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SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – One of the most common sayings heard is “You can’t tell a book by its cover,” a metaphor indicating that things are not always what they seem or aren’t necessarily as good as advertised. Movies that sound interesting are often duds regardless of the stars who are in the cast, foods made to look appetizing are frequently tasteless or as revolting as originally thought, and health and beauty aids guaranteed to make you younger and improve your love life usually do nothing other than separate you from your cash. The problem is, how can one distinguish the wheat from the chaff as it were?
When it comes to films, things I’ve learned over the years are that the more stars that appear the weaker the story, and the more advertisement used the worse the production. After all, if the picture was any good why would they spend money unnecessarily since fine movies are always discovered by reading reviews or are spread by word of mouth, not by Hollywood’s publicity mill.
Oddly enough, the saying used at the start of this article also applies to books, for how can a reader know in advance if a novel, biography, true adventure, or discourse on religion and philosophy or science is interesting. Titles and book jackets are designed to catch the eye of the buyer and are often misleading, reviews can be biased, and even the subject matter can be deceptive, dependent upon the author’s ability to write in an interesting way.
If you’ve already read and enjoyed books by a particular writer you can feel comfortable that you’ll like his or her next effort as well, but when the author is unknown to you it’s a gamble at best, regardless of how sure-fire interesting the topic sounds.
Along those lines, a book that immediately comes to my mind was one about the pirates of the Caribbean, not one that sparked the movie with Johnny Depp but a supposedly accurate account of the real buccaneers who attacked and looted Spanish ships under the auspices of England and France during the 17th to 19th centuries. How could anything be more exciting, right? Wrong! If the exploits of characters like Henry Morgan, Blackbeard, and Jean Lafitte had been as boring as the book, the entire episode would have disappeared from the annals of history a long time ago.
Yet another book I expected to be engrossing was a story called “The Four Feathers” which prompted several movies of the same name. It was one of my favorite films when I was young, a thrilling adventure tale of a British soldier who masqueraded as an Arab during General Gordon’s war in the Sudan against the Mahdi in the late eighteen hundreds, attempting to save his comrades. Unfortunately the book bore no resemblance to any of the fascinating movie versions and was hardly worth reading.
However, one of several books that pleasantly surprised me was a book on Taoism which included a translation of the “Tao Te Ching,” by Lao Tze. I wanted to learn something about the subject but expected its abstruse teachings to put me to sleep. Wrong again. Lao Tse’s musings were not only easy to understand but were sensible and humorous besides. Unlike Confucius who thought he had all the answers, Lao Tse was as befuddled as the rest of us and wasn’t ashamed to admit it. He just believed in doing things in harmony with nature.
So, the bottom line when making choices in life seems to be that it’s a grab bag at best with everything pretty much the luck of the draw. The best you can do is give yourself an out in case you make a mistake and be wise enough to recognize and admit it.