Mays book review(s) are really late!!!

To carry on the therapy theme of April’s book review, I read – or rather, I finished reading The Road Less Travelled by M Scott Peck.

In the therapy realm, I’m told it’s a big deal. It was revolutionary for its time and I think it offered sound advice and support to people facing modern issues, but were still living in a relatively traditional society (that was slowly evolving).

The book was originally published in the 1950s and occasionally shows its age, for instance, when offering marital advice and Peck suggests the husband and wife may ‘swap roles’ so that he might spend time with the children and she could mow the lawn. Yep.

Obviously, there are several reactions to this kind of statement: laugh, get angry, think nothing of it. And while the sentiment frustrates me a little, I like to think of it as a testament to how far society has come since then.

There is however, another section towards the end which becomes very religious in tone – I was told about this before reading the book. I’m not particularly religious but I’m open minded to reading anything.

The only part that really frustrated me stated health related issues such as colitis are psychosomatic. So it’s all in your head. Which it definitely isn’t. Again, I can appreciate that is was ‘just a sign of the times’ but it did bother me.

I like the way the book presents problems, to which there is always a solution – with an explanation as to how Peck reached this point. I found the book relatable in parts, for most of it I felt like a spectator watching (reading) everything unfold in front of me but that’s no bad thing.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in therapy, psychology, spirituality, moving forwards in life or anyone who’s interested generally.

The second book I read this month was Geisha, A Life by Mineko Iwasaki

I like to think I would have read this book at some point, however, it was bought to my attention by The Grown Up Gap Year as part of the #travelbookclub

If you like reading I definitely recommend joining – all you have to do is follow the hashtag on Twitter once a month – we’re next meeting July 6th to discuss The Vagrants by Yiyun Li.

Initially I was looking forward to reading the book as I previously read and enjoyed Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden – initially I found it to be a slow burner but completely loved it by the end.

I found some of the similarities between the two books uncanny, until the book club, where I learnt that actually, Memoirs of a Geisha was initially based on Mineko but her and the writer faced a difference of opinion and so stopped working together.

On reflection, this is particularly interesting as Memoirs of a Geisha is far more dramatic and makes the Geisha lifestyle seem a little… Seedy? Ultimately, the book suggests that a Geisha is an artistic prostitute – in fact, that was my belief until I read Mineko’s book. I believe Mineko tries hard to change this negative misconception and explains where it comes from.

According to a quick Google search, Geisha are defined as “a Japanese hostess trained to entertain men with conversation, dance and song”.

From this, it is easy to see why people might think that Geisha are prostitutes if they’re essentially defined as objects for men. But Mineko highlights that Geisha often entertained both men and women (typically their wives) at functions and events and became friends with their families.

I think the book focuses on several key issues: men (particularly in Japanese society), traditions, personal growth, family ties and strength of character.

I think the issues with men come through via a range of scenarios. Mineko has a positive relationship with her father who instilled in her a great sense of pride and family values, there are strong relationships with other males in her life whom are associated with her profession, but then there are some seriously negative experiences.

Men trying to buy her or attack her (physically). I think the latter presents one of the most harrowing issues highlighted in the book. And the reason this particularly sticks in my mind is because when my travel buddy and I visited Japan, we were really surprised to learn that several carriages on the metro were ‘female only’ between rush hour due to sexual harassment. We found this quite shocking, which therefore leads me to question if this is perhaps a cultural issue?

Another idea associated with men in Japanese society is the notion of affairs or mistresses and how this practice was seemingly acceptable or rather accepted on some level.

Again, I’m not sure if this is a cultural issue, obviously both men and women around the world had, and continue to have, affairs but it appeared to be known and accepted at points in the book. I think the issue is strongly tied to men of/with power, which is an entirely separate issue (or perhaps not).

The concept of a ‘traditional Japanese society’ is known around the world, however, I think the notion has evolved over time.

Mineko was bought up in a traditional society with many rules and regulations and while she conformed to them, ultimately they became like chains to her and instead of guiding her through life, they restrained what she could and could not do. She increasingly became aware of a life outside of the tradition system to which she belonged and wanted more.

Hers was a journey of realisation, of growing up but also of demanding more and questioning the realisation that when you don’t get what you want – do you continue to be unhappy or do you dig your heels in and fight for your beliefs?

This is where her personal growth really comes through and highlights her strength of character – an attribute I greatly admired throughout the book.

In terms of her career she got everything she worked so hard for, except for the changes she demanded. She wanted the industry to change with society and the times but that’s the one thing they didn’t listen to her on.

The end of the book can be likened to that of a bow on top of a present. It neatly ties everything up and although the story is quite condensed, ultimately it is about her life as a Geisha which is where the book begins and ends, with her life thereafter her own. To be completely honest, I don’t know how she managed to stay so motivated for so long. She worked tirelessly and ultimately, acknowledged that things weren’t right.

I really liked this line towards the end: “these fifteen years may have seemed short to you but they have been an eternity for me”.

Throughout the book I admire the fact that Mineko stays true to herself, even when she was – at times – unsure of which direction to take or where she was going. For this, I think she’s an inspiration.

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