Monday, March 5, 2012

Soulpancake: Chew on life’s big questions (Speak your mind, unload your questions, figure out what it means to be human)

By Rainn Wilson

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II

This is an impressive book — not a great one — but it is striking.  The artwork throughout is awe inspiring.  You can just sit back, turn the pages, and be mesmerized by stunning impressions.  Each page (or every-other-page) is full of astonishing, colorful, provocative, thought-inducing, and, in some cases, shocking images.  What I had fun doing with each image was to simply try to imagine how the artwork related to the quotations on the page.  In some cases this was easy; however, in some it was, indeed, a challenge.  In many cases, the relationship was remarkably creative.

What I found most unique in the entire book were the first six-and-a-half pages where Rainn Wilson introduced himself and his life’s journey.  I found it honest (as honest as a reader who doesn’t know Rainn Wilson at all can determine), straightforward, attention-grasping, and interesting.  If you are wondering how Rainn Wilson determined life’s essential questions, or what he reads and what he has experienced, or even how he became a spiritual being, he tells you.  

If you want a taste of his humor, he talks about the time when he and Phil (a friend) were watching a Mets game in Phil’s ramshackle apartment and Rainn told Phil about his “recent conversion to a belief in Wakan Tanka.”  They wanted to put his new belief to the test and the Mets were down 5-4 at the bottom of the ninth inning.  Rainn held up his arms in prayer and said, “Oh great spirit Wakan Tanka . . . If it is your will, please allow Darryl Strawberry to hit a home run and win the game.”

As soon as Rainn finished his prayer, THWACK, Darryl Strawberry “hit a two-run homer, and the Mets won.  Phil and I looked at each other, jaws dropped. . .” (p. iv).  Now, that’s enough to make just about anyone a believer (in Wakan Tanka!).

If the artwork doesn’t spellbind you, then the quotations will.  They are delicious, to say the least.  On average, there are about two or three quotations per page in this 205-page book.  The range of authors (for quotations) is broad including Mahatma Gandhi, Ambrose Pierce, Benjamin Spock, James Joyce, Aristotle, Viktor E. Frankl, Albert Schweitzer, Alexandre Dumas, George Santayana, Coretta Scott King, Eric Hoffer, Adolf Hitler, Buddha, Franz Kafka, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Bill Maher, William Shakespeare, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Elbert Hubbard, and many, many others.

But, here is the interesting thing about this book.  The artwork and the quotations are really not what this book is all about.  Surprise, surprise!  This is a workbook, and the artwork and quotations are there as catalysts.  That is, they are there as agents to assist in and speed up your reaction to the overall thought on the page.  On page 164, for example, the thought is “Gyrate Your Genius,” the artwork is amazing (objects designed to symbolize storage, tuning, sawing, and massaging), and there is a blank (on p. 164), for your reaction to this: “If the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office can sign off on Chia Pets and the Beerbrella, then what’s stopping you from throwing your idea into the mix?  Step 1: Think of a problem that irritates you.  Step 2: Channel your inner inventor. Step 3: Create a solution.  No matter how far-fetched it seems, sketch it out and name it.”  

On most pages, the questions occur under the heading, “Dig Deeper.”  On page 63, the overall thought is, “What one eye-opening experience should every person have?”  And, on the previous page, the third “Dig Deeper” question is, “What single experience most transformed you?”

I am not claiming this book is one of heavy substance; however, it is, more than anything, exactly what you make it.  You, as the reader/thinker/analyst, bring the “heavy substance” — or not!  If you simply want to look at the pictures and read the quotations, then it will likely perceived as lightweight.  It is as philosophical as you want to make it.  It is as spiritual as you want to make it.  It is as challenging or “deep” as you want to make it.  That is, indeed, what makes this book so fascinating, intriguing, and personal.

I liked Rainn Wilson’s own sales pitch for the book (p. xv).  He said, “The book is fun.  And cool to carry around.  Or put on a handsome shelf.  Or casually leave out on a coffee table as a conversation starter.  Or throw like a discus at the side of the head of an attacker” (p. xv).  How often are you likely to read such a paragraph by the author of a book?

So, where do I stand on this book?  I like artwork, quotations, and challenging questions.  Of course, I prefer more substance; however, I am willing to foregoe my quest for more substance (since I’m unlikely to answer all the questions and fill in all the blanks — bringing the “heavy substance” myself) just to experience such a unique book as this one.  If nothing else, it is just plain fun!

Soulpancake: Chew on life’s big questions (Speak your mind, unload your questions, figure out what it means to be human) can be purchased at

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