I very often procure new reading materials from the fine folks at amazon.com. When researching a title I am interested in, but don’t already know a great deal about, it is my custom to consider any attendant reviews of the book that are posted there. As a rule I tend to immediately eliminate from consideration the 5 star (highest) and 1 star (lowest) ratings and focus on the remaining 2 through 4 star appraisals. (The 5 star ratings often tend toward giddy hyperbole in the positive while the 1 star reviews, should they be even remotely germane, skew regularly toward a cynical hyperbolic opposite. I find neither suitable to the making of an informed purchasing decision.) Depending on the genre and topic of the title in question I weigh, among other things, the relative merits discussed regarding the author’s grasp of the subject matter and ability to elucidate their understanding, readability and writing style, and the reviewer’s overall impression and comments on the book. While I might over the years have deprived myself of some otherwise satisfying reads by rejecting them on the basis of a generally unfavorable aggregative assessment, I cannot recall ever being particularly disappointed in a book chosen intuitively and with the aid of an assemblage of lucid favorable critiques.
I have noticed of late a tendency in many lower-rated reviews to include the seemingly disparaging assertion that the message of the book under consideration could be distilled down to a single sentence (or two) and that the book is, therefore, not worth the price of purchase or even the time required to read it. Though the intent of the reviewer might be to sound a warning, such a pronouncement engenders a likely unintended response in yours truly; rather than serve as an automatic disqualifier, a book that can be accurately described as reducible to a mere sentence or two appeals greatly to my sense of appreciation for fundamentals.
In my own work I take great pains to stress the basics in all that I do. While they may not be sexy or glamorous, experience has shown me time and time again that core practices and fundamental principles are nothing if not efficacious. A book that can have its central theme stated clearly and with brevity is a book that I can relate to and usually learn a great deal from.
Our contemporary Western culture seems to confer undue merit upon the notion of complexity. The more involved and Gordian (or so the thinking goes), the more significance and intrinsic value an object or thought holds. Is this always true? Time and experience would suggest otherwise. Sophistication does not demand complexity. In fact, true sophistication often dwells in the realm of the subtle. Simplicity and sophistication are not mutually exclusive.
Returning to the succinctly-themed discourse under consideration: how well does the author elaborate and explain their theme? Is the explanatory meat on the bones of concision lean in constitution and plentiful in amount, or is the greater portion fat, the likes of which truly does do very little to warrant purchase or consumption? Rather than whether the work is elaborately realized or not, it is these concerns that truly matter.
All things are composed of constituent elements. The elemental is the foundation upon which all movement, intricacy, and complexity is built. To find a comfort in and with the elemental is to better position oneself to witness magic.
©Billy Red Horse