Saturday, May 05, 2012

This Mobius Strip of Ifs by Mathias B. Freese [ My Reading Journal -1]

This Mobius Strip of Ifs
by Mathias B. Freese
This Mobius Strip of Ifs
by Mathias B. Freese
168 p
Pub. Wheatmark
Essays

I can't call this a proper review since I've not finished this book yet but I don't want to keep the author waiting any longer for the exposure on my blog my review copy has earned him.  So this is the first of two or more rambling musings on the book as my perusal progresses.

Don't you just love this cover?  I know, I know.  Don't judge a book by its cover and all that.  But I do have to admit as any honest person would that sometimes whether or not we pick up a book off the shelf at the library, bookstore or even at home or click on the title for more details on the Internet bookstores depends on the cover attracting the attention of our eyes which dearly love their eye candy.

I'm not shallow enough to judge the content of a book by its cover but for books I've little to no prior knowledge of either title or author I am more likely to reach for it to find out more if the cover is either pleasing to the eye or intriguing to the mind.  And this cover is both.

Add to that the intriguing nature of the title.  The Mobius strip, that endless loop curving back on itself on which a walker would pass every landmark twice before crossing the starting line again.  And 'ifs' that word that conjures up an endlessly bifurcating path or flowchart.  We learn in the first essay "To Ms. Foley, with Gratitude" Mr. Freese is referring to life itself by his title.  Now that would have been the final tug drawing me in if I'd casually picked this up off the library shelf.  I would have checked it out if only to find out more about this man who can create such a visually vivid and playfully pertinent metaphor.

What I've learned so far after 15 essays in 58 pages is that Mr Freese has the heart of a poet, the sense of humor of a stand-up-comedian, the take-no-prisoners, suffer-no-fools fierceness of an editorialist and the incisive mind of a philosopher.  I learned that he is a trained psychoanalytic therapist and that before he was a therapist he was a teacher and over the years he has had short stories and essays published in a variety of venues and has self-published an award winning novel about the Holocaust.

I've learned that he self-identifies as an atheist on a spiritual enlightenment quest, that one of his stories was once published in a 'best of' anthology but mistakenly attributed to another author, that he's lost a mother, a wife and a daughter to untimely deaths, that he has an obsession with exploring the meaning of the Holocaust, another obsession with deconditioning himself from as many of the conditionings imposed by parents and culture as possible before he dies and feels at 70 something that he still has a ways to go on that front.

Why do I dwell so much on the author?  Am I now making an equally egregious error as judging a book by its cover by judging it by its author?  Maybe a case could be made for that if this had been a novel or a collection of short stories as was the last book I reviewed for Mr. Freese.  And if you check my review for his short story collection I don't think you'd find that I dwelled on the author much at all.  But this is a collection of essays that , so far anyway, contain a great deal of personal information and self-reflection so talking about the author is talking about the content.

How is it that I've spent over a month with this book and only made it through 58 pages?  Well partly it is due to having come home at the first of April from my three months stay at my mom's to find a stack of eight review copies waiting for me.  These in addition to three ebooks and two more books I knew were in the mail.  Some of these had hard and fast dates set for their reviews and some, like this one, had been sent before mid February so the clock was ticking on getting them read and reviewed even though when is still flexible.  Add to that the necessity of unpacking from the trip as well as finishing the unpacking from our December move.  And REST!!  Recovering from the stress of the previous four months--five if you count NaNoWriMo in November.

But all of that would have been no obstacle if this had been a 164 page novella. After all, in the month of March I'd read 8 full novels, among them Haruki Murikami's 1Q84, the entire Hunger Games Trilogy, Written in the Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt and House Rules by Jodi Picoult, and Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown--well that last one I didn't quite finish before I left Mom's and it took me into the second week of April to get through the last fifty pages.  3-4000 pages of fiction.  All on ebook.

The fact that they were ebooks that I could control font and line size with contributed some to that accomplishment but doesn't really explain why I couldn't get through 164 pages of essays in a month when I could race through 3000+ pages of fiction in a similar space of time.


It is because I don't read all books in the same way.  I read fiction quite differently than non-fiction.  I read different kinds of fiction differently--I would never race through Tolstoy's War and Peace the same way I raced through the Hunger Games Trilogy. I don't read short stories the same way as novels.  I don't read poetry the same way as any of the others.  Although I can say that the way I read short stories and essays is more like the way I read poems than the way I read novels or treatises, memoirs or history etc.

This is what reading short stories, essays and poems has in common for me:  I do my best to read them in one sitting.  Then I read them a second time--either immediately or after a break of minutes, hours or days--while the first reading is still quite fresh.  Then I move on to something else entirely--answer an email, load the dishwasher, crochet a few rows--before moving on to the next story, poem or essay.  That is because these forms of writing are designed to be held in the mind as a whole thing much like sitting and gazing upon a painting.  The second reading is to ensure that I encounter the beginning and middle with the ending in mind so that the author's intent can be fully appreciated.  And then I sit with it or sleep on it.  Thus I seldom read more than one or two of them in a single day.  Though I might go through this with up to five poems that are under one page long.

That is why it has taken me over a month to read 15 short essays.

Following is a list of the essays in this book that I've read so far.  I was going to go down the list and add a line or two about each one but I think this post is far too long already so I'll save that for my next Reading Journal entry on this title.  Which I hope to be sometime late next week after I'm settled once again at my mom's.  I'm leaving again in under 40 hours for another 5-6 weeks there helping my sister out and have much preparations left to do.

To Ms. Foley, with Gratitude
At 67
Untidy Lives, I say to Myself
Teachers have No Chance to Give Their Best
The Unheard Scream
Introductory Remarks on Retirement from a Therapist
Jefferson
Freud's Cheerful Pessimism
Therapist as Artist: A Short Talk to the Stony Brook Psychology Society
Ten Cannon
Fifteen Thousand Hours
Personal Posturings: Yahoos as Bloggers
An Artist is Never Poor
In First-Person
On Reading Christopher Hitchen's God Is Not Great


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