4 out of 4 stars
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“David glared over the edge at the ground far below. The only question now was, “Stay and die, or jump and die?”
When life presents impossible choices, the way we navigate that unknown territory defines who we are. Author Stephen McLeod’s 2019 offering, Read My Mind: True Tales for Cathartic Consumption, follows David from young adulthood into middle-age as he maneuvers through the mysteries of life, love and loss. In 10 chapters of poetry and prose, David’s story unfolds with vulnerability and humor.
Well-read David is prone to consulting the sage advice of the Dali Lama, Nietzsche, and Einstein, not to mention Jim Morrison, whose epigraphs introduce each chapter. The way David meets the world, with nearly simultaneous confusion and clarity, innocence and wisdom, evokes the reader’s feelings about their own search for significance and fulfillment. Trungpa Rinpoche, a preeminent teacher of Tibetan Buddhism who makes an appearance in the book, teaches that releasing suffering doesn't mean neurosis and pain leave us but rather that we learn to manage them better. My impression is that David follows this path as his challenges don't dissolve along the way, but he learns to meet them differently. The poetic imagery subtly shifts with David's transformation. While each reader will undoubtedly interpret the poetry differently, I think most will appreciate, and even learn from, his evolution.
This cross-category book spans multiple genres: biographies; memoirs; literature and poetry; and spirituality. I would call it a poetic memoir. The cycles and elements of nature, sexuality, and spirituality are the perfect imagery to allow this extended metaphor to unfold, as in this stanza from “Speed of Light”:
Each chapter begins with a prose piece, followed by three poems. The author employs a range of formats, rhyming schemes, and meter. This stanza from “Wheel” illustrates a particularly melodic style, containing four stressed syllables per line and a rhyming scheme where the first two and the second two lines rhyme:Shade elongating away from its source
Fingers of night time
Crossing the dream line
Moonlight emerging with spiritual urging
Into the starry abyss
One of my favorite aspects of the book is the author’s clever use of poetic tools. These surprises are at first undetectable but materialize as the reader progresses. For instance, the chapter titles are all adjectives with a rhyming pattern and alliteration that would only be detected by examining the Contents page. The first four chapters are named Surrounded, Suspicious, Confounded, Capricious. To help the reader identify these delightful puzzles, the author provides some subtle visual clues. I found several of them and suspect there may be more. You will have to read the book to discover them!Look and see the billion faces
Smiling babes to basket cases
Disarray of dreams and drama
Spinning wheel of prayers and karma
The entirety of Read My Mind is presented elegantly in terms of formatting, structure and editing. The book’s cover aptly pictures four photos of the same gnarled, mature tree, each photo representing one of the four seasons. While poetry is exempt from many grammar and punctuation rules, this book is spotless and is clearly professionally edited. The subject matter is relatable and, while readers will feel the ambiguity and unanswered questions, the writing is accessible to any adult. I gladly award Read My Mind: True Tales for Cathartic Consumption 4 out of 4 stars. It is very well executed on all levels, and I recommend it to readers interested in poetry and prose, as well as anyone who appreciates serious subject matter handled with rawness, depth, and humor.
Read My Mind
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