Leafing through

An End to Suffering – Pankaj Mishra (non-fiction)

An End to Suffering tells of Pankaj Mishra’s search to understand the Buddha’s relevance in today’s world, where religious violence, poverty and terrorism prevail.

As he travels among Islamists and the emerging Hindu Muslim class in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, Mishra explores the myths and places of the Buddha’s life, the West’s “discovery” of Buddhism, and the impact of Buddhist ideas on such modern politicians as Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. Mishra ultimately reaches an enlightenment of his own by discovering the living meaning of the Buddha’s teaching, in this “unusually discerning, beautifully written, and deeply affecting reflection on Buddhism.”

First line: The days were shortening with intimations of winter when I returned from the inner Himalayas to Mashbora.

Iain M. Banks – Matter (Science Fiction)

In a world renowned, even within a galaxy full of wonders, a crime occurs within a war. For one man it means a desperate flight and a search for the one, maybe two, people who could clear his name.

For his brother it means a life lived under constant threat of treachery and murder. And for their sister, even without knowing the full truth, it means returning to a place she’d thought abandoned forever.

Only the sister is not what she once was. Djan Seriy Anaplian has changed almost beyond recognition to become an agent of the Culture’s Special Circumstances section, charged with high-level interference in civilisations throughout the greater galaxy.

Concealing her new identity, and her particular set of abilities, might be a dangerous strategy, however. In the world to which Anaplian returns, nothing is quite as it seems; and determining the appropriate level of interference in someone else’s war is never a simple matter.

First line: The place had to be some sort of old factory or workshop or something.

Dark Banquet - Bill Schutt (non-fiction)

For centuries, blood feeders have inhabited our nightmares and horror stories, as well as the most shadowy realm of our scientific knowledge. In this book, Dr. Bill Schutt, an authority on vampire bats, takes the reader on a dark but entertaining voyage into the world of some of its strangest creatures – the sanguivores.

Along the course of a wildly entertaining novel, the author visits rivers in South America, where the candiru (or vampire catfish) is more feared than the legendary piranha, and suburban habitats where mosquitoes, fleas, and the diseases they transmit, have changed the course of human civilization.

From leeches - ancient invertebrates now helping surgeons to save newly transplanted limbs - to ticks and the controversy over the existence of chronic Lyme disease, Schutt provides fascinating details on the lives of these bizarre creatures and their relationships with humans.

First Line: A pair of chickens scratched nervously at the dusty ground beneath the grapefruit tree, careful to avoid a small patch of coagulated blood

Under the Tuscan Sun – Frances Mayes (travel writing)

The book is an enchanting and lyrical look at the life, the traditions, and the cuisine of Tuscany, in the spirit of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence.

Frances Mayes entered a wondrous new world when she began restoring an abandoned villa in the spectacular Tuscan countryside.

She revels in the sunlight and the colour, the long view of her valley, the warm homey architecture, the languor of the slow paced days, the vigour of working her garden, and the intimacy of her dealings with the locals.

Cooking, gardening, tiling and painting are never chores, but skills to be learned, arts to be practised, and above all to be enjoyed.

There are unexpected treasures at every turn: faded frescos beneath the whitewash in her dining room, a vineyard under wildly overgrown brambles in the garden, and, in the nearby hill towns, vibrant markets and delightful people. Not least among the many charms of the book are the delicious recipes she shares.

In Under the Tuscan Sun, she brings the lyrical voice of a poet, the eye of a seasoned traveller, and the discerning palate of a cook and food writer to invite readers to explore the pleasures of Italian life and to feast at her table.

First line: I am about to buy a house in a foreign country.

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