Reading is one of my great passions.  Books entertain, educate, illuminate, provoke, evoke, relax, steady and sedate me.

I am partial to nonfiction, love autobiography and memoir, particularly when I am offered a bit of insight into the lives of strong, inspiring women, and am a generally eclectic and critical reader.  Much of my reading is related to my work passion – nutrition, exercise, mindfulness.  Here are a few thoughts about recent reads.

Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung authored Savor:  Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.  I had waited eagerly for this book to hit the market, anticipating a lovely pairing of mindfulness and nutrition.  Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist Monk, spiritual leader and scholar, active in many peace initiatives globally, and a wise instructor of Buddhist teachings. Dr. Cheung is a Harvard nutritionist, active in health promotion and interested in community-based health initiatives.

I was, in large part, disappointed.  The book is written for the looking-for-weight-loss public as a self-help book and captures/perpetuates many stereotypes around weight gain and weight loss.  It does, I feel, feed this horribly weight-obsessed culture in which we are immersed.

Anything touting “weight loss” as a primary goal is a strong repellent to me these days.  My faith in any kind of weight loss program has been shaken.  The diet industry thrives from our poor health and seems to play a fully complicit role in our poor eating habits.

Savor offers some stellar pieces regarding mindfulness and is liberally peppered with instructive parables and metaphors.  Ignore the trite, misleading and misunderstood mainstream nutrition advice, take hold of the grand potential in the mindfulness practice which is straightforwardly offered, or simply bypass this book all together.  I’d advise the latter.

Raj Patel is an astute thinker, a solid researcher and a good writer.  In The Value of Nothing: Why Everything Costs So Much More Than We Think, he provides a lens through which we see the cracks in capitalism.  The ‘free market’ is not so free.  Patel highlights the economic and environmental costs of a free market economy which, if left to run itself, will decimate our global resources.  Capitalism runs, he asserts, on the energy of greedy individualism.  No wonder it flourishes and is aggressively pushed by ‘the land of the free’.

Aside from free market ideology, there are more sensible, healthful, compassionate, affirming ways of valuing our ‘things’.  Patel points the way in a very user-friendly, lucid way.

Chemical Pink by Katie Arnoldi is the only piece of fiction I’ve read this year so far. I have many issues with the body building industry in a health and fitness context.  I love weight lifting and the esthetic of a pumped and built body enough to still embrace muscle isolation training regimens.  They lack funtionality, true.  They are the spawning grounds of injury, yes.  They are, at best, only remotely related to health and fitness, I concede.  At the extreme, they promote obsessive food and body issues, unhealthy supplementation and frightening role modeling for our children.

Arnoldi has a background in competitive bodybuilding but did not take the step into taking drugs to progress to higher levels of competition.  She claims the chemical cocktails described in the novel are typical in the higher echelons of competition.

If this claim is true, that is the only point of interest in the novel.  There is a lack of story line in the novel.  The characters lack history and complexity and instead present as one-dimensional walking obsessions.  Sex is used gratuitously, repeatedly, in an effort to fascinate.

Generally I wouldn’t bother finishing a read such as this.  However, it was a lightweight novel requiring little focus and little thought.  This translated into a quick read.

I purchased TA Loeffler’s More Than A Mountain: One Woman’s Everest because I wanted, maybe even needed, to be inspired.  I wanted to settle in with one woman’s journey and be transported.  I wanted a personal account which would make me stay up late to turn pages and get me out of bed each morning eager to find my own such inspirational life.  I wanted to abandon paperwork and planning and instead live vicariously, eagerly anticipating the next chapter.  I wanted to feel elated and bereft when I reached the end, inflated by my participation in her triumphs and deflated by the end of anticipation.  I wanted to have fantasies to live and stories to tell.  I wanted a book I could recommend to others flailing in their personal journeys.

Not so much.

It started off okay for me.  Enticing.  A woman with a passion to climb mountains and a willingness to do what it takes to meet that goal.  Train hard.  Fund raise.  Overcome barriers, stay focused.  It had all the makings of what I wanted it to be.  I was doubly enamoured by TA’s Buddhist leanings and her east coast connections (she is a professor at MUN in NL).  I was ready to covet her drive, her vision, her tenacity.  And I did.  I still do.

But, I do so with many reservations.  TA Loeffler needs to live at extremes.  I like that.  She is a decent writer, so her book becomes a lovely companion.

Then she and I part ways.  Climbing Everest is an expensive undertaking – costing about $75,000.  Wow!  Loeffler mortgaged her home and began fundraising.  Her fundraising was, largely, on the backs of school children.  This bothers me.  She made the rounds of schools in NL and revved these children into bake sales and car washes.  To meet her personal goals needs.  They weren’t fundraising for world peace, relief efforts, hunger or poverty.  They were fundraising because one woman wanted to climb a mountain.  They were fundraising to pay her home mortgage.  Confounded!

Loeffler was so successful at soliciting the support of children, whipping them into a frenzy of finance-her-up-Everest, she felt an obligation to them, a responsibility to be accountable to them during the climb.  Knowing that on each Everest summit expedition it was not a matter of ‘if’ someone would die but ‘when’ someone would die (Loeffler discusses this in the book), she left thousands of school children dangling on her daily progress up the face of this formidable geological bump.  If she had died en route?  How much trauma would be left behind?

The further I progressed into the book, the more frustrated and disappointed I became.  Despite Loeffler’s Buddhist reflections and averred  spiritual connections with the cultures of mountain dwellers, her journey is really one of personal absorption and disregard for others.

Loeffler doesn’t make it up Everest in this book.  And in an attempt earlier this year, she isn’t able to summit either.

So, that would be about $150,000 for one woman to not meet her goals.  Money fundraised which could have met the needs of many.

I have a friend who has heard TA Loeffler speak.  She described TA as a phenomenal motivational speaker.  I guess she would have to be to continue financing her personal ego.

Harsh?  I guess.  But this just makes me shake my head.  And, shake it again.