The cynic in me makes an author earn permission to ‘talk’ to me. I read lots and lots of books but only a few actually speak to me. Only a few authors get past the gatekeeper of my internal censor.
When an author offers me a solution to a problem that has challenged me intermittently for 40 or so of my 50 years, I confess that I approach their book in a body of scepticism. The words are filtered by the eyes of a woman who was once passionate, but has seen disappointment too many times, hence the cynicism.
Oh boy, do I know my problems; do I know the monsters that share my life. I wrestle with them daily. How could anyone know them as well as me? How could anyone have a reliable manoeuvre that might release me from the half-nelson in which my problems hold me, waiting for me to cede victory to them?
Well, Mr Levy proved he does understand and he provided a solution that works. But, I am getting ahead of myself.
Let’s begin by telling you a little about how this book came to earn my respect.
Accidental Genius first came to my notice via Ed Dale. Now Ed has made book recommendations in the past and they have always been worthwhile so Mr Levy instantly had some credibility. There was another encouragement too. I happened to tweet mention of my book delivery from Amazon and Mark Levy tweeted back. He became a real person to me (well, as real as anyone can be on Twitter!); someone who listens to his audience. I followed him on Twitter (he’s proved himself to be worth following). He followed me back.
I began to like Mr Levy.
When I read a book I almost always start at the back, not to spoil the punchline or sneak a peek at the ‘whodunnit’, but to look at the bibliography and reference section. No bibliography as such in Accidental Genius but a detailed reference section in which I spotted mention of David Whyte. The work of David Whyte touched me in a meaningful way some 10 years ago and yet I hear his name mentioned infrequently. Coming across his name was like coming across a very dear, old friend in an unexpected place. (If you haven’t read David’s book ‘The Heart Aroused’ I recommend it).
As a result of this combination of serendipitous events, I declared myself ready and willing to listen to Mr Levy and to learn.
Accidental Genius is an entertaining and easy read. Without dumbing anything down or patronising his readers, Mr Levy carries on a conversation throughout his book. With witty quips and digressions that not only amuse and entertain but also offer metaphors to reinforce his point, Mark’s writing is a joy to read. I found myself relaxing in his company. If my reading of one paragraph generated questions in my mind, I found those same questions answered within the next few pages. Reading the book became a conversation with the author.
Reading the introduction to the book I could feel my ‘voice’, the cynic who does such a valiant job in protecting me from more disappointment, relaxing its grip. Mr Levy clearly understood my problem.
Imagine having an illness for which you have consulted specialist after specialist, each one offering a solution that didn’t quite work. For my ‘illness’ I have attended workshop after workshop, listened to expert after expert and read book after book, never quite finding any solution to be as effective as promised.
Mr Levy very quickly demonstrated that he’d been inside my jumbled, scattered mind (quite spooky really). He’d used his magic tricks (did I mention he does magic? No, really) to divine my particular problem then, miraculously, he normalised it and me. He described the symptoms so minutely, gave examples and showed that I am not the freak I feared I might be. That a head full of inaccessible thoughts, dreams and ideas is in fact normal. I am not losing my mind after all.
Mark made a promise:
‘Accidental Genius teaches… you how to get at what’s inside your head, so you can convert the raw material….into something usable, even extraordinary.’
No hype. No teasing build up to a disappointing conclusion. All of this occurred within the first few pages of the introduction. No waiting until the penultimate page to discover the ‘miracle cure’. The solution was revealed immediately with the rest of the book holding my hand as I practiced working with it.
I’ve had Accidental Genius for 5 days as I write the first draft of this review. I’ve read it twice and am reading it a third time now to work through the exercises.
If you have ever felt that you lacked ideas, or have wrestled with a problem that resisted all attempts to solve it or doubted your creative ability- this is the book for you to read. And don’t be put off if you don’t consider yourself to be a writer. You don’t have to be a writer to implement Mr Levy’s solution. The solution to all ills – freewriting – is not something that works only for writers.
Of course, if you want to write, reading Accidental Genius is one of the best places to start – you can move on to the nitty gritty of Elements of Style a little later. I can think of no better book to encourage everyone to begin putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
For myself, I don’t know who to be most grateful to – Ed for making the recommendation or Mark for writing the book. Both remain firmly on my list of good guys.
This book teaches a skill that can be utilised in all domains of life. Don’t be fooled by the apparent simplicity of the method taught. Having used it, I am convinced it is indeed one of Mr Levy’s magic tricks.
As an encouragement, the first person to leave a comment here will receive a gift from me – their own copy of Accidental Genius – and I hope whoever that is will come back when they’ve read the book to let the rest of us know what they thought.