Tuesday, January 28, 2014

#CBR6 Review #03: Art is a Way of Knowing by Pat Allen

I read this book as a part of my readings for a class in art therapy fundamentals. Personally, I think that this book is more suited to those who have an interest in art therapy, or particularly like the tales of people’s personal journeys. Because that is what this book is: the recounting of Pat Allen’s personal journey once she understands what art can do for her in an emotional and spiritual way. It also lays out some exercises and suggestions as to how the everyday person might come to explore their own soul and life through creating art. But would these tactics work for everyone as profoundly as they did for Allen? Maybe for some, but definitely not for others. That is the nature of art therapy, though, isn’t it?

Art is a Way of Knowing begins with Allen laying out how one can come to explore using art themselves, and as she does so, begins recounting some of the early events in her life. Things come into much more detail once she reaches discussing her time studying art, and finding that she did not understand the purpose of it anymore, only to come across some of the ideas of art therapy pioneer, Margaret Naumburg. It is from there that Allen really delves into telling about her life and how she explored different events of it using art and meditative tactics. These includetimes of depression, the birth of her daughter, and the death of her father.

Allen’s story and journey is presented in an intensely intimate manner, and it almost felt invasive to hear all of these details about her life and what she was experiencing. But that also made it quite moving to be able to share in the experience and really come to know her on a deep level. However, sometimes I wondered how she actually communicates with people in real life: her writing is quite whimsical and has metaphors throughout, particularly those discussing the “river” of the unconscious and trying to reach it. Sometimes I found this to be a bit frustrating, especially when you read about her life so closely and just want her to get help for her issues, which are clearly there, and yet she just keeps spinning the wheels and speaking with fanciful elusiveness.

At the end of the day, I am incredibly interested in art therapy (hence why I am beginning to take courses on it in university), and I too have personally experienced using the art process as a way of healing myself during times of loss. Because of this, I highly connected with Allen’s story in Art is a Way of Knowing. And yet, I can definitely see how some might not find it as interesting, and maybe even find it a bit cloying at times. But if you have an interest in art therapy, or enjoy recounts of personal spiritual journeys (as I mentioned earlier), you may also find that you enjoy this book. Particularly as a quick read, as it comes in just over 200 pages, and includes some photograph’s of Allen’s work along the way (which I must say, are quite diverse and all very intriguing in how she comes to see them).

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read website]

Saturday, January 11, 2014

#CBR6 Review #02: Lucifer, Book 1 by Mike Carey

A graphic novel spin-off from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, following the eponymous Lucifer after he resigns from his post as ruler of Hell to live a life on earth running a small piano bar in Los Angeles. And yet, the business of Heaven just won’t seem to leave him alone, and the question of where he fits into the equation of free-will is present as always.

The first book of Lucifer is presented as a number of seemingly independent stories, that all manage to weave and connect together in the end, and all dealing with how Lucifer essentially becomes a hired-hand for Heaven and other supernatural beings in his post-Hell career: just because Lucifer is not an angel anymore, that doesn’t mean that he can’t work for Heaven, right? And even though he represents free-will, is his rebellion still not a known part of the universe and how it plays out? The angels of Heaven have their hands in all the honey-pots, and despite not wanting to intervene in certain aspects on earth directly, there are certain things that they still cannot allow to happen, and so the omniscience continues through another vein as Lucifer is brought into the mix of things. But of course, all is not what it appears with Lucifer, neither in terms of how he goes about his work, what payment he receives, nor his connection to many of the people that he meets along the way; this includes another angel on earth with a powerful and living deck of tarot cards, a cabaret magician with dreams of making it big, a young girl who can speak to spirits, a demon companion (Mazikeen) who chooses to keep her human face deformed, and even his angelic brothers and sisters (the archangels Michael and Amenadiel, in particular).

What is wonderful about this series is the manner in which Lucifer is portrayed; he is not some mighty, overbearing figure that craves domination over all souls, but a calm and collected man who has his own set of morals. Lucifer often tells the literal truth to people as a means of remaining neutral, and yet it is in this manner that “he lets you find your own way to Hell.” And I think that Lucifer’s position as being neutral and acting for his own gain, while allowing people to make their own choices is impertinent in the discussion of free-will and salvation: if our paths are predetermined and we can be controlled by God or Lucifer or other forces, how can we be judged upon our death as to our place in Heaven or Hell? I don’t know if I’m explaining what I’m trying to say all that well here, but in essence, Lucifer is not portrayed as “bad” per say, but as just another part to a big puzzle. The manner in which the angels are presented as soldiers of heaven who are simply following orders is also reminiscent of the manner in which angels are portrayed in “Supernatural,” though whose orders those are exactly is always a little up in the air (I’m sorry, if there is a connection to “Supernatural” to be made, I will find it).

If you were wondering, yes, Lucifer follows the continuity of The Sandman, and Morpheus himself is even addressed and becomes involved in the peripheries at some points. I’m told that this series also ties loosely into some of the stories of Hellblazer (which Mike Carey has also worked on), and the overall mood of this book was somewhat reminiscent of the feeling I had when reading the first volume of Hellblazer (a series that I’ve also been meaning to keep going with but for some reason haven’t as of yet). The artwork within this graphic novel varied in its interest to me, however, as some parts and artists’ style was more to my liking than others. Also, although I know that the demon Mazikeen's speech is a product of her half-face and mask she wears, but sometimes I found it incredibly hard to understand what she was saying. Am I supposed to know what she's saying, though? Maybe not, but that's just one little sticking point with me. 

Overall, however, I enjoyed this book, and was always interested in what happened to Lucifer once he opened his piano bar after leaving Hell. Questioning theology and taking the stories and characters that we know from it, but putting them into a modern world is always interesting to me, likely leading to my positive reception of this first book of Lucifer. And given that there is a bit of an open-end to it, I plan on delving into the second in the series at some point (I think there are only 2 full books/volumes). If you similarly enjoy that kind of supernatural, heaven-and-hell sort of thing with a bit of a twist, I would maybe give this book a try.

[Cannonball Read main site]

Friday, January 3, 2014

#CBR6 Review #01: The Sandman, vol. 10 - The Wake by Neil Gaiman

I’m not sure why it took me so long to finish Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, after the first volume grabbed my attention and imagination so thoroughly. But slowly, as I read through more installments, I saw that the series was scattered with highs and lows. The tenth and final volume, The Wake, is a somber affair, regarding the events immediately following the “death,” of Morpheus, the Lord of Dreaming. But just like Despair before him, his death is more of a regeneration, if you will, as you cannot kill a concept or the personification of a concept. And yet, people are affected, as are their dreams, and we see characters from all of the past volumes come forth and take part in mourning the death of the Dream King.

There are three issues within the volume itself, which contain the events within the dream world, entitled: Chapter One, Which Occurs in the Wake of What Has Gone Before", "Chapter Two, In Which a Wake is Held", and "Chapter Three, In Which We Wake”. These three chapters include the wake and funeral of Morpheus, who died at the end of the previous volume, The Kindly Ones. Different characters pay their respects and reflect on the life of the Dream Lord, though the eulogies of his family of the Endless take precedence, truly capturing their character’s iconic personas. During this mourning event, we see glimpses of the new King of Dreaming, who appears to be similar, though not exactly the same as his predecessor: kind of like when The Doctor regenerates into a new actor.

After this wake and funeral, we experience an epilogue of sorts, with three different stories being told of different characters who have been influenced by the Dream Lord in one way or another. The first features the immortal, Hob Gadling, who had met with Morpheus for a drink and a chat once every 100 years. He learns from Dream’s sister, Death, that Dream has died, and is offered a break from his immortality as well. The second story deals with an advisor to the Emperor of China, who has been exiled and then becomes lost on the desert. While in the desert, he comes upon one of “soft places” that bridge between the waking and dreaming worlds. He meets Morpheus there, and converses with him, about both the past and the future events to come. Finally, we see the story of William Shakespeare writing, The Tempest, which is to be one of the two plays he writes for the Dream Lord, and also his final play, marking the ending of the words and Dreaming, but also marking some new beginnings. .

Some of the characters and stories from previous volumes I remembered, but others I didn’t, as it’s been a while since I first began and read through this series. That is no fault but my own, and maybe if I had streamlined it a bit more, I would have enjoyed The Wake more than I did, or understood the significance of certain stories and characters more. But as it is, while I loved the mood and slow progression of this volume, I was left feeling unsatisfied by the ending. Maybe the point was to leave it kind of open, to insinuate that nothing ever ends, especially not our dreams, but I don’t know if that really worked for me. The artwork of this volume was incredibly beautiful, and almost sketch-like in quality. I’m not sure if that is really my favourite style of graphic novel design, but that is more of a matter of personal taste. On it’s own, however, I can appreciate the style and detail put into it.

At the end of the day, I enjoyed the Sandman series for its imaginative and original quality, though some aspects I liked far more than others. I can see why it wouldn’t be for everyone, but for those who don’t mind things that are a little odd every now and again, I would suggest giving it at least a try (if you haven’t already).