Books of the Week: Psychotherapy, Writing, And Voodoo

This year’s reading list is mostly things I need to read for the various strands of my life, and this week’s pile was no exception. That’s not to say it’s no fun: these books are things I’d have chosen to read anyway, and sometimes it’s nice to have a bit of direction. This week’s list consisted of one book for uni, and three books that counted as research for the novel I’m writing. 

Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy by C.H. Patterson

This is one of those ‘overview of the field’ books that are helpful to read when you’re starting training in a new area. Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy was written a few decades ago, and it shows. Whilst some of it is still relevant, if a bit clunkily-worded for a fluid modern ear, a lot of it is outdated and some of it is downright offensive. Homosexuality is seen as something to be cured, for instance, and there’s a particularly harrowing passage in one of the early chapters that includes a transcript of a session with a homosexual client in which he’s being convinced to “try it with the girls” – the counsellor is essentially trying to talk him out of being gay.

Despite its outdatedness I’m glad I read it, because I think it’s important to have an appreciation of the background of the field and how a lot of modern theory is grounded in theories that made problematic assumptions. It made me step back and think about what we pathologise today which we might accept in the future, how prejudices can be deeply woven into the context of a subject area and how important it is to recognise and acknowledge when that’s happening so we can work past it.

So no, I wouldn’t recommend it as such, but I’m still pleased to have read it.

On Writing by Stephen King

This book was recommended somewhere – I can’t remember whether someone told me I should read it, or whether I read about it on a book blog or in a magazine for authors. In any case it came highly recommended, and I thought I’d check it out despite my genre not being the same as King’s. I’ve read a few of his books and while I’ve found it hard to lose myself in the storylines because I find them too outlandish, I’ve appreciated his style and pace.

On Writing is a brilliant book, and I’d be very surprised if it doesn’t make it onto my ‘Books of the Year’ list in December. It’s an excellent mixture of biography, CV and advisory text. Two things that particularly stood out for me:

  • King doesn’t distinguish between life experience and writing experience; both are seen as important for the life of a writer, and I fully agree.
  • At the end is a list of books that influenced the writing of this one, and I liked how King listed all the books he’d recently read that had stayed with him; I am firmly of the belief that it’s not just the strictly relevant books that make a new piece of writing, but also the ones the writer has read for entertainment.

And the passage in which he finds out he’s sold Carrie made me cry in the middle of a restaurant.

Definitely recommended if you’re looking for inspiration and a guiding hand.

The Elements of Style by Strunk & White

I bought this for two reasons: it was recommended in King’s On Writing; and it was short, and therefore cheap.

I loved it, but I’m not sure everyone else will. It’s very precise and very opinionated, and while it’s technically correct all the way through, there are certain points which have moved on since the book’s publication.

If you’re very dedicated to tidying up your prose, and you’d like a reference work you can dip into; or if you’re happy wading through swathes of grammatical pedantry; then you should acquire a copy. I could read about grammar all the time and not get bored, so I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it’s definitely a text for the serious writer rather than the hobbyist.

The Serpent and the Rainbow by Wade Davis

Yup, that’s right. Another voodoo book.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Serpent and the Rainbow: often ‘astonishing journeys’ by middle-class white men into other cultures end up being patronising and culturally insensitive. Wade Davis manages to be neither of those things, and it’s interesting to watch his mind changing and his views adapting as he comes to properly understand the people he’s meeting and the structure he’s studying.

There’s so much rich material here that I could easily write several posts on it – just reading the book gave me ideas for new research projects aplenty – but what I need to say could be summed up in a simple recommendation. If you’re interested in voodoo, particularly from a scientific perspective, this book is well worth a read.

What have you read this week? What would you recommend? 


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