Brad Warner, who is apparently quite the rogue among the current crop of Zen Buddhists, had a pretty rough year—he and his wife split up, he lost his dream job, and his mother and grandmother died—all in a relatively short amount of time. Living through it, processing it, and, most importantly, experiencing it all is what makes up the bulk of the material in Zen Wrapped in Karma. As someone who really couldn’t care less about Buddhism, I’ve got to give it to Warner: his writing was personable enough to be engrossing, at least most of the time.
Warner—who played bass in the ‘80s Ohio band Zero Defex (alongside Tommy Strange of Strawman and Songs For Emma) does a reasonably nice job of toeing the line between personability and opinion. He occasionally lays down some absolutes (ala “anyone who tells you different is full of shit”) regarding certain practices and beliefs in Buddhism, but most of the time he sticks solely to his own experiences, which is generally the more interesting material here. His writing style, again, is pretty humble, honest, and upfront: the book wouldn’t have seemed out of place if it’d been published in zine format. I won’t pretend to know word one about the precepts or practices of Buddhism, but, again, the guy puts enough jazz and humor in his lines to keep you turning the page.
The biggest complaint (and it’s reasonably minor) is that about seventy-five percent of the footnotes in the book seem totally unnecessary. When they’re used to remind the reader about a certain idea or piece of information about Buddhism, they’re great and helpful. When they’re used for cheesy one-liners or to shamelessly promote his other two books—which happens again and again—it gets tiresome.
Ultimately, by my personal standards, his writing and opinions are pretty tame, but I can certainly understand that through the eyes of many other folks, his willingness to have a forceful and outspoken opinion within a particular area of spirituality could piss a lot of people off. I don’t really know if this is a book that’d be capable of turning the layman on to Buddhism or not, but it was a reasonably interesting read for someone not in the know, mostly due to the fact that the guy’s personality consistently shone through. To his credit, while there were certain facets of the book I found a little irritating or unnecessary, he’s written a book on a subject that I have absolutely zero interest in, and he’s done it well enough that I plowed right through the thing in record time. –Keith Rosson (New World Library, 14 Paramon Way, Novato, CA 94949)