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Coloring Dream Mandalas: A Coloring Book Review
This book review is not like other book reviews. It can’t be. How can one review a coloring book within the conventional categories, within the lines, if you will, of acceptable critical discourse and such? On one level, there is a book with pages that you can flip back and forth, yet it comes with few words, no plot or characters, and little in the way of facts and figures. What does one review exactly? “Ah,” you might be saying to yourself, “Why not review it like an art critic, since the pictures are, in theory, works of art?” The trouble is, they are all incomplete. The illustrations require color. Without it, they are nothing but skeletons made of ink.
A different approach is required here. There can be no pretense of objectivity. Instead, this review has to be completely subjective, based on the use I found for this coloring book and nothing else. Call it Gonzo with fewer drugs, if you will. Any other way would be incomplete. After all, what can be said objectively about this book? First, there’s the title: Coloring Dream Mandalas, with a subtitle announcing their potential for mindful relaxation. I suppose that’s better than mindless relaxation. The author/illustrator is Wendy Piersall, an artist who maintains the Woo! Jr. Kids Activities website, and the book costs $10 in the US and $11 in Canada. Furthermore, the book was put out by Ulysses Press, and I guess you could say it was an odyssey to get this book and finally start coloring it.
I asked for a review copy back at the start of July. It came three weeks later, ready for August. Normally waiting for a late package isn’t so nerve-wracking. But I had my reasons and when you’re unemployed, sitting in an apartment without air conditioning, you tend to focus on what is and isn’t in the mailbox pretty obsessively. Yet it came, which then began the second part of the ordeal: finding someone to color with. Yes, I know I could’ve colored in these lines by myself and people do it all the time. It’s completely healthy and normal. Still, I wanted to do it with someone else, to get another perspective on the book. Objectivity by means of another subjectivity, or something like that.
I had a friend who said she was interested. She even had the supplies we needed. I was finally going to color the book and write my review about it. There was a possibility of her inviting another friend to come along. We talked about meeting the first week in August, then the second, then the third, and so on. Eventually the book became a running joke. Every time I saw her I brought it up, no longer a potentially fun thing to do but a burden instead. We were failing each and every one of the pictures. They needed us to bring them colors, they needed us to bring them to life. Eventually I stopped asking her and approached another friend. It took less than a day to come up with a location and a time.
We would get together and color at Franklin Park in Brooklyn. Neophyte to the borough that I am, I thought it was an actual park, which would make coloring difficult. Would we use roots or the trunks of trees for a flat surface for the book? When I realized it was a bar with outdoor seating I was relieved. Now I had to make preparations for putting the coloring book into action. It’s one of the things that you can say about coloring books as opposed to ones without any pictures, or at least ones you’re not supposed to color in. They may not change your life, but they will change your spending habits.
It was certainly true for me. I walked all the way to the Flatbush Target and bought a box of pencils and a pair of pencil sharpeners for us. They came in a pack with one that was conveniently blue and the other pink so my friend and I could respect gender normative boundaries. I also needed a blade of some kind to cut the pages from the coloring book. Target, unfortunately, didn’t have any and I had to get a box cutter from the hardware store, which made me feel like a badass because they had to unlock a glass window to give it to me. Now here’s an objective criticism: Coloring Dream Mandalas needed to have perforated pages. Because let’s say you want to color with another person and share the book. How can you do it without removing the images? Do a line, then pass the it back and forth? Of course not! This is a coloring book, not a coke-dusted mirror.
The box cutter worked well enough. I tried using a butcher knife earlier but the results were less than smooth. I separated the pictures from their binding on Saturday afternoon and on Sunday, went out to Franklin Park to see my friend. After consuming a few drinks before and during our time together, I can say you don’t have to be sober to use this book. The lines are dark enough that you won’t miss them. You also don’t need alcohol to appreciate the activity either. My friend wasn’t entirely sober either but could probably still operate heavy machinery. Then again, what’s mightier to use? The pencil or the sword beaten to into a ploughshare?
Her major critique was that the pictures weren’t intricate enough. In my state I don’t think I could’ve handled anything more complex than a sun surrounded by a halo of flowers. But maybe that’s just me. My major problem with the illustrations is that I wanted something more abstract. I thought the “Mandala” aspect of the title would mean fewer pictures with concrete objects and certainly no pictures with words. Yet they were there in the book: illustrations with parakeets, elephants, and inspirational quotes. Nevertheless, one can get over them and focus on the task of conquering black and white spaces with color. I know we both eventually did.
Yet there are plenty of decent pictures to fill in. I already mentioned the one with the sun surrounded by blossoms and blooms. There are also a few with interesting geometric patterns, which are the most liberating to color in because there’s no worrying about realism or using the right or wrong color. There is just the Zen of the hue and whatever patterns grow up around the first few colors you put down. I will say that the book did help me rediscover the fun in coloring, and I became a bit of an evangelist for it when people nearby asked me what we were doing. I even gave out a few of the cut out pages to a woman sitting next to me since she asked politely for them.
If I were of a more entrepreneurial mindset set, I’d open a bar, sell coloring books full of Rosicrucian and Tarot imagery, and have my customers color them in. I’d take their illustrations and line the walls with them. Anything I didn’t like would go into the restroom, handy for any patron caught in an emergency, though I’d like to think my establishment would always be up to date on toilet paper supplies. Lastly, I would sell the books to people on their first dates. Why give roses to one another? Why not pictures of roses instead? And better yet, while not roses, you can color in on your own so you don’t have to worry about your date giving you red petals when you want something covered in tiger stripes or leopard spots.
I wasn’t on a date. Certainly not. But I thought about how helpful it would be to have a coloring book on hand during one. You don’t have to maintain eye contact with the other person, especially if their eyes make you feel like you’re looking at something from Dr. Eckleberg, and it’s not rude. Doing something with one’s hands can be a way to get a person to relax and open up if they’re not a decent conversationalist. Plus, there’s an activity to fill in the gaps of the conversation, in the way you fill in the spaces between the lines.
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