Just Between You And Me, this Book on Relationships isn’t Very Good

just-between-you-and-me-christina-colegateI found Just Between You and Me while browsing a bookstore, something I rarely do. This is perhaps unusual for somebody who reads alot, but I find browsing a fruitless exercise. I’d much rather base my reading decisions on friends’ recommendations or, ideally, recommendations implicit in other texts, such as when one book refers to another. (It is in this happy way that I came across Anna Karenina in The Unbearable Lightness of Being and The Man Who Was Thursday in Deus Ex. OK, Deus Ex is actually a video game, but I’d still call it a ‘text’.)

I mention this because I got Just Between You and Me: The Art of Ethical Relationships (JBYAM) while browsing a bookstore. I was soon to move house and was depositing some surplus tomes at the local second-hand bookstore. As what I have learnt is standard practice, they didn’t give me any money but offered me store credit. The store had a copy of Put Me Back on My Bike, a cycling book which is alluded to in Ianto Ware’s brilliant zine, 21 Nights in July. As per the previous paragraph, this was a strong temptation. However, it was too expensive, and JBYAM looked good. Dedicated as I am to the art of ethical relationships, I thought that this book would be an invaluable addition to my small library.

I was wrong. Not terribly so – I’d call it a not-worthless addition. That said, I’d happily sell it on ebay for even a mere $3.

In JBYAM, author Christina Colegate expounds various philosophies applying to relationships. She gives herself a broad mandate, beginning with relationship with self, rippling outwards through anticipable terrain regarding friendships and romance, and reaching the far shore when she begins examining the abstract relations between complete strangers in separate nations. Each chapter addresses one such concept, using the staid approach of undergraduate philosophy: write about what other philosophers have said, critique it, chuck in your thoughts. For me, this prosaic and predictable style did no favours. The book seesaws between being a simple reference text on relationship-related philosophy and being an original contribution from Colegate herself. This is not effective.

But, to take the seesaw metaphor and expand it to an entire playground, there is pocket money to be found amongst the barkchips. I did find cause to put my trusty blue and orange highlighters to use, finding many an interesting turn of phrase or quotation that spoke to me. Almost exclusively these quotations were from people other than Colegate. Sometimes she came up with nice turns of phrase, although they often achieved little more than being a memorably elegant paraphrasing. I’m trying to be fair to the author: there were gems in the rough. But to be fair to you, I wouldn’t call them diamonds.

Who is this book right for? I don’t know. Those more in to philosophy than I would, I suspect, scorn it. Perhaps the uninitiated may find it and experience the wonder of first encountering philosophy, a wonder that Alain de Botton’s The Consolations of Philosophy offered me. In all though, there are better introductions to philosophy out there, and there are better and more detailed introductions to how to relate ethically.

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