Thursday, June 17, 2010
Cannonball Read Entry #28: Dharma Punx - Noah Levine
I'm not a fan of organized religion, and God only knows I've never tried to pretend that I am. Sure I believe in the existence of a higher power that I refer to as God for the sake of simplicity, but I just think that the term itself, "Organized religion", is at best an oxymoron. I have yet to meet any two people that have exactly the same religious beliefs and share the exact same ideas. Organizing them seems arbitrary at best and completely impossible at worst.
But I can also acknowledge the fact that for some people, organized religion gives them a purpose, and let's face it: a life without purpose is wasted. The magnitude of that purpose is neither here nor there; it's the fact that you have a purpose, something to live for, that matters.
Such is the case with Noah Levine's Dharma Punx, a book that chronicles his journey from a drugged-out, self-destructive punk rocker to a Bhuddist teacher. Admittedly, the concept of the memoir wherein our hero turns his life around with the help of religion is a bit played out, but that's a discussion for another time.
Noah is the product of a broken home, an abusive stepdad, and various other trappings of white suburbia. And like most kids, he turns to punk rock and self-destruction as a means of rebellion. Fast forward a couple of years and Noah is a homeless drug-addict stuck in a padded cell to keep him from going Gallagher on his cranium.
Thankfully, in comes Bhudda to provide a moral compass to the wayward Noah. For those of you expecting a half-assed religious conversion were Noah slaps the "Bhuddist" tag on himself and calls it a day will probably be surprised with how in depth he actually goes with it. He travels abroad, sees the Dalai Lama, begins an experiment where he lives as if he only has one year left...You get the point.
This may be the strangest distinction I've ever made when it comes to literature, but bear with me: From the perspective of Noah Levine as the human, it's an extraordinary tale. I'm not going to try and take away from his triumphs and accomplishments, especially when you consider how quickly he managed to turn that ship around. However, from the perspective of his story as a book, his writing doesn't feel strong enough to properly convey his story. At times, moments of beauty feel just overly-sentimental, while at others it barely separates his story from the countless other stories on the bookshelf. Yes, his story is inspirational and truly remarkable, but so is everyone else's on that bookshelf. Everyone overcomes adversity in their lives in order to become a better person; all I'm saying is, if you're going to capitalize off of it by writing a book, you have to make sure you're writing makes it stick out from the pack.
Ultimately, that's the problem: It's a great story, and I'm very happy for his accomplishments, but at the same time...Well, everyone has a story. You just have to be able to tell it well.