Saturday, September 22, 2012

Bargain Books

Apart from a sizable and growing collection of mostly Asian DVDs, I don't buy a lot of stuff--unless you count books.  I buy a lot of books.

How delightful it was, as I was cruising my Amazon wish-list, and drooling for the 61st time over the pricey The Routledge Encyclopedia of Taoism edited by Fabrizio Pregadio, to discover that I could apply $67 worth of earned credits to this coveted purchase, 1,500 paperbacked pages originally priced at $99.  What Taoist doesn't love a bargain?  And a legitimate one, not pirated like the copy of  Graham Horwood'Tai Chi Chuan, the Code of Life" I bought in Wudang a few years ago (and which still gives me a little pang of guilt when I pull it from my shelf).  In my defense, I should note that I only determined it was pirated after I bought it.  (But in China, I should have assumed as much.)

Yes, guilt. I am from a generation that respects copyright (or at least attempts to; I have probably posted some photos of actors on this site that are protected, but I have made no profit from it). I have only ever once downloaded a piece of music that I could have paid for.  (And I subsequently acquired a legitimate copy.) There was a little discussion of this topic on a Facebook Taoism forum just yesterday.  Someone, very young I'm sure, probably a master downloader and torrent user,  suggested that copyright was the source of all evil in the world.  "Shouldn't ideas just be contributed to the universe without thought of expecting personal gain or recognition?"  The best retort came from a Wudang priest who noted that ripping off his DVDs was depriving him and his family a modest livelihood.

And so my grand encyclopedia, published just over a year ago (2011 for the paperback, 2008 for the way more costly hardback),  has arrived, and I am obsessed.  Taoism is of course a "practice," doing (or actively not doing) things.  But why then is there a Taoist canon of hundreds and hundreds of scriptures and manuals of how not to "do" and practical advice, mostly esoteric and metaphorical, studied by Taoist monks and nuns and priests and lay people?  (You have to have something to do when you're not doing something, I guess.)

In contrast to the brief Tao Te Ching, which you can read (but probably not really understand) in less than an hour, the introductory overview in the Encyclopedia is 196 pages and could easily stand as a volume on its own.  The index is 70 pages and there is also a sizable bibliography and other references .  The entries themselves, written by an impressive group of contemporary scholars of Taoism,  are extensive, though arranged alphabetically by the pinyin renderings and accompanied by helpful Chinese characters. It will require a little familiarity with Chinese to find specific things, but browsing is productive, and we are all used to doing that with the internet anyway.  This is the most intriguing and useful thing I've got on my shelf since my Oxford Dictionaries of the Christian Church, the Bible, World Religions, and Classical Mythology.   And the OED.

If you have a serious and scholarly interest in the vast tradition that is Taoism,  I highly recommend this set.  It's worth every legitimate penny.

This post should have appeared on My Yang Side (where there are some movie related comments today), but as it is the autumnal equinox, I find it doesn't matter.  It's six of one and half a dozen of another, a phrase I once quoted to a Chinese person, who just didn't get it. Go figure.