By Lynne Harkes, author of Spinach Soup for the Walls: Finding my spirit in Africa (Local Legend, 2012). Contact Lynne via her website ( or Facebook page, or email

Spinach SoupRecently I received almost simultaneous reviews on my book. One reviewer was particularly enthusiastic and wrote a detailed and incredibly complimentary account of her view of my writing. In the other instance the reviewer was not so complimentary.

Such opposing reviews made me think about not just reviews but of the written word and books in general. Words are never definitive and can only represent the viewpoint of that individual. Even books written by respected and celebrated  authors on their specialist subject should be read and interpreted rather than taken verbatim.

When we are reading, be it a book or a review, we must pay attention to our own internal guidance system. Have your shoulders tensed and your grip on the pages or eBook reader tightened? Is there something contained in the pages that has made you take a deeply relaxing exhalation and given you a feeling of warmth surrounding you? This guidance applies to life in general, but perhaps we are so accustomed to the notion that words are ‘truth’ that we forget to apply our own personal filters to what we read.

Occasionally a book may touch on an issue mirroring our own experience and our guidance system is telling us whether we have come to terms with our situation yet or not. Its very easy to be irritated by an author discussing elements that reflect the reader’s own challenges. It’s also easy to be lacking in patience when reading about issues that we resolved years ago but which someone else is currently grappling with.

It’s wonderful that opinions vary in life and that some things stir individuals differently. I do think that we can learn much about ourselves, however, by making sure we read mindfully and notice how literature makes us feel. Perhaps we should consider exploring in greater depth what our internal guidance is telling us whilst words are under our eyes. I always feel we are in this life together and can glean a great deal about ourselves, particularly the nature of compassion, from the honest writing of others.



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