Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence by Gary Mack with David Casstevens, 1/5
Determined to develop a healthier mental approach to martial arts competition, I started this book with an optimistic attitude and pencil in hand, committed to completing every exercise and buying into the inevitable inspirational cliché or few. How unprepared I was for the relentless barrage of banalities I would encounter! Every exercise (and they were exceptionally few) was eye-rollingly familiar and the text was a hodgepodge of quotes and borrowed anecdotes that descended into the utter madness that can be found on page 198…
So what happens on page 198? Well, firstly, the author states that “His [Kurt Warner’s] bags-to-riches story is as inspiring as the song I play for athletes at the end of every training session. The song, by Mariah Carey, is titled Hero.” … Let’s take a moment to process that statement. A legitimate counselor of sports psychology habitually inflicts a Mariah Carey song on his clients for its raw motivational power? Really? Every training session? That song? Do they sit there with eyes closed for the full 4 minutes, absorbing all that sweet 1990s inspiration, or does it play on his phone as a sort of alarm to mark the end of a session, or is it background music for a hasty exit? The more you think about it, the less sense it makes. And the less sense it makes, the more it starts to throw into doubt literally everything else the author has to offer.
Just two sentences later, the unfortunate reader encounters this clunker of a paragraph: “Competitive sports can bring out the best in people. Instead of playing small, they overcome their self-doubts and fears. They let their light shine. They find courage, which is the opposite of discourage, and tap into their reservoir of potential. Reflect a moment.” The author means for us to reflect on moments of personal heroism, but instead, let’s focus on the much more interesting question of how the phrase “courage, which is the opposite of discourage” made it into print.
By the end of this book, I had lost so much faith in author Gary Mack that I became curious about his academic qualifications (conspicuously absent from the author bio). From his obituary, I learned that he did earn a Masters of Counseling Psychology, but what I find far more impressive is that he built a credible career in that field without have a single original thought! Perhaps it is a common failing, though. The next sports psychology book in my to-read pile (Champion’s Mind) was written by a PhD, yet peeking out from under the dust jacket flap was a note from a fellow, disillusioned library user: “Terrible–a bunch of slogans strung together by poor writing. Skip this.” Thank you, kind stranger. I shall.
Why I read it: lent to me by a gym friend.
Shakespeare’s Fingerprints by Michael Brame & Galina Popova, 1/5
This is one of the most ludicrous books I have ever read and I could not stop talking about it to my poor husband, who also had to listen to a soundtrack of shocked snorts, giggles, gasps and groans as each page revealed some new absurdity.
The authors disagree with the scholarly consensus that William Shakespeare was a common actor from Stratford-upon-Avon, instead believing that his name was used as a pseudonym by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. The most convincing basis for this belief is a timeline of biographical events from de Vere’s life that seem to be referenced in Shakespeare’s plays and poems (assuming these works are semi-biographical, which the authors in no way prove).
Unfortunately, any reasonable and interesting points are obscured by inane literary analysis using criteria so broad that it soon loses all meaning. The authors start by claiming that Shakespeare’s use of certain common letters and combinations (e.g. o, vo, wo, vvo, eo, ver, fer, fair, etc.) should be interpreted as a purposeful play on the letters and sounds in de Vere’s name and title–a “fingerprint” clue to the author’s real identity. Not satisfied with co-opting such a large number of very common words to support their hypothesis, they then proceed to compare Shakespeare’s writing with other literary works of the time, identifying any similar metaphors, phrases, topics, rhyming word choices, poetic forms, even basic grammatical structure, as “proof” that de Vere was the real author. Ultimately, their tortured reasoning forces them to conclude that de Vere used no less than 37 pseudonyms (many representing real people who were alive at the time) and was single-handedly responsible for the development of 16th-century English literature.
Frustratingly, the authors focus on fluffing up ridiculous arguments with academic terminology in an effort to sound erudite, meanwhile studiously avoiding the performance of any real research that would prove or disprove their hypothesis. I really can’t emphasize enough how absolutely embarrassing and ridiculous the end result is. It’s difficult to write a review because the more detail I try to include, the more we fall down the rabbit hole of insanity. By keeping my analysis fairly short, I am not over-simplifying their arguments, but portraying them in a better light than they appear after closer examination. Still, I can’t resist giving two specific examples of what the amused reader will encounter. At one point the authors analyze the adjective “sweet” thus: “sweet ≡ sv veet ≡ seventeenth Vere” (99). Even the title Much Ado About Nothing is proof of Edward de Vere’s authorship in their eyes, since “Ad is most plausibly a play on Ed, the nickname of the genius lurking behind the Shakespeare pseudonym” (8). Insanity!
Oh, and if you are wondering, as I did, how not just one but TWO academics from the University of Washington could be behind this book, it might help clear things up to know that they were married at the time…
Why I read it: I bought it greatly discounted at a used bookstore many years ago.
Convoluted Universe: Book One by Dolores Cannon, 1/5
In retrospect, I should have known better than to attempt to read a book on any topic written by a self-proclaimed “investigator into the paranormal through the use of hypnosis.” However, I succumbed to the back cover’s tantalizing promise of “metaphysical ideas that border on quantum physics,” thinking that perhaps the old saying it’s the message, not the messenger, was applicable. Alas, I was too optimistic.
In the interest of fairness, I persevered through 113 punishing pages of unmitigated nonsense, presented in the form of interview transcripts with two hypnotized women. The first woman claims to have been a medieval prince in a past life, who was taught the “real” history of earth by an extraterrestrial being. Her story focuses on intergalactic political intrigue and alien visits to earth throughout history, during which they supposedly imparted knowledge and intermingled with humans. There is nothing remotely plausible about these outlandish ideas, which read like standard sci-fi fare, presented in a tedious Q&A format.
Even poorly written sci-fi was more bearable than the interviews with the second woman, who does an absolutely terrible job of pretending to channel alien beings. Her acting is cringe-worthy and she artlessly strings the author along in an attempt to obscure the fact that she has nothing of value to communicate. Here’s an example from pages 99 and 100:
D: Are you listening to someone?
J: (Her voice sounded more normal.) Yes. It’s somebody that wants to speak to you, but they can’t talk English, and I can’t talk that. And we’re trying to figure out how to do it.
D: Can they have someone else communicate it?
J: They’re looking. They’re talking. They’re having a little discussion. They’re in the corner. It’s like they’re trying to decide.
D: Tell them we’re running out of time here. I really want to get the message, because they were giving me instructions. (Confusion) Maybe they can relay it to someone else who can give me the message.
J: That’s what they’re doing. (Softly, as though talking to someone else.) Okay. (Big sigh.)
D: Are they ready now?
J: (Another louder voice.) Perhaps.
D: Because I have no way of knowing if I’m breaking any regulations, if they don’t instruct me.
J: (She started to talk, then cleared her throat, as though the being had to adjust to her vocal cords. The next voice was definitely feminine and softer.) There have been no regulation violations. But we would caution you to be extremely careful in your casual discussions of the phenomenon. You must be careful with whom you share casual information. There are sensitive areas. It is important, I repeat, just casual information and sharing is not allowed. You have done well, and we are thankful. One of the problems could be the nature of the information, and the timing. It is not a matter for everyone to know everything. You are very good at being able to determine who should know what. That is a level of your expertise that allows us to work with you well. It is not a matter of trusting or not trusting you, as much as it is a matter of timing. Time to know, time not to know. So, whenever you are given information in the future there will sometimes be instructions not to divulge it, until you are given further instructions. Perhaps you can find a way if it is necessarily crucial to something on which others are working, to advise them. But do not divulge your source. We will be orchestrating their knowledge, so that anything that is shared with others will be of a nature that it is preapproved.
Throughout, the author does not seem concerned with establishing even the pretense of plausibility and her interview techniques are atrocious, clearly meant to assist her subjects in their inventions. The so-called secrets of the universe that these women are meant to possess are nothing but sci-fi cliches and it is telling that, in both cases, the women made great efforts to get in contact with and work with Cannon, who made herself available to them only sporadically. If, as she claims, Cannon was receiving “lost knowledge” and “allowed to have the answers to any questions [she] wished to ask” from these women, it is odd that she was unwilling to go out of her way to meet with them, and prioritized speaking engagements and mundane entrepreneurial activities over receiving information that, if true, would be of infinite value.
All of this might lead you to wonder, as I did, how such a ridiculous book could come to be published. It turns out that the author literally started her own company (Ozark Mountain Publishing) because no one else would touch her work. The fact that she was forced to go to such lengths would be an encouraging statement about the survival of common sense amongst readers, if it weren’t for the fact that, for some inexplicable reason, Cannon managed to develop a following of people who took her seriously and continue to propagate her bat-shit crazy legacy even after her death.
Why I read it: It came up in conversation with my massage therapist.
Slain by the Doones
Slain by the Doones by R.D. Blackmore, 1/5
I love the old classic Lorna Doone, so I was very excited to spot what appeared to be its sequel on the shelves of a small, local thrift store. Unfortunately, the book turned out to be a collection of terribly-written short stories, only one of which had a connection to Blackmore’s earlier (and much better) novel. I have read a lot of late 19th-century literature with no comprehension issues, but I found some parts of this collection quite difficult to understand, presumably due to the author’s use of then-trendy references and short-lived terminology. While it’s understandable that the passage of time can be less than kind to certain writing styles, there really is no excuse for the lame plots that made these short stories a chore to get through. At least it’s pretty, though!
Twilight of the Idols
Twilight of the Idols, or, How to Philosophize with a Hammer by Friedrich Nietzsche, 1/5
Nietzsche’s opinions are as monstrous as his ego and as depressing as his life. With supreme self-confidence, he makes sweeping statements about human nature, existence, and philosophy, while generally avoiding any in-depth analysis or reasoning that might substantiate his sensational claims. His writing is so bizarre and baseless that I felt compelled to look him up on Wikipedia and try to figure out why on earth he gained so much credibility in the philosophy world. The exercise was unreassuring. It seems that Nietzsche’s primary life experiences were academic, he was socially isolated, addicted to drugs, extremely resentful of his religious upbringing and was actually residing in a mental institute when this book was published. Not exactly the sort of person you’d want to turn to for theories about life, the universe and everything. Usually, I’d try to write more specifically about the contents of this book so that I could remember it, but in this case, I’d be more than happy to forget that this particular collection of ravings even exists.
Why I read it: Recognized the title while browsing in the thrift store.
Four Novels of the 1970s
Four Novels of the 1970s: Fifty-Two Pickup, Swag, Unknown Man No. 89 and The Switch by Elmore Leonard, 1/5
I made it most of the way through the first novel in this collection and, while I admired the film-noir mood and punchy dialogue, eventually gave up because it was just too R-rated for me. Given that I enjoy watching a lot of R-rated movies, this might seem strange, but there’s just something about books–I get a bad feeling from reading things in print that wouldn’t phase me to watch on film.
I suspect that Fifty-Two Pickup might be one of Leonard’s roughest books and I might have had better luck with some of his more comedic works, but I just don’t feel motivated to give them a try at this point.
Why I read it: Got a batch of Elmore Leonard books out of the library to read, starting with his 10 Rules of Writing.
The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm
The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm: A Lexicon for Those of Us Who Are Better and Smarter Than the Rest of You by James Napoli, 1/5
If I didn’t know the definition of “sarcasm” before starting this book, I’d soon come to the conclusion that it means “cringeworthy attempts at humor by an amateur stand-up comedian as he bombs his first gig.” I suffered through the entire “A” section before coming to terms with the fact that there was no earthly reason to continue reading.
Why I read it: it was a gift from a family member years ago.
The Child from the Sea
The Child from the Sea by Elizabeth Goudge, 1/5
This tedious attempt to legitimize the relationship between King Charles II of England and Lucy Walter, one of his numerous mistresses, is painfully contrived. The dialogue is stilted, the characters unlikeable, the romantic scenes unbearably sappy, and the whole thing suffers from a pervasive moral ambiguity that causes painful cognitive dissonance. For example, Lucy and one of the king’s good friends have a one-night fling that results in pregnancy, but according to the author “both had the gift of a dedicated loyalty” and “were faithful to the core” (473). I guess I’m just one of those who “would not have understood, if they could have seen it made visible, the quality of the integrity that despite their failures gave such distinction to Lucy and her lover” (473). Integrity?! Is this backwards day?
Despite constant attempts to make Lucy appear the victim of malicious gossip, the political climate of the times, and her own big-hearted, “Welsh” emotionalism, I felt that even the author no longer liked the main character by the end of the book. And that was the romanticized, fictional version of her…
[Why I read it: my friend, Alison, passed it along to me, [rightly] thinking that I would enjoy the Welsh references.]