Review: Traumatic Realism: The Demands of Holocaust Representation by Michael Rothberg

Traumatic Realism: The Demands of Holocaust Representation
Traumatic Realism: The Demands of Holocaust Representation by Michael Rothberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A truly enlightening book for anyone interested in the memory of the Holocaust and how it has been interpreted by survivors, academics and creatives alike in recent years.

Pros:
– Rothberg’s analysis is straightforward to understand and insightful
– Far from expecting his readers to know the in-and-outs of Maus, Schindler’s List, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (which I’m sure, many of them will), Rothberg takes care to provide context

Cons:
– The initial chapters on realism and postmodernism are complex to read as you would expect on those subject matters but the rest of the book is easygoing in comparison – don’t be put off by them!
– This is personal interest but I would’ve enjoyed the book a great deal more and given it that precious 5-star mark had there been more analysis on how the Holocaust is presented in contemporary culture. Rothberg limits the analysis to several things including Maus, Lanzmann’s Shoah documentary, and the ‘year of the Holocaust’ on Saturday Night Live (in the mid-1990s) and though it’s very insightful, analysing a few more sources would’ve been helpful.
– On a similar note to above, this is personal interest rather than a criticism – the chapter on the Americanisation of the Holocaust was fascinating and I wish Rothberg had written more on the subject.

I opened this book looking for some short and sweet analysis to put in an essay I was finishing that needed to pack a little more of a punch before I submitted it two days later. Instead, I spent a good chunk of that essay-writing time poring over the pages completely fascinated by Rothberg’s analysis of Holocaust representation, particularly his analysis of Maus and of the Americanisation of the Holocaust.

This is an insightful book for anyone interested in that field of research and Rothberg’s thoughts on how the memory of the Holocaust is being used to propagate American values is both chilling and intriguing.
For an academic text, this book manages to be both highly comprehensive and very readable which is a hard balance to manage, particularly when it comes to talking about postmodernism and the effects of the memory of historical events in contemporary culture and politics. It’s well worth a read and I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest, whether casual or academic, in how the Holocaust is being represented and why this representation is of vital importance to its memory and the place historical trauma has within modern society when it comes to commercialism, globalisation, identity politics, and the media.

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Review: Introducing Freud by Richard Appignanesi

Introducing Freud
Introducing Freud by Richard Appignanesi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s difficult to figure out what this book is trying to achieve and what audience it’s trying to pitch to but it’s a good springboard to jump from.

Pros
– Easily the best part of this book is the artwork, it keeps the text engaging and adds a nice touch of humour to the whole thing (plus the many subtle penises hidden everywhere kept it interesting!)
– It can be read in under two hours making this a bite-size way to get a little more familiar with the topic
– The ‘Little Dictionary’ at the back was brilliantly helpful but it should’ve been at the beginning!

Cons
– This is an overview rather than an introduction, I found it quite hard to access and needed a bit of help from dear old Google
– The explanations could have done with more/better examples, I found them confusing rather than helpful
– I get a strong impression that this book is aimed at a psychology/sociology student audience rather than a layman or someone with a casual interest in psychology, despite its title

I found the title of this book misleading – it wasn’t so much an introduction to Freud but a brief summary of his ideas accompanied by very brief examples of them in action and the tiniest mentions of his personal life. Unless you already know what’s going on, it just doesn’t make all that much sense as the explanations and technical terms come at you hard and fast. At the very end of the book, I found the ‘Little Dictionary’ of terms. This added much greater understanding to the book, I only wish the dictionary was at the beginning (or that it was mentioned at the beginning) so I could’ve used it alongside the reading. I do think this would be far more useful as a revision tool rather than an introductory text, there have got to be simpler ways to introduce Freud than this book.
Though the book is short, be prepared to spend some time online digging around for simpler explanations or further examples to the theories that are mentioned.

I’ve now read a handful of books from this series and the comic-book style never fails to disappoint. As I’ve come to expect, the illustrations manage to be funny, entertaining and are a brilliant addition to the text. They really stood out here as the memorable drawings creatively flow with the text to make the whole book more engaging and the complemented the ideas, particularly the more sensitive areas regarding the discussions on incest and the sexuality of prepubescent children as it gave such taboo issues a different degree of approachability. Some of the illustrations were a bit distasteful but if you’re reading anything to do with Freud and you’re not at some point squirming in your chair, you’re probably doing it wrong (or at least, too often!).

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Review: Billy Connolly by Pamela Stephenson

Billy Connolly
Billy Connolly by Pamela Stephenson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Passively interesting but not inspiring, this biography had the potential to be great if it had kept up its pace and had injected just a little humour into Billy’s eccentric life to give it some of the vibrant colour he’s known for.

Pros:
– How much the author, Pamela Stephenson, loved her husband Billy Connolly shone through the entire book, in the more dry parts, it was the backbone that kept the pages turning.
– The book feels heartbreakingly honest.

Cons:
– There was next to no humour in this book.
– The celebrity name-dropping was clunky and felt out of place.
– The book’s pace dropped considerably in the middle.
– The writing can be quite dry and more like reading a Wikipedia page than a biography.
– Though this is very much a rags-to-riches story, I got the impression that all the fame and money was taken for granted, if not resented, by Billy. I’m not sure if this is the accurate impression or just Stephenson’s writing but given her depiction of his youth, I found it disappointing.

Reading this book involved a lot of giving up and returning to it later. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the book, I did, it just felt repetitive and the humour in the anecdotes felt like they were being spoiled by the matter-of-fact writing. Stephenson clearly loves her husband dearly, that shines brightly from the book and is ultimately what kept me returning to the pages after entire months of leaving it on my bedroom windowsill. This can be seen poignantly in the early pages of the book and it any references to Billy’s upbringing, it is dealt with such sensitivity that you can feel the author rooting for everything to be okay.

It surprised me a great deal to learn that Stephenson was a comedian herself as there’s no comedy in this book whatsoever. In fact, even the funniness in the anecdotes wriggles away with the Wiki-style writing. I spent the whole book wanting to feel some of that humour Billy is known for, the humour that the book spends half its pages advertising to us, only for it not to come across in any of the writing, except perhaps, in the very last page. It isn’t advertised as being a funny book in all fairness, but in the back of my mind I just kept wishing Billy was telling his own story instead, or at least alongside, Stephenson’s version as I can imagine him having a far more uplifting take on things. I’d love to see his comments about it or his reactions upon first reading it!

One thing that I did strongly object to was the celebrity name-dropping. It wasn’t so much that it was there, that was interesting to get a glimpse of and the present-to-past chapter openings gave the book some much-needed variety. The problem of it was the specific extracts from their celebrity lifestyle that were chosen – they were dull and a lot of the time you could see that there was so much more to the anecdote that was being shared. This is understandable, everyone needs privacy, but these teasers from the lives of the rich and famous made the text frustrating to read.

On that note, the ease in which Billy suddenly found his wealth and famous friends felt a bit off. It seemed like he took the whole thing for granted and didn’t care much for it. This doesn’t seem quite at peace with his character or background so I get the impression that the issue has either been skated over entirely on purpose or that some ruthless editing was done.
Because of this, the middle of the book is just a complete flop in pace. It gets boring and I was left treading water waiting for it to get more interesting again. Fortunately it does but the lull caused enough damage to put me off rereading this book again or recommending it.

If you are a Billy Connolly fan, you may want to read this if you see it in a dentist’s waiting room or abandoned in some hotel room on holiday. I don’t recommend you actively go out and buy it though, the writing just doesn’t match up to the wonderful charisma of the subject and that’s a downright shame.
If you do read it, it’d be wise to miss out a chunk in the middle, of course you’ll probably end up doing that naturally anyway as your eyes glaze over.
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Review: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Man's Search for Meaning
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A short yet insightful account of a psychiatrist’s observations inside the Auschwitz concentration camp and Frankl’s subsequent views on logotherapy.

Pros:
– A must-read for anyone interested in how the victims of Nazi concentration camps coped both during and after their ordeal
– The second part of the book on logotherapy is insightful and applies what Frankl observed in concentration camps to everyday mental health
– It’s hard not to be in awe of Dr Frankl’s intelligence, knowledge and his work, especially when you consider the trauma he endured during WWI

Cons:
– The descriptions of the conditions in the concentration camps are written for the most part in a very detached and quite report-like way. This isn’t in any way a problem but it might not suit a reader looking for a more personal account.
– The section on logotherapy has a lot of technical language and references to field of psychotherapy that makes it hard to navigate as a layman.

Dr Frankl’s account of the living conditions within Nazi concentration camps is suitably harrowing and insightful. It was immensely refreshing to see a focus on the psychology of the victims and the neglected focus on the immediate aftermath of being liberated from the camps.
This book is a great companion to read alongside Saul Friedlander’s history of Nazi Germany and the Jews as it personalises the victims giving greater perspective on Friedlander’s celebrated accounts. As a history student, I’d recommend it to anyone interested in genocide history as the mindset of the victims relates to a few other first-hand accounts about genocide I’ve read and certainly gives you a greater understanding of how people manage to mentally cope with some of the worst of traumas.
On the same note, this book is an immensely powerful read for anyone undergoing any sort of mental health problem as it underlines an increasingly common cause of disorders. The type of thinking that encourages a person suffering in an infamously horrific concentration camp to find some sort of meaning out of their experience (and by extension, their life) is one all of us could do with learning from or at very about.

If you see a copy of this, make sure you don’t let it slip you by. You might need to do a bit of digging around the internet to get to grips with the aection of the book on logotherapy but it is worth the effort.
The short length of this book makes it a brief yet powerful read that will stick with you for some time.

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