This article began as two separate reviews. The more I thought about and wrote about each book reviewed herein, the more I realized that though the books themselves were totally different, my take on them was inextricably intertwined. I can be an absolute purist and review each and every book solely for literary merit, but I feel that we miss the mark when we fail to address how well each and every tome fills its marketing niche.
Both of the books reviewed in the following are less than stellar Tarot achievements. Neither will become a best seller, nor will they become a manual for the Tarot students of the ages. But I feel that both have filled a niche (or are at least valiantly attempting to do so). Both are attempting to reach a specific segment of the Tarot market that has been previously overlooked, downplayed or disregarded. They may or may not be successful, but I heartily applaud their attempts.
Teen Market: Tarot for Teens, by Maria Shaw (Llewellyn)
This book was written by Maria Shaw, whom Llewellyn tells us is both a Tarot expert and the astrologer for the TV Guide Channel . Here is a brief overview of the book:
History – Short, but not full of myths and fantasies. The dates and locales cited herein regarding the earliest appearance of the Tarot are correct according to our current knowledge. Refreshingly, Atlantis, Egypt and the gypsies are never mentioned.
Card Care – I don't like the admonition “don't let anyone else touch your cards”, but to each his/her own.
Make Your Own Tarot Bag – Will be helpful to some. I have made bags for years, but there are many people out there who don't sew and may find this information very welcome, not the least of whom may be the teens at which this book is aimed who may currently be enrolled in high school home economics classes.
Yes/No Reading – Major flaw: This section does not explain what indicates yes and what indicates no! I am not a big fan of yes/no readings, but if you are going to teach them you should make both answers perfectly clear.
Timing Events – Nice idea for a chapter, but this approach is both overly brief and has a huge error on page 27 where it says: “The Court cards can predict the months in which events are likely to take place.” “Court cards” should be “Aces” as evidenced by the simple list which follows.
Spreads – Though I chuckle at the “fuzzy white cloud” (p 29) I applaud the inclusion of the card of the day as a legitimate spread. Of course Ms. Shaw's personal take on the Celtic Cross is included, and though I've seen a zillion of them, I do like her take on cards one through three in which the traditional “significators, you and what crosses you” becomes “person, problems, resolution” (p 36.) Appropriately enough, given the market, there are many romance spreads s well as other types of spreads. My experience in teaching my daughter and other teens to read is that they want to know a little about each card and are eager to learn a lot of spreads.
There are other chapters and I found myself thinking “like this, hate that”. Overall, I would have to say that this book is superficial and overly generalized; broad, but shallow. But that that may not necessarily be a bad thing given the market at which it is aimed: Teenagers with busy social lives and the average attention span of zero plus one. My apologies to all teenagers reading this, but I was a teen once, and what can I say, “Can't talk right now, I have a phone call.”
Conservative Mainstream Market: Tarot for Today, by Joanna Watters (Reader's Digest)
This is huge, folks. Astrologers were around for literally centuries before they merited a sun-sign column in the daily news. Making it into the pick-up talk in the bars of the seventies was hardly a badge of merit, but it did show some mainstream familiarity. “What sign are you?” is far from an original pick-up line, but its familiarity and sheer over-use shows a certain degree of acceptance, if not originality.
I was thrilled to see Readers Digest coming out with a book on the Tarot. As with all of the Readers Digest books, this one is beautifully designed and printed in full color. It's a great coffee table book. Please put it on your coffee table! We want Aunt Maude to see it. She's dramatizing that stroke! She'll be fine.
Now, on to the specifics of this book. First of all, in typical Readers Digest Books fashion, it is beautifully presented. As a student of graphic design, I love the “look” of this book. Great layout. Superb design. Expensive paper and printing. Yum.
Content wise, again I applaud the organization and presentation of the material. One of my most esteemed colleagues hated the book, saying, “There are far too many beginners' books on the market!” Though I agree that beginners' books tend to flood the market, I am willing to consider a book for beginners that specifically targets those beginners (or potential beginners) outside our usual Tarot circle. Readers Digest readers are about as far from our usual circle as one could fathom. I know, my beloved mom is in that circle. We wave to each other daily from the different worlds in which we live. I'm going to give her this book to put on her coffee table where all the members of her bridge group can see it.
In this book each of the cards in the Tarot deck is discussed in the following format: Traditional meanings, the author's personal take, links to astrology and a brief example of how that card works in a real reading. I especially liked the real reading examples. Memorizing a bunch of facts can be intimidating to people of all ages. Illustrating how those facts translate into reality, can make the subject come alive.
Successive chapters include “Becoming a Consultant” which includes two pictures of a reader who looks rather alarmingly like Ms. Cleo, and “Readings in Practice.” The chapter on readings is brief, but it does include some introductory information (remember here that our target is Aunt Maude) on readings in general, yes/no questions, third party questions, etc.
In summation, I have to say that this is one of the few times I disagree with my esteemed colleague. This book is not aimed at the established Tarot market. It is aimed at those who had previously not been introduced to the marvels of Tarot. I think this book has a good possibility of reaching people in that market who won't cross themselves automatically due to programming and run in fear.