Poe For Your Problems by Catherine Baab-Muguira

“Uncommon Advice from History’s Least Likely Self-Help Guru.”

I was in my early teens when I first read Poe, which seems to be about the average time to start reading him. My copy of his stories had beautiful illustrations by Arthur Rackham, if I remember correctly, and I loved his dark stories of madness, horror and the supernatural. His tales and poems are full of drama and emotion, as well as strong visuals, and I think this is appealing to the teen age heart. A copy of Poe tucked under the arm of a disaffected teen or black clad university student is so symbolic of wanting to be different, to stand out and be seen as poetic, to be a little dangerous, a little tortured. A little dramatic. Part of this comes, of course, from Poe’s own reputation. He is widely known to have had a tumultuous life, sometimes a very tragic one, and there were plenty of rumours started after his death about the state of his emotional and physical health, his purported addictions to drugs or alcohol. This association with adolescent angst and personal darkness make him a bit of an amusing figure. He took himself very seriously, and so do his readers, quite often, and that’s pretty funny too.

None of this is to say that he was not a greatly talented writer, of course, or even that he’s not beloved by adult readers. In my opinion, Poe is for everyone. But it’s more that I love when people poke some (loving, good humoured) fun at ol Edgar Allen. Looking at the cover of this book, Poe with his grumpy mush, with a smug looking cat on his lap, and that delightful title, I had to read this.

From first glance, the author has set out to make a joke type of book. Poe is the opposite of the usual self help guru personality, so it’s already pretty funny to apply the tropes of self help and pop psychology books to him and his life. If that’s all it was, that would be very funny. But the author makes the point that Poe did everything wrong, and had almost everything go wrong, in his life, and yet still has had a huge literary impact and success. Yes, that success came after death, but doesn’t it often with artists and writers? If he could make so many mistakes and still make it, then there is actually hope for everyone. Also, the author points out, reading about all that Poe went through, and lives like his, are so comforting in difficult times like the ones we have been living through in the last few years.

The book has illustrations throughout, which are all really lovely and add to the tone of the whole book. I really liked them. Then it’s broken into sections and chapters, with plenty of puns and tips about how Poe would approach things, with loads of examples from the authors life. I really liked this, Baab-Muguira really knows her Poe, so this book has a lot of biographical facts and things, which makes it more than just a joke book. There are also some really funny tips and exercises, just like you see in self help books, which really tickled me.

This book was a lot of fun to read, and it was also very interesting and uplifting too. I really liked the authors style and wasn’t expecting the passion for her subject, which really adds to the book. I’m glad that I read it, and I think lot of other people will too. It would make a great gift.

Read It If: you’re a Poe or literary fan, you hate toxic positivity, or you’re looking for uplifting but not too light reads. Would team well with a glass of Amontillado and a stormy evening.

Thank you to HBG Canada for the Advance Copy of this book for review.

Poe For Your Problems is out now.

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