On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt (2005)

, 4 Dec 2017

There are books that one wants to buy as soon as we read the title, like this one. A priori, Frankfurt appears as an agent provocateur, as the book is sold on Amazon, where there is a straight no-profanity no-expletives policy.  However the book feels a total ploff flop once we start reading, because the expectations were so high, that the book can only fall short.

Frankfurt's intention is to define what BS means, the intention behind the concept, if any, the function/s it serves, and what does it not mean. Through this essay, we get to see some of the characteristics that Frankfurt unearths and attributes to BS. Thus, BS is a deceptive deliberate misrepresentation, short of lying, by word and/or deeds, produced in a careless or self-indulgent manner, unrefined and somewhat spontaneous. Its essence is the lack of connection with truth, an  indifference to how things really are. Frankfurt identifies BS as connected to 'hot air' or bluff but not as much to nonsense. BS is phony not false, colourful and creative, but not precise or sharp.

Frankfurt starts his essay with a cross-examination of the definition of Humbug, as provided by Max Black in 1985. He also compares the meaning and use of the word with the definitions that the Oxford English Dictionary offers of bull, bull session, and BS. He also sketches  St Augustine's typology of lies, and, of course, invites Wittgenstein to the party because the whole essay is a Wittgensteinish exercise.

One of the aims of this work  is to explain the difference between a lie and BS, and Frankfurt succeeds at doing so, because we get to see clearly how both things are essentially different in intention, conception, format, and presentation. Another of the aims of the book is to discuss whether there is more BS today than before and why, and although the discussion on this subject occupies barely two pages, it is quite good and goes straight to the point.

One of the most questionable discussions in the book is, paradoxically, one of the things I enjoyed the most. It revolves about a conversation that Fania Pascal and Wittgenstein had in Cambridge in the 1930s.  She was feeling really bad after having her tonsils removed, and told Wittgenstein that she felt like a dog run down by a car, to which the philosopher replied, somewhat upset, “You don’t know what a dog that has been run over feels like.”.  To me, the whole point of the discussion between Pascal and Wittgenstein is that she was talking hyperbolically and metaphorically to express how bad she felt and how unwell she was, and, we can guess, to get a bit of friendly support. But she did not get any because Wittgenstein was not really listening to her, he was hearing the words coming out of her mouth and interpreted them literally, as an autistic person would do. She wasn't implying that she knew how a dog would feel in those circumstances, or that a human and a dog would feel the same if run down by a car, or that she knew how a dog in those circumstances felt but decided to ignore it for the sake of verbal flourish. The point of the episode is not, like Frankfurt says, on Pascal disregard for reality when she speaks, it is that Pascal and Wittengstein were speaking two different languages because their emphasis was different. Hers was on the flourished colours of her pain. His on the literal transcription of reality that he expected from language in a mathematical-like precision. That being the case, to me, the anecdote is pointless in a discussion on the subject of BS.

While reading this book, I wondered why the need to give BS 'a' definition, or rather one meaning, or so it appeared to me. The Urban Dictionary  allows us to appreciate the different  shades of the word in common everyday colloquial language. In my personal life, I have had the word speared at me to mean, depending on the context and the person,: 1/ you don't know what you are talking about (even though I did know what I was talking about). 2/ You are kidding! 3/ You are talking nonsense.  5/ You are lying and you know it, but want to fool me. 6/ I don't believe you, I don't want it to be true!

The beauty of language (when a precise definition is not needed for the exercise of Law, legislation or relevant philosophical analysis, and when the word has not been used for decades or centuries and its meaning is quite established) is that language is alive, fluid, and in constant movement. At times one has to be familiar with the person to 'get' the way and meaning s/he uses and gives to a certain word, the context, the colour, the intention. There are words with a definition that most people would agree on, while other words have so many different hues and undertones, that offering an unique definition feels like a corset. So, why reducing a word to a sort of ivory goddess-like monolith with a specific colour, material and varnish? Why trying to define philosophically a word that was never meant to be philosophical or used philosophically?  I don't mean to say that the exercise in the book is pointless or useless, I mean to say that there is not much philosophy behind Bs, Bsiting and Bsiters, and the exercise is more about how to approach a concept to define it precisely than anything else. Said differently, it is more about the exercise itself than about the word that the philosopher has chosen for this book. Which is interesting the same.

In a way, this book shows (I don't know whether willingly, as a joke, or whether unwillingly, as an academic exercise gone bananas) the need of the Academia to define colloquial and popular words and concepts to give them a status that they were never meant to have. Or, on the contrary, the need and demand of modern pop culture to have its most darling  words sealed with the Academia's seal of approval and the Academica, in response to the demand, takes a leap of faith and dances with Bs itself.

At least to me, this work feels as if the author had had a great idea, started to write a book, something had happened, and he had interrupted his work and left the work incomplete. Yet, it is a nice read overall with some good points to ponder. It is just that I wanted more. I expected more. It could have had more depth and more juice!

Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally Really Grow Up by James Hollis (2005)

, 1 Dec 2017

Life is not a problem to be solved (loc. 3093).

This is the third book I read by Hollis, a Jungian psychoanalyst who specialises in the so-called middle passage, psychological true maturity and individuation. Hollis has the virtue to have me to stop and wow quite often, and this book was not different. Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life  engaged my head and my soul, spoke to me and my hunger for transcending reality as imposed to me by gender, age, and cultural constrictions, which I have always instinctively rejected as being addons not truly me. 

Because Hollis is a former academic with a background in Humanities who became a properly trained Jungian therapist later on in life, his writing is colourful, literary, sophisticated and very polished. His discourse goes from the mundane to the philosophical and the spiritual and does so in depth, without the usual psycho-babble you find elsewhere in pop-psychology these days. If you have a good level of education or self-education, are familiar with Jungian terminology and approach to the psyche, and love reading books by people who preach by example, this is your book.

This is perhaps Hollis' most revolutionary and confronting book on the subject. On the one hand, in this book Hollis does not provide you with any shortcut or present a rosy view of anything, especially of your future in you decide to stay right where you are, doing what you do. Hollis debunks romantic love, traditional family, professional success, consumerism, pop ideologies, the many obsessions and addictions of our daily life (the obsession with health, youth and media included), New Age and herd behaviour, and does so without bitterness.  His definition of soul as psyche, his emphasis on the power of the myth and  symbols to the well-being of society and the healthiness of the psyche, his castigation of major religions as not really spiritual, among other pearls, might be controversial.

On the other hand, Hollis won't tell us how we have to lead our life, how to behave, or how to do things. He says that the middle passage will only be successful after going through our suffering, finding out from where it originates,  burying our old set of values and ways of being, and giving birth to others that are more in tune with our soul's desire.  We have to leave being and  playing the victim, and assign a positive spin to our life dramas or moments of despair.

This book is a call to listening to our deep calling, to taking responsibility for our own life, and to moving beyond repetitive patterns of behaviour and personal history. Each person has a journey that is personal, nobody else's, so there is no cookie cutter to cut the fat, we have to de-construct our false self ourselves.

Feeling good or getting comfort is not the aim of this book, nor is numbing your pain, but  that of enlarging your life and achieving wholeness. Without the suffering, the non-suffering is taken for granted, so suffering has a function, to allow you grow up and appreciate things more.

According to Hollis,  the two major tasks of the grown-up to be aren't money, position, possessions or Prozac, they are: 1/ The recovery of personal authority, to find what is true for us and find the courage to live it in the world. 2/ The discovery of a personal spirituality that resonates with us, and is meaningful to us, no matter what other people think, and be willing to stand for what it is true for us. A kind of Braving the Wilderness.

Everything Hollis wants to say is, "If you do not like your life, change it, but stop blaming others, for even if they did hurt you, you are the one who has been making the choices of adulthood." (locs. 3210-3211). Ouch!

Hollis has a great compassion towards human suffering, it is tuned to the needs and troubles that one faces when crisis strikes in adulthood, because he has been there himself. However, because he's a depth therapist, he won't tell you what you want to hear if you are going through depression, anxiety, desperation, marital crisis, empty-nest syndrome, professional crisis, and so on. He will tell you what you need to know, so you get something out of your pain through your pain, you become yourself, dare to show your self to the world, and became the individual who your soul always wanted you to be:
 "often, inexplicably, it is the soul itself that has brought us to that difficult place in order to enlarge us" (loc. 212).  
Hollis is really good at defining the main words and concepts he uses throughout the book. My favourite are the following:
> Soul = "our intuited sense of our own depth, our deepest-running, purposeful energy, our longing for meaning, and our participation in something much greater than ordinary consciousness can grasp" (locs. 169-171).
> Ego as "that thin wafer of consciousness floating on an iridescent ocean called the soul" (locs. 230-231).  > Self as "the embodiment of nature’s plan for us, or the will of the gods -- whichever metaphor works better for you". (locs. 237-238).
> Complex/es as a "cluster of energy in the unconscious, charged by historic events, reinforced through repetition, embodying a fragment of our personality, and generating a programmed response and an implicit set of expectations."  (locs. 1273-1275).
 > Doubt = a form of radical trust, a trust that the world is richer than we know, so abundant that we can hardly bear.  (Locs 2944-5).

Hollis succeeds at explaining why the problems of the second half of life are almost a new thing, and also the direct link between the disconnection with ancestral myths and tribal rituals and the rise in individual and social neurosis and pathologies, and how the psyche longs for a connection with a larger deeper world in which certain personal and social energies are channelled, transformed and healed.

Although this is not a how-to book, Hollis presents us with some poignant questions to play psychoanalysts with ourselves. The most important one, to me, is: "If I have done the expected things, according to my best understanding of myself and the world, so why does my life not feel right?” (locs. 453-4). I think this is important because it doesn't focus on the world out there,  the image we project of ourselves, our achievements, how successful we are, how many houses, cars or jewels we own, but on how we feel inside.

Other major questions to ask ourselves are:
> What gods, what forces, what family, what social environment have framed your reality, perhaps supported, perhaps constricted it?
> Whose life I have been living?
> Why do you believe that you have to hide so much, from others, from yourself?
> Why have you come to this book, or why has it to come to you, now?
> Why does the idea of the soul both trouble you and feel familiar, like a long-lost companion?
> Is the life you are living too small for your soul’s desire?
> Why is now the time, if ever it is to happen, for you to answer the summons of the soul, to live the second, larger life?

Some queries to spear to ourselves when faced with the harshness of life (guilt, grief, loss, betrayal, doubt, loneliness, depression, addiction, or anxiety) are: How am I to enlarge consciousness in this place?  How find the meaning for me in this suffering? What new life is seeking to live through me? What must I do to bring it into being? What is the compulsive behaviour a defence against ?

When obsessed or addicted to something (shopping, alcohol, cleaning, working, exercising, whatever)  or engulfed by energies or practices that do not satisfy us internally, we should start reading the world psychologically and ask ourselves, “What is this touching in me?” “Where does this come from in my history?” “Where have I felt this kind of energy before?” “Can I see the pattern beneath the surface?” “What is the hidden idea, or complex, that is creating this pattern?” “Is there something promising magic, seduction, ‘solution’ here?” Also “Am I made larger, or smaller, by this path, this relationship, this decision?” 

Although I loved the book, there are a few things that I consider delusions, not clear enough, or based on conceptions of what life should be. I don't think they are intentionally so, more, perhaps, the result of the author's age and the life he has lived, not as much of the life other people live.

1/ Tool-less.
Hollis is perfectly aware that most people have not the means, economical or other, to have therapy or psychoanalysis, even if they need it and want to. On the other hand, psychological blocks are usually black points in our eye that we cannot see even if they are in front of us, because they are right in the middle of the eye. That demands the help of a therapist, analyst or coach. I understand that Hollis doesn't want to provide a cookie cutter of an answer for anybody who is suffering from a personal crisis or wants to grow up and enlarge their lives, but I would have appreciated he making an effort, because, after all, he is a therapist and has the tools. It is true that the book has some suggestions about questions to pose to ourselves to start a inner dialogue (some of which I have already mentioned), but they cannot be answered if you are blocked, and some of them are too philosophical for the average John and Jane.  Many people will buy this book because they were expecting help, but many of them won't have the intellectual holders to catch everything that Hollis throws at us.  I hope that his forthcoming book will be more hands down and address the lack of practical advice that some might find in this book.  

2/ Muddle in the Middle.
Second half of life is a misleading title, because it departs from ontological  principles that do not reflect who we are as physical and social beings in the 21st century. It presupposes that we have a certain life span guaranteed on  this planet, and that around that half way we have a crisis, and that most of us have a grow-up spur at around the same time. I have said it before, my grandma died as an elderly lady at 48 years of age, so her middle age was 24 and she was probably in a corner by then having no way to go and unhappy to the core; there are women and men on this planet, right now, still living that way. Nowadays, 50y.o.a. is the new 40, or the new 35, or just 50 depending on one's level of maturity and physical state, and the culture and part of the world we were born or live in. On the other hand, a period that goes from 35 to 90y.o.a is a bit too vast! Or mid-life crisis being mostly between 35-45, well, it is a bit too precise!

3/ Mirage.
Hollis says that in the second half of life "We lose friends, our children, our energies, and finally our lives. Who could manage in the face of such seeming defeat?." (locs.  3096-3098). Isn't that a total illusion? The same illusion that generates the obsession with health? There is no guarantee that we aren't going to be killed while healthy or when young, that our families and friends are going to die before we do, or vice versa. It is the same illusion as believing that, by taking care of ourselves, we will delay death. In fact,  we could be super-fit and super-young and be run over a car when walking on the footpath. We might have to deal with the death of all our family when young, because they died in an accident, or killed themselves, or were killed.   

4/ The Brady Bunch.
At least in the Western World, traditional family is not about a man and woman marrying and having children. There are straight couples that don't marry, live together de facto for decades and decide not to have children even if they biologically can. Some uncoupled individuals decide that they have a maternal or paternal instinct and have surrogate mothers giving birth to the children they will parent and love. There are gay couples who live a very traditional life except for the fact that they are gay. There are  men and women who decide not to marry or have children, and join a monastery and form part of a bigger family. Others, won't join the monastery but don't need the need to marry or have children to become whole. The examples are endless. I say this because, asking ourselves what values and ways of being we want to pass on to our children, is a question that is not as valid now as it was 50 years ago. And sometimes Hollis speaks as if the only mature way of life was getting married and having children. I actually know many married people with children who have no maturity at all. I am not saying that Hollis is not aware of this, I am saying that the book does not always reads this way.

5/ Tongue Twist.
At the beginning of the book Hollis says that the aim of the book is to present things in a simple language that most people can understand. However, many times I thought that a 'commoner,' so to speak, would find difficult  getting through  them because of the vocabulary, the high degree of symbolism and/or abstraction. I think this is especially the case in the chapter on mature spirituality, which it is beautifully written but very elitist. 

5/ The pain of  the pen.
When you have remedial massage you learn that you get rid of your pain through the pain, as the treatment inflicts pain on the body. So, in a way, going through your suffering, as mentioned by Hollis here, is a bit like that. However his insistence on the suffering sounds a bit masochist at times. I am not saying that there isn't truth in what Hollis says, because I have experienced that to be true for me, but hey he insists too much on accepting the suffering and going through it. Some people won't be able to do that, and will collapse, just saying.We cannot blame them for not being able to stand the pain, find meaning in it, or  get out successfully from it.

6/ Spirited Away.
Hollis' insistence o spirituality starts very well, but it ends becoming a bit of fixation and, dare to say, 'religious'. There are ways of getting meaning out of life that aren't based on spirituality. Non nihilist atheists I  know find meaning in knowing that our transience demands awareness, living the moment, and making the most of our minutes, that meaning is found in leading an ethical life for the sake of it and leaving their offspring a good legacy, and are very mature and sound people. On the other hand, I also known deeply spiritual people whose lives are full of giving meaning to their suffering, and they haven't grown much inside and are still emotionally and psychologically immature.  

Individuation is a personal individual thing, so things that constrict an individual won't constrict another, and things that helps to expand a person won't help another. Culture, family history, life circumstances are all impositions on the soul. I would have liked Hollis commenting on how different cultures, religious beliefs and language favour, more or less, individuals. Or put differently, is individuation easier or more difficult to achieve by members of a given culture, religion or linguistic background than ohers?  Does a culture creates more neurosis than another?

This is a beautiful written book, lyric at times, quite hard at others that loves you toughly and tenderly, and shows you a way that is not what you might be looking for but it might be your best shot to succeed. The book will certainly satisfy those who love Jungian analysis and Jungian ways of looking at the inner and outer world that aren't simplistic and allow for our individuality to be recognised, developed and expressed.

One gets to feel how being a Jungian therapist is what Hollis was meant to be, because his book oozes passion for his profession, and for the wonders that Depth Psychology can do for anyone, not just if you are in crisis. He sees the Jungian analyst as a mediator with your soul and the self, and that is a wonderful way to put it. There is a lot of soul in this book.

Having said that, this book might not be useful or satisfying to you if:
> You are a convinced nihilist.
> You are very religious in a traditional way.
> You are looking for a New Age book.
> You need a book simply written with everyday vocabulary. 
> You are looking for a set of rules, step by step DIY system to solve your personal crisis.
> You need somebody to tell you how to solve your problems and how to get out of your misery.
> You are looking for something that is useful, but not that deep or complicated.  
> You aren't interested on Jungian depth Psychology and want a behavioural approach.

Great edition! I love when I get a book on Kindle, and I find it to be typo free, properly organised, notes properly linked back and forth, and everything as it is in a hard-copy. That demands from the editors giving a damn about us, customers, and I really appreciate it!

Braving the Wilderness. The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown (2017)

, 14 Nov 2017

Braving the Wilderness is an engaging, passionate, and well structured book that took me by surprise. I didn't know anything about this book or the author when I grabbed this. It was one of those on-the-spur-of-the-moment purchases not to lose my audible credit, chosen basically be cause it was at the top of the non-fiction books rankings.

The expression Braving the Wilderness immediately transported me to the middle of an inhospitable isolated place where we have to learn to survive on our own and surrounded by dangerous beasts. In a way, this is a  metaphor for what braving the wilderness really is, it is just that is not Alaska or the Amazon that we have to face and survive, but our modern day society, and our social and political environment.

The book departs from a quote from Maya Angelou:
"You are only free when you realize you belong no place, you belong every place, no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great."
This is indeed a beautiful quote and, the core around which Brown's discourse revolves. This a book about connecting in healthy meaningful ways and belonging without trying too hard or expecting others to let us feel that we belong, to belong without belonging anywhere and everywhere, to belong to ourselves more and foremost.

According to Brown, we all want to belong and connect, but doing so forgetting who we truly are, hiding who we are, faking who we are not, and not holding our ground or boundaries is not true belonging.  True belonging it is not based on somebody's else accepting us as much as us accepting ourselves and showing who we are, what we believe, and what we think, even when we are surrounded by people or situations that are hostile to us and our survival instinct pushes us to conform, shut up or fake it up. Braving the wilderness demands from us to speak our minds, disclose what we believe, do not obscure what it's important  to us, and how we see or feel anything, no matter the consequences.

In Braving the Wilderness, Brown discusses spirituality, loneliness, aloneness, solitude, conflict, true belonging, stereotyping, compassion, connection, fear, hatred, pain, anger, BS, civility, boundaries, the difference between what we are and what we believe, and between fitting and belonging. And the good thing is that she does it with a lot of soul and in a very understandable engaging way.

I enjoyed her comments on stereotyping and BStting, as I have suffered those myself, and on bringing civility back into fashion. However, one of the things that resonated the most with me was the  BRAVING system, or seven rules to trust people, ourselves, and be trusted: 1/ Boundaries; to keep and set strong boundaries and be clear about them, and to respect other people's boundaries. 2/ Reliability; to  do what we say we say are going to do, not to use what I call "constant I'm-going-to" to please your own hear or to create commitments that you cannot comply with. 3/ Accountability; own your mistakes, acknowledge them, take responsibility for them and apologise if necessary. 4/ Vault; be like a vault so that, what it is told to you confidentially does not leave our lips and is not shared with anybody with whom was never meant to be shared. A kinda of my lips are sealed. 5/ Integrity. 6/ Non Judgement. 7/ Generosity;  assume that everybody's words and intentions meant to be good even if they turned out otherwise. 

I also liked her quest to be clear about what she means by what she says. Some of the most important definitions she offers in the book are the following:
>  Spirituality = Recognising and celebrating that we are inextricably connected to each other by a power and a connection to that power and one's another that is grounded on love and compassion.
My shortcut = We are all interconnected (I add, even when you aren't spiritual or religious).
> Wilderness = Belonging fully to ourselves so much so that we are willing to stand alone, and also an untamed unpredictable place of solitude and searching.
My shortcut = Know who you are and dare to own it.  
> Braving = Speaking truth to BS and practising civility; it starts with knowing ourselves and the behaviours and issues that both push us into our own BS or get in the way to be civil.
My shortcut = Have the balls to say what you believe. 
> True Belonging =  The spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world  and find a sacredness in both  being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness.
My shortcut = Let your inner light shine and go out even when when others don't really like it. 
> Civility, as that defined by the Institute for Civility and Government: claiming and caring for one's identity needs and beliefs without degrading some else's in the process.   
My shortcut = Treat others the way you want to be treated even when you strongly disagree with them.

1/ Extroversion bias.
The quest to belong is common to all humans, no matter our culture, nationality, ideology and religion, but the way people connect are not the same. Personally, the main downside of the book is that Brown has a strong extroversion bias, and she projects her extroversion as an equivalent of connection. Any introvert reading the book will find that there are too many groups, too many get-together, and some large gatherings that are not ''natural' ways of connecting to us. A concert at a big arena, a football match in a large stadium, sound more like places where one see mobs and conformity trends in action; we can enjoy the show, but not really connect unless you are there with somebody you  have already connected. I also know introverts that love the sound of silence, despise sport, don't usually go to big demonstrations, and yet, they have meaningful connections with other human beings and empathy with humanity in general. Of course, when we attend a wedding or funeral, or march in the streets to express our views on social or political issues we are sharing important things with strangers, we are part of something larger than ourselves, but to introverts that is not real connection. I can simply say that most introverts would not join large gatherings, not even family ones, or would do so against their will and would not consider that enjoyable or a way of connecting. I would like that some writers thought about us, a high number of very functional human beings, who are not extroverts and don't relate to other people as extroverts do. I am not saying that Brown doesn't get that, I am saying that the book doesn't reflect that.

2/ Braving the wilderness is not enough.
Although I basically agree with much of what Brown states, believes in, and speaks about in the book, braving the wilderness is not enough to change the attitudes and social trouble that our modern Western society lives in and is affected by. We can brave the wilderness, but for society to be better, to step up, to change as a whole, more is needed. I don't deny the power of one or a few to transform society, but a large shift is needed to do that, and that involves more that a good heart, belonging to ourselves, or loving our neighbour. The  power of education, social justice, eradication of poverty and equal opportunities are immense to eradicate ignorance, fear, hatred and swallowing the news as they were Bible's material, so people aren't manipulated, and hatred and antagonism don't spread so easily and virulently.

3/ Data per se is not serious research.
I understand that this is a book addressed to the general public, and Brown couldn't mention her research's methodology and findings in detail. However, the book sounded as if she was reducing research to data, which is something simplistic and dangerous. Data alone is easily manipulable and data is not a poll in which x percent of a group says yes, no, or this is what I think about this issue. Brown is an academic and knows that perfectly well. However, at times, it sounded as if the data was just  the result of a poll taken among the people taken part in her research, and that is dangerous. As I did read this book in audible format, there might be some explanations or footnotes in the hard-copy; if that is the case, my apologies in advance. 

4/ It might age soon.
 Although I agree with what she says about the current political environment in the US, I would have rather focused on other examples, which are equally valid, but won't age the book. On the other hand, she is braving the wilderness and speaking her truth, so bravo.

5/ The first chapter.
The start of the book got me worried. It is a sort of memoir in which Brown links her personal experiences to the core of the book, but until that becomes clear, it felt as another self-improvement self-centred guru wanting to talk about her without stop and dropping Oprah's name to major impact.

Braving the Wilderness is spoken in a straightforward way, very well structured and presented, so it is easy to follow even in audiobook format. Something that I don't take for granted. Brown is a wonderful speaker and reads her own book as if she was talking to you, not following something that has already been written. She has a mix of passion and softness, a great voice tone and inflections, and a very good reading pace, so the result is an engaging discourse, which makes listening to this book a truly enjoyable experience. This is one of those audiobooks that one wants to listen to more than once, or even purchase the hard-copy or Kindle book to re-read it.  

Delphi Complete Works of Vincent van Gogh (2014)

, 4 Nov 2017

"I feel inexpressibly melancholy without my work to distract me, as you will understand, and I must work and work hard, I must forget myself in my work, otherwise it will crush me."

This book devoted to Vincent Van Gogh --part of the Delphi Classics series of art masters-- is what one expects a book aimed to the general public to be: affordable, informative, comprehensive, and most importantly, true to the artist. The book  has 4000+ pages and everything you need to know, to get to know and know better the Dutch artist.
The first section of the book contains a selection of Vincent Van Gogh's renowned paintings, with some extracted images of details in them, and a  brief introductory commentary to each one; the whole list of paintings by Vincent,  chronologically ordered and grouped by the different places where he lived and painted, follows; an alphabetical list of his paintings completes the first section of the book. The second section contains the complete unabridged correspondence of Van Gogh, 800+ letters, chronologically organised, translated into English by her sister-in-law Johanna van Gogh-Bonger in 1914. Just having the complete correspondence blows my mind. The book ends with a biography of the artist written by Johanna as well. All of this for less than three bucks on Kindle format. That is a loud wow.   

Overall, this a very satisfying book for the general public, who won't be expecting or demanding a polished translation, a comprehensive study and edition of the texts, more in-depth analysis or further commentary than that already there.  Through the extensive catalogue of paintings one  obtains an overall view of the themes, palette, people, and techniques that Van Gogh used. Through his correspondence one gets to know the real man behind the popular artist, a fascinating human being who, at least to me, was as good as a writer as a painter, a man with a great depth, soul and humanity, a human being not the pop-star artist he has come to be.

Although I really recommend this book to the general public, I would like to point out a few things that you should know before you purchase it:
 > This is not a complete collection of Vincent's artworks, just of his paintings, as none of his sketches (which are some of my favourite pieces), are included.
> The quality of the images in the Kindle edition goes from very good to bad and everything in between. One can individuate each painting by double tapping the image; yet, it is not always clear, neat or of good quality. I would have loved having the images in bigger resolution and occupying a bigger portion of the page.    
> Some of the paintings were forever lost during WW2, so the only thing remaining are the black and white photos we have in the book. 
> Vincent's correspondence, although complete and readable is full of French sentences and expressions that aren't always translated.
> It would have been great having some of the paintings mentioned in the letters cross-referenced and linked back and forward to the images on this book, but they are not.   
 > It would have been great having those letters with sketches in them, which are many, being reproduced with the sketches, or at least the sketches reproduced separately and linked to the letters, but they are not.

I would suggest, if a second edition of this book is going to be prepared on Kindle, the following things:
> I would love having higher resolution images, and each image being reproduced in a larger format on each page.
> Preparing an analytical index of the correspondence.
> Placing the alphabetical list of paintings at the end of the book.
> Work on the lateral menu on Kindle for Android, which, in its current format, is not usable because of the huge amount of information listed there. To be usable, it should have been produced in more collapsible structured format, a big epigraph with a sub-epigraph and a sub-sub epigraph etc. Many things that should not be in that index are there.
> Prepare a short glossary with a synopsis of each of the main people mentioned in the correspondence and/or  repeatedly painted by Van Gogh. 


The Letters of Vincent Vang Gogh to his Brother and Others 1872-1890 (2003)

, 2 Nov 2017

Van Gogh's letters are really a treasure that anybody who loves Art, Van Gogh's Art or just great historical figures should read. The Dutch painter is known by his characteristic colourful images and brush strokes, for his insanity and tragic ending. Reading some of the letters to his brother and confidant Theo allows us to leave behind the almost mythical movie-like character and meet the real Vincent, the human being, the man, the soul and the artist he was.

His letters are full of realism, understanding and compassion towards human dejection and people living under harsh conditions; they are also full of spirituality and religiosity, of love and admiration for Nature, and his eye for colour. His correspondence is a portal to his heart, his feelings of love, dejection, failure, fragility, indecision, anger, resentment, obsession and disappointments, an example of how Art freed his spirit, and of his enthusiasm for literature and painting, as well as the poverty and misery that surrounded most of his adult life. In short, when reading Van Gogh's correspondence one feels transported to the late 19th century and living in Vincent's shoes. In that regard, the selection of letters presented in this edition helps to get a decent general view of who Van Gogh was. 


This book contains a selection of letters from van Gogh to his brother Theo, to his mother, and to artist friends Anton van Rappard and Paul Gauguin, based on The Letters of Vincent van Gogh to His Brother Volumes 1 and 2 (1927), Further Letters of Vincent van Gogh to His Brother (1929), and Letters to an Artist: from Vincent van Gogh to Anton Ridder van Rappard (1936), all originally published by Constable & Co. Ltd. These letters were collected, assembled and numbered by Theo’s wife Johanna, whose Memoir formed the introduction to their original publication and is included here in full, as well.

My main problem with this book, is not with is in it, but what is not, why is not there, and the mutilated version of Van Gogh that we get. Said differently, we are offered an edited version of the person he was, an intentional guillotined view of his whole self, clearly appreciable if you compare any of the letters here with any full letter reproduced elsewhere. I find extremely irritating editors with little understanding of what a historical document is trying to 'rewrite' history for the sake of brevity/ To please, who?

The complete correspondence of Van Gogh might be a fatty plate for some people to swallow, and that is understandable. However, if a selection needs to be done for a book to be saleable, profitable and palatable, at least make a selection that is historically sound, well introduced and commented.  

However, the main sin of this book is not even the selection of letters chosen, but the fact that the letters aren't reproduced in full. They have been mutilated. It is not that just the dates, salutations and valedictions have been removed, it is that many times we get a 10% of the original letter.  Just an example, to give you and idea of what I mean by mutilation. See, bellow screenshots of the same letter, as on in this book (first larger image) and the no. of pages the complete letter has (smaller images):

To put it bluntly, even a letter's formulary salutations and valedictions have historical meaning, are psychologically and emotionally charged, and reflect the level of attachment of Van Gogh to his correspondents. On the other hand, one cannot separate the state of mind, heart and life circumstances of the artist from his art, because they are intrinsically linked. In fact, the editorial house's blah-blah-blah promo says just so But then they justify the mutilation by saying:
"The result is an atypical take on Vincent van Gogh that avoids putting too much stress on his troubled mental state and too much straining by the editor to shape a narrative out of van Gogh's epistolary clues. Instead, we see the thoughtful and contemplative side of this creative genius, as well as his concern for the impact his art and life had on those people closest to him."
One gets more the multifaceted personality of Van Gogh by having his letters not mutilated, Sir. In addition, I don't want anybody who is not a super-duper editor with an understanding of what an historical document and text is, to do anything for me, to produce a mediocre text when a good one can be produced. If you cannot do something well, better do nothing. You might say, the book is less than 4 bucks, right? but there are editions who offer the complete full unabridged non-mutilated translation of the correspondence for less than that. 


Now, let's see an example of the difference it makes to have a chopped letter badly edited and translated  and a good edition of a historical document, both being the same letter by Van Gogh. I've just selected the first paragraph as a way of example:

1/  This book's edition:
In my last letter you will have found a little sketch of that perspective instrument I mentioned. I just came back from the blacksmith, who made iron points to the sticks and iron corners on the frame. It consists of two long poles; the frame is attached to them lengthwise or across with strong wooden pegs. So on the shore or in the meadows or in the fields one can look through it as through a window. The vertical lines and the parallel line of the frame and the diagonal lines and the cross or else the division in squares, certainly give a few principal points, by the help of which one can make a firm drawing, which indicates the large lines and proportions – at least for those who have some instinct for perspective and some understanding of the reason why and the manner in which the perspective gives an apparent change of direction to the lines and a change of size to the planes and to the whole mass . . . 
I think you can imagine it is a delightful thing to point this instrument on the sea, on the green meadows, or in winter on the snowy fields, or in autumn on the fantastic network of thin and thick branches and trunks or on a stormy sky. (...). (Kindle Locations 2605-2614).

My dear Theo,
In my last letter you’ll have found a little scratch of that perspective frame. I’ve just come back from the blacksmith, who has put iron spikes on the legs and iron corners on the frame.
It consists of two long legs:
[original drawing]
The frame is fixed to them by means of strong wooden pegs [sketch B], either horizontally or vertically.
[sketch C]
The result is that on the beach or in a meadow or a field you have a view as if through a window. The perpendicular and horizontal lines of the frame, together with the diagonals and the cross —or otherwise a grid of squares— provide a clear guide to some of the principal features, so that one can make a drawing with a firm hand, setting out the broad outlines and proportions.1 Assuming, that is, that one has a feeling for perspective and an understanding of why and how perspective appears to change the direction of lines and the size of masses and planes. Without that, the frame is little or no help, and makes your head spin when you look through it.
I expect you can imagine how delightful it is to train this view-finder on the sea, on the green fields — or in the winter on snow-covered land or in the autumn on the fantastic network of thin and thick trunks and branches, or on a stormy sky. (...). 


Although the letters read well overall and some passages flow and are really enjoyable to read. However, at times the language is unnecessarily messy, wordy and  imprecise (especially noticeable when some technical stuff is discussed).

This is  a translation into the English from the Dutch, which contains a good deal of French and some English.  This being the case, a good part of who Vincent was, will never be captured by the language he never used, as the tone, preferred wording, grammar, personal preferences and particularities, or social and period nuances aren't visible to us. This is a secondary worry, which could have been compensated by having some sort of footnoting or commentary on that. 
In addition, the French is not translated or annotated; so, if you don't have a medium knowledge of that language, you will hear yourself saying what?! quite often. 


It works well in my device and no issues whatsoever. However, I'd like to mention:
>  The book has some of Van Gogh's sketches and paintings mentioned in the letters reproduced in the book. They should have been attached to the letters they relate to, or at least linked from the letter to the sketch and back to the letter. That has not been done, and we can only access the drawings and paintings by going to the index of illustrations at the beginning.Many of the sketches originally part of the letters have been omitted.
> The analytic index has been linked in Kindle, although the number of page is not reflected, and  a reference number appears instead.
> I have noticed some typos, mistakes, and results of the digital conversion that need to be addressed.
-- Proper typos:  exhibitiosn (loc. 1023).
-- Unnecessary use of capitals: went into an Inn and I thought that he would stay (Locs 1255-1256). , Poor lad  (Loc. 1299)
-- Unnecessary hyphenation of letters, probably the result of the digital conversion, as they might have been in different line breaks when converted to Kindle: bread con- venient for me’ (Loc. 1503).
-- Unclear verb concordance: Those vegetable GARDENS  there have A KIND of old Dutch character which always greatly APPEAL to me. (Locs 2624-2625). 
And so on.


It is because of my disappointment with this poor edition, that I searched for alternatives and came across free, very cheap and medium-priced products that supersede this edition in everything.

A cheap edition of the full correspondence and paintings (excluding the sketches) of Van Gogh plus the introductory biography by Joanna, can be found on Kindle for less than three bucks: Delphi Complete Works of Vincent van Gogh (Illustrated) (Masters of Art Book 3).

A selection of the correspondence, seriously edited and translated with introduction, sound academic criteria and high quality reproductions of the sketches and drawings included in them, edited by Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten, Nienke Bakker of the Van Gogh Museum and the Huygens Institute, titled Ever Yours: The Essential letters can be purchased for Kindle or hard-copy for 35 bucks.

The same guys did a full translation, edition and study of the complete correspondence, and if you have some hundred dollars to splurge, this treasure can be yours for 650 bucks  HERE.

Yet, if you are a freebie-lover, these same guys have been good enough to put all  of their work, the complete edition and translation of the letters with drawings, sketches, and what's not online, free access, on the website Van Gogh's Letters.

A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep & Joanne Ryder (2015)

, 29 Oct 2017

I usually love children and teenagers' books as they are a way of escapism for me and a light read; besides, I truly enjoy magical and wondrous characters and stories. A priori, this book has it all.

A Dragon's Guide... is the story of a grumpy dragoness and her evolving relationship with Winnie --the grand-niece of her former human pet, the late Fluffy--, how the dragon gets progressively attached to her, and how they both bond when they have to catch some magic nasty creatures that Winnie inadvertently created and released to the real world.

The book has some similarities with Rowling's latest book on magic beasts, with the script of Goosebumps, and with many books of the genre, but it is more clearly addressed to small children. It is not original or especially imaginative, but the characters are lovely and well drawn, and there is an interesting unique reversion of roles, as the magic creature is the one doing the narration and her character the one leading. In addition, the language is quite polished, even formal at times, and will certainly help children to enlarge their vocabulary.

The narration by actress Susan Denaker is superb. She's able to play all the characters with charm and credibility, a task that is far from small or simple as she gives voice and personality to adult and children characters, creatures with different accents (Scottish, French, English, American), and uses her tone and skills as a performer to create a magic world for us. In addition, one has to praise Denaker's impeccable (mostly British) diction and pronunciation, perfect to be listened to by students learning English.

Perhaps the illustrated book has a charm that this audible version has not. However, despite the quality of the narration, I found it difficult to get engaged or excited. I found the book too wordy at times; too slow or perhaps with bad tempo, and not much action or excitement for adults. What I enjoyed the most about this book was not the story, but the narrator's performance. Small children might love the book, so I cannot speak for them. However, I won't be buying the follow-up book/s.

Overall, an OK children's book (if you are an adult), and a great performance.

How To Keep People From Pushing Your Buttons by Albert Ellis & Arthur Lange (2017)

, 17 Oct 2017

This is a very enjoyable, practical and easy to read  book that gets to the core of what pushing a button is, why our buttons are pushed, and who pushes them. Although the authors are psychologists, and some of the exercises and reflections presented here use Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, there is no theoretical mumbo-jumbo. The authors' analytical and didactic presentation makes it easy for readers to recognise what pushes our buttons and the ways to think and act when they are pushed so we don't overreact.

The core of the book is that nobody or nothing pushes our buttons, we do that ourselves, so we have to and can learn not to push them by changing our thinking and the way we react to what happens to us, or rather, by changing our thinking so our feelings are not irritated or numbed and we don't overreact or downplay what happens to us.

The main reasons why our buttons are pushed are five ways of being or feeling (1/ being excessively anxious or worried, 2/ being angry or defensive, 3/ being depressed or burnout, 4/ feeling guilty and 5/ over-reactive self-defeating behaviour) and three ways of screwball thinking (1/ catastrophising or awfulising, 2/ 'shoulding' or blaming ourselves or others, and 3/ excusing or denying  that we have a reaction when something pushes our buttons). If we control our thinking, our feelings will be under control, and we won't blow out any situation. We cannot control those people or situations that push our buttons, but we can control our reactions and the way we see, think and feel about them. And the best way to think in these situations is what the authors call 'realistic thinking', which is based on stating what we would like, want or prefer, it recognises the frustration or irritation that a given person or situation has on us, but enables us to have healthy legitimate feelings without overreacting.

Another core premise of the book is that there aren't many things that happen to us or people say or do to us that are really that awful, dramatic, damaging or disrupting for us to get upset when we think about them rationally. Throughout the book, there is a constant reminder that, if we take a step back and see things for what they are, those same people and situations won't have the same impact on us.

One of the things that I could relate the most are the ten beliefs that we use to let people and situations push our buttons, the first four being the most common. I certainly found my button-pushers reflected here. These beliefs are:  1/ worrying too much about what other people think of us. 2/ Fear of failure or of being wrong and unable to stand any criticism. 3/ Frustration intolerance, or the idea that we should always be treated fairly, even though we know that the world is unfair. 4/ The need to blame someone if any of the first three beliefs happen. 5/ The belief that worrying obsessively about something or someone will help to situations to turn out better. 6/ The belief that there is a perfect solution for every problem, and that the solution can be found immediately. 7/ The wish to avoid difficult situations and responsibilities instead of facing them. 8/ The belief that if we avoid being seriously involved in anything we will be happy or happier. 9/ Blaming the past for anything bad that happens to us in the present. 10/ The wish that bad people and things shouldn't exist, but they do and always disturb and annoy us.  

The main virtue of the book is that provides readers with a four-step process that will allow us to stop, reflect and react differently, still recognising those things that irritate and annoy us, but without over-blowing any situation. This process can be applied to any person or situation that pushes our buttons, in our personal or work relationships or in the myriad situations in which we have to deal with other people. The four steps not to have your buttons pushed (by you!) are: 1/ Ask yourself how you are dysfunctionaly feeling and acting in a given situation right now. 2/ Ask yourself what you are irrationally thinking about a) yourself b) the others in this situation c) the situation itself, to make yourself upset. 3/ Ask yourself how you can challenge and dispute your irrational thinking. And finally, 4/ ask yourself what realistic preferences you can substitute for your irrational thinking by starting by saying things like, I want, I'd Like, I'd prefer, It would be great if, I regret, I'm disappointed, I'm committed to, It's frustrating, etc. The secret is to use these steps over and over again until they become ingrained in our way of dealing with button pushers. Nobody is perfect at this kind of self-control, so the goal is to reduce our overreactions still being true to our feelings, and react less often and less intensely.

The main thing that one can criticise this book for is for the unnecessary wordiness and an endless number of examples showing how to go through the four-step process. I confess, that it gets things sealed on your brain, because repetition really works, but so many examples are also boring and unnecessary. If you want to get a good summary of the book read the last chapter and will have everything perfectly summarised in a few words, and I think a booklet with the main points of the book might have been as successful in conveying the message as the whole book does. 
This is an updated version of the book of the edition of 1995.

p. 57 appreicate

Cómo Integrar tu Sombra by Antonio Delgado González (2015)

How to Integrate your Shadow is a totally misleading title for a book that deals with different facets of the Jungian Shadow. This is one of the few books written on the matter in Spanish available on Amazon, and perhaps that got me overexcited. This work  incorporates part of a previous work by the author with some corrections and enlargements.

The book reads well, is well written in a classy albeit erudite Spanish with plenty of psychological and Jungian jargon, and will certainly please people who have an interest on the Shadow and, even more, those with a previous idea of basic Jungian concepts like Shadow, Collective Unconscious, Mask, and Individuation, and want to hear a new voice. I enjoyed the author's style and reflections on the Shadow, though, and I truly enjoyed chapter six devoted to individuation following the Dark Night of the Soul by St John of Cross, and the author's digging into some of his patients' dreams.

The author says in page 12 that he expects readers to find this manual simple, practical, and an incentive to help them to integrate the dark side of their personality. However, this is not a manual, this is not a practical book, and there is no way simple mortals with a basic knowledge of the Shadow could integrate their Shadow without the help of a therapist or, at least, with a how-to book guided book, like for example David Richo's Shadow Dance: Liberating the Power & Creativity of Your Dark Side. Besides, despite being well written and really enjoyable, the book is not didactic, pedagogic or even written in an accessible language for people who aren't familiar with Jungian or Analytical Psychology. If you come/came to the text thinking that you will/would be given tools to unveil and integrate your own Shadow on your own, a sort of d.i.y. sort of book, you will be disappointed. Besides, the author himself says in pages 76-77 that not everybody is able to gather the energy necessary to face their shadow exclusively in dreams, that they also need of Active Imagination (something that is not clearly defined or explained in the book) and, most importantly, by facing consciously our repressed wishes. How can a normal person do that without the help of a therapist or without a how-to book, is left unanswered.

The author also says at the beginning of the book that his approach to the different stages of how the shadow manifests and integrates differ from the more didactic approach of Dr Marie-Louise Von Franz and Wolfgan Giegerich, but his is closer to Jung's theories. Von Franz must have been quite close to Jung's intentions being a closer collaborator, friend and pupil? Just asking.

The author also states that despite the large bibliography in English about the shadow it seems that the has had little effect on the conscience of the majority of people. A statement that surprises as it comes from a psychologist, as not everybody reads English, not everybody has a comfortable life to devote their time to self-growth and exploration of the psyche, and those who have, aren't always interested in digging down into themselves and exploring their psyche.

The rendering for kindle, at least in my device, shows some signs of automatic conversion to digital format, as some hyphenations related to line breaks are left in unnecessary places, and some spacing necessary in the text is omitted and two words appear joined or the punctuation without previous space.

> p. 31 resumiento should be resumiendo.

Everything is Teeth by Evie Wyld & Joe Sumner

, 6 May 2017


Everything is Teeth is a memoir of childhood that narrates Evie's fearful obsession and fascination with sharks during her summer holidays in Australia.

Sweet and gory at equal doses, the story transported me to the fears and monsters of my own childhood. In a way, this memoir is also a horror story as Evie had a powerful imagination and a special liking for the gory details of shark attacks.

We see a bit of Evie's adulthood, life goes on, she gets older, her family does too. I found this part beautifully captured on paper, but also a bit hurried; I kept wondering, does she still go to Australia? Does she still have a fear or not? How did her fascination with sharks evolved?

Jose Sumner does a terrific job at conveying Evie's memoir with originality and versatility, using different techniques, styles and colour schemes. Most of the book is drawn in a very sweet mix of black, white and vanilla hues, but Evie's imagination and thoughts are drawn in black, grey and mauve, while the shark attacks are depicted with almost realism in full splendour and plenty of red.

This is an original lovely graphic memoir, and really enjoyed it. I think it is good for teens and adults, and children not so much, but perhaps under parental supervision.

I read this book in the hard copy version. It is quite large in size, very well bound, so one can open it in full without difficulty, and the paper is really thick and strong. A great edition.

Kill My Mother: A Graphic Novel by Jules Feiffer (2014)

, 1 May 2017

I had many expectations about this book, mostly because of the ratings and praise received. I'm a usual reader of graphic novels, of those that aren't of super-heroes, so I approached this book with excitement. Unfortunately, my excitement was short-lived.

I love clean imagery, polished drawing, detailed clean scenes and and minimalist landscapes. I like creative lettering and vignetting.  I always  prefer graphic novels with limited amount of words because, when there are too many bubbles in the page, they become overwhelming; one of my joys when reading graphic books is delighting at the artwork, so if there are too many bubbles, my enjoyment decreases.  I love stories that are fun and entertaining, but always favour those that make feel, think or both, and those that have great characters. I love full-colour gorgeous colours, black-and-white, and sepias of a certain hue. 

If you read the above and browse the book you know by now that I was set for disappointment.

Feiffer's is certainly a great artist, and this work has many elements to praise: His ability to do amazing things with simple pen traces and basic watercolour is incredible. He portraits movement with easiness, captures the vibrancy of life in the streets with conviction, and reproduces the ambience of the Noir movies an the  1940s-1950s with accuracy.

Having said that, I had a great difficulty finishing the book. The sketchy jazzy convoluted drawings, the hyper-filled pages, the use of redundant text and bubbles, the overall hues and tones used create a noisy feeling that I did not find enjoyable. The graphic depiction of the characters is confusing, and not polished enough either; most women in the book look alike, who is who? I kept asking myself.

This would have not mattered if the story and the characters had been better. Unfortunately, none of them  is likeable; except for Elsie, they are all really bad people: selfish, angry, manipulative, deceiving, abusive, egocentric, liars,murderers, and so on. there is not enough humour to counterbalance the overall wickedness of the characters, and not enough background for us to understand their erratic behaviour. this is especially the case with the character of Annie because, in the last pages of the book, she comes with an explanation for her behaviour with her mother, the explanation and her sudden change of heart felt psychologically and narratively is not credible. Needless to say, some of these characters are quintessentially Noir, but the balance between hero-villain is missing. I watched tons of American Noir films in my youth, read classic Noir novels, and in them there was usually a sort of soulful human being; when there was none, some of the bad guys would show a bit of soul, or we would learn something that helped us to understand why they turned out to be that bad. This does not happen here. Elsie is a naive good-hearted character, but she is the only good person in the story.  

This review is about my experience and feelings about the book, so if yours are different, good for you. I'm not saying that Feiffer is not a good artist or the novel is not good. I'm saying, that I did not like it or enjoy it. 

I read this book in the  hard-copy version. The book is really good quality, great binding, which allows readers to open the book easily and fully, thick soft paper and mate printing.

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins (2013)

, 28 Apr 2017

The Gigantic Beard that Was Evil is an awesome comic book. It has all those elements that make any comic to need of capitals because it has high standards regarding the quality of the Art and an unusual but poignant story. 

Stephen Collins has a great drawing technique that mixes naturalistic drawing, illustration an vector-like images with cartoonish characters. Everything is drawn with precise lines, very tidy even when the story gets messy, but the use of charcoal pencil gives it texture, softness, chiaroscuro and warmth. I absolutely loved the framing and compositing of the vignettes and lettering, and how the text spreads organically throughout the page and the vignettes in unconventional ways. 

What makes this book special to me, is that it has that little-something that elevates any graphic book from the cute and fun quality on to the excellent and timeless quality, and that's the story and the narrative. The book is well written, with a very concise and precise style, and takes readers into a humorous slightly Kafkaesque ride.  

The Gigantic Beard... is a wonderful brilliant fable about how Society and Culture react to change, differences and "the other". It shows how Society fears people who are different because, by being so, they question the values and ways of life on which the majority stands; so Society will react badly to any person who deviates from the standards regarding behaviour, sexual orientation, gender role, or religious beliefs.

At the same time, it shows how Society hates and fears any transformation that shakes its core and questions its foundations. Surprisingly enough, History proves time and time again that, once those changes occur and the interrupters provoke the change, Society will come to recognise how important their disruption was for Society to advance; yet, Society criticised, ostracised, mocked, persecuted and/or killed those very people who were the engines of social change. Just two examples. The impressionist painters of the 19the century and the cubists and abstracts painters of the early 20th century were heavily criticised, disregarded and their talent questioned,  but hey are the masters we all admire nowadays. The suffragists of the early 20th century were ridiculed, jailed and considered crazy for saying that women had a brain and were perfectly able and capable to decide and cast a vote on their own. 

Finally, the story also tells us that, at times, change begins with one person changing, the rest will eventually follow up. 

I read this book in the hard-copy edition, which is great. Very good quality thick grainy paper, well bound so one can openly comfortably without worry, and it's really durable.

I loved this book and the artwork. Original, enjoyable, thought-provoking and wonderful black-and-white Art.

A Wrinkle in Time. The Graphic Novel by Madeleine L'Engle & Hope Larson (2012)

, 22 Apr 2017

This is a graphic adaptation of L'Engle's classic book, originally published in 1962. It tells the story of siblings Meg & Charles who, with their recently befriended Calvin, start an unintended time-travel adventure in search of the siblings long-time missing physicist father, Dr Murray.

If you grew up with this novel, you will certainly approach this graphic adaptation and the whole reading experience very differently from how I approached it, as I read this novel as an adult and have no childhood emotional attachment to it.

The first thing I noticed about this novel, unaware of the original publication date, was that the kids and society shown in the story don't know the Internet, don't have mobile phones, tablets or super-duper  gadgets, something that millennial kids might find odd. However, this novel is wonderfully imaginative, fun, and is embedded with values and lessons of which any pre-teen or early teen will benefit: 
> It is OK to be different, you have to accept yourself the way you are right now. 
> You should not care about what other people think of you, and don't give them power over your own inner voice to dictate your self-worth. 
> Having a family that is different from the norm is OK, as long as the family unit is filled with love and the right values.   
> You have to learn to accept your part of responsibility for your own actions.
> Part of growing up involves you loving your parents but also finding a voice that's distinct and separate from them.
> Sometimes you have to trust people who are more mature than you, and need to believe that they know better.
> When you grow up, risk-taking is unavoidable. 
> You have to learn to be an individual, still being part of a community without giving too much power to your individuality or the power of the community.
> There are things in life that cannot be explained, but are real.

The novel also captures things that are very important when  growing up and approaching adulthood: the power of mateship, the value of trust, the first love, the importance of having a father and/or authority figure in your life. One of the most interesting parts of the novel is the visit to Planet Camazotz, as it teaches young readers important lessons: the difference between individuality and selfishness, the difference between a society in which the individuals are equal and have the same rights, and a society in which everybody is demanded to be and behave the same without deviation from a standard imposed over them; there is also a nice reflection on what true happiness is.
This is a science-fiction fantasy novel, so if I had read this in the 1960s, I would have been thrilled. However, this is year 2017 and it is a bit dated, to me. Science-fiction has had an amazing development and revolution since the book was written, mostly due to the proliferation of amazing original films, of our gaining knowledge about what is possible and impossible in Science, and because of the unbelievable world changes derived from the digital revolution. Modern readers have a more-scientific accurate idea of what time-travel implies, what makes possible life on other planets, and of other scientific facts that were unknown or poorly known at the time L'Engle wrote this book. Having said that, I found the concept of a five-dimensional Universe really brilliant. In the end, this is a fantasy novel, so let our imagination go wild and imagine the impossible.

I enjoyed the graphic adaptation of the book. I cannot comment on whether this is a good adaptation or not as I haven't read the original. The graphics are rendered in black, white and sky blue, which is a pity, because I thought this would have been a wonderful book to have it full colour, as the characters' facial expressions would have benefited and be more powerful, and some of the landscapes depicted would have been awesome  in colour. However, Larson has captured the spirit of the novel, the characters' personality, and the 1960s flare. I especially loved Larson's rendering of Aunt Beast, the in-between time-travel transitions, and the depiction of events happening in the narrative past.

Overall, this is a lovely book for children approaching adulthood, as it is  both fun and wise. As an adult reader, however, I found this graphic book OK, not too exciting and a bit outdated. If your experience is different, well, good on you :).
A feature film based on the novel will be released in 2018.