Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood is a well crafted novel, layering stories in slices until it all comes together in the end. Moving from a straight first person narrative to newspaper clippings to passages from a novel written by one of the characters, the story unfolds wonderfully. Where this novel failed for me is Atwood’s use of foreshadowing metaphor. The few surprises there should have been at the end were so heavy handed, the symbolism more a slap than subtle, that I knew every plot twist long before it came. I could say more but to do so would be to include spoilers in this review, something I try to avoid doing. But if the book had not been so well written my frustration with the ending would have made me angry. I think if I had read it faster, had less time to think about the obvious foreshadowing of events and images, I would have been a little more surprised by how the last few chapters reveal the narrative truths. And with all of this, I can recommend this book to anyone who wants a satisfying conclusion, one that grows naturally and inevitably from the content. The final twists may have been predictable for me but if you don’t over-think as you read you may find them surprising and definitely satisfying. I do wish I’d had the foresight to use a blank index card as a bookmark so I could have written down some of the more amusing or interesting lines in the novel. It has some great quotable lines.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Book of Secrets by Deepak Chopra

The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life by Deepak Chopra is one of those self-help books steeped in spirituality that seem to be cluttering the non-fiction best seller lists. That is not to suggest that this is not a good or useful book. As far as these types of books go, Chopra’s is superior to most. Each of the fifteen secrets is given its own chapter. The truths presented have a clearly Hindu slant, although Christianity and Buddhism are included to help support the relevance of what he suggests are things we need to know if we hope to live a deeply fulfilling life. He doesn’t oversimplify the information as so many books are wont to do. Nor does he weigh the content down with too much depth, which for me is a disappointment. I wanted more meat to chew upon and what I found was mostly milky content. I would recommend anyone who reads this book keep a notebook handy. Many of the chapters include writing exercises and, if you find yourself inspired to do so after reading the chapter, you’ll want to explore the exercises as you go along. I did not have a notebook with me. I didn’t especially regret not having one. Probably because I didn’t find the book particularly inspiring, unlike others I have read recently.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Finding What You Didn't Lose and Poetic Medicine

Dr. John Fox is a leader in the field of poetry therapy and is president and CEO of the Board of the Institute for Poetic Medicine. He has authored two books on poetry therapy: Finding What You Didn't Lose and Poetic Medicine. In these books, Dr. Fox shares from his own experience as both a person in need of healing and as a poet who has used his writing to help heal others. He leads workshops on poetic medicine and his books are filled with the exercises he uses in the workshop. The reader is invited to write their own poetry and not just read the examples of past workshop participants, some as young as grade school. There are also marginal quotes that could easily be used as launching pads for journaling or poetry.
Finding What You Didn't Lose is an excellent resource for the person who is not comfortable with writing, who isn't already in the habit of putting their experiences into words, especially into verse. The exercises Fox uses are simple and build upon one another, gently leading the reader/writer through various experiences. Technique-like using metaphor, alliteration, line breaks, etc.-is not the emphasis, although they are mentioned and practiced throughout. Rather, the focus of the text is on simply getting the words, the emotions, the memories, on the page in whatever manner feels most honest.
Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-Making is the perfect complement to Fox's other text as it takes the same ideas but goes further along the path, focusing more on digging into the past to find inspiration for more poems. The idea is to not avoid pain so much as to bring it out into the light and find healing through giving the past experiences meaning through words. Once again, Fox shares examples from participants in his workshop before inviting the reader, through well defined exercises, to write their own poetry.

A Girl’s Guide to Modern European Philosophy by Charlotte Grieg

A Girl’s Guide to Modern European Philosophy by Charlotte Grieg is a summer novel that wants to be edgy. Had this been written and published thirty years or so ago it would have been an in-your-face story, bold and daring. Contemporaneously, it could have been an incisive look into the moors and moods of a particular time in recent history. In the end, it is just another beach book that one can easily read in a day. The main character, Susanna, is torn between two lovers, neither of whom seemed irresistible or even desirable to me nor did they evolve or surprise me in the end. Drawn with broad and predictable strokes, Jason and Rob are the same at the end of the novel as they are at the beginning. Susanna’s friends also never vary from who or what they are at the beginning. Susanna herself hardly surprises and the denouement is predictable, which is why this book falls into a safe summer read. Given the author’s appreciation for music, I had anticipated more allusions to the music of the period. Although there are a few references to music and lyrics at the beginning, this is soon forgotten. Given the title, I also hoped to read more philosophical thoughts, discussions, whatever. Instead, the philosophical content only begins to soar in the third part and by then it’s a little too little too late. The opportunity to elevate a cliché theme to something profound was there; however, it was not fulfilled.