Really, there's no bad place to start working with your dreams. The "Idiot's Guide" books are sometimes helpful!

The Worst Books on Dreams

Okay, what is a “Best” List without a “Worst” list? Worst lists are probably among the most popular you can imagine, be it from a Red Carpet Epic Fail, a list of bad B movies, or train wrecks. Name your disaster, and people line up to see it. The 1970s would have had no culture at all had it not been for the blockbuster disaster films that kept people like Ernest Borgnine and O. J. Simpson in the public eye after their best years. I won’t say they kept the people “relevant.” [Contemporary culture does not have to be a good thing. Think, ‘Kardashian.’]

Really, there's no bad place to start working with your dreams. The "Idiot's Guide" books are sometimes helpful!
Really, there’s no bad place to start working with your dreams. The “Idiot’s Guide” books are sometimes helpful!

But books on dreams are so abundant that a search with only “Dream” in the title will yield misdirected results. Books on the “American Dream,” owning your dream home, meeting the soul-mate of your dreams, or any number of other concepts that alone could fill the library of Alexandria without having one book on nocturnal images. So ruling these out, there are large classes of books that generally are bad news for dreams. Those large classes include:

  • Any Dream Dictionary written after the second century, and 96.7% of the ones before that date;
  • Any book part of a metaphysical series that includes aliens, Mayan prophecy, or Chakra alignment (not that there is anything wrong with those efforts, it just kinda cheapens things)
  • Any book that promises to make the meaning of all your dreams transparent;
  • Most books on Lucid Dreaming, see # 2 above;
  • Rants.

I’ll give an example of each.

We’ll start with “Any Dream dictionary . . . ” Almost all of these are reductive. They take a symbol, and reduce it to a single meaning. This robs dreams of their aliveness and cheats the dreamer of her independent associations to the dream. For instance, having a 1 year old baby in a dream, that is yours (but not in real life) will likely mean something different to a grandmother, to a woman who has lost a baby, and to an adolescent experimenting with unprotected sex. Hard to say that image means just one thing – even in the dream the image may refer to more than one thing or being. Hard to pick just one in this category, I would suggest anything that has an author’s name starting with X or Z is straight out of an empty-headed book mill that counts on a gullible public.I will say, swimming upstream from this is the exception to the rule, the surprisingly helpful Element Encyclopedia of 20,000 Dreams offers helpful suggestions, more like a thesaurus of possible meanings than a “this-means-that-and-only-that” approach.

Next, we’ll go with a book in a new age series. A serviceable example here is Caitlin Matthews Celtic Visions book. The book itself may be fine; I’ll probably never know. Caitlin Matthews has authored or co-authored more than 50 books, including many indispensable scholarly works on fairies, tarot decks, and today’s living legends of Celtic shamanism. I may be shallow for thinking her book has less to do with effective dream research than it does effective branding. I am thinking though of buying the irresistible Sherlock Holmes Tarot, due out very soon. Reading some new age books qualifies as a guilty pleasure of mine, and I often curl up with reads about near death experiences of soul retrieval. But no dream works from this source, thank you. There are just too many books rooted in clinical practice and sound research.

For the types of books that offer complete demystification of your dreams, I’ll offer the 1911 Edition of Madame Xanto’s Dream Book, The Penn Publishing Company, 1919. I would not want the upcoming centennial anniversary of this appalling hard copy version of the Magic 8 Ball of dreams to go unnoticed. Note these entries: “Beheading. – To dream of seeing someone beheaded is a good omen, and promises the fulfillment of every hope. To be beheaded, success in love and riches.” However, to dream of a hermit bodes treachery. Maybe I just don’t like it when hermits get a bad rap. I am certainly wary of anything promising too much in the way of interpretation and anything that shortchanges the individual work with images. This approach, again, takes away from the dreamer the personal associations that since before Freud and Jung have been essential parts of a viable dream approach.

Lucid Dreaming:  first, we can define lucid dreaming as any dream in which the dreamer becomes aware of dreaming in the course of the dream, and is able therefore to direct or control the course of the dream. This happens with me sometimes, not always. But many of the books say this is attainable by anyone and everyone should do it. What I most fear in this is the loss of the insight that can come forth by not acting like a control freak during the 8 hours of my day in which that might actually be possible. Life is better when I do not constantly inflict my choices and my wisdom on others around me. Such an attitude allows me to be open to the thoughts, ideas, and feelings of others. Since I do a poor job of relinquishing control during much of my waking hours, sleep may be the highest and best hope that I may be teachable at some level. Also, I will own a bias that I do not believe dreams are here for entertainment, like Television, but for our betterment, like theater. So here, let’s just take the title, “Lucid Dreaming in Thirty Days” as a painlessly short read that exemplifies lengthier and therefore more asinine approaches.

Here is a disclaimer to the inclusion of lucid dreaming. Exceptions to this rule are the more serious and scholarly approaches to the topic, such as anything by Stephen Laberge or Jayne Gackenbach. Laberge has committed a worthy career of a topic that he and a few others have elevated to a plausible and informed science. Lucid dreaming almost did not make this list, were it not for the abundance of tabloid-quality works on the subject at the other end the work conducted by Laberge and his collaborators. Gackenback is the author of some incredibly helpful books, such as Dream Images: A Call to Mental Arms. She also is a former president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams. Rather than books on Lucid Dreaming, I would recommend a couple of TED talks, in 2013 by Tim Post is the most recent. He advocated lucid dreaming to escape recurring nightmares, trauma, or rehearsal for life problems. He also challenges some of the “known science” on dreams, which I like.

Rants. One reason that this writer has a blog is to rant back at those whose rants annoy him!  A rant is usually rooted in a dogma, and a dogma is usually a very crystallized (opinionated) viewpoint on what can be a fluid and alive process. It was Freud’s adherence to sexual wish fulfillment as an unalterable dogma the cause the Jung/Freud break.The book, “Freud or Jung,” written in 1950 by Edward Glover. It appears to be a disciple of Freud in vigorous and attacking defense of his idol. It is certainly okay to have mentors in this work – I have several whose opinion I place far above my own – yet it is presumptuous to discount the work or belief systems of others with regard to dreams. And with that thought in mind, I will close this hypocritical rant on “Bad” dream books!