
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