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  • L. Murray - The Best Book of the YearIn the past year I have been very lucky to read some great fiction. Just this summer I thoroughly enjoyed Arcadia, Where'd You Go , Bernadette, and The Cuckoo's Calling. But The Beautiful Ruins just surpassed all of them. This is, simply put, a wonderful novel: the story is endlessly engaging, the characters are complex and interesting, and the prose is beautiful. I now want to read everything Jess Walter has written.
  • Akashic Recordings "Akasha" - The author's magnum opus, that could have used a better titleWhen I first came across this volume in my local bookstore my first thought was, "No, not another writer trying to cash in on this trendy theme." Fortunately, I was already familiar with the author, having had devoured and immensely enjoyed his previous work, Breaking Open The Head (2003). Still, I almost passed on this one mainly because the subject doesn't interest me all that much. Yet I purchased a copy for myself after reading the back write-up that stated all that this massive publication includes - side-topics and tangential passages that touch on all sorts of fascinating personalities and areas of study including, among many: the Beat Generation, the Burning Man festival, crop circles, Aleister Crowley, Patrick Harpur, Graham Hancock, the Hopi, kundalini, LSD (and Alfred Hofman), the Santo Daime, the Secoyas of Ecuador, Rudolph Steiner (whom I first became familiar with while perusing Anthony Storr's phenomenal Feet Of Clay), synchronicity, etc, etc, etc. Really, how does Mr. Pinchbeck expect even his most devout and studious of readers to retain all of this captivating information?

    To be honest, 2012: The Return Of Quetzalcoatl (2007; 411 pages) was quite the slog, requiring mega headwork on my part, but worth all the effort and time it took chewing and savoring the meaty offering, via piecemeal. I've had to read it three times just to digest it all. The author put a lot of work into this engrossing, mind-expanding tome that many consider to be his magnum opus. And, what do you know, after a lengthy semi-diversionary introduction, the reader finally arrives at the discussion centering around the Mayans, beginning on page 187 of the publication. Could 2012: TROQ have been shortened, more tightly composed? Less of an esemplastic, verbose hodge-podge? The book's title is somewhat misleading in my opinion. It covers a lot of ground, not just the plumed serpent woven-in topos, and I think would have attracted a greater readership had the book been named with a more encompassing heading.

    Those that can't stand a biographical side-dish to go along with their thematic main course (a la Whitley Strieber's Communion) will likely be pulling their hair out trying to get through this book, which reads like a part-confessional in parts. Besides being a half-memoirs, and a book mainly focusing on Mayan mythology and prophecy, it also delves into present-day topical issues and concerns - such as the alarming oceanic and rain forest depletion, global overpopulation, resource consumption, environmental deterioration, etc - as well as paranormally related abstractions and metaphysical/philosophical musings.

    Whether or not anything of significance - positive (cue epoch) or negative (enter upheaval) - will occur in December of 2012 or any other proposed imminent date or time period is of somewhat irrelevance to me. Not that I don't care about our future, but when December 21, 2012 comes and goes, as I'm sure it will, without incident, I'll still be continuing in my re-reading of and meditating on this always ever-pertinent material. And this is what separates Mr. Pinchbeck's book from others of its kind: It's not a work of ahistorical consumption; it'll never grow outdated, for it contains so many other intellectually stimulating inclusions. In 2020 and beyond it'll still be tremendously informative and current. (To reiterate: it needed a different title.)

    In the erudite Daniel Pinchbeck, I not only see one of the greatest thinkers of our age but a kindred spirit. Like Mr. Strieber, Mr. Pinchbeck strikes me as a truth-seeker, a quality that I most admire in anyone who doesn't subscribe to a rigid and absolutist belief system. Daniel is also a self-proclaiming college dropout, yet has the intellect of a professor that's coupled with the humility of a disciple.

    There is so much that I agree with him on. Personally, I feel that the Western view of masculinity and success is a very skewed one. Also: I have, for instance, been aware for quite some time of the distracted and preoccupied ovine masses, how Joe and Jane Public are kept busy making a living (a conspiracy, I wonder?), often through no fault of their own, never to notice or care about deeper matters along hyper-physical lines - whereas science has recently shown that psychic phenomena exists! Mr. Pinchbeck's thoughts on the unnatural institution of monogamy and the interpersonal frictions it needlessly wreaks resonate with me as concepts refreshingly iconoclastic and intuitively true. As an ex-sectarian, in recent years I have re-evaluated my Christian heritage in a more universal light (along Tom Harpur's The Pagan Christ) which concurs that Christ left for us a model, not a willed estate. I also feel masculine aggression, a left-over of Son- or sun-worshippers (as with the Catholic Spaniards who diabolically slaughtered the Aztecs) ought to give way to feminine qualities more compatible with the maternal planet in which we inhabit. I also feel that the transcendence of our so-called biological limits, if pursued, ought only to be sought after on a spiritual basis, and not on a superficial level as those promoting future A.I. and cyborgs would have it. I also think that modern civilization can learn a thing from tribal life - namely, for starters, that of population control, and of living in balance with Nature. I also agree with Jung that the apocalypse is an archetypal, psychological event, that takes place both on an individual and collective basis. As well, it appears to me too that possibly obliviously egocentric fundamentalist doom-sayers may, on an unconscious level, be desiring the end of this system primarily out of the disappointment felt at facing their own mortality.

    There is so much that I learned from reading this book: Women's plight; how the Industrial Revolution paved the way toward seeing to gender equality, in that machines leveled the playing field where the centuries-old disadvantage of being born physically weaker now became a thing of the past. How thought precedes material effect: By thinking positively we can positively transform even the material world, so often quickly dismissed by secularists as a reality intrinsically separate from the spiritual. How both the religious and secular systems are contributing toward the destruction of our planet. It was also interesting to learn about the notion that considers Yahweh and Satan to be one in the same, comprising an "antimony," a concept that makes sense to me, especially if you've ever read the Book of Job.

    While at other times, my own contemplating on the material would inspire somewhat expanded though primarily overlapping reflections and opinions, such as: Is lucid dreaming the key to surviving bodily death? Does the universe contain meaning? Or do we provide it with such? And, if the latter, is this a psychological trick or a divine reward bestowed upon the seeker?

    Regarding the ingesting of shamanic substances, in lands where these hypothetically would no longer be prohibited: Some feel, from having read books or seen DVDs about these botanical teachers, that others besides themselves, namely mainstream scientists and fundamentalists, might benefit greatly from such plant knowledge, in possibly opening up to these ones greater truths ... though, should ever that happen, one hopes without their experiencing of too much embittered disillusionment.

    And yet these precious substances have been outlawed and demonized in countries like the U.S., thanks to the Controlled Substance Act of 1970. That Mr. Pinchbeck traveled abroad to partake freely and harmlessly of such psychedelics as therapeutic iboga, ayahuasca and DMT is a feature of the man's life that I am most enviable of.

    Indeed, as I see it, it might very well be a case of these substances, if ever legally permitted, maybe being a more reliable means of treating mood disorders than the current popularity and medical acceptability of often ineffective, if not entirely harmful, and addictive antidepressants which have been the current rage in the last few reigning decades of the pharmaceutical industry.

    Also, we are made to wonder: Could it be that early Christians partook of a psychedelic mushroom, as depicted in early Church frescoes that show what appears to be the amanita?

    My five-star review in no way implies that the book is absolutely faultless. Some portions were just way too abstruse for my liking - in particular, Mr. Pinchbeck's fondness for the recondite mumblings of radical Jose Arguelles (quite the longueur). This is not to say that a new calendar wouldn't do wonders for the world and the number thirteen, but Arguelles, as much as I like him on a bohemian level, does or did hold some rather kooky ideas (noosphere schmoosphere). As for Terence McKenna, his writing style I find distastefully ornate. His prose is what an English teacher might describe as being clinquant. Between the bombastic terminology and obfuscation I can't make out half the things of what McKenna taught. Regrettably, Mr. Pinchbeck also devotes numerous pages to this circumlocutory communicator as well.

    Still I wonder: As much as I support the legal use of psychedelics (in those parts of the world where these are sensibly permitted and commonly used), and wish for the legalization of them in North America (what with their current, inappropriately banned status), it must not be overlooked as to their potential opportunity for inadvertently allowing negative forces and/or lingering effects to enter one's life and/or play upon one's psyche; citing as two examples - the former, in the form of poltergeist activity, which the author here admits to having experienced as a result of his ingestion, and the latter what Mr. Pinchbeck terms as a sleep-disturbing "flickering festival," behind closed eyelids, which I myself have also experienced without ever having used these substances, instigated by what I think was the unconscious ingression on my part of low-level spirits.

    In conclusion, this exceptional work is quite the head trip. One doesn't need to be the least bit interested in the topic of 2012 in order to be thoroughly wowed by the tome. If you're anything like me, you'll derive enjoyment from simply reading about the author's orphic theorizations, physical travels (to Hawaii and the Amazon, etc), psychic trips, domestic life, and his attraction to a priestess who in my mind behaved as a bit of a coquette, if not a jilt.
  • Nancy Hopper - One that works!Of all the protein powders and meal substitutes I have tried, Raw Meal is the only one that works. I don't get hungry two hours later and it taste good. Those two things are definitely deal breakers for me when trying new products. I usually add frozen fruit to make a smoothie because I like to create different flavors. It has vitamins so I don't have to remember to take vitamins. Until I find something better, I am sticking with Raw Meal.