[ Best and Worst ] The Beauty and Beast Within

When CanaryTheFirst invited me to do a guest post, I was excited. Then she told me the topic (your “Best and Worst Reads Ever”), and I almost broke out in a cold sweat.

It’s not that I don’t have a best read ever. Of course I do. It’s just that… well… it’s something I’ve never shared with anyone before.

See, my best reading experience had very little to do with the book, and everything to do with the experience of reading the book.

First, let me tell you about the book. It’s a tiny little thing, only 162 pages long.

It’s The Sacred Prostitute by Nancy Qualls-Corbett, a treatment on the Eternal Aspect of the Feminine, published by Inner City Books. A friend gave me the book because he knew I was writing a novel involving the Sumerian goddess Ishtar, but I was having trouble bringing her character to life. I had very little information on her that wasn’t dried-out fact or archeological evidence.

I had never heard of Jung before.

The title and nature of the little book embarrassed me. I didn’t want to be seen carrying it around, so I covered it with nondescript wallpaper. Now I could read and be amazed incognito.

Once I agreed to write this post, I wanted to find my copy of The Sacred Prostitute. I started digging through my boxes of packed away books. It took a while, but–there! It was like finding an old friend or a favorite stuffed animal, its wallpaper covering now worn and yellowed. That little book took my world-views, and turned them upside down–or rather, right-side up.

I know, I know…what’s the book about?

(Just so you know, I’m having pitch-slap PTSD…)

The Sacred Prostitute by Nancy Qualls-Corbett

Qualls-Corbett tells us about the historical goddess representations of Ishtar, Inanna, Venus, etc., and explains how sexuality and femininity were once valued aspects of society. Next, she delves into the psychological archetypes of the sacred feminine and how the perception and denial of sexuality influences our societal evolution. The book ends by touching on how we might reconcile the very concept of sexuality with our current belief-systems, mainly Christianity.

Cracking open the cover of a tiny book ushered an entire paradigm-shift in me as the reader. It was an awesome light-bulb moment that changed how I viewed myself as a woman. I was raised to think of sexuality as a dirty topic, off-limits, not discussed. When I went to college and learned a little of the Freudian perspective, it pretty much reinforced that negative view.

Jung’s concepts, though–now that was something altogether different. The author’s treatment of the topic of values, societal attitudes, and the advent of Christianity and patriarchal codes…it made me feel glad to be a woman.

It set me free.

***

My worst reading experience is going to be a lot easier to describe.

At first I wondered, how does a person have a worst reading experience? Why not just fling the book out the window if it’s that bad? After a bit more thought, I realized I did have a bad experience, once, with a book I’d read from cover to cover.

I cursed the author the entire time I was being sucked into a world I didn’t want. That book was…

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

I didn’t want to have anything to do with this book to begin with. I knew of King by reputation, and as far as I could tell, wrote about the things I was more comfortable not thinking about…but stupidity reigned over common sense.

“Dr. Louis Creed and his wife Rachel chose rural Maine to settle his family and bring up their children. It was a better place than smog-covered Chicago — or so he thought. But that was before be became acquainted with the pet burial ground located in the backwoods of the quiet community of Ludlow.”

It’s that pet cemetery that brings their dead cat back to life–but the cat comes back different. Wrong. And it’s that pet cemetery that calls to Doctor Louis Creed when he loses his toddler son. He can bring the child back to life, but at what cost?

The cost is too high.

Now, it’s not that the book  isn’t well-written. It is. And that was the problem. Once I’d started, I couldn’t put it down. I wanted to put the entire story out of my head, in fact, but I couldn’t. And then I was angry with myself afterwards for finishing it.

Books like Pet Sematary illuminate the worst nightmare of all parents–the main character’s son is killed by a semi-truck when he runs onto the highway. Then King takes it a step farther and preys on the pain of the parents who want so badly for their dead child to live again.

It is not a book I’d ever want to revisit again.

***

Conclusion:

Now that this essay is written, I’m amazed to see that there is a tie-in with my best and worst reads. As Carl Jung unveils and gives life to the mysteries of human psyche and desire, skilled horror writers like Stephen King prey on them.

It would seem that I prefer the unveiling to the exploitation, but I think that in reality, all best-sellers capitalize on that exploitation of secrets. It’s what make us, the readers, tick.

But that is a topic for a whole ‘nother editorial.

That’s my best and worst—now it’s your turn. Do you have a book that tilted your world onto a new axis? 

You can find more great writing by Madison at her blog. Click away, canaries!

[ Book Review ] In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

In a Sunburned Country by  Bill Bryson; if you think the going is rough, you’ve never been to Australia

Take-home messages:

  1. Australia doesn’t make waves. Except for swimming and drowning.
  2. Australian aborigines are quite remarkable. Except they’re criminally ignored.
  3. Australia has a lovely biosphere. Except it’s been trying to kill people since white settlers stepped on its shores. Quite successfully too.
  4. Australia’s history is full of crazy people who do great things. Except it’s usually by accident.
  5. Australia is full of potential. Except people don’t actually have much of an idea of what’s out there.
  6. Australia reminds Bryson of the 1950’s. Except dryer and bigger.
  7. Australia is quite lovely. Except– well, no, it’s just quite lovely.

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[ Book Review ] Short Review of a Short History

The Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson 

Read by Richard Matthews

Take-home messages:

  1. Hell hath no fury as two scientists bickering.
  2. Science consists of scientists bickering, feuding, and/or driving each other into obscurity or suicide.
  3. In the large scheme of things, the existence of humanity is a monumental accident and a rather fleeting millisecond.
  4. People are really rather terrible.
  5. People are really rather terrible for the planet.

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[ Book Review ] History for the history geeks, Russian-style

Russia under the Old Regime by Richard Pipes

(The second edition)

With this book, I am taking a brief break from light space opera and diving into a more substantial text. Russia under the Old Regime by Richard Pipes offers a comprehensive  overview of Russian history from its state formation during the first millennium AD to 1880 — the decade when “the ancien regime in the traditional sense died a quiet death.” (xxi)

Through frequent contrasts with Western Europe, Pipes draws the reader down the chronology of the rise of the Russian empire and the forces, internal and external, that shaped its history. For me, this books stands out for the attention it pays to building the foundation for an understanding of Russian culture, from the geographical and climatic conditions, to the Mongol takeover, its legacy, and the presence and quality of the Christian Orthodox church.

Rather than presenting history as a series of discrete events, Pipes stresses social, economic, and political connections as it presents a continuous narrative. However, this is a historical text, heavy with detail and tangential asides, shifting from the historical narrative , the etymology of “Russia”, to the manner in which terms like “patrimony”, “despot” and “feudalism” are (and whether they should) be used to refer to the Russian Empire and its organization.

The book is not an airplane read, nor is it, despite the dry wit that is occasionally apparent in the narrative, a light piece of nonfiction. I would not recommend this to someone who has no prior interest in either history, Russia, or the Soviet Union.

That said, the book is well written, and if you have any interest in Russian history, it is a must read.