Saturday, July 25, 2009

Undiscovered Gyrl by Allison Burnett

Undiscovered Gyrl by Allison Burnett is a cautionary tale written for young adults about a young girl who keeps a very candid blog, using pseudonyms and changing details to maintain a sense of security while sharing all of her most intimate and salacious experiences. The protagonist is funny and tragic in her self-destructive patterns. The fact that the novel is a collection of blog entries is both its strength and its weakness because the Burnett does a fine job of writing posts that are typical of most adolescent blogs—narcissistic, sometimes tedious, and mostly banal. There is so much potential in this story that is not reached. I had hoped that when I went to the website created to market the book I would find some resources to help the reader deal with some of the many issues with which the protagonist is dealing. Alcoholism. Sexuality. Relationship challenges—both familial and other. Even resources on how to choose a career, a college, find a job, or find help. Whatever. But nothing. Not one resource in the book or on the website that could lend merit to this story. And sadly, had they done this, I might have said, “This book is tedious and the ending is horrid and manipulative but the website makes up for what the novel lacks because it has these wonderful resources to help the reader who might be identifying with or recognizing themselves in the protagonist.” I could have said that and even allowed that most teenagers might not find the valuable resources without first reading the novel; and if that is how a young girl dealing with the many grievous experiences that this fictional girl faces then that makes this book a valuable resource, a gateway to some hope. Instead what we have is a novel that smacks of exploitation with an ending that is so insulting to the reader’s intelligence that I would be ashamed to encourage anyone, especially a younger person, to read it. Had the author or publisher respected the reader’s intelligence and/or tried to meet their needs by providing links or information to helpful resources it might have attained some redemption and I would have happily given it a better review.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Story of O by Pauline Réage

Story of O by Pauline Réage is a classic erotica with an emphasis on S&M and B&D. The sex scenes are predictable, right down to the inevitable voyeurism and lesbian sex scenes. What surprised me is the psychological depth of the novel. Although we never know the protagonist before her inevitable immersion into the alternative lifestyle she has chosen, her growth within the lifestyle never seems shocking or even out of character. Rather, there is almost an inevitable unfolding of her gradual dropping of inhibitions. Whatever titillation is potentially there didn’t excite me. I was far more interested in the non-sexual/violent moments in which Réage explores O’s past and present psychological make-up. The book falls completely flat at the end and it is clear that the author wrote herself into a corner and did not know how to move the story to a natural or reasonable conclusion. I guess most people read erotica for the sex and not for narrative quality but, given the quality of the story, especially beginning in the second part where more of O’s character is offered to the reader’s appreciation, I had expected more. In the end, I found this novel interesting but utterly confusing, not nearly as sexy as I had thought it would be, far more intelligent than I had hoped it would be, and utterly disappointing in how it ends.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Yoga: The Poetry of the Body by Rodney Yee with Nina Zolotow

Yoga: The Poetry of the Body by Rodney Yee with Nina Zolotow is a lovely surprise, a book I would happily recommend to anyone who has been doing yoga either in a class or with dvds and perhaps is ready to go a little deeper to develop a home practice. The book offers more than the expected information about asanas and creating a practice. Filled with poetry quotes, Zolotow’s delightful flash fictions, and discussions between the teacher (Yee) and student (Zolotow) as they discuss their relationship with yoga, with their bodies, and with themselves. The discussions between Yee and Zolotow is where this book excels, going above and beyond the usual yoga practice book. I could feel the camaraderie between the two, the respect and true friendship they had for one another, as they debated and agreed over different aspects of their own lives. Even in the lovely descriptions of the practices, this book proves to be a page-turning delight. I took the time to not only read the text but to do the practices, following along with them to the best of my ability, modifying as necessary. For the most part, the asanas are easy. Early in the book, Yee explains the use of props and you will need them all (blanket, strap, blocks, bolster, even a chair) if you want to do all of the practices. It took me nearly an hour or more to complete most of the practices because most of the time he has you hold the pose for a certain number of breaths so if you breathe slowly the practice will take longer. Be aware, this is a hatha practice. Except for one practice that focuses on the sun salutation, you will not flow from pose-to-pose. I’ve always preferred holding an asana, feeling the subtle adjustments my body makes to maintain the pose and my balance. For anyone who has used and love any of Yee’s DVDs then this book is simply a must-have. For those who are ready to create a home yoga practice, this is a solid starting point and won’t overwhelm with too much information about yoga philosophy or anatomy.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Heart of Yoga by TKV Desikachar

The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice by TKV Desikachar is a wonderful resource for anyone who wants to take their yoga to a new level. While most yoga books being published today are pages of pretty pictures of pretty people doing pretty poses, this book is, by comparison, sparse. The few photos included are of Desikachar’s father and teacher, Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, whose teaching has influenced such well know names in the west as Indra Devi and BKS Iyengar. The book focuses more on the why of yoga rather than the how although the first section does discuss asanas, offering simple line drawings to fully explain the text. The descriptions of the asanas emphasizes the subtle purpose behind each asana. This is not a resource where you will find challenging poses. No in depth explanation of how to do crow or peacock, but that is not Desikachar’s intention. Instead, he offers suggestions, drawn on the teachings he received from his father, on how to modify and adapt more basic poses affording the yoga practitioner an opportunity to truly experience yoga on a new level. I especially appreciated the suggestion to take a pose and begin with a dynamic exploration of the pose before moving into it as a static asana. The rest of the book focuses on the philosophy of yoga and this is where the text especially soars. Rather than encouraging the beginner to try new, more challenging asanas, the beginner is supported to move forward with familiar poses while applying the principles of living yoga in all areas of life. Desikachar discusses the more esoteric ideas—such as yama, niyama, dhukha—before sharing his father’s interpretation and commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. The progression from practice to philosophy to primary text with commentary is perfect. I would highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to advance their practice from the studio or dvds into their own home and heart. The advice given is pragmatic (recommending caution where necessary), provocative (discussing the depths of yoga philosophy in a reader friendly way), and practical (concluding with some suggested practices).