The Smart Girl's Guide to Tarot by Emmi Fredericks
Review by Diane Wilkes

If you would like to purchase this book, click here.

While one should never judge a book by its cover, a quick glance at The Smart Girl's Guide to Tarot evokes the "feel" of chick lit--four young, hip women gathered round a table, long earrings dangling from their ears, juicy smiles on their faces. In the background, a city skyline subtly evokes an urban yuppie, "Sex in the City" ambience. One of the women is laying out cards--and her smile doesn't falter, despite the fact that she's holding the Three of Swords. That, my dears, is an artistic rendering of fiction.

A fact, however, is that this book is written in a style to which fans of "Sex in the City" or Bridget Jones's Diary will relate. Emmi Fredericks' voice is breezy, uninhibited, and the book goes down as easily as a well-made Cosmopolitan (or Samantha Jones). However, the book is subject to the same criticisms that have been leveled against chick lit--it is facile, flimsy fun, and not an appropriate foundation for serious study.

In the first place, there is not a lot of room for flexibility in Fredericks' version of the tarot. Each card is often limited to one interpretation. If you're only going to provide one possible meaning for a card, for example, saying, "It's over," for the reversed Two of Cups seems way harsh. As one possibility among several (something is unbalanced on an emotional level, you aren't connecting the way you did when the relationship began...), it would be acceptable, but as a singular response...I suggest it would be inaccurate at least some of the time.

Speaking of which, the author's blithe tone can not mask that, as a reader, she's kind of a downer. I think perhaps it's that she not only prominently displays the negative side of every card, her reversals don't seem to mitigate cards normally seen as potentially challenging (both the Four and Five of Pentacles are bad news--upright or reversed--in Fredericks' book--literally and figuratively). Ironically, the author asserts that the message of the tarot is the importance of balance. I heartily agree with her; I just wish her interpretations reflected more of that desired equilibrium.

On the other hand, even a cursory reading of this book allows you to see that Fredericks is clearly an experienced reader, and has developed some great shorthand responses to the cards. There's an intimacy in her descriptions that shows the cards are not mere images on paper for the author; they breathe, chat, shine, spit, and sneer, depending on the individual snapshot. Fredericks brings the cards to life. I only wish I liked more of her characters!

Still, the author's experience engenders some memorable observations about individual cards. The Wheel is a good card to receive in a reading because "it means you're in play." Her thoughts on Trump XV are lethal and apt: "How does the Devil get you? Simple. He uses his credit card. He buys you. Or you sell yourself. At some point, you gave your consent." The Five of Pentacles hints of "illicit lovers with nowhere to go" (a nice twist on the Continental school of thought on this card).

Her insights are not just practical, but often psychological--Fredericks says of the Six of Pentacles, "This card reminds me strongly of parents or relatives who use an inheritance to control their children." Add that card to the Ten of Pentacles ("Why earn when you can inherit?") and you see a pattern emerge.

Some of Fredericks' other takes are a bit out there. The reversed Hermit is a warning that you're hanging around with a Linda Tripp-type. The Emperor is "a big fat wimp." (The author frequently uses the word "fat" as a pejorative--again evoking the spirit of "Sex in the City.") The Hierophant suggests there's "a strong chance you're loving unwisely and not well"--you're a "patsy." The main definition of the Hanged Man is narcissism! If you receive this card in its reversed form, you're a tad pushy. Judas Iscariot starts looking pretty good in this crowd.

The author associates Oprah with the Queen of Cups, but also speaks of that particular court as being devoted to home and hearth (which seems more like the Queen of Pentacles to me, but that's a minor quibble). The Queen of Cups, according to Fredericks, is "everyone's dream mom," but sometimes this Queen can be too awash in her own emotional stew to pay attention to her children's (or her own) nutritional welfare. Not my idea of "Mother of the Year." Then again, the book claims a reversed Queen of Cups is a space cadet who pays no attention to reality--yet another example of Fredericks' rather unreceptive view of reversals.

The card descriptions are illustrated with medieval art that echoes the tarot iconography. Not. (Just wanted to see if you were paying attention.) The original card illustrations are book-appropriate: modern, but rather facile and simplistic. The Minor Arcana are more akin pictorially to the Marseilles than the Rider-Waite-Smith--they are simple pips in some cases, though occasionally there's a message incorporated into them.

The majority of the book is devoted to card interpretations (166 of 231 pages). There is also a section on why the tarot has value (it's "cheaper than Zoloft and less fattening than chocolate"), how the cards work (the author "has no freaking clue"), and how to conduct a reading, wherein Fredericks asserts that the best spread for a beginner is the Celtic Cross. As someone who has taught a lot of tarot classes, I could not disagree with her more on this point--many of the students who had allowed their decks to languish in a junk drawer for years did so because they found the Celtic Cross so frustrating that they simply gave up trying to learn tarot.

One of the most valuable parts of the book is the section on sample spreads, wherein the author gives five reading examples...all of which use the Celtic Cross, naturally. Again, Fredericks is quite able when it comes to putting the cards together and these examples can serve to help a novice understand how it's done.

The best way to approach this book is to ignore or seriously mitigate all of the author's interpretations of reversals. The upright descriptions contain enough of a range to get an understanding of the positive and negative possibilities, as shown in the excerpt below.

I recommend this book to someone whose prime motivation for reading the cards is to look at her (and I use this pronoun intentionally--it's the Smart Girl's guide, after all) personal life via the tarot--and maybe have some fun reading for others at a slumber party. Like the best of Chick Lit, it goes down really easy--which means that there's a likelihood that the reader will finish the book and actually use the cards.

That's a good thing.

I just hope she moves on to Tarot for Your Self or Learning the Tarot soon thereafter.

If you would like to purchase this book, click here.

Excerpt:

Four of Swords

TIME OUT.

The traditional image for this card is a knight lying on a coffin. And yes, he looks quite dead. But, fear not, this is not a Death card.

We might call this card Burn Out. Which, as we all know, can feel a lot like death. You've been so intensely involved with life--for good, or ill, or both--your mind and body are not functioning properly anymore. It's not time to cut back or slow down. It's time to stop. Do nothing, lie on a beach, watch gobs of TV, take long walks through the woods. Whatever you need to do.

If you see this card in the present, it's probably not a big surprise. You know you're fried. If you see it in the future, know that life will soon get so crazy you will need to take some time off. And when that time comes, recognize it, and don't beat yourself up.

In a slight variation, it could indicate, not so much of a state of exhaustion, as a time of reassessment. If you're in the process of figuring out What Comes Next, you probably won't be as fully engaged as you have been in the past. You've taken a step back, retreated slightly. Some might accuse you of "not being there." But how else can you get a proper perspective, except from a distance?

Four of Swords Reversed

EASY DOES IT

Rather than the frenetic activity that made you into a zombie, The Four of Swords Reversed suggests moderate action. Whatever the opposite of full-tilt boogie is, that's the Four of Swords Reversed.

Whether it's Future, Present, or Past, you're keeping your cards pretty close to the vest. This is either wise or paranoid. You're not taking huge risks--except for the risk of non-commitment. Should you be putting yourself forward more? That depends to some degree on what the other cards show you.

This card could also represent those first hesitant steps back into the hurly-burly after your period of rest and repose. In which case, caution is advisable. You can't go from 0 to 180 in five seconds. That's a good way to stall out, or worse--crash.


Text cited 2004 Thomas Dunne Books
Review and page 2004 Diane Wilkes