It all started with Iyengar’s “Light on Life.”

I was reading it in a nice hot bubblebath, when The Cop looked at me, scowled, and said, “You know what it makes me think, when someone puts a big picture of himself on the cover of his book?”

“No. What does it make you think?”

“That the guy’s a prick.”

I stood up for Iyengar. I get why The Cop is suspicious of large self-portraits on books. He is suspicious of large author pictures on the backs of books, and just beside himself about the idea of large author pictures on the fronts of books. I get that. My defense for Iyengar is that he is SUCH a cool looking fellow, with his huge eyebrows and exotic outfit — it just makes sense to have a big picture of him. I’ll bet his publisher made him do it. It wasn’t his idea. Plus, he’s laughing, so it isn’t one of those pompous serious-author pictures.

Okay, so I’m reading “A Brief History of Everything” in the livingroom. I’m sitting sideways in the easy chair, with my book facing The Cop, who is web-surfing on the couch.

“Another prick,” he says.


He points at my book.

“It’s Ken Wilber,” I say.

The Cop raises his eyebrows.

I spend a little time looking at KW. The picture is a bit much. Very big. I go to the kitchen, find a sharpie, and write “Prick” on his forehead. The Cop is amused. I also notice that my relationship to the book changes. I feel less awestruck, and also less like the ideas contained in the book “belong” to this fellow on the cover. Interesting shift. In theory, the ideas KW expresses are part of our collective consciousness. So why the big old picture of an individual human on the cover?

After surfing KW’s website one morning, I order “Big Mind, Big Heart,” by Zen Master Dennis Genpo Merzel. When it arrives, I am confronted with another big author picture cover. Jeez. Okay, get the sharpie. “Another Prick.” Interesting to write this on the forehead of a zen master. It reminds me of my prejudice against American zen masters in general, and American zen masters who plaster their pictures on books in particular. Big mind and big heart is about ALL of us. Not just this cover boy. It’s not HIS idea. Sigh.

This morning I am doing some research for work. I have to give a presentation to the Board of Directors in a couple of weeks. My goal: get them sold on the idea of mass collaboration. My company is an educational association, and we’ve ALWAYS packaged and marketed what is ostensibly “objective” information (my philosophical gripe with the notion of objectivity is something I share in small doses, and I’m always met with incredulous looks — no doubt, those I’ve shared it with have written the word “Prick” on my forehead in their minds). Anyhow, I need to get the idea across that the notion of “expert” is evolving. That individuals can’t walk around feeling like exclusive repositories of all-knowingness. That continuous dialog and mass-collaborative knowledge-generation (think wikipedia) are the way to go.

I find a pretty good book on the digital economy and mass collaboration on Amazon. Why, though, do I feel reluctant to hit the “Add to shopping cart” button? Damn! Another huge author-face cover!

Seriously? On a book about mass collaboration?

Maybe this is just a fad of the book industry? I hope so. Because The Cop has ruined my ability to take these books seriously. He has seen my Buddha on the road and killed him.


11 Responses

  1. hey, this is a great post. I love it. It really brings it all into focus. I was angsting (um, yeah, I was a german major…) over my old shala this week, blah blah. I can’t really describe what you’ve hit on with this face/writing thing, but I think it’s right on! Who is the teacher? I don’t know!

  2. people are funny on sunday! i want to go look through all my books and see if i have any books with the female authors on the cover. seems like a thing Anne Coulter would do (NO! i don’t own any of her books!). she is definitely a prick.

  3. Yeah, I’ve been reading about your angst re: the old shala, Laksmi. I think you’ll have a different perspective if you just go over there and write “Prick” on your ex-teacher’s forehead. Then you’ll be able to practice with him again, if you want to.

    And yes, Tova, ALL Ann Coulter books should *definitely* have “Prick” written on them, whether her picture is there or not. I thought a little about the fact that I don’t recall seeing big pictures on the front of books authored by women. That’s a whole ‘nother post!

  4. I think you are right, karen. do you think he would prefer it if I used a sharpie or some eyeliner? I think I may go to his backbending workshop at the end of the month. Not because I need it, because my backbending rocks, but because I just want to go dip my toe in and I can’t go any other way since I’m such a criminal now.

  5. Hi DZM,

    I met and hung out with ken wilber he is one big effing prick.I’m glad you put him in his place, somebody needs too! All brain, bravado and very little warmth in my opinion….totally full of himself.

  6. Haha! Shanti Dave, that’s hilarious! Honestly, I think some of his ideas rock, but I am totally put off by his website and the way it feels so strictly run. As if he won’t let other people’s ideas be mixed in with his own. I’ll tell my husband about what a prick KW is. He’ll be happy to know.

    Laksmi, use eyeliner if you want to be conciliatory and Sharpie if you want to rub his nose in his own bad behavior. I can’t wait to hear how the workshop goes! Blog about any really good suggestions for backbends. I need the help.

  7. Interesting. Got me looking at the books on my desk (too lazy to travel far for the experiment). Three Buddhism books, two general God books, six poetry books. None have big author photos, front or back (six are by women).

    This is a lamentable fad, particularly concerning spiritual type books. We’re supposed to reduce our ego, but look at the big ego telling us to reduce our egos!

    Too bad about KW. Though he does sort of come across that way, so I guess I’m not surprised.

  8. oh, my copy of ‘healing anger’ (strange title for someone like ME to have, eh?), by the Dalai Lama has his giant face and glasses right on the front…Prick.

  9. Wow, well I guess that really tests the meeting Buddha on the road rule, eh?

  10. Hi Karen
    I wonder if your husband is onto something. The great book, “Seeking the heart of wisdom” by Goldstein and Kornfield have no images whether in front or back. I was wondering what Jack Kornfield looked like when I went to a daylong with him. He seems so humble and funny. One book I started but have not completed, about a year after purchasing it, is by a practitioner of Tibetan buddhism, a “lama” , someone originally from NY. It seemed that his passion was writing and this was his vehicle. I stopped at page 10 of 500 when I could not sense humility in the writing. But you know, there is no picture of the author on the front, and a postage stamp sized one on the back cover. Maybe I’ll take the marker out so I can finish reading the book. But then I won’t be able to sell the book or give it away when I finish it. What plans do you have for your marked books?

    It’s funny, checking the books made me find a book I did not know I had bought, titled, “Shadows in the Sun, Travels to Landscapes of Spirit and Desire.” There is no picture of the author. Only on the inside face of the jacket, in the back. That seems standard.

    It’s funny how Laskmi refers to her practice as criminal when it doesn’t follow the method exactly.

  11. This is hilarious. Relieved to have it confirmed that KW is a prick, which the “narcicissm central” section of his website (!!!) just confirmed for me.

    But while on the books about buddhism and all, I’d make an exception for Pema Chodron on her bookcovers with her bowl cut and crinkly eyes. The look on her face isn’t trying to be deep, quizzical or intriguining; and she’s “objectively” sort of homely. When I see it, I think: “Wow. She is so normal and accessible.”

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