The Beauty of Different by Karen Walrond
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’ve been reading Karen Walrond’s blog, Chookooloonks, for a long time. If I remember correctly, I found it via BlogHer when she was writing for them and I was researching blogs. I searched my archives and this was the earliest post I found that mentions her. (It’s a long post; the quote’s at the very bottom.) And, aha! that quote is from BlogHer, not Chookooloonks, so there you go.
Anyway, no remainder table this time around. I found myself with an Amazon gift certificate so I decided to use it to pick up a few of the books by writers whose blogs I read and whose books I haven’t been able to find locally. (I wrote about this topic a couple years ago.)
So, The Beauty of Different. It’s a coffee table book, so let’s talk about the format first. It’s a squarish hardcover with a dust jacket. The size is nice—big enough to show off the photographs, but small enough to hold in your lap. And the quality is good–thick pages, with a shiny-matte finish. Hmm, that sounds like an oxymoron, but nope. Not glossy (that would show fingerprints) and not rough-matte (textured). Shiny-matte. The photographs are clear and bright and the typeface is easy to read. There’s more than the usual amount of text for this type of book, so that’s important.
Onto the content. Like I said, I’ve been reading Chookooloonks for a long time, so I knew what to expect. If you want negativity, you’ve come to the wrong place. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. No, really. Karen has addressed this issue, noting that while her life isn’t perfect, on her blog (etc.) she chooses to focus on good things. I understand this. As I think I’ve mentioned before, I’ve come to realize that when I’m feeling sad/angry/[insert negative emotion here], doing something nice for someone or being grateful for something makes me feel hella better than stomping around ranting about whatever’s pissed me off. Anger is overrated. (Which is not to say you should bottle it up but, you know, let it out, then move on.)
Chookooloonks showcases a wide range of photographs: nature (flowers and leaves and rocks and things), places/travel, still-lifes (shots at home, at cafes, etc.), people (in action), portraits (self and otherwise). One of her ongoing projects is to photograph 1000 faces. These are very up-close (face only) portrait shots. Many of the photographs in the book are this type of photograph. In the book format, many of the faces are larger than life-size.
I enjoy the variety of the photography on her blog and would’ve liked to see that reflected more in the book. The up-close portraits are not my favorite. This is not a comment on the quality; they’re lovely photographs. But– well, there are a couple things. With so many portraits, it’s a bit like looking at someone else’s photo album—if people kept albums of 8×10 head shots. I do understand that the portraits fit with the book’s theme, but I prefer the shots that are pulled back a bit, that show a bit more of the person and their surroundings and aren’t just FACE! While I think the just-face shots are probably very meaningful for readers who know the individuals, pulling back a bit lets those of us who don’t in.
For example, one of the extended profiles is of Patrick (on page 54ff.). His portrait shot is pulled back a bit further than most, showing his neck and shoulders and some trees and sky in the background. I think this was probably done to show his collar (he’s a priest), but this photograph seems more approachable to me than some of the others because his face doesn’t take up the entire shot. But even better are the additional shots that accompany his profile: an action shot of him boxing, a close-up of his hands in boxing gloves, and a shot of the items on his desk (I assume). There is more of a story in these photographs than the just-face shots and I think that’s why I like them better. They give me more reason to linger.
Despite the format and number of photographs, I think the focus of The Beauty of Different is really the text. The book is divided into eight chapters, each focusing on a different quality (individuality, spirituality, imperfection, anxiety, heartbreak, language, adventure, agelessness). Each chapter includes an introductory personal essay, several portraits of different people (each with a quote starting “I’m different because…”), and an extended profile of one person that takes the form of an interview/conversation. There are also a few briefer ruminations at the end of each chapter.
On p. 118, there’s a list (Eight Things I’m Afraid of, but Other People Probably Aren’t). Number 2 is clowns—because they’re horrifying. Indeed. Number 7 is geese. Because one tried to attack her car. I can best that: I was actually attacked by geese and had to beat them off with a magazine. I managed to escape to the car, but not before one bit me. So yeah. Geese = evil. I also liked the bartender-generated list of things to do on a Really Bad Day (p. 150), because it sounds like a list I’d make. The book is like that. It’s like… an affirmation rather than a revelation.