Category Archives: Nonfiction

The Hero With a Thousand Faces

This looks like it was scanned on an old copy machine.

Where have you been, Kassie? That’s a very good question. I’m living in the UK! Fatherland of Great Literature and I find myself (as a student) with far more time to read than I had before in my crazy busy life in southern California. So, I thought I’d dip back into this for my own enjoyment. It was hard to get myself to sit down and read for long stretches of time (if you can believe it) I kept thinking there were other things I should be doing. BUT I managed to knock out The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell in just over a week. This book was first published in 1949. I was reading an edition from the 1960s borrowed from my school library because, well, poor student – but it served its purpose. I know there’s been more recent editions published so some of my criticisms may have been addressed in subsequent editions, but we can’t all be high-rollers. This book is fairly dense so I will try to keep to short and make it go down easily.

I have a basic familiarity with Joseph Campbell (and by basic I mean I sat through 6 hours of DVD interviews with him) and I have to say a lot of his theories and ideas I think are something that would come to any enthusiast for other cultures/mythologies/religions (you’re talking to the woman who picked up a volume of Finnish folks tales and dabbled in Journey to the West FOR FUN). The ideas that all mythos are interconnected in some great psychological, cosmic (I almost said “cosmotic”) way I think is valid. Although he uses a lot of Freud and dream analogy as evidence for this idea and I think you’d have to be quite a Freudian to go along with some of Campbell’s arguments in that area.

I do love the idea of the monomyth – that there’s one great overarching story we share – and a similar hero’s journey cross cultures. By the end of the book though, I’m not quite convinced he’s gotten his point across that man uses this to find religion in himself: “It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero . . . every one of us shares the supreme ordeal–carries the cross of the redeemer . . . in the silences of his personal despair” (391).  The conclusion is something I get but I don’t know that he’s spent enough time in his text arguing that point and using the evidence to support it. I think Campbell may have stretched himself too thin. This book is dense with research into folk tales and the traditions of other cultures. He may have served his purpose better by choosing fewer examples to give an easily distracted reader, such as myself, more to latch onto.

Now, I’m no feminist, but Campbell hardly references the female journey or “coming of age” rites in this book as well. Granted, he’s a male writer who really wasn’t considering this – which is fine – not really a criticism of him, but if he’s going to apply a universal message to the end it might have been good to see more of the feminine aspects of the societies he analyzes. His does his best to give fair play to the female (and even bisexual) roles of male/female dichotomy in mythology and it’s not his fault women throughout time have mostly played an ancillary role in some of these stories. Still, this is a point worth noting as I am reading this from the opposite perspective… even though most of my heroes are men.

His Catholic roots also show through great deal in this book, more than I think he even realizes. I had to laugh in the DVDs I was watching when he seemed so anti-established religion at times and then called for a return to traditional (I think even Latin) Catholic ceremonies in an effort to call humanity back to ritual which he seems to think is the backbone of order for future generations. I thought, “What a snob you are Joseph Campbell!” To wrap this up, I don’t think this book brought on any major revelations for me, but you can tell it’s fairly exhaustive and Campbell brings up a lot of good points about the interconnectivity of mankind, our search for glory and purpose, and our efforts to understand the world around us for eons and eons. I would love to see someone write a counter to it since it seems these ideas have gone relatively uncontested for so long.

The Age of Edison

The latest in newer non-fiction that I’ve read is the title The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America by Ernest Freeberg. I was pleasantly surprised at the readability of this book. Non-fiction sometimes has the uncanny ability to be dry and make even the most interesting topic seem boring. Freeberg’s style and his choice to focus on the socio-economic effects of the advent of electric light in America made for an interesting read (for me, at least.)

15792102I will say, if you are looking to read a book which focuses more on the inventor’s perspective, then this probably is not the book you’ll want to read. Freeberg gives a necessary overview of key players in the development of the electric light which, I am sure, is by no means exhaustive. He provides just enough information to keep the casual historian informed.

I enjoyed it mostly because it gave a glimpse into the world at the turn of the century and the mind scape of the American people, the rise of the electrical engineering trade, and the snags and pitfalls in developing our nation’s electric grid. Overall, I’d recommend it more than most best-sellers. I read it on my Nook.


Quiet: The Power of Introverts In a World That Can’t Stop Talking

The perfect word to describe this blog for the past few months (4 months?). Not to say I wasn’t reading. I found this book Quieton Goodreads on a “Best Books of 2012” list. Being a self-diagnosed introvert I was interested. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain is fairly self-explanatory and Cain does a great job of initially breaking down the “types,” introvert vs. extrovert and exploring the “extrovert ideal” on which we have placed a premium in America.

I would say she started to lose me around Chapters 5 & 6 where the book becomes more specific to introverts in the business world and public speaking. Two areas which are very specific to Cain’s fields of interest. She funnels her research here so narrowly into one particular zone of stock markets and Wall Street that I found myself wondering, “Am I still reading the same book or did I fall into a history of recessions in America?”

By the time she returns to her the more general survey of research with which she started she seems to have lost some steam. In “Part Three: Do All Cultures Have An Extrovert Ideal” she doesn’t quite address “all cultures” so much as she addresses the Asian-American culture. I would like to see at least one other comparison. The first part of the book is the strongest. Cain is more meticulous in backing up her points with good research. By Part Four the final chapters seem to promise more than they give.

“Chapter 9: When Should You Act More Extroverted Than You Really Are?” shows some interesting examples of introverts coping in an extroverted world, but again she zeroes in on the business world. I guess it’s good that she’s writing what she knows and she’s probably speaking to a great majority of Americans. Overall, I did enjoy it and it was an interesting study. Her passion for the subject definitely shows. A companion book on extroverts would be interesting.