I read. A lot. Last year I read 65 books, the year before it was 60, and this year I’m hoping to make it 75. I’m working on #27 now, so my odds are good. I thought I’d start doing book reviews some Tuesdays.
This is the first book I was asked to review for Moon Books, a Pagan publishing company. I’m grateful to Nimue Brown for getting me into this in the first place. Writing these reviews is not a paid gig, but I’m a sucker for free books. Luckily this also means I’ll tell you what I really thought of the book.
I volunteered for this particular book because it sounded unusual. It was, but unfortunately not in a good way. I very much wanted to enjoy it and mostly did not. My complaints are far more focused on the structure and editing of the book. This review debunks the specifics of the book better than I can. I’m just not as well versed in the history of anthropology and archaeology as the aforementioned reviewer appears to be.
The whole book started on a weird note; Studebaker opens by throwing into doubt the very connections she plans to explore. I immediately began to question why she was writing the book in the first place if it was so unlikely that there was any connection between Mother Goose and the Goddess at all. This did not bode well.
My central complaint about this book is that she has a major case of confirmation bias. Studebaker so desperately wants to believe her theories that she’s made an entire book out of it. Despite saying in nearly every chapter that the evidence for what she’s talking about is sketchy at best, she continues to write and insist upon connections that she herself disproves. The book has an air of being a serious scholarly book, but is written up like a conspiracy theory. You know, the “the CIA is hiding everything and also there’s a microphone implanted in your toilet” kind of thing.
Like other reviewers, I was puzzled as to why she didn’t provide illustrations. A hefty section of the book is dedicated to describing images that she could have just included. The reason provided for why illustrations were omitted – “Since this book is published in ebook as well as hard-copy format, it includes no illustrations” (xii) – was downright absurd. I feel like ebooks have been able to handle illustrations for at least five years. If they had been included, I think the book would’ve been more credible for it. As it was, the lack of illustrations only served to confirm my suspicion that her research was sloppily done.
The thing is, once I did google images of Mother Goose, I began to maybe kinda sorta see what she was talking about. But what’s the number one rule of writing? Show don’t tell. That’s what I wish Studebaker had done. I might have been more willing to buy her arguments. As it is, she spent too much time describing her evidence instead of just including it, and too little time bolstering her argument.
Two highlights for me were learning the history of the world “spell”, and her chapter on turning fairytales into rituals. The former was a mere digression, but a worthwhile one. The latter was creative but didn’t match the academic tone of the rest of the book. I think if the whole book had been written in a less academic style it would’ve been more believable. Being a recovering academic, I can spot improper use of academic prose in a heartbeat.
I saw this book as a work of theory that was flimsy at best. Unfortunately, it seems to me that the author bills the book as a work of proof based on factual evidence. By doing so, I think she weakened the strength of her points. Studebaker clearly started this book believing she was right and despite presenting evidence that had been discredited, didn’t really support her theories, or outright contradicted her, she ended the book still believing she was right. A serious academic tome, this is not.