Thursday, September 1, 2011

Book Review- Confessions of a Tarot Reader

I bought this book, Confessions of a Tarot Reader: Practical Advice From This Realm And Beyond, by Jane Stern, because I like tarot, I like confessions, and I like to read.  I did not then, and do not now, know exactly who she is supposed to be, but she writes as if I should, and so should you if you read this book.

This book is divided into chapters that correlate to each of the Major Arcana, and is illustrated with the luscious Bohemian Gothic Tarot Second Edition by Karen Mahony and Alex Ukolov of Baba Studio.  Each chapter is liberally sprinkled with examples she has experienced in client readings (which I should say bothers me quite a bit because I am not sure I would want to have been one of her clients, although I am sure she has changed the names) and her personal take on the card, which by no means should be taken as the last word on the subject matter.  The meanings portrayed are Jane Stern's opinion only, and it does not seem she finds any cards to be particularly positive nor does she seem to like her clients too much, and that tone dominates the book, I feel.  Even so, reading the book is often like watching a bad episode of a reality television show; you know you shouldn't be watching it, there are more edifying ways to spend your time, but it's kinda gruesome in its' great terribleness (Real Housewives of New Jersey, I am looking at you...)

The history of tarot cards as presented in the book is largely believed not to be the true history of the cards, as most scholars agree that they were originally a trick taking game in Renaissance Europe that came to mean more to certain people later, and since she is presenting this book as a nonfiction memoir I feel that should have been at least noted, even if she does not believe it to be true.  Apparently, she has many fans from other kinds of work she does, and I think it would be a real shame for people to read this book and have that be all they know of tarot.

I'm not sure what she confessed, either, so I think the title is misleading.   As a tarot resource book, I consider this book to be a failure, but I do not think that was the main intention of the book.  What it does do well is give a snapshot view of one readers' style, thoughts, and ideas, and if you like Jane Stern or will just read anything written on tarot, you will probably enjoy this book.  The tone rubs me all the wrong way, but the writing is quite good, and some of the stories are entertaining, if not definitive (in my view) examples of the way the cards interact together.  A slim volume is probably not enough to capture all of that, either, but at least a nod in the direction of other areas to explore would have been a nice gesture from an author who is probably garnering readers who have never experienced tarot before.

The author has apparently made many good decisions down her paths in life, and she seems to have very little patience for those of us who struggle more, and seems to have an air of superiority about her that makes me want to track her clients down and give them a big ol' hug and a glass of wine and a compassionate tarot reading, but one reason I have so many tarot reading buddies is I believe every person finds the right reader for them, so my fervent hope is the readings she gives examples of were the right one for those people, in that moment.

Update- October 18, 2011:  Someone linked this review to Aeclectic Tarot, and the resulting thread is here, if you wish to read it.  Jane Stern has showed up on that thread to chime in, which I would find more endearing if she had ever participated on the forum before, or if she looked around or commented on any posts other than the one about her book (which I did not start), but I don't think her main purpose is to endear herself to me, nor should it be.  She has some answers to my concerns, although I do not feel she took my review with the proverbial grain of salt, and I absolutely wish her no ill, or feel mean spirited in writing this at all.  Her tarot reading style as she presented it in this book does not jive with what I consider responsible, compassionate tarot reading, but I am not the final say in what makes a good reading.  I still feel the tone of the book was condescending, and when she came to the thread to discuss her book she pointed out that as Yale graduate and successful author, with a television show and having been played by Kathy Bates, she is not "your typical card reader".  I took issue with her tone there, too, as if most tarot readers couldn't possibly hope to be as successful as she, as if she reads cards as a lark and in spite of her intelligence and success, not because of them.  I again felt condescended to and looked down upon.  That could totally be my own shortcoming.  I also feel it is in extremely poor taste, and not professional at all, to lambaste thoughtful critics of ones' work.  I made no personal attack, and it is okay with me that we don't agree.  I'm not trying to change her mind.  As I said in the original review, I hope her clients received value, and I wish Jane Stern every success, as a tarot reader, as an author, wherever her life may take her, because there is room for all styles of reading that truly aim to help the client.  Every book that goes mainstream, every person exposed to tarot as a viable healing modality, is one more person that I have the opportunity to reach, as well, and that is invaluable to me, and I thank Jane Stern for possibly bringing some of those people into the fold of tarot.

If you'll forgive me a small bit of snark, Jane Stern has an MFA in painting, so I assume at some point she studied art in Europe at the time tarot was emerging, so surely she must have seen some types of tarot imagery, had some idea of tarot history, which she misrepresents in her book.  It's okay to not know, but it is not okay to pass off misinformation as fact when you don't.  There was also a mention of her pricing for readings, in the comments of this blog, and in the AT thread, and she has dropped the prices since we originally were speaking of it, but just for the sake of clarity- If my market would bear that cost, I would gladly charge it, because as much I love reading tarot and helping people I also have a thing for designer shoes and feeding my gaggle of kids every single day.  She should charge whatever she feels her time is worth, and as consumers we are free to pay it or not as we feel it is worth.  I think you all can guess that I was not lining up to get a reading from her, but I wouldn't take one if it was free.

Loving the great conversation, folks!  I am all for solidarity in the tarot community, and for rallying behind the brave souls that write, create, teach, and generally strive to make tarot fun, interesting, relevant, and that put themselves out there.  I know that is so brave, and I also know my work does not appeal to everyone.  I also feel as a small community we can be less than honest at times, not wanting to step on anyone's toes, and as energy workers we are often so aware of how we can impact others and mostly we want to be kind and make nice.  I do not like this book a great deal, although I have found positive points to it, but I do not know Jane Stern, and I do not wish her any ill.  I hope that everyone who wants to read this book does so, and I wish you all, Jane included, the joy of the journey!

Also, you can hear Jane Stern talk about her book, herself, and her life on Tarot Today Radio here, if you'd like.

Further Update, October 25, 2012- As I searched for the thread I found it has been removed, without explanation or any contact from the moderators to me.  Some people were personally attacking Jane Stern and her looks, which I found inappropriate, but that is one more reason I no longer frequent that forum.  Thoughtful even if it is dissenting, discussion should be allowed.  The forum is based in Australia, where I understood free speech was also a tenet, but maybe I am wrong.  In any case, I still don't care for the tone of the book, but after having read some of Jane Stern's other books, which are mostly about food and pop culture, I do still enjoy her writing.  This book just didn't do it for me.  I rarely post less than positive reviews, because if I don't like a book I can't get through it to review, and if I don't like a deck I can't spend enough time with it to get to know it well to review.


  1. Hi Manda, I've never heard of her either, so I did a web search and found her website. I have the impression I am incredibly ignorant for not knowing who she is. :) (thank you lord).
    Was the book self-published?

  2. Well that makes three of us who have never heard of her.

    I like this quote from her website - "Everything we discuss during the reading is held in utmost confidence. I never discuss my clients' readings with anyone but them".


  3. Hi Manda,

    Have you read a book called "Secrets of a Telephone Psychic" by Frederick Woodruff? I really enjoyed it, and the "Secrets" are mainly about how to get the most out of a psychic reading. He's spiritual, knowledgeable, and empowering - a very different tone to the one you describe!

    Don't think I'll be reading this lady any time soon ;>

  4. I felt like kind of a jerkface writing this review, but all I saw on Amazon were glowing ones so I felt gypped.

    Sharyn, the book is published by skirt! and is well edited and professional looking. I am not familiar with that publisher but I don't think it was self published. When I googled the author after this writing I was underwhelmed too.

    And yeah, PLN, my husband pointed out to me that line on her tarot site that says she won't share her clients stories. I hate to judge people, but she is either lying to her readers or lying to her clients, which might be part of why the book did not sit well with me.

    I will definitely look out for that book, Chloe. Thank you for the suggestion!

    Thank you all for reading my review! My purpose in writing this review was not to turn off fellow readers, both of books and cards, but to discuss my uneasy feelings with the ethics of this book.

  5. hehe, lovely review Manda. I guess if I find it cheap I might pick it up for pure entertainment value. (yes, I do watch housewifes of New Jersey now and then too - go Danielle!!)

  6. I am the one who posted that one star review with the accompanying video. My name is Jim Wickson. Jane Stern's book deserves the one star and I just came by to award FIVE STARS for Manda's excellent review of it. Good job!

  7. Manda,

    Thanks for the review. Your comments were balanced and thoughtful. I had never heard of Jane Stern either before I heard her promoting her book on a local radio station. I always enjoy seeing how other readers interpret the cards, so I may look for this book at our local library. Your review convinced me that it is not worth purchasing.


  8. Hi,

    This post is really the sweetest on this notable topic. Tarot cards represents the past, present, emotions and future. This is important for the tarot reader to build a rapport. Thanks a lot........

  9. Hi Manda, I've never heard of her before either, still based on your review it's not one I'll be reading any time soon either. As the years go by for me, I am a little more selective about what I read in tarot, I want it to be new, innovative and hopefully present me with something different to think about.

    Thanks for an interesting review.

  10. Manda, I too never heard of this author! My problem with some memoirs/recollections/examples/confessions written by card readers and people who work with spirituality in general is that usually everything seems to 'fit' way too well together. No reading is ever wrong, no blank spot, no bad clients, no insecurity etc. It feels more like and egotrip sprinkled with self-advertising than actual memories.

    Of course, I am not saying Jane Stern does that in her book. In fact, if her book is a bit more sincere in regard to this, I think I'd give it a chance. :)

    Thank you for this very straightforward review, I wish I knew how to do that! I am soooo verbose! :p

  11. saidenne- It IS entertaining, in a certain kind of way. Because you dig on Danielle, I know you'll know what I mean when I say so *wink*

    oudler- Thank you for coming by! I hope you'll check back on some of my less volatile topics :)

    Tony- I too love hearing other readers' style, and that is what I feel the main value of this book is, as a glimpse into her world, and I have learned from it, so it is valuable.

    Thank YOU, Online Psychic Readings, for the reminder of how important rapport is.

    Helen, it's always a joy to see you here! I am not selective at all of what I read in tarot, but I am selective about what I take in and ingest into my tarot world. I understand what you are saying, though!

    Marina, haha! And thank you! I am usually quite loquacious, but I wanted to keep the review balanced, so I tried to keep my positive/negative ratio in mind. This book is a good window into how one woman reads, although in the book she presents the client readings as actual things that happened, but in the thread about the book on Aeclectic Tarot revealed they are more conglomerations, which I take to mean "fiction", so you would have to decide for yourself if that is valuable to you, or not. I'd send you the book, but who knows when you'd get it. :-)

  12. An intelligent, articulate review and gracious follow-up. Bravo, Manda.


  13. Hi Manda. Someone sent me this link to your updates and just for clarity I have not dropped the price for my readings. It is $150 an hour. Jane