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.
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.