Book Review: Dictionary Of Gestures

Dictionary Of Gestures:  Expressive Comportments And Movements In Use Around The World, by François Caradec, illustrated by Philippe Cousin, translated by Chris Clarke

This was not as good a book as I hoped it would be.  Like many people, I tend to be a very expressive speaker who uses a lot of gestures when I communicate, not least because I am often concerned that people do not fully understand the words that are coming out of my mouth or what I mean by them.  I suspect this is likely to be a common problem.  Still, one would think that a book about gestures with loving and humorous illustrations would be an easy book to be among the best books I had written for a while, and while it was certainly okay and interesting, the book wasn’t quite as good as I would have hoped, and there are definitely some reasons for that.  Some of the reasons include the French biases of the author, as well as his obsession with obscene gestures and implications of homosexuality, and the fact that he fails to get some basic gestures in use among contemporary Americans right.  Still, if you like gestures there is certainly much to appreciate here.

This book is a bit more than 300 pages long and is divided into 37 chapters.  The author begins his discussion with a discourse on the beauty of gestures.  After that the author spends almost half of the book discussing gestures involving various parts of the head (1), including the temples (2), the ear (3), the forehead (4), the eyebrows and eyelashes (5), the eye (6), the nose (7), the mouth (8), the lips (9), the tongue (10), the teeth (11), the cheeks (12), and the chin (13).  After that the author moves on to discuss gestures involving the neck (14), shoulders (15), armpits (16), arm (17), forearm (18), elbow (19), writ (20), fingernails (21), hand (22) and fist (22.5), both hands (23), hand to hand (24), thumb alone (25) and no alone (25.5), index finger (26), middle finger (27), ring finger (28), and pinkie (29).  He also provides gestures involving the torso (30), chest (31), hips (32), waist and stomach (33), buttocks (34), groin, genitals, and thighs (35), knees and legs (36), and the foot (37), after which there are a bibliography, image credits, and an index.  Among the various gestures, there are usually pictures or photos included that indicate the gesture as well as a description about what it means in various cultures, where the author spends some time discussing the ambiguity of gestures and how they can mean wildly different things depending on the culture one sees them in.

It is unclear exactly what message the illustrator was trying to send with the pictures.  The gestures of this book are illustrated, and in at least some of the cases the illustrator appears to be wanting to send a message by referring to specific people.  In other cases there are photographs of gestures, such as George H.W. Bush’s wave or the supposedly “personal” “unique gesture” of Queen Elizabeth II’s wave, only one of the most highly imitated waves around.  This book definitely shows some odd interests by the author when it comes to gestures, including an alarmingly large number of gestures that threaten sodomy or the evil eye.  When this interest of the author’s is juxtaposed with his interest in gestures that are part of children’s games, the book as a whole takes on a much creepier angle than it was probably meant to do.  There is clearly insight that can be gained by this book, but the way that the author chooses to write about the subject of gestures makes this a more awkward and uncomfortable book than I honestly expected to read, and it is likely that many other readers will find the author’s focus on certain matters to be uncomfortable and a bit off-putting.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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1 Response to Book Review: Dictionary Of Gestures

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Jabari: Authentic Jamaican Dictionary Of The Jamic Language | Edge Induced Cohesion

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