Title: The Amorous Heart: An Unconventional History of Love Author: Marilyn Yalom Publishers: Basic Books, Hachette Format: Hardback Pages: 277 Genre: Non-fiction, History
What’s it about?
As the title suggests, this is a book about the history of love, and so much more.
Ever wonder how the heart icon ❤ came to symbolize love? And why is the heart organ linked to love? It wasn’t always so. Of course, this begs the question – what is the meaning of love across the ages?
The earliest depiction of the heart icon is found in 6th century BCE in what is now Libya. Then it was not associated with love but rather a representation of a seed, a sign for contraception. By 6th century AD Persia, it was symbolic of grapes, vines and wine – abundance. It was in the 13th and 14th century that the heart icon came to signify love. How?
This book traces this evolution in Western culture from ancient times – Plato’s metaphysical idealism of “love” to “Ovidian love…embedded in the flesh, with the “heart” a lofty euphemism for the genitals“.
It traces the narratives of love associated with Eros and Cupid. Does carnality and passion undermine love? Is love pure?
Is heart the locus of love?
Yalom’s research took her from medieval times through Catholic and Protestant traditions (where literature, royalty and religion enmeshed) to literary figures in the likes of Shakespeare and Austen to scientific writings as she laid out the trajectory of love and heart.
“The Amorous Heart” tracks amor (sensual love) and caritas (noble love) across the centuries and tells the story of the origin of the word “romance” to the tales of “true love” where “everything is permitted for those who love” taking it beyond the questions of morals and religion.
It gives an interesting account of the age-old discourse between the religious heart versus the amorous heart when Christianity separated sex and sensual love thus delineating the act for procreation and the passion which gave rise to it.
What does history say of the heart’s ability to love one or more persons? Can it? Ought it? How are heart and love tied to marriage and the place of woman? For it wasn’t always that love is a desired prerequisite to marriage.
It is interesting for me to discover for example, present narratives of “one’s true love as one who brings out the best in us” and the notion of “unconditional love” are not modern concepts. They can be traced to the songs of the troubadours of 12th and 13th century France, Spain and Germany who professed the same.
This impressive book provides a story of the social evolution of the iconography of the heart, of the sexes in relation to our capacity to love; it serves to demonstrate our natural instinct for love and erotic expression.
Would I recommend it?
A fascinating read of a phenomenon we take for granted and for which we believe we are entitled – love.
I have a particular interest in self-awareness, so reading this book is for pleasure and professional purpose.
Title: Insight: The Power of Self-Awareness in a Self-Deluded World Author: Tasha Eurich Publishers: Macmillan Format: Paperback Pages: 357 Genre: Non-fiction, Psychology, Self-help
What’s it about?
Author, Tasha Eurich, begins with a lament on the self-delusion of today’s people, identifying blindspots to how well we know ourselves.
An organizational psychologist by profession, Eurich claims self-awareness is THE meta-skill of the 21st century for success. In a world of operating in the shallows and privileging opinions of the external world, self-awareness separates the achievers and mediocrity. She referred to studies which showed self-awareness to be lacking despite claims by many leaders to the contrary. The “cult of self”, Eurich states, prevents us from approaching with humility and self-acceptance to truly seeing ourselves.
Insight expounds what insight is, referring to internal self-awareness and external self-awareness, and strategies to survive in a unaware world. Eurich differentiates insight from introspection, stating that introspection does not a self-aware person make. “Thinking isn’t knowing” as a heading to one chapter says.
Being self-aware, or having insight of ourselves, helps us make better decisions in aspects of our lives.
Insight puts forth that no one will ever be entirely self-aware. It is an ongoing process and one which requires us to let go of the search for absolute truths.
This book feels like a self-help book and yet at times, disguising itself as a theoretical text, or vice-versa. On occasions, the flow is interrupted by anecdotes from Eurich’s professional life.
Would I recommend it?
Yes. It is an interesting read on how we delude ourselves, in our personal and professional lives.
For those who want to better engage and relate with others say, within their organizations, this is a worthwhile read.
I was provided a complimentary copy of this soon-to-be published book in exchange for an honest review.
Title: Awaken A New Myth: Goddess Warrior on the Hero’s Journey Author: Karen La Puma To be published: Soul Source (10 Jan 2018) Format: Paperback Pages: 204 Genre: Non-Fiction – Spiritual
What’s it about?
“Awaken a New Myth” is the first of 10 spiritual books (A Toolkit of Awakening Series) Karen La Puma has written after nearly 3 decades as an astrologer, hypnotherapist, reiki master and spiritual counsellor.
Weaving the work of Carl Jung, particularly of the Collective Unconscious and archetypes, and Joseph Campbell, in his mythological exploration of the hero’s journey, Karen La Puma proposes a new way of being.
“Awaken a New Myth” entreats readers to discover our light, to have courage to take this journey of discovery. It is premised on our belonging together as a greater Whole. The book is divided into 4 parts (Overviewing the Journey, Answering the Call, Appreciating the Positive and Discovering Purposeful Living) which mirrors the 12 stages of Joseph Campbell’s mythic structure of the Hero’s journey, the journey though taken embodied as the Warrior Goddess.
The abstract language La Puma used can be inaccessible to readers new to the spiritual path, predominantly undefined terms except for the Glossary towards the end.
The use of italicized words and capitalized abstract nouns (eg. Archetypes, Source, Essence, True Nature, Love, Divine, Being) are distracting and confusing, as I attempted to fully grasp their meaning as La Puma intended them. Perhaps it is La Puma’s intention to leave her message abstract and open to her readers’ subjective interpretation?
Awaken a New Myth is a book of ideas, rather than a theoretical exposition. It is a book with heart, and to engage the mind, greater depth is required. Nevertheless, La Puma puts forth her model of the “Goddess Warrior Magnetically Creating the Hero’s Journey” as the “answer for these quickening times, because we now have the ability, the map, and the keys to awaken and co-create a better world”.
Despite the language perhaps more suited to those already on spiritual and mythical paths, the message is a call to live authentically with a willingness to step up to our best self.
As a self-help book, Awaken a New Myth poses many reflective questions to guide readers on the Warrior Goddess’ Hero Journey which readers dedicated to the practice will find insightful answers, and for whom this resonates, a new way of being.
The sub-title “A Brief History of Tomorrow” caught my attention, and as my daughter said, “of course! You are a nerd”. 🙂
Title: Homo Deus: Brief History of Tomorrow Author: Yuval Noah Harari Publishers: Vintage Arrow (3 April 2017) Format: Paperback Pages: 400 pages Genre: Non-Fiction – Literary
What’s it about?
What is the meaning of life?
What is the purpose of life?
What compels human evolution?
What motivates human society?
What is the future of humankind?
Yuval Noah Harari attempts to answer these questions and provides, as indicated in the sub-title, a possible future based on human history. It is a book about an apocalyptic future in which technology plays a major role.
Harari is a history professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, whose widely-acclaimed 2014 book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” plotted the history of human activity. “Homo Deus” (literal translation to Latin, man-god) is thus a sequel, if you like, to “Sapiens” in charting what the future will hold.
Harari is quick to qualify his hypotheses, that should this book enlightens and thus changes the future away from the trajectory which he predicts then he has done his job. Ominous, doesn’t it?
It is Harari’s proposition that for this century, humans’ search for meaning will be directed at playing God – to create new life forms and as intelligent designers of our own Utopia – that is to achieve bliss, immortality and divinity. This is contrasted with historical human activity geared towards merely meeting our basic needs of overcoming sickness, hunger and war.
“The entire contract [between humans and modernity] can be summarised in a single phrase: humans agree to give up meaning in exchange for power.” And for this, there will be a price to pay.
Against the backdrop of rapid technological advancement, Harari suggests we will live in the age of data-ism, in which our faith in data and algorithms will be sacrosanct, as our faith in God was. And with the accelerating rise of technology and machines, long-term future is not imaginable nor predictable. Thus, his initial qualification.
The book does not envisage the end of humanity, rather humanity as we know it. It perhaps serves as a warning against mindless and unconscious reliance on technology and data, and it begs the question: which would you choose – consciousness or intelligence?
And let me end with this – quoting Harari:
The rise of AI and technology will certainly transform the world, but it does not mandate a single deterministic outcome. All the scenarios outlined in this book should be understood as possibilities rather than prophecies. If you don’t like some of these possibilities you are welcome to think and behave in new ways that will prevent these particular possibilities from materialising.
Would I recommend it?
Yes, especially to readers interested in alternate or different perspectives, and willing to explore diverse conceptions of human civilisation.
I wasn’t sure what I would find – a good reason to read any book 🙂 . And then I cried. Not to worry, you may not as the propensity to break into tears is subjective.
Title: Braving the Wilderness: The quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone. Author: Brene Brown Publishers: Penguin Random House UK (Sept 12, 2017) Format: Paperback Pages: 194 Genre: Non-Fiction – Spiritual
What’s it about?
You would be certified as having lived under a rock if you have not heard the name “Brene Brown” – a research professor at the University of Houston, Texas and author of numerous bestselling books. Her TED talk “The power of vulnerability” is a must-watch.
“Braving the Wilderness” is Brene Brown’s latest book investigating the landscape of connection and belonging in our human experience. To what or whom do we belong? What is true belonging? Why is connection necessary? The sub-title “The quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone” gives away the premise of the book – that it is takes courage and we must stand alone to belong.
As with the saying, you cannot truly love others until you truly love yourself, the same applies to true belonging. Brene Brown calls this “belonging so fully to yourself that you’re willing to stand alone”, “a wilderness – an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching”. Supported by immense research data, anecdotal ad personal stories, “Braving the Wilderness” posits that until we brave this wilderness, we cannot arrive at true connection with and belonging to the world.
This is a deceptively simple book to read, using inclusive language that connects and in her own voice, Brene Brown provides a blueprint, practice she calls it, contained in the acronym B.R.A.V.I.N.G. to traverse this wilderness.
This book open doors to greater insights, and a lover of alternate perspectives in particular will love this book.
Speaking her truth and giving readers the space to find theirs, this book is not a self-help book. Rather it is a book encouraging us to think for ourselves, to be ourselves, to embrace the humanity within us, in these times of polarised opinions and dysfunctional connections. It urges its readers to find their own wilderness, though “the price may be high, the reward is great”.
Would I recommend it?
Though as I said you may not cry, this book is sure to spark a recognition within you, a truth which will cause you to explore the life you live. Approach with curiosity.
I don’t know if you’re like me, but I tend to find articles, books, podcasts, etc, that sound interesting in my day to day life, or in my visits through the internet and social media (much the same thing these days) and although I don’t have time, I decide to save them for later, for that perfect occasion when I’ll need just that piece of advice or tip. Yes, that perfect day rarely arrives.
Over a year ago (towards the end of 2015), having subscribed to Sandra Beckwith‘s newsletter (here is her website in case you’re interested. She has plenty of free content on marketing and promotions, and although she works more in non-fiction, it’s well-worth having a look), I saw that she was offering a service throughout the following year. For a very small fee (I’m not sure what it was but I think it was $1) she would send daily tips to your mailbox. I couldn’t resist and I signed for it. And I’ve been getting these tips. I decided to save them all in a document to make sure I could access them easily. Although I read them as they arrive, I haven’t done much organising and have not looked at them in depth, but now that we’re coming to a time when there are a lot of promotional campaigns being organised related to holidays and events (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year), I decided to check her advice and share it with you. Here are some of her tips, related to the subject:
Remember to pitch seasonal magazine articles or news items related to your book or its topic four to five months in advance of the season or holiday. Pitch four weeks out for newspapers. (We might already be late, but worth keeping in mind for next year).
Identify perennial seasonal topics you can link your book to – e.g., grief at the holidays or June weddings – and pitch yourself to the press as an expert available for interviews. Write a blog post about them. http://buildbookbuzz.com/8-ways-to-pitch-media-outlets/ This sounds like a pretty good idea, and although on the surface it might seem more relevant to non-fiction writers, personal circumstances vary, and if you think about it, you might find relevant topics you hadn’t thought about.
Use Chase’s Calendar of Events or the quirky monthly holidays listed at the Holiday Insights website to create a promotion around a relevant holiday or special occasion. http://www.holidayinsights.com/ In this global times, when we’re pitching to an ever increasing and larger market, it’s good to be able to localize our efforts and make them more relevant.
This is a personal suggestion, but I can’t say if it works or not. Just because you don’t have a book in a genre specifically relevant or suited to the holiday or season (a romance for San Valentine’s day or a Christmas tale for Xmas) that does not mean you can promote your books. Try and be quirky and appeal at other interests… ‘Can’t take any more happy ever after? Why not check my horror story? (For San Valentine’s, for example). Or, ‘Thinking about murdering somebody during the family reunions? Read a crime thriller instead’ (for Christmas). See what you think, and if you decide to try it, let me know how it goes.
Thanks very much to Sandra Beckwith for her suggestions, to all of your for reading, and do like, share, comment and CLICK!
Genres: Blogging & Blogs, Computer & Technology, Digital Photography
**The author provided me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review which follows**
In the Author’s Words:
“There is truth to the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. As a blogger, are you weary of constantly hunting for images to illustrate the subject of your blog posts? Perhaps you are a new blogger struggling to get more readers. Or a seasoned blogger continually seeking inspiration for quality blog posts. This guidebook is designed to help you utilize your own images on your blog or website. While free image sites abound, there are limitations to using so-called “free” images. Gone are the days when bloggers can innocently copy and paste an image from the web and paste it into their blog post. What will you get out of this guide? In each chapter, I give easy but important tips for maximizing the use of images on your blog’s website and within each blog post. Seven informative chapters walk you through– -the importance of using images; -the real dangers of using others’ copyrighted images; -easy ways to edit your images using free programs and apps; -building unending inspiration and content around your own images; -attracting readers with images used in quotations, blog link-ups, and other tools; -how social media sites link your images, and why you need them; -a list of image resources available. After reading this short guidebook, you will want to grab your smart phone or inexpensive digital camera and start taking photos!”
It was with great joy that I was introduced to Terri Webster Schrandt’s book, “Better Blogging with Photography.” The best part was that someone finally wrote a book which spelled out in detail how and where to find photos bloggers could use on their blogs without violating copyright laws. Not only does the author give you credible links, she also teaches you how to edit your own images. She concentrates on the WordPress blogging platform, however, all of the information can be applied to any site a blogger chooses.
If you are a beginning blogger or even a well-seasoned blogger, you will find each page jam-packed with information you will be able to immediately put to use on your own blog. Do you struggle with blog and header design? Guess what? That’s covered too!
In Chapter Four, the author discusses how your photos tell your stories. The emphasis here is how to gain inspiration from your own images by highlighting your written content with attention grabbing photos that draw readers to your posts. Everyone loves a great photo, so why not use your own to create interesting content on your blog?
This book would also be a handy reference guide for setting up your own blog.
What are you waiting for? Grab your copy today! Terri has a free offer running from 9/29/16 – 10/3/16!
Character Believability: N/A
Flow and Pace: 4.5
Reader Engagement: 5
Reader Enrichment: 4.5
Reader Enjoyment: 4.5
Overall Rate: 4.5 out of 4 stars
Author, Terri Webster Schrandt
About Terri Webster Schrandt:
Terri is a non-fiction writer and retired recreation and parks practitioner living in Northern California. As a university lecturer teaching leisure education in the recreation and parks major, Terri takes leisure very seriously because it involves one-third of our lives…really! Obtaining a Master’s Degree at age 50, Terri wrote her thesis on the Four Generations in the Workplace, sparking her love of writing at midlife. In addition to writing and blogging, she offers consultation services and conducts and presents workshops for a variety of organizations. Second Wind Leisure Perspectives is her blog about living a leisure lifestyle. Her active lifestyle involves windsurfing, stand-up paddling, camping, reading, writing, walking the dogs, traveling, and…
As you know I write (and translate) and I’m currently going through the corrections of my next novel (Escaping Psychiatry 2. The Case of the Swapped Bodies, is proving challenging, or rather the circumstances around it are. I might tell you the story some day). Although there’s still a while to go (I always publish both versions, Spanish and English, of my books at the same time, and that means multiplying by two everything, including the time it takes to get everything ready), I started thinking about blurbs. Despite having written quite a few, I always hesitate when I’m about to write another one, and check advice on it.
I decided to share some of the articles I found about the subject (the advice isn’t that different, but I thought you might find that the style of the writer of some of the articles connects better with you than others).
And after all that advice, I wanted to ask you if you had any tips or any strategies (different to those ones or adapted from them) that you found particularly useful. And also, what are your favourite book blurbs? They can be your own or other writers’. Personally, although I agree certain elements are expected, I think what will entice readers depends on each individual. As one of the articles observes, some very successful books have not-so-good blurbs. But I’m curious and I guess the best way to learn is to analyse well-written blurbs. So, please, do share! And if we get a good response, I’m happy to collect the best and share them in a future post.
(Ah, and a word about blurbs. It seems that in some cases, although not so much now, in the US a blurb might mean only a list of recommendations or positive reviews of a book added to the back-cover. That indeed can be included in what we are talking about, but we refer more to the short description at the back of a book in paper that tells the reader a bit about it and tries to hook him into buying and reading it).
Thanks so much to all the writers of the articles, thanks to all of you for reading, and please, do like, share, click on the articles and COMMENT!
Jason E. Royle holds a Doctorate in Ministry from Sewanee: University of the South School of Theology and is the author of Judas: Hero Misunderstood as well as Jesus vs. Santa: Christmas Misunderstood. Writing, for Jason, is a way to express the ongoing story of theology. With every book or article, he hopes readers get a sense of the complexity of God and the necessity of faith. Captivated by the spiritual component of life, Jason loves to read everything from the Greek classics to the Sunday comics. While serving as pastor of a congregation near Memphis, TN, Jason wrote a weekly column in a local newspaper called Sermon in a Nutshell and has had devotions published in The Secret Place, among others. Today he lives with his beautiful wife and children in Schaefferstown, PA, where he serves as the pastor of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ.
The Rapture: Misunderstood is the third in Royle’s Misunderstood series, where he takes a well known aspect of Christianity and breaks it down into fact from fiction. This time around Royle divides the book into two parts; one a short story to help ease the reader into the subject and the second touches on some basic scripture and doctrine from four different views of the Rapture itself amongst the Christian community.
The opening story is about 53 pages long and tells the story of a pastor who wants to bring about the Rapture sooner than later. We follow him and his five followers on their journey to achieve their goal and learn along the way. At each step of the journey we learn a truth and then see the pastor make a decision. Ultimately the reward is in his grasp. What does he do next? What he does may surprise some, may not others, but ultimately we learn a lesson straight from the Bible itself.
After the story you get the views of four views on the end times based on the interpretation of scripture. Royle states from the beginning this is not an in depth look at end times prophecy, it would take more than the 23 pages given to it here. His goal to give you a good starting place and an understanding of where the four thoughts are coming from. He’s also quick to note many of us are not entirely one or the other view but instead a mix and match set. Royle’s style and approach has always been open and welcoming to his readers. He’s a good first step in any journey to discovery you may wish to take. He also provides a list of books at the end of the book to further your reading and understanding.
Title: Do Not Wash Hands In Plates: Elephant frenzy, parathas, temples, palaces, monkeys…and the kindness of Indian strangers Author: Barb Taub (Author), Jayalakshmi Ayyer (Photographer), Janine Smith (Photographer)
ISBN13: 978-1523772551 ASIN: B01A34USEA Published: January 1st 2016 Pages: 83 Genre: Non-fiction, Travel: Asia, India, Humor and entertainment
Once upon the Land Before Time (or at least before mobile phones), my two best friends and I decided to leave the US from separate locations and meet up in Europe. To everyone’s shock, Janine, Jaya and I pulled it off—mostly because we went to Luxembourg, a country so small the odds in favor of chance street encounters were almost 100%, but also because Jaya was carrying the BS, a blue suitcase so enormous it took up approximately a third of the country’s square footage and was visible on satellite images. We couldn’t possibly miss.
It took over thirty-five years before—in a combination of optimism and failing memories— we recklessly decided to repeat this feat. Hey, we reasoned, now we’ve got smartphones, better credit ratings, wheeled suitcases, medical insurance, and the ability to drink legally. Just to make it more interesting, this time we chose to meet in India, where the odds against the three of us actually linking up were approximately a bazillion to bupkis.
Despite blizzards, canceled flights, de-icing delays, and an adjacent passenger who had made unfortunate food choices resulting in alarming gastrointestinal events, I arrived in India. The theory was that I would fly in from my home in Scotland, Janine would come from Washington DC, and Jaya would meet up with us at the airport. Nobody who knows any of us thought for a second that this could really occur.
Actual conversation at Passport Control, Mumbai:
Janine: “Well no, I don’t have my friend’s address or phone number. But she’s going to pick me up at the airport. She lives in Gujarat. That’s in India.”
Passport Control: [SO not impressed]
I arrived before Janine. As far as I could tell, the Ahmedabad Airport was staffed by the entire Indian army, each soldier carrying a honking huge gun. I grabbed my suitcase and exited baggage control into India. Noise. Chaos. People, dogs, honking horns, more people. More soldiers. More guns. Dozens of sincere men who called me “Sister” and suggested they could take me anywhere on the planet I might want to go.
No Janine. No Jaya. And, apparently, no way to get back into the airport. After several failed attempts at international texts, I realized I could (at heart-stopping expense) send email to Jaya, who soon confirmed that she was on her way and that it was 3:00AM so I should go back inside. Except there were signs everywhere saying you couldn’t go back in.
“No problem.” Jaya explained that rules in India were more like guidelines. “People in India are very kind. Just ask.”
I’ve been living in the UK where rules are inviolate and graven in stone, so I didn’t believe a word of it. But the soldier at the door listened to my plea and waved his AK-Humongo to usher me back inside. There I found Janine attempting to send email or text. I reminded her neither option was likely for two technologically-challenged, jet-lagged, middle-aged ladies in a foreign country at 3:00AM.
In the end, we wandered over to the door and to our mutual amazement found Jaya waiting for us along with her husband, a hired driver, and a van. Apparently lightning does strike again, because just like thirty-five years earlier, the three of us actually managed to meet up in another continent.
This is the story of three women eating our way across India in search of adventure, elephants, temples, palaces, western toilets, monkeys, the perfect paratha…and the kindness of Indian strangers.
Body of review:
I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
I must confess I’m partial to stories of female friends. We don’t choose our family, but we choose our friends (or are chosen by them) and however different we might appear to be, there’s a synergy that takes place when good friends get together, that makes the time spent apart melt away, and the clock turn back.
In this travelogue, the author recounts the memoir of her trip to India with her two friends, Janine and Jaya, revisiting an experience they shared thirty five years before. Only, this time they’d gone one better, and rather than meeting in Europe, they decided to visit their friend Jaya at home, in India. Obama learnt about this and decided India must be worth a visit too, and at the beginning of their trip, the three friends have to do some interesting manoeuvres to avoid getting caught in the maelstrom the visit has caused. But there are some pluses too (Taj Mahal has never been cleaner).
Barb Taub’s voice is funny, fresh, witty (I love IPS as an Indian travelling guidance system, but I’ll let you discover it by yourself), and she does not take herself, or the experience, too seriously. The reader goes along for the ride and feels one more of the party.
There are no lengthy descriptions or heavy facts enumerated. The book is mostly a collection of impressions, discreet episodes, funny anecdotes, vibrant encounters with people (yes, and some elephants), and food. Lots of food.
It isn’t a book to be read to find advice on how to travel to India (the author’s experience is unique, and the product of very specific circumstances), although if we are to extract any recommendations from her adventures, it would be that it’s handy to travel with friends that know their way around pills and medication. And that if you manage to keep an open mind and forget about rigid schedules you’ll have a hell of a time.
If I had to find any buts with the book, yes, it’s short. Very short, although that perhaps contributes to the feeling of dynamism and effervescence of the reading experience. The author explains the difficulties with including pictures in an e-book and offers a link to have access to the pictures in better quality (and to videos and images not in the book) although in an ideal world readers might like to organise themselves to have access to the pictures as they read the book. (Or perhaps consider a paper copy, although as I haven’t seen one, I can’t comment on it). The other thing I missed was the opportunity of getting to know more about her friends (well, and her!). As I said before, books about female friends are my weakness, and not having read the author’s previous adventures I missed a bit more background.
A great little book for anybody who likes funny anecdotes, comments about food (beware of reading this book if you’re hungry, you might eat it!), hilarious adventures and a great narrator. I hope the three friends start a business organising trips soon!
Ratings: Realistic Characterization: NA Made Me Think: 3.5/5 Overall enjoyment: 4.5/5 Readability: 5/5 Recommended: 5/5 Overall Rating: 4.5/5
I’m back after my few weeks away and I hope to be contributing fairly regularly again. I am waiting on some interviews in translation and I’ve been reading a fair bit, so I hope to keep the reviews coming. But first, this book was submitted for review a while back and for a variety of reasons it took me some time to get around to reading it, but finally, it’s here.
Title: To the Survivors: One Man’s Journey as a Rape Crisis Counselor with True Stories of Sexual Violence Author: Robert Uttaro ISBN: 149093166X
ISBN13: 978-1490931661 ASIN: Published: October 23rd 2013 Pages: 268 Genre: Non-fiction, social issues, sexual abuse
Thanks to the author and to Lit World Interviews for offering me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Robert Uttaro’s book is part memoir, part manual, part collection of testimonies, part panegyric, and part call to action.
It is undeniable that Mr Uttaro, a volunteer with an organisation that helps survivors of sexual assault, is dedicated, enthusiastic, well-informed and keen to spread the word and give a voice to those who have suffered this most horrible of attacks.
The book is a combination of the narration of how he became involved with the organisation (that is never directly named. I’m not clear if it is due to a wish for keeping the focus on the issue at hand rather than on one organisation in particular or due to confidentiality, or both), his training, the different roles he has partaken in throughout his years of work, and his attempts at collecting a number of testimonies of survivors.
By the nature of the material and the experiences of those who agreed to take part, there is some repetition of points (issues like blaming the victim, blocking memories, the devastating consequences of such abuse) that is totally understandable. The testimonies don’t seem to have been heavily edited, although interestingly enough sometimes we get different versions of the stories (and one of the survivors contributing to the book explains that part of the training of those survivors who agree to share their experience is advising them on how to bring the main points home and how to keep the attention of listeners) and more detailed explanations, not so much of the abuse (this is not a scarily graphic book or even one that could cause easy titillation and reproduce the abuse in hands of certain individuals), but of the feelings it engendered on the survivors.
Even with that, there are editorial decisions that could be questioned. Would a different ordering of materials be more effective? Would illustrating specific points with testimonies work better? Would it be best to give the voice directly to the survivors rather than have an intermediary? There are quite a few memoirs and direct accounts of survivors, is this book different enough? The combination of both, the experience of a volunteer who has not himself suffered abuse (or at least he is not aware of it, although he and others have questioned that possibility) and the testimonies of survivors, is perhaps the most distinctive aspect of the project. In a way, the book is personal for Mr Uttaro, and his level of involvement and emotional investment is clear. At the same time, the book is not personal enough, and I wasn’t sure I got to know Mr Uttaro other than through his involvement in the cause and some comments by the survivors (but these might have been minimised). As happens in documentaries, a decision is usually made of either including the person doing the documentary in the story, or letting events talk for themselves, trying to make narration invisible. I did not feel we fully get to understand Mr Uttaro’s journey or where he is coming from. He and the book have the heart in the right place and offer information and useful points, but I am not sure this is a book for general reading. It might benefit from adding links to organisations helping people who have suffered sexual abuse/assaults, including a section on general advice that could be used no matter the location, and perhaps, if the focus was going to be the methods and the ethos of the organisation (or others working on similar topics), adding a section about the history of the project, how it came about, and interviewing other people who are also part of the project: therapists, organisers, etc. I feel there might be the makings of several books here that could further deepen people’s understanding of the issues at hand, but perhaps that is a project for the future, and this book is a great start.
(I have not included the usual rating system as it didn’t seem appropriate to the book and it is not always relevant to non-fiction projects).
I have several non-fiction books at various stages of completion which I plan on self-publishing. These are about things that are important to me, things that I know something about, and that I want to share with others. Writing for me is first and foremost because it’s what I love to do – what I always will carry on doing even if I win the lottery. At the end of the day though, the goal for the self-publishing author is to earn enough to support yourself. So it’s good to point out that having a non-fiction book or two out can be a great way for an Indie to create another source of income, and also find new readers for your fiction who might not have come across it if they hadn’t been looking for a How to Groom a Poodle book.
The ebook market is glutted with hundreds of thousands of really bad, quickly cobbled together tiny How To books, published by people who are doing this purely to make money, and mostly from outsourced material. They’ll pay a freelance writer a tiny amount of money to produce a short book on a supplied subject, whack a cover on it, load it up on Amazon, and then move on to the next book to churn out. When I first started buying books on Amazon I was green enough to buy a couple of these dreary, and often badly researched little tomes, but I soon learned my lesson. Now I look for quality How To books when I want them, just as I’m sure everyone else learns to do. Books that have been written with care and attention by authors who know what they’re talking about. They’re easy to spot, and you can see by their rankings that they’re being found by readers who aren’t as easily tricked into buying teeny books pretty much copied from the internet. How To books sell very well because there will always be hobbies and interests that people love or want to find out more about.
Writer’s block doesn’t come into play with these. All you need is your subject, your knowledge, research, and your writing style. If you haven’t considered doing this before, you might be very surprised at how much knowledge you have about your own passions, and also how many people out there would like to benefit from that knowledge. I have piles of recipe books, inspirational books, books on health and fitness, gardening books – the list goes on. When I was still into my horsy show jumping days I bought every book on horses that I saw. Even people who don’t read fiction buy How To books, so as a self-published writer looking to make some money as well as writing their beloved novels, this is definitely a course to consider. You could find that you really love this way of writing too – I do.
So what do you love? It could be a real life subject from your fictional work that you know a lot about. Or a hobby or interest like fishing, golfing, macramé, pet care, or a health issue that you have overcome or learned to deal with. Gardening, herbs, recipe books – all of these things can be just as much of a joy to write about as is your fiction, and possibly have a little better edge when it comes to making money. You can publish them as both ebooks and paper books. CreateSpace can produce some gorgeous large format glossy books that are big enough to lay open on a tabletop, so you can really go to town with images and illustrations. Most modern phones have brilliant cameras, so even if you don’t have a good camera there’s nothing to stop you using your iPhone or similar to capture lovely pictures of your subject matter.
The world of all books is the Indie’s oyster, so stretch your wings and share your knowledge and passion with the world, as well as with your worlds of fiction. You’re so much more than simply a researcher, or expert in a field. You’re a writer. Add your writing skills to your knowledge and experience of any non-fiction passion, and you’re already ahead of the pack.
February 2015, and I am here (finally!) to share a book which I bought myself for Christmas 2014 – a little self-love J. Yes, it has been a busy January but better late than never because I am compelled.
Title: Letters of Note: Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience Compiled: Shaun Usher Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd & Unbound (24 October 2013) Website: http://www.lettersofnote.com/ & www.shaunusher.com ISBN-13: 9781782112235 ISBN-10: 1782112235 Pages: Hardback, 384 pages Genre: Literary Non-Fiction, Anthology
What’s it about?
This is an anthology of letters from the 17th century to present day written by a myriad of personalities including the likes of Zelda Fitzgerald, Albert Einstein, Mick Jagger and Roald Dahl.
These letters compiled by Shaun Usher were selected from a vast number of online contributions (see website above) consisting of different types of letters ranging from humorous to angry, sentimental to dispassionate letters, and in different contexts. They provide deeper insights to the events of history and the people we thought we knew so much of.
This is a book filled with beautiful words, expressions, styles; and worth having a copy if only for posterity.
To quote the website’s blurb about the book:
Letters of Note is a collection of 125 of the world’s most entertaining, inspiring and unusual letters.
From Virginia Woolf’s heart-breaking suicide letter, to Queen Elizabeth II’s recipe for drop scones sent to President Eisenhower; from the first recorded use of the expression ‘OMG’ in a letter to Winston Churchill, to Gandhi’s appeal for calm to Hitler; and from Iggy Pop’s beautiful letter of advice to a troubled young fan, to Leonardo da Vinci’s remarkable job application letter, Letters of Note is a celebration of the power of written correspondence which captures the humour, seriousness, sadness and brilliance that make up all of our lives.
And it is indeed the case.
And here’s an excerpt from a letter from Rebecca West to HG Wells. To understand the context, the book provides the background story. In this instance, HG Wells invited Rebecca West to dinner in response to her scathing review of his book, ‘Marriage’ in 1912. They met and fell in love, and went on to have an affair which lasted 11 years. This letter was West’ response when HG Wells’ attempted to break out their relationship about a year into the affair.
I don’t understand why you wanted me three months ago and don’ wan me now…Of course, you’re quite right. I haven’t anything to give you. You have only a passion for excitement and for comfort. You don’t want any more excitement and I do not give people comfort….
I always knew that you would hurt me to death some day, but I hoped to choose the time and place…I can’t conceive of a person who runs about lighting bonfires and yet nourishes a dislike of flame: that seems silly to me.
… I know you will derive immense satisfaction from thinking of me as an unbalanced young female who flopped about in your drawing room in an unnecessary heart-attack.
…But I hate you when you try to cheapen the things I did honestly and cleanly…You once found my willingness to love you a beautiful and courageous thing. I still think it was. Your spinsterishness makes you feel that a woman desperately and hopelessly in love with a man is an indecent spectacle and a reversal of the natural order of things. But you should have been too fine to feel like that.
I wish you have loved me. I wish you liked me.
Now doesn’t that give a certain insight to this relationship and perhaps to HG Wells, the man? Doesn’t it cause your imagination to take flight?
As an aside, this book began as a blog (see website above) by Shaun Usher, wanting to share what he considered to be correspondence deserving a wider audience. The book compilation was published by Unbound, a crowd-sourced publisher, and Canongate.
If you enjoy or love the written word, then you can’t miss this book. It is a book you can flip open, even if you have only 5 minutes to spare, and find yourself moved by the sentiments. You will be inspired to find within yourself that expression of your soul.
Long live the art of letter-writing.
Realistic Characterization: N/A Made Me Think: 4/5 Overall enjoyment: 4/5 Readability: 5/5 Recommended: 4.5/5 Overall Rating: 4/5
I am fascinated with strong female characters, real-life or fictitious. So it is no wonder this book caught my attention when it was first published in 2013. Unfortunately with time constraints, it wasn’t until the paperback was released that it found its way into my home. Title: Empress Dowager Cixi: the Concubine who Launched Modern China Author: Jung Chang Publisher: Vintage Books, London (3 July 2014) ISBN-10: 0099532395 ISBN-13: 9780099532392 Website: http://www.jungchang.net/Pages: Paperback, 528 pages Genre: Literary Non-Fiction – History What’s it about? Empress Dowager Cixi was never ‘crowned’ empress. But she was the de facto ruler of China from 1861 to 1908. At the age of 16, Cixi was ‘honoured’ for being selected to be a concubine to the Emperor Xianfeng. At the death of the Emperor, she (then 25 years old) with the official Empress Zhen, “sat behind the throne” of the successor, Cixi’s son, Tongzhi who was then 5 years of age. From that position, literally behind a yellow silk screen, Cixi ruled China. Whilst she has been credited for her efforts bringing China into the modern age, Cixi’s private life remains very much just that – private, partly contributed by the loss of her personal archives during her reign. In contrast, the public life of this formidable woman was subject to a lot conjecture and criticism for she had dared to thwart the traditions of the patriarchal system and perhaps misogynistic culture of the times. And in comparison to the likes of say, Elizabeth I or Josephine Bonarparte or Cleopatra, Cixi’s life has received relatively little attention, and largely demonised. In similar style to her previous bestseller, Wild Swans (1991), Jung Chang has presented the life of Cixi in a matter-of-fact and impassive manner. It would seem there is a concerted effort to be impartial both in language and the events of that era. In this sense, the book allows the readers to come to their own conclusions as to the morality and values of that Chinese era, and in particular, of Cixi, and the different political parties of the time. Factually, there was enough to provide a political context to Cixi’s rule while not inundating the readers with details. In saying this, the simplification of the rich and complex events belie the political and cultural obstacles Cixi must have had to navigate. Note this was a woman who was not ‘educated’ as compared to her male counterparts. Jung’s depiction of Cixi gives a hint of the chameleon – a public persona and a deeply private person, a traditional woman with modern perspectives. It would have been a treat if Jung had canvassed in greater depth the psychological and emotional landscape of this clever woman. I wonder what it was like to live in that era, being within the Imperial Court, and being responsible for China and its progress. A small detail stood out for me – Cixi collaborated/worked closely with Empress Zhen to make the changes required. While astute, decisive, incisive and at times uncompromising, she it would seem did not perceive ‘female competition’. Quite capable of ruthlessness to achieve her ends, Cixi nevertheless sought first to collaborate. Her political astuteness, in maneuvering for powers besetting China, is rather incredible. She was courageous enough to fight and/or retreat. The book highlights the ingenuity, and political and strategic savviness, of Cixi in wrestling and maintaining power for 47 years. As Charles Denby (an American minister to Beijing during her mid-reign) stated:
“At that time, she was universally esteemed by foreigners, and revered by her own people, and was regarded as being one of the greatest characters in history…Under her rule for a quarter of a century China made immense progress.”
This book is worth a read, for it gave great insight to the comings and goings of the intrigue within the Chinese Imperial Court, and the strength and vision of one woman to bring China into the modern age. Recommendation:LWI Rating: Realistic Characterization: 4/5 Made Me Think: 3/5 Overall enjoyment: 3.5/5 Readability: 4/5 Recommended: 3/5 Overall Rating: 3.5/5 Buy it at:
I had read this book when it was first published in 2013. The second print was released in January 2014. It is a book to share, a book that will change your perspectives which is why I have chosen to review it for my first post in LitWorldInterviews.
Though trained in therapy, this review is written not from the perspective of a therapist but rather that of a reader who happens to be a therapist.
Title: The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves Author: Stephen Grosz Publisher: Chatto & Windus (3 Jan 2013) ISBN-10: 070118535X ISBN-13: 978-0701185350 Website: http://www.stephengrosz.com/usa// Pages: Hardback, 240 pages Genre: Literary Non-Fiction – Psychology
What’s it about?
The Examined Life is a collection of essays based on Stephen Grosz’ case histories of his work as a psychoanalyst. In Grosz’ words, it is a book about ‘change and loss’.
Grosz’ art in story-telling is apparent. The human-ness of each client, and the interaction between he and his clients cannot help but make the reader realise all of us share common experiences such as pain and suffering in our living, and we are creative and versatile of ways to protect ourselves by whichever means possible.
In telling these stories, Grosz manages to enlighten the reader to the hidden meanings of his clients’ lives. There are the ‘facts’ obvious to all, and then his narratives which distil the motivations leading to a depth of understanding of the human psyche.
The reader is also acutely aware the therapy process occurs within the confines of a therapist’s room, and the accounts told by the clients are rarely verified or corroborated. As a therapist, I am aware therapeutic ‘conversations’ are about honouring the client’s perspectives, not seeking ‘universal truths’. So the reader is left with stories of people as seen through the eyes of a highly experienced psychoanalyst and poignant narratives which prompt the reader to reflect on humanity. Take for example, the young man diagnosed as HIV positive who had spent some 3 years of his therapy sessions with Grosz mostly sleeping because it is there that he felt safe and thus could rest. That was a place of healing. Now reconsider the judgment we have of the benefits or the necessity or the efficacy of those sessions.
This book is inspirational, thought provoking and highly entertaining. Most importantly, by the absence of technical jargon, it is accessible to all and not just those interested in or within the field of psychology.
The essays illuminate and clarify the process of psychoanalysis – the conversations in therapy and the skills of listening, talking and being present with clients – without advocating for this specific technique or method.
I recommend this most certainly to readers curious about the complexities of human mind and behaviour.
Perhaps Grosz said it best:
“The philosopher Simone Weil describes how two prisoners in adjoining cells learn, over a very long period of time, to talk to each other by tapping on the wall. ‘The wall is the thing which separates them, but it is also their mean o communication,’ she writes. ‘Every separation is a link.’
This book is about that wall. It’s about our desire to talk, to understand and be understood. It’s also about listening to each other, not just the words but the gaps in between. … It’s something that is a part of our everyday lives – we tap, we listen.”
Enjoy! LWI Rating:
Realistic Characterization: N/A Made Me Think: 3/5 Overall enjoyment: 4/5 Readability: 5/5 Recommended: 4/5 Overall Rating: 4/5