Enlightenment For Idiots by Anne Cushman
This one would have been a perfect beach read. If you live in a part of the world where the weather is behaving in a seasonally appropriate manner, then this is a nice book to read whilst curled on the couch in front of a fire with a steaming mug of (chai) tea...and a cat on your feet. Cats are the ultimate feet-warmers.
Enlightenment for Idiots is Cushman's debut novel. She is a regular contributor to Yoga Journal so I was already vaguely familiar with her voice and not at all surprised at the hobby and career path of the heroine. Amanda is working on her yoga teaching credentials while writing a series of "... for Idiots" books. While in the past they have been travel-oriented, eg: Napa For Idiots, her editor Maxine has a fabulous idea: send Amanda to India to become enlightened.
I have to admit that there is a bit of a cliche trap: Amanda is in the off-again cycle of a tempestuous relationship with a man she can't help loving. Her bills are piling up and she's staring at 30. She has mad-cap roommates, a best friend who is fully together, and a mother who has failed her. If the book had been more food oriented it would have been white noise and gotten lost in the crowd. Also, the fact that Amanda is so consciously desperate for enlightenment saves us all from having to pretend that she's just there to take in the sights and eat some yummy food.
There's a bit of food, but only as it relates to yogi chores at ashrams and the fact that people have to eat to live and she's in India where eating can be an adventure. More interestingly are the people she meets on the way: A sadhu who refers to himself in the 1st person plural is my favorite and I am satisfied with the way their relationship worked out. Various gurus and fellow enlightenment-seekers pepper Amanda's journey and provide a yardstick against which Amanda (and the readers) measures her life.
All of the advice given to Amanda is sound, and can be removed from its context and applied to your own life - a nice bonus for a Dessert Novel. You may (or may not) be enlightened when you close the book, but if you don't pause and reflect as you read asana* descriptions and quotations from the great Wise Men then you're not really paying attention.
While in danger of being trite at times, Enlightenment for Idiots avoids being a cliche, and lands firmly in enjoyable, heartwarming, and inspiring. If nothing else, it has rekindled my desire to visit India. Enjoy!
*asana = yoga postures.