A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns (Archie Bongiovanni; Tristan Jimerson)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link

A cute and useful guide.

TL;DR – A whistlestop tour of They/Them pronouns and their use

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Ragdoll Rating: 4.5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Everyone. Seriously, everyone needs to know about this stuff.

About the Book…

This book provides a very fast, bare-bones look at the usage of they/them pronouns and language. Lots of people (including me) use these gender-neutral pronouns, and it can be massively frustrating when people are either ignorant of gender-neutral language and pronouns, or worse, just refuse to use them. This book aims to remedy this by making they/them pronouns simple and easy to use.

What I thought…

I really liked this book, not just because it’s a subject close to my heart, but because it was really well executed. The book contains several pages of easy-to-use diagrams and tables to help make the concepts introduced as simple as humanly possible.

The book covers a lot of important areas, such as; How to use they/them pronouns, Miscellaneous gender-neutral language, WHY you should use gender-neutral language and so on. The content is presented by the authors in comic form, a non-binary hunkbabe, Archie, and a cis man, Tristan. Archie, who uses they/them pronouns allows the reader a real-life look at misgendering, and how it feels to not have your pronouns respected, while Tristan provides a look from the perspective of someone still learning about pronouns and non-binary folk. Tristan even admits at one stage to learning something new as the result of a mistake he made while writing the book, which I thought was a really good thing to include.

The book also briefly mentions other gender-neutral pronouns and demonstrates their use.

Final Thoughts…

This book breaks down a subject which a lot of people consider to be ‘too difficult to bother with’ into bite-size chunks, and demonstrates that gender-neutral language and pronouns are actually not that hard. Buy this book, give it to your friends. ❤

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities (Mady G)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link | Author Website

The book I wish I’d had a decade ago.

TL;DR – A cute, fun tour through the world of queerness

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Ragdoll Rating: 5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Everyone. Especially anybody questions or recently out.

About the Book…

This book is very brief, but very informative tour through the world of identities, labels and relationships. The comics focus on the wisdom of a snail, who teaches a bunch of snail buddies about all the beautiful humans.

The book is broken into sections, each dealing with a different aspect of the queer experience. Each chapter is ended with a little summary comic featuring an adorable set of creatures known as Sproutlings.

What I thought…

As I said above, I wish I had had this book a decade or more ago. Transitioning was the result of years of questioning my sexuality and gender identity, and the whole period was a very difficult time. I still – 5+ years later – struggle with some aspects, and this book would have helped me a great deal.

Obviously I can’t speak for every queer person, but I personally feel that the content of this book is brilliant. It’s really inclusive, covering a wider variety of topics (albeit very briefly in some cases).

The book starts by discussing sexual orientation, and (correctly) declares it to be distinct from gender identity. Then there is a section on gender identity itself, including non-binary identities and the differences between identity and expression. It’s a really good chapter. Then we have a section on asexuality, something I find is often ignored in by a lot of people. The book finishes itself off with sections of advice, covering healthy relationships and coming out. Mady G makes great efforts to point out the fluid nature of identity, talks a lot about spectrums and how labels and concepts can differ from person to person. I think it’s really well done, and you can definitely tell it’s been written by someone with experience of what they are writing about.

I also love the illustrations, courtesy of J.R. Zuckerberg. I admit I’m slightly biased in this regard. If you want me to love anything, make it cute and I’m basically sold – and this book is CUTE. I love the Sproutlings, they are all my best friends and I want to live in their cute little forest. But ignoring my obvious bias, the illustrations are really lovely, they make what can feel like a difficult subject feel easier.

Finally, I want to mention the very last pages. Tucked away at the end of this book are a series of little activities – I assume aimed at the younger audience. Their inclusion is a really nice touch. The activities include, among other things, a section to write a letter to your younger self (something I know a lot of queer folk have found really helpful) and an invitation to design your own Sproutling. I just thought that was really cool.

Final Thoughts…

If I ever get hold of a time machine, I’m sending this book back to my teenage self. This is definitely a must read for anybody who needs a gentle guide into our big queer world.

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Book Love (Debbie Tung)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link | Author Website

The perfect book for the bookworm in your life

TL;DR – A collection of cute comics about loving books

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Ragdoll Rating: 5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Every book lover everywhere.

About the Book…

Book Love is – and this may shock you – a book about loving books. *gasp*. But in all seriousness, this book is a collection of comic strips about books and the people who love them.  It’s about 140 pages of hilarious observations of bookish people everywhere.

What I thought…

I don’t know Debbie Tung, we’ve never met, and until just now I didn’t know she existed. However, we are now best friends because of this book. I don’t make the rules. This book is hilarious from beginning to end. I found myself reading a couple of strips and thinking “That is so me” only to turn the page and find myself in fits of laughter at the next strip.

The observations in this book are SO accurate. I look through this book and if a strip doesn’t sound like me, I know someone bookish it fits perfectly! It’s hard to explain the beauty of a book of comics without any actual pictures – so just take me word for it that the pictures are cute as heck and then read my favourite line.

Happiness for bookworms:
Following your favorite authors on social media and acting as if they’re your friends.

Final Thoughts…

If you are a reader, or you know a reader, get this book. Trust me, you’ll love it.

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: I Wanna Be Well (Miguel Chen)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link | Author Website

Interesting reading, if a bit sweary.

TL;DR – Bite sized chunks of wisdom, spiritual insights and self-help guidance from the punk perspective.

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Ragdoll Rating: 4/5 Buttons

Recommended For: People with a more sceptical view of spirituality, who want to dip their toes in the water

About the Book…

I Wanna Be Well is sort of spiritual smorgasbord, in a good way. Drawing from a range of sources from Buddhism, yoga, the 12-Step program and others, Miguel Chen provides insights and advice, backed up by years of experience practicing what he preaches.

Each chapter takes up a specific issue, for example, breathing, compassion, forgiveness, and explains the concepts with reference to various spiritual traditions and Miguel’s own life story. Each chapter ends with a different practice for you to try, drawn from a number of sources.

What I thought…

I almost gave up on this book quite early on, because if I’m being completely honest, I was thrown by the authors use of swearing. I’m not opposed to swearing, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t swear myself, but for some reason it felt abrasive, and it made me uncomfortable. Having completed the book, I would reassess that position, and suggest that in reality it is just the way the author talks, and this book is written in an informal style to help better engage people who might find all this ‘spiritual talk’ dry and hard to follow if it was written in the style I am accustomed to. I’m still not sure I like it, but I do at least understand it.

The content of the book is actually pretty good. Miguel uses examples from his own life to explain various concepts in a simple and informal way, and offers regular reminders that none of the stuff in the book needs to be thought of as inherently religious or spiritual, it’s just useful things to help calm your mind and help you live your best life.

At the end of each chapter, there is a practice to do, broken down into simple steps and with a tl;dr after each if you just want an overview. I actually really liked this, as it tied everything together nicely. I imagine if you picked this book up and read a chapter a day, or every other day, by the time you finished you would have a really good set of tools to help you cope with life. There are also step by step pictorial instructions for the various sets of yoga practices the book contains, which I thought was another useful touch.

Final Thoughts…

I’m glad I finished this book. The writing style caught me off-guard, and kept me that way, but the practices and explanations contained in this book made that small discomfort worth enduring. Actually, thinking about it, I could have probably done with this book as a teen.

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: When the Chocolate Runs Out (Lama Thubten Yeshe)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link | Author Website

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Ragdoll Rating: 3.5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: People with a little Buddhist experience

About the Book…

When the Chocolate Runs Out is a million-mile-an-hour run through some of the fundamental concepts in Buddhism. In it, Lama Yeshe provides instruction on a wide variety of topics, from Karma, attachment and ego.

What I thought…

Up until the very end, my primary thought about this book was: “Thank god I already know about this!” Somewhere in this book, Lama Yeshe explains that the point of Buddhism and the dharma, isn’t to learn everything but to put things into practice and test ideas against your own experience. This philosophy is obvious throughout the book as Lama Yeshe provides a lot of “What to do?” and very little How or Why. As such, if you weren’t already familiar with some of the concepts, I can imagine this book could be quite frustrating at times, finding yourself unsure of how to do something or why it’s worth it in the first place. Of course the Why is because Lama Yeshe has found it helpful in his own experience, but that can be a difficult position to start from. It’s certainly one I struggle with.

That said, there was a lot of material covered and if you do already have some background knowledge of Buddhism’s workings, then it’s quite a good reminder and a fresh perspective on a number of fairly key concepts.

My favourite part about this book is actually at the end, where Lama Yeshe – very – briefly, runs the reader through a number of simple meditations. This section actually turned the whole book around for me, as the instructions were very clear and and offered additional guidance about our expectations. Good meditation instructions can be difficult to find, either being overly simplistic or complicated, but Lama Yeshe manages to find a good balance between the two that allows the concepts to be delivered and understood without taxing the mind one way or the other.

I think this is a book that perhaps would be best treated as a coffee-table read, the kind of book you dip in and out of frequently. The chapters are short and sweet, and the format throughout lends itself much better to frequent short bursts, compared to long period of reading (which is what I just did, and I finished it in just over an hour).

Final Thoughts…

Overall, my opinions on this book are a little all over the place. It is certainly something I would happily come back to, as I’m sure there is more wisdom contained within than I have taken in during this read-through.

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Interconnected (HH. The 17th Karmapa)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link | Author Website

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Ragdoll Rating: 5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Anybody with an interest in Buddhism, self improvement and global fellowship.

About the Book…

In Interconnected, His Holiness invites us to explore the fundamental connections that bind us to everything else. The book explores all manner of themes, from our environmental impact to our interpersonal relationships. Through a mixture of personal anecdotes, musings and philosophy, His Holiness paints an insightful picture of our place in the world, and how we can improve it by switching our focus to the things that connect us, rather than those that divide us.

This book continues on many of the themes raised in The Heart is Noble. (Book Review: The Heart Is Noble (HH. The 17th Karmapa))

What I thought…

Interconnected is clearly a labour of love. These are the words of a man who truly believes the advice he gives, and follows that advice to the letter. As I have come to expect from His Holiness, this book is wonderfully written, in an insightful, wise and friendly manner.

Probably my favourite element of this book, among it’s many admirable qualities, is the way His Holiness speaks quite candidly about his own life experiences. We are treated, not just to tales from his childhood, but also to difficulties that arise from his position as a spiritual leader. Personal anecdotes are provided often as a demonstration of some of the more difficult elements contained within the book. For example, there is a wonderful passage about how freedom and responsibility are linked, which on the surface could be a difficult concept to grasp, as it appears to be quite a contrast to the common western notion of freedom. His Holiness illustrates this point by imagining he wished to exercise personal freedom, and start a game of basketball in the monastery – an act which would cause many others a great deal of problems, and not just those in the immediate vicinity.

Final Thoughts…

Some elements of this book will be easier to digest if you are a practicing Buddhist, since His Holiness is obviously heavily influenced by Buddhist thinking and refers to it frequently. Having said that, everything in this book could easily be understood and acted upon by anybody, and you certainly would not need to be a Buddhist to take a great deal of positive ideas from this book.

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Illuminating Silence (Master Shen Yeng & Dr John H Crook)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link

 

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Ragdoll Rating: 3/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Experienced Buddhist practitioners, people wanting insight on the Chan (Chinese Zen) path

About the Book…

The content of  Illuminating Silence comes from Master Sheng Yen, a Chinese Chan master. The book contains edited transcripts of the talks Master Yen gave over the course of two week-long retreats in Wales. The talks were given in Chinese by Master Yen, translated by a Mr Ming Yee and transcribed by Dr Crook.

What I thought…

I found this book to be difficult but interesting read. I suppose the only review I can give about this book is based in the fact that I am having such difficulty in thinking of anything – at all – to say about it.

There is a great deal to learn from this book, I am sure. I think the key problem for me is that these are transcripts, offered without external commentary. This means that if you find yourself confused or lost (as I often did) there is nothing but Master Yen’s words to guide you through it. What I’m saying is that this book is not for the faint of heart and almost certainly not for the beginner. A lot of Chinese words remain untranslated, and although there is a glossary of terms in the back of the book, the unfamiliar vocabulary was hard to cope with.

It took me a long time to finish this book, nearly a month apparently, and to be honest I really don’t think I could tell you more than one thing I learned while reading it. That’s not to say I didn’t learn anything, I distinctly remember many occasions where my understanding of a topic was deepened or a new concept was introduced, I just can’t remember what they were. Perhaps something was lost in the translation, or perhaps I’m just too inexperienced to fully appreciate it.

A lot of time was spent dedicated to dissection of a poem, most of which was lost on me. I’m not good with poetry at the best of times, and poetry in translation…eek!

During my reading, I made a note of one line, something I almost never do. “It is not important to get enlightened quickly.” This, coupled with frequent reminder that you still have to practice even post-enlightenment stuck with me, and actually I think this message on it’s own made the book worth reading.

Final Thoughts…

This book is a tough read, and is probably much more enjoyable with an improved understanding of the topic. Perhaps I’ll read it again some day and find it more accessible.

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: The Lady in the Cellar (Sinclair McKay)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link

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Ragdoll Rating: 3.5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Crime fans, Victorian history fans.

About the Book…

A body is discovered in the coal cellar of a boarding house, and the lives of the Bastendorff family are thrust into the national press to be critiqued, analysed and slandered. Who was the mysterious corpse, what had happened to her, and who hid her body in the cellar?

What I thought…

I think this is probably the first ‘True Crime’ book I’ve ever read, and I’m not gonna lie, it took some serious work to get into it. Presumably if you’re big in to True Crime you are used to the line between fact and fiction being trod, the narrative reading like it came from a really good documentary. But I’m not, and it took some adjustment. Having said that, once I switched my internal voice to that of Tony Robinson (of Time Team and Blackadder fame) I found this book to be both enjoyable, and easy to read.

 

The book provides you with the facts of the case, alongside a smattering of Victorian history, which actually proved to be almost as interesting as the plot itself, but then I’m a bit of a history geek so…

The big problem I had with this book was the ending. There’s no spoilers here, it’s an unsolved case so there is nothing to ruin. Since the case is unsolved, the last part of the book is dedicated to what the investigating officer might have thought, if he even thought about it at all. It’s pure fantasy. I have nothing against pure fantasy, but I do have a problem with the only scenarios explored where ones where mentally ill characters committed a gruesome murder. It doesn’t sit right with me that out of the million and one ways the murder could have been carried out, only these two were selected for examination. In great detail I might add. It really spoiled the book for me if I’m honest.

Final Thoughts…

It took work to get into it, and I hated the ending, but I still think it’s worth a read.

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Drawn to Sex: The Basics (Erika Moen)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link | Author Website

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Ragdoll Rating: 5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Everybody and anybody, whether you’ve never had sex or you do it all the time.

About the Book…

Drawn to Sex: The Basics is a brief (but extensive) look into the world of Sex Education. Wise and clever advise on a whole host of important topics is presented with a wonderful array of cute illustrations.

The book is broken up into four sections; Sex the Concept, Doin’ it Safely, Doin’ it With Yourself, and, Doin’ It with Other People. The first section starts with what sex is, consent and so on, and the following sections build from that starting point.

This would be an ideal starting point for getting a deeper understanding of the world of sex.

What I thought…

My first impression of this book came from the introduction, and it caused me to do something I haven’t actually bothered doing so far in the reviewing career. I made a list of positives and negatives! The trigger for this was literally the first line of the book, which read:

“Hello my Dearest Perverts!”

Now, this phrase appears several times in the book, and is only ever used as a term of endearment. Perhaps it is also intended as a way of reclaiming the word, to help put some distance between the ideas that sex is perverted, and that perverts are bad, therefore sex is bad. Whatever the reason, it unsettled me a little…actually quite a lot.

Fortunately, on reading the rest of the book, I completely abandoned the list because there was nothing to properly dislike.

There are so many things to like about this book. I’ll briefly break down the book, then talk about some extras I loved. Obviously am not an expert on sex education (or sex generally) in any sense of the word, so I can’t I just have to assume that the information in this book is factually correct. Having said that, I learned just a ridiculous amount by reading it.

Section 1, Sex the Concept, starts by taking a look at what sex actually is, the various forms of sexual acts, consent and sex positivity. It also tries to advise the reader on how to answer the question Am I ready to have sex? It’s a really interesting chapter, and I was really pleased to see how reassuring the whole thing was. It is made absolutely clear that sex is good, if that’s something you want, and that it’s totally valid and normal if you don’t want sex now, or ever! It also talks about how being sex-positive doesn’t mean you have to be crazy in to kinks fetishes, and the finer points of what constitutes consent.

Section 2, Doin’ it Safely, is all about protection, barriers and contraception. We get a little bit of information about STI’s and the importance of getting tested regularly, including some details about what sort of things testing actually involves. Then it moves on to contraception, starting with condoms. This is probably the best condom related information I’ve read, especially considered the nightmare we were given in school (and if you’ve never heard of the Johnny Condom song, then think yourself lucky…). We also get taught about internal condoms – note, internal, not female, this book is super good at not using gendered terms for things, it’s really trans inclusive which I love. We also get told about things like dental dams and finger cots. Then we get loads of information about forms of birth control, all of which have a list of positives, negatives and some side effects, which I thought was a really good idea. To round off this section there is a chapter on sexting, which I assume is put in the Safely section because it points out that there is always a chance that a sexy pic will be seen by someone other than its intended recipient (and it gives ways to lessen the chance it gets linked back to you), a warning about the legal implications of sexting while under age, and a bit about not how consent extends to pictures as well. Actually the way consent and not sharing other peoples nudes was brought up was really nice to see and well put.

Section 3, Doin’ it with Yourself, is all about healthy exploration of your body, your likes and dislikes and masturbation. This chapter talks about fantasies and how they are normal and healthy, and examining them can help you understand your needs better. But it also talks about how not everything in your head is an actual desire you need to act on, and it says in a non-judgemental way that you can and should find help if you find yourself worried about fantasies. It was a good chapter. Then it talks a bit about the Sexual Response cycle, which I had never heard of but which is basically about how there is more to sex than the orgasm. This section concludes with some advice on masturbation for people with vulvas and people with penises (note that again, there was careful use of inclusive language. This section involves tips on exploring your body, diagrams – both external and internal – of the sexual organs, and a brief look at how sex toys can help with self pleasure.

Section 4, Doin’ it with Others, is all about how sex works with other people. This section takes a look what I suppose are the main forms of sexual contact with others. It breaks down what is involved, how to do it safely,  what to do if things go wrong and all sorts of other good stuff. It includes more diagrams and cartoons, tips and advice and even covers things such as safe and sensible threesomes!

So that’s the content covered, now on to the extra bits I liked.

First off,  is the cartoons throughout. The visual representation of content makes it so easy to absorb and remember. It doesn’t feel cold or clinical or judgemental, it is warm and friendly and  reassuring. The characters featured are really diverse, different races, genders and sexualities. It also includes characters in wheelchairs and with other disabilities, which is something I have not seen in…well in anything if I’m honest. The language in the book is also really carefully selected. I’ve already mentioned how it is trans inclusive, but the book also reminds you from time to time that it’s OK to not want sex, or have a low sex drive.

Ideas such as safe sex, consent and ‘sex should feel good for all involved’ are brought in throughout the book. Each section builds on what came before, providing what I feel is a really well-rounded and detailed look at the subject. Sources are provided whenever statistics are used and wherever the author feels there is more to be said, but not enough space, the reader is provided with websites to look at for further information.

One word of warning, the language in this book is not clinical or…professional seems like the wrong word…it uses a lot of slang words as well as technical terms. As such, this book contains a lot of instances of ‘swear words’, and also cartoons of people engaged in various sexual positions. So this is probably more of a teen+ book…

Final Thoughts…

This book is excellent. I learned a huge amount from this book – I’m not likely to need it, but it’s good to be informed. The comic style of presentation means that this is a book you can easily read in a day and would find it easy to come back to if you needed a reminder. It’s excellent. Read it, give it to your teens and your buddies and your partners. Get informed, bub!

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: The Other Shore: A New Translation of the Heart Sutra (Thich Nhat Hanh)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

A new interpretation of an ancient text.

TL;DR – A skillful breakdown of the Heart Sutra, making an important piece of Buddhist scripture more accessible.

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RAGDOLL RATING: 4/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

I love Thich Nhat Hanh’s work, I find the man totally inspiring, so I’ll read basically anything of his. I read this specifically because I wanted to start reading Buddhist scriptures, and not just commentaries.

The Book…

The book is broken down into several parts. First up, we have introductions to the book and a very brief background to the Heart Sutra itself. Next we have what I suppose technically needs to be classified as a re-interpretation of the text. It’s more or less a translation but with some sections tidied up for better clarity. What follows is a series of chapters, each focusing on a few lines of the sutra, explaining what the text means and how we are to understand it. Then to finish up we have the original text in romanised sanskrit, and then a literal English translation and finally an English version of the text that was used for chanting at Plum Village from the 1980’s to 2014.

What I liked…

This book has Thich Nhat Hanh’s typical easy-to-read style of presentation. The concepts presented in the sutra are difficult and on their own, really confusing. But the text is broken down into sections, never more than a few short lines, and it’s content is fully explained clearly and carefully and allow even a novice reader to take away some important understanding from this text.

The purpose of this book was to clear up some confusion about the common interpretations of this sutra.

This rewording is needed because to say “in emptiness there is no form, no feelings, no mental formations, no consciousness…” is not in accord with the ultimate truth. Emptiness means only the emptiness of self, not the nonbeing of self, just as when a balloon is empty inside it doesn’t mean the balloon doesn’t exists.” Extract, p20

Apparently it is very common to get hung up on the sutra’s wording and get the wrong idea, and frankly having read it for myself I can absolutely see why people would get confused, it is a tough one. However, Thich Nhat Hanh has altered the wording of his translation (hence calling it a reinterpretation) to help clarify some of the finer points. It can get a little repetitive but it the commentaries are extremely helpful in aiding understanding of the text.

What I disliked…

The inclusion of 3 different English translations/transliterations/interpretations or whatever is a little peculiar. The commentaries focus exclusively on the first interpretation, which makes life easier, but I don’t fully understand why the others have been included and unless I missed it, I can’t find any explanation for it either. It’s nice to have more information of course, but 3 slightly different versions of the same text seemed a little unnecessary.

Final thoughts…

This is definitely a book I will come back to over time. I’m sure there are countless things I have missed and not quite understood fully. This book is, as far as I am aware, an excellent introduction to the Heart Sutra and a great jumping off point for the Buddhist canon in general.

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Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!