Saturday, April 24, 2010

Freud for Beginners (non-fiction graphic novel) by Richard Appignanesi & Oscar Zarate

I don't think it's actually correct to call this a graphic novel, but comic strip book doesn't seem appropriate either, and "comic format" seems a bit awkward. So, lacking something better, I'm calling it a graphic novel. I read this as part of a project to read all the graphic novels and comic strip collections that the library I work at has in its collection - I'm hoping to do a little marketing via our blog and a few other places to encourage their circulation. If they start circulating better, I might be able to justify asking our Acquisitions Librarian to buy a few more graphic novels classics (we have Maus and Persepolis, but our collection is so small that I'm sure we're missing other well-known titles) and educational titles (like The Stuff of Life and Freud for Beginners). There really are graphic novels and comic strip collections out there for every kind of library.

Freud for Beginners was something I never even realized existed. This being a book about Freud, there were occasionally images that made me want to cry, "Gah! My eyes!", but, overall, it was an interesting, quick read that I would probably have appreciated even more if I had needed a review of Freud's theories and life. As it was, I enjoyed it even though it's been more than 7 years since my Intro to Psychology class.


This book covers Freud's life, from his birth to his death. It shows how he came up with his various beliefs and theories, and how events in his life and things he learned caused him to modify and add to those theories. In certain instances, Freud's theories and discoveries are laid out clearly in small blocks of text, often making good use of lists, but the bulk of the book uses images (some of which are either based on or taken straight from other sources, if I'm not mistaken - I recognized imagery from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, although I'm not sure where most of the other stuff came from) and short comics. Occasionally, some of Freud's more famous cases, such as the Rat Man, are covered in more depth.


I have to admit, this is a much more interesting introduction to Freud and his ideas than I remember getting in my Intro to Psychology textbook in college. The authors not only clearly state Freud's ideas, they also put them into the context of his life and times, allowing readers to see how and why his ideas evolved. The only complaint/concern I have is that this book is in no way critical of Freud's ideas - Freud and his theories are presented completely, sympathetically as the truth as Freud saw it. Although the book mentions his fall-outs and disputes with some of his followers, particularly Jung, there isn't a whole lot of detail about the particulars of these disputes. Since this is such a short book, I guess you can't expect the writers to cover everything, however - just keep in mind that some things are left out.

One major concern for librarians thinking about buying this for their collections is the imagery - this book is about Freud, remember? Although the imagery could be worse - because so many of them are cartoony, they tend to be more amusingly crude than disturbing - I can still imagine this book making some parents mad if it were bought for a public library's young adult collection. I think it's perfect for academic libraries with introductory psychology courses, though, and the occasional anthropormorphized penises, drawings of vaginas, drawings and reproductions of paintings with sex, breasts, and penises, and the giant pile of poop (pg. 79, "The Anal Stage") might actually be a selling point for some students. The drawing on pg. 92 frightens me a little, though. ::shudder::

A nice feature of this book is the short dictionary at the end that explains various terms used in psychoanalysis - this would be particularly helpful as a reference to students reading this book, because, unfortunately, there is no index. Readers may also appreciate the recommended reading lists at the end of the book - one section covers books by Freud, including the helpful suggestion not to start with An Outline of Psychoanalysis, another section covers books about Freud, and a third section covers books that will help readers further their understanding of psychoanalysis and what others have said about it and in relation to it.

So, overall, I think this is probably a great introduction to Freud and his theories. It's not exactly a balanced look at his ideas, but, for balance, readers could look for books by and about some of the people with whom Freud had disputes.

I wasn't really sure if I should include a read-alike list for this - I mean, what can I say? If you want more books about Freud, get more books about Freud. If you want more educational graphic novels, you might want to try other books in the same series, like Darwin for Beginners, or Marx for Beginners. Ah well, I'll write up a little list anyway.

  • Freud for Beginners (non-fiction graphic novel) by Richard Osborne and Maurice Mechan - Wow, who'd have thought there'd be more than one comic-format introduction to Freud? From the sounds of things, this is not quite as thorough as Appignanesi and Zarate's book, but it's another option for those looking for more in the same format on the same topic.
  • Freud: A Very Short Introduction (non-fiction book) by Anthony Storr - Another short introduction to Freud and his theories. I haven't read this book, but I've read others in the Very Short Introductions series, and I've usually found them to be pretty good - although I don't remember any of them being nearly as interesting to me as a graphic novel. However, this book may provide readers with slightly more details than Freud for Beginners. At the very least, there's an index.
  • Psychology: A Graphic Guide to Your Mind and Behaviour (non-fiction graphic novel) by Nigel Benson - Calling this a graphic novel is probably a bit much - this seems to be even less a "graphic novel" than Freud for Beginners, although "comic format" would probably be appropriate. Like Freud for Beginners, this book takes concepts that might otherwise be difficult to process and makes them go down a bit easier with plenty of images and comics. Those who'd like a broader view of psychology than just Freud might want to try this.

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