Missing Its Companion Volume
By Helen J. Baroni
SUNY Press, $75.00, 198 pages
Love, Roshi feels as though it is missing something, like a companion volume. It feels strangely unfinished, like we are getting only a small part of the story. And it’s true; we only get the analysis of the letters, not the letters themselves. This book explains the role that letters, mainly between Robert Aitken and his “distant correspondents,” played in the rise of Zen in the United States during the latter half of the 20th century.
In this work Helen Baroni examines the many letters that were written to Aitken over his lifetime, including the kinds of questions that were asked, the topics that were covered and how to expand one’s horizons to reach a deeper understanding of Zen. Baroni also takes time to examine the responses Mr. Aitken sent back offering words of encouragement or sending along a list of helpful books and phrases to remember, and the times when he decided not to send a response.
But with this book we are missing the companion volume that includes the letters. It is difficult to get a sense of their content without actually reading the letters themselves. While it is nice to get the analysis, it is hard to get the picture when we are missing most of the forest.
Reviewed by Kevin Winter