June Book Reviews

j0438678 After yesterday’s bizarre internet problems (DO NOT let you children play Mario Kart online using their Wii!), I’m back with my normal ADSL speed. Ahh… more about this in Wednesday Whiteboard.

But for now, here’s the June Book Reviews.


The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person’s Path Through Depression – Eric Maisel

When creative people try to throw up their hands and resign themselves to postmodern meaninglessness and the illusory nature of meaning, they find they can’t. “Meaning” continues to vibrate in a way that convinces them that, while it may be a difficult and even suspect word, it is not an empty word. Meaning means something, and therefore, an authentic life is possible (pg.84).

This is a book I wish I’d found years ago. In this book, Maisel gets to the heart of the existential depression suffered by many creative people – myself included. When I read the definition of depression in this book, I found myself; my own personal experience of depression reflected in Maisel’s words.

Maisel categorises creative depression as a crisis of meaning: “…for creators, losses of meaning and doubts about life’s meaningfulness are persistent problems…” (pg. 4). Once meaning is lost, life becomes a struggle, a grey line, a black hole. The creative person is immobilised from her work and may remain in such a state for years. To overcome this, Maisel advocates that the creative person become a ‘meaning expert’.  I won’t spoil the book and describe everything in detail; suffice to say that if you’re a creative person who’s suffered depression, who has to have ‘a project’ that gives you authenticity and fills every corner of your life, and periodically suffers from debilitating sadness when these things lose their intensity, then this book is for you.

The good: the book is easy to read, filled with anecdotes and basic psychology. Maisel makes good use of the anecdotes to share insights about this form of depression. He does not claim that this is the only remedy for depression, and he does not tell the reader to give up medication, therapy or spiritual practice. Maisel also looks at why creatives frequently become addicts – this chapter alone is worth the price of the book.

The bad: some readers might dislike the many anecdotes, or simply not resonate with the book. I could understand that the book might just not reflect the type of depression you suffer – not everyone suffers from existential depression. Others might be irritated that Maisel frequently refers to his training program or other books. I wasn’t irritated by this in the slightest. Also, the book is not readily available in Australia – but you can grab it on Amazon (which is where I sourced it).

The recommendation: If anything resonates in what I’ve written above for you, then you will love this book and benefit from it.


The Naked Entrepreneur – Troy Hazard & Maria Elita

Fear steps in, yet again, and is starts to cloud my truth. I’m so angry at myself. I thought I had my shit together, but it’s just so easy to fall back into old habits and let fear take control (pg.169)

Would you read a book by a high flying motivational business speaker and a psychic who calls herself ‘a soul coach’? Probably not. The term ‘soul coach’ is completely sucky. However, when I flipped through this book in Dymock’s, something about the layout of the book as a dialogue caught my attention.

The book tells the story of successful businessman, Troy Hazard, his relationship/life meltdown, and his introduction and ongoing coaching by Maria Elita, a young woman who had also been through a relationship meltdown, a nervous breakdown and a spiritual crisis. It follows Troy’s metamorphosis from spiritual sceptic to dude who’s in tune.

The good: This book is a quick little read for a few hours on a cold Saturday afternoon. There are some gems in the book, such as the opening quote, or: I now know that when you are truly aware and in touch with your truth, it delivers an amazing connection with someone in the same space. There is also the idea of the surrender journal – and instructions on how to write one. The journal-writer in me loved this. There are some great insights into the power of synchronicity and relationships as mirrors. The book’s ultimate message: every moment of your life should be lived from a place of truth, not fear. Ok, so it’s nothing earth-shattering. Shakti Gawain said it 20 years ago, and Eckhart Tolle has said it recently as well. However, Troy really did grow, learned to make time for himself, for reading and for self-study.

The bad: Troy and Maria come across as self absorbed, materialistic prats living a middle class fantasy. Troy flits around the globe, drives a Porsche, lives in a riverfront home in Brisbane. Maria is an ex-corporate wife who had (and still has) more than everything anyone could ever want – including a marriage break up in a million dollar holiday house. Almost overnight, she morphed into a soul couch for what sounds like an exclusively male business class set, and charges $$ for consultations. She too flits about the Gold Coast and other luxe (!) locations in her BMW. After a while, all the flitting and gratuitous reminders of wealth really grated on my nerves. I have a suspicion that the book was not written with an Australian audience in mind.

The recommendation: Buy it secondhand. If you don’t have time to read it, find it in a bookshop. The wisdom is in the last 5 pages.


Bitten By the Bullet – Steve Krzystyniak & Karen Goa

This is a fun travel book about a pair of New Zealanders who buy a couple of Enfield Bullets and go on a tour of Rajasthan (an Indian state, east of New Delhi). Initially, they are cautious about touring in India, but when they return from their tour and the owner of the motorbike shop, Lalli Singh, suggests they start a tour company, their mental gears start whirring.

Steve and his partner, Lily, not only take up the challenge of organising motorbike tours through Rajasthan, they excel at it –with the help of Lalli and his staff. As Gary and I are planning to tour India on a Royal Enfield (motorcycle) in 2011, we both enjoyed this read. If you love India, in particular, Rajasthan, you’ll enjoy this book. The book takes you to some off-the-beaten-track places in Rajasthan and provides a wealth of information for other travellers wanting to explore this part of the sub-continent. Thanks to Jeff Cole, mammalogist, saviour of half-cooked banana bread, and Alice Springs’s best known Royal Enfield owner, for lending us this great little book.

The Good: Discovering Rajasthan’s little-known places, old palaces converted into hotels, temples, culture, genuine respect and cross-cultural understanding.

The Bad: The book is very short and reads too quick.

Recommendation: It you’re a Bharat-o-phile, you’ll love it. If you’re a lover of quirky Royal Enfields, you’ll love it, too.


The 6th Target – James Patterson

This is the first time I’ve read James Patterson. It won’t be the last. I enjoyed the pace, the characters, the mixture of plot lines, and the uncertainty at the end. The good guys weren’t assured of locking the bad guy up. Patterson’s lead character in this ‘Women’s Murder Club’ series is Lindsay Boxer, a lieutenant in the San Francisco Police Department. Lindsay and her pals are the ‘Women’s Murder Club’. Unfortunately, Boxer is another tall leggy blonde, but unlike Linda Fairstein’s Alexandra Cooper, the character’s appearance and girly foibles aren’t a character in themselves. But authors, please, enough of the tall, leggy, single perfect blondes as lead characters. Can’t we have a few short, muscly brunettes or freckly, plump redheads as deserving leads?

Anyway, the novel grabs you from the word go, as a delusional schizophrenic takes a ferry ride with his gun named ‘Bucky’ and goes on a shooting spree. Patterson spares no one, as children are amongst the victims. Intertwined with the plot to catch the ferry killer and then keep him in jail, is another psycho who can’t stand his noisy neighbours and goes on a unit-by-unit elimination of them. Once you get past the half way point of this book, it’s difficult to put down. The good thing is that it’s very easy to read, so you won’t grow old reading it.

The Good: Pace, plot, writing style, switches from first to third person between chapters. That the good guys don’t always win.

The Bad: Like I said above, enough with the super-models as lead characters. And can’t they be mothers, juggling families and children and everything else? Get real, crime authors. Read Janet Evanovich and learn something about creating non-supermodel characters.

Recommendation: A quick read for holidays or to boost the annual booklist total. Get it and escape from life for few hours.


Radha – Diary of a Woman’s Search

“You want God Realization?” the Master continued, “You cannot expect that without giving also. Renunciation is not renouncing your belongings, renunciation is so much more; it is your ideas, your concepts. If He gives you work, He will give the tools also.” With that, he got up and left for the office. Silently I followed him. My heart felt as heavy as a rock (pg.202).

I don’t think it’s possible for me to say anything that hasn’t been said about this amazing book already. The book is authentic, readable, and humble. Sylvia Hellman (Swami Radha Sivananda) was a German-born Canadian who travelled to India on her own in 1955-1956 to undertake a spiritual training and yogic initiation with Swami Sivananda. The book is her diary of the experience, complete with bedbugs, confusion, doubts, joy, love, insight and compassion.

There were parts of the book where I felt like I was receiving teachings direct from Radha or Sivananda – especially in the last chapter of the book (a speech by Sivananda as Radha was about to return to Canada to start her own ashram with no money):

To be peaceful, to be calm, to radiate joy, to have intense aspiration and devotion, to have a spirit of service – this is yoga (pg.238).

This is a beautifully human book. It is simple in its prose, yet profound. I wanted to read the book all over again as I began to finish it. I was left hankering for the continued story of Radha once she returned to Canada with no money and then went on to establish an ashram.

The good: The whole book. The prose, the wisdom, the wit. The wonderful black and white pictures throughout.

The bad: It ended too quickly.

Recommendation: This is a keeper. Get it on your shelf alongside Pema Chodron and Donna Farhi. Keep it near your bedside. This is a book for comfort and inspiration.

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3 thoughts on “June Book Reviews

  1. The Van Gogh Blues…you had me at the title…I’ve often thought I should be more like Van Gogh–I mean, I’ve already got the depression, alienation, and antisocial tendencies, so why not have his artistic drive, as well.

    Otherwise, though, what you describe really does resonate with me. I’ll look that one up. And, once I’m done writing this comment, will read the rest of your post to see if the other books resonate as well…

  2. I’m so pleased to see Radha: Diary of a Woman’s Search on your list, and to see it receive such a positive review. It’s one of the most powerful spiritual memoirs that I’ve read, and I agree that it is amazing.

    As for the continued story, visit the website for Yasodhara Ashram, the ashram in British Columbia, Canada, which Swami Radha founded and which continues to thrive (www.yasodhara.org). Many of her talks and writings have been archived and are available on-line. She continues to be an inspiration…

  3. @Dr Jay: I hope you get the book. It’s worth it. I’m going to treat myself to another of his books once I get my PhD done. Hot Damn!! I’m going to treat myself to an Iphone and LOTS of books once the thesis is off my back.

    @girlwarrior. Thank you so much for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. Thanks also for the info on where to read more on Swami Radha. I’ve checked the website out now, and yes, I’ve found some more books written by her which I would love to read (after PhD thesis).

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