by Lisa Taylor of Writer’s Block Party posted March 27, 2012.
I just want to share with you a sample of the description given for this book on amazon:
“In this impressive and varied collection of creative essays, Mathias B. Freese jousts with American culture. A mixture of the author’s reminiscences, insights, observations, and criticism, the book examines the use and misuse of psychotherapy, childhood trauma, complicated family relationships, his frustration as a teacher, and the enduring value of tenaciously writing through it all. Freese scathingly describes the conditioning society imposes upon artists and awakened souls. Whether writing about the spiritual teacher, Krishnamurti, poet and novelist, Nikos Kazantzakis, or film giants such as Orson Welles and Buster Keaton, the author skewers where he can and applauds those who refuse to compromise and conform.”
When I first read about this book, I got the impression that it would either be wonderful or terrible. Either the author would be intelligent enough that he could effectively and from solid ground “joust with American culture,” or he couldn’t and the book would read as a giant whine-fest that lacked credibility. As you can tell by my rating, he clearly has the brains to back this book up.
Now, I didn’t agree with all of his essays, but agreeing isn’t the point. Where would the world be if we all only read or listened to things we agreed with? Other times I agreed so strongly that I slapped the book down on the table in the break room at work and cried “Thank you,” or laughed at the accuracy of his sometimes extremely entertaining name calling. As I read I often wished Mr. Freese were sitting there next to me so that I could make counter points and discuss his views further. What better kind of non-fiction is there?
This book doesn’t have a specific genre. The author discusses everything from generational problems in education, to human nature and living in the moment, to the horrid hypocrisy of book bloggers (and yes, I quite enjoyed that one!) Growing up, I spent many hours in philosophical, scientific and logical conversations about many of the same topics with my father. As an adult, often in conversation with others I will mention a concept, like the purpose and illusion of religion or the horror of a teacher who says “Don’t worry about that, it won’t be on the test,” just to draw confounded stares. I often forget that most people did not spend their childhood philosophizing late into the night, and I feel like many of the ideas in this book will be novel to them. If you’re one that likes to contemplate the world around you and question even the most basic assumptions…this book will spark all kinds of things for you to think about. But if you are one who DOES NOT take time to contemplate the world you live in…you NEED to read this book. It may very well plant a seed to help you grow in ways you never imagined.
Let me caution you though – this is not a book to CONVINCE anyone. There are no lists of facts to support views, there are no step by step logical arguments. I honestly got the impression that Mr. Freese couldn’t care less if I believed him, and that is partially what made his book so compelling. His essays use emotion as much as reason to make his point, which at times annoyed me; not necessarily because emotion is bad, but because one must always be vigilant to ensure their emotions aren’t manipulated to a view point that does not actually make sense to them. (think of any politician’s speech…ever.) That distrust of emotional appeal may be as much a flaw in myself as much as the book, though. Most people LIKE emotion, and this will be a positive for them and help them relate to otherwise abstract concepts.
The book reads like a piece of art. His writing is complex and tiered so that meaning upon meaning can hide inside the words for you to explore, and yet it reads smoothly. I generally take a long time to read non-fiction because every chapter or so I have to stop, process, take notes, think and otherwise LEARN what I have just read. I think I read This Mobius Strip of Ifs faster than any other non fiction book I have tackled, because it read artistically; not like a science book. It drew me in as any good fiction novel does. Was the grammar perfect? No. Were there misspellings? Probably, although usually it was hard to tell if a word was misspelled or just invented. These things didn’t matter though – it reads like a conversation, and he is very well-spoken.
This book deserves more than one reading. I’m certain that in one pass I haven’t gleaned all or even most of what Mr. Freese has stored there for me. But instead of it being a chore, I am already looking forward to the time I read this book again…I’m willing to bet you will too.
As a side note, a möbius strip is basically a ribbon or strip of paper that is twisted once and then glued together at the ends. It is a simple thing to do, but a very interesting mathematical concept in that a line drawn from one end to the other will go around the ribbon twice before meeting its beginning. It is a concept often used in higher mathematics, chaos theory, and fractals and it is startlingly relevant to this collection of essays. Attempting to understand the world around one’s self is a bit like trying to understand chaos. Our lives and who we are is a culmination of an infinite number of details and exact circumstances at every instant. Any alteration in these could have yielded unrecognizable current circumstances. As his title suggests, we cannot truly come to understand how and why the world is how it is, (the culmination of a möbius strip of ifs) but only approach understanding through constant growth and analysis of our life and ourselves.