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.