Thomas Hoover

Aug 18, 2011 by

Thomas Hoover

Thomas Hoover has published ten books in addition to having an alternative career for half of his life. What would lead anybody to spend that much of their days on earth doing that is a complex question. Everybody has their own answer. He thinks his is that we all want to share our discoveries – things new to us – with those around us. When he went to Japan in his mid twenties, with his newly minted Ph.D. in Chemistry, he was stunned by the mesmerizing effect of Zen stone gardens. When he asked the Japanese scholars he met to explain what was going on, he was told that a Westerner couldn’t possibly understand their subtlety. It hurt his feelings.

Out of that came a desire to understand and explain things he found moving. When he returned, he came across Aldous Huxley’s JESTING PILATE (‘What is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.’) which was a travelogue of an enquiring Westerner’s visit to India in 1925. Why not write a similar book about Japan? He mused, and set out to do it. He had a day job (a ‘Senior Vice President’) but he worked nights and weekends for ten years, writing, revising, doggedly submitting to publishers and agents without success. Then some reader at a publishing house noticed, ‘This is not really about Japan, it’s actually about Zen in Japan.’ A light bulb moment. He put ZEN in the title and sold it ‘over the transom’ (without an agent, the probability equivalent of being incinerated by lightning) as a Random House hardback, ZEN CULTURE. As the saying goes, after ten years of thankless work he had an ‘overnight success.’

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