Todd’s Review of This Möbius Strip of Ifs by Mathias B. Freese

The idea of a möbius strip is an interesting one.  It’s a surface that has only one side and only one boundary component.  It’s curious because it is so interconnected.  If one were to trace the length of the outer surface with a pen, one would eventually end up at the beginning again without ever having to lift the pen from the surface.  This has a great allegorical value, as you could view life in the same way: one continuous path that twists into itself and ultimately brings you back to where you started from.  In his work This Möbius Strip of Ifs, Mathias B. Freese follows this theme by compiling a group of short stories that he penned over the years, and reflect his musings on various parts of his life.

Freese’s stories take us through the many facets of his life, from his time as a high school English teacher to his work as a professional therapist to his struggles in publishing essays.  Some works are retrospective, looking back on his life (At 76) while others focus on those close to him (The Unheard ScreamAbout Caryn).  Freese often waxes philosophical, and has a great mind for analogy and juxtaposition.  His writings are intellectual and have some wonderful truths interwoven among the text.  It’s hard to pin down an overarching theme that bundles these essays together, but if I had to pick one it would be analysis of self and others.  Freese has a critical eye which spares no expense when cutting to the core of what he feels, whether it be about himself, his marriage, or the goings on around him.

Perhaps I should have seen this coming, then, when I read the essay entitled Personal Posturings: Yahoos as Bloggers.  In its initial volley, Freese compares bloggers to Yahoos, creatures created by Swift in Gulliver’s Travels that exemplify humans in their most basic and boorish form.  He takes specific aim at bloggers who set goals, specifically goals about reading a certain number of books in a specific time.  He labels this “the challenge.”  The crux of his argument against bloggers is their inevitable lack of intelligence and appreciation for literature, where in reading and reviewing for a blog one could not fully appreciate the mastery which is contained within most classic novels.  Additionally, we (as bloggers) cannot stand to review books and give them negative reviews; we would rather not review a book than write a negative review.  Additionally (and finally) he describes blogs as an ego-centric outlet for a blogger to express an innate desire for the world to ogle them and post about every aspect of his or her life.  Of course, Freese does write that he writes this all in hyperbole, but how much of this is exaggerated?  Notwithstanding that this blog does encompass most of these things that Freese professes to hate, I tried to understand his point of view.  Yes, I have seen blogs where reviewers are afraid to write negative reviews.  Yes, I have seen blogs where there seem to be more posts about the blog’s author than about the subject matter the blog was supposedly created for.  However, the one argument that really grinds my gears (Family Guy reference) is the generalization that most bloggers do not appropriately appreciate literature.  Before writing for this blog, I was unaware at the breadth and depth of blogs that are devoted to literature in all its forms.  The staggering amount of discussion (educated discussion, no less!) that is present in these blogs that brings a new and revitalized look into the works of literary giants of centuries of old (Austen, Brönte, Hemingway, Wells, Dickens, etc) is astounding.  These very blogs are what is driving a new generation to explore these works and read them anew.  Yes, we may not ponder and mull the significance of every passing page with a fine toothed comb, but I argue that the spirited discussions that arise from these readings are just as important as the words printed in these novels.  Therefore, after I began writing for this blog and discovering this underground (so to speak) network of literary criticism, discussion, and general celebration of the printed word, I was thrilled to meet so many other people who share the same thoughts and feelings as I have.  That is the point of blogs, to connect those who would otherwise never be connected, whether it be by distance, time, or any other metric.  Blogs have the power to do all this and more.

So, after getting that off of my chest, I’d like to end on a positive note.  One of the essays that I enjoyed the most was Introductory Remarks on Retirement from a Therapist.  It has a great tone of retrospection, where Freese urges the reader to make the most of his or her life.  I’ll end with my favorite quote from this essay:

Perhaps the best inheritance you can give to close ones is the way in which you lived, as opposed to how well you saved and planned.

We cannot have it all, however un-American, during life, after life.  What is obtainable is the intangible, if worked at- the imprint, the impression you make on others, perhaps what we mean as the soul.  In a corporate state this has no value.  So, choose.

3 out of 5 stars

This Möbius Strip of Ifs by Mathias B. Freese
Wheatmark (2012)
eBook: 184 pages
ISBN: 1604947233

Special thanks to Mr. Freese for sending me my review copy

8 thoughts on “Todd’s Review of This Möbius Strip of Ifs by Mathias B. Freese

  1. To be fair to the readership and the author my essay on blogging is just one of 36 essays. The review should not have been so heavily weighted toward an examination of blogging. It is too defensive and off kilter.

    • Mr. Freese, I could have included a slightly more comprehensive view on what I did enjoy about your work, but the blog essay provoked the strongest reaction in me as a reader, hence the longer analysis of it. It is only one of 37 essays, but it did strongly shape my view of the work as a whole. Thank you for visiting the site and commenting.

    • I for one wholeheartedly disagree with your stance that Todd’s review is defensive and off kilter. When reading a book of essays there are going to be ones you connect with and those you don’t. As a reviewer it’s difficult to review books in this format and keep your audience engaged in reading the review. In order to give a concise feeling on a book of essays/short stories selections are made of the best and worst and used in the review.

      Todd did just that. He chose the essays he reacted to the strongest (both positive and negative) and gave his review. Personally I think it was a fair review.

  2. Um, Mr Freese, what did you expect?

    I thought Todd’s review was quite fair-minded, given the fact that you express contempt for who he is and what he does. You pride yourself on speaking your mind? Seems to me that Todd has spoken his. You say blog reviewers are afraid to give negative reviews? Are they?

    Look, blog reviewers are our friends, Mr Freese. They have done nothing but help my career.

    What is the worst thing that can happen to an author? Not that his books are misunderstood, but his books are ignored and not read. This applies to your book, my books, and works of literature. That people read is a wonderful thing. Who cares if blog reviewers “misunderstand”? They’re thinking about and interacting with what I wrote! Besides, isn’t it my job as an author to communicate clearly in my book? It’s not like writing is performance art.

    It’s risky and painful, this writing thing. You send your book into the wide world, and not everyone likes it. And there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t even defend yourself, because “the Internet is forever.” An author’s negative comments get shared around the web in the blink of an eye.

    It seems to me that Todd enjoyed many things about your book, Mr Freese, just not that one essay. Feeling as you do, perhaps you ought to think twice about sending your book to be reviewed by bloggers? Because I guarantee that every one of them is going to mention it.

    Okay, I don’t mean to come off all high and mighty here. Tell you what. I’ll send Todd my book series—which is far from being great literature! —and have him review it. It won’t be good, because being a guy he probably won’t like my genre! (snark Regency romantic comedy-of-manners). And because my publisher came up with a very pink cover for the first book, Todd will be embarrassed to be seen with it. He’ll have to cover it with a paper bag!

    And then you can read his review (if he decides to post one). And respond. Fair enough?


    Laura Hile

  3. Essentially, Ms. Hile, you are commenting on an essay which you have not read, that reviewers and bloggers have both liked and disliked, some viewing it as a breadth of fresh air, and that I am biting the hand that feeds me, the blogger “community.” This is why I am a writer, challenging conventional wisdom. As I am not in competition with you as your last paragraph seems to indicate, I am willing to gift you with my book as the free exchange of ideas, as I am the 2012 National Indie Excellence Award winner for autobiography/memoirs, in nonfiction.
    Kind regards,
    Matt Freese

  4. Great review, Todd! As much as I love reading this blog, I’m not sure I would have appreciated an exhaustive (or even a brief) account of all 36 essays. I am quite pleased that you chose to highlight the ones that stood out to you. As for the comments, I now have a serious case of the giggles. 🙂

  5. Actually Mr. Freese, you do not know for a fact that Ms. Hile has not read your book/essay. She is after all, making a personal comment on a review.

    Made by a reviewer she trusts, if I read her comments correctly. That’s the prime basis for blogging, to gain a reader community who trusts your reviews enough to think, ‘Yes, I’ll look for that to read next’; or, ‘Oo, no. Better stay away from that one.’ As one of this blog’s community, I don’t think Todd’s review gave the latter impression on your book.

    I’m curious to know though — if, in a free exchange of ideas, Ms. Hile agrees to accept your book (presumably to read), will you accept hers (also presumably to read)?

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