Tarot for Real Life by Jack Chanek, published by Llewellyn Books, presents one of the best approaches to learning tarot that you can find. I love its focus on the Minor Arcana rather than the Majors, though it most certainly gives due treatment to the Majors as well.
The structure and layout of the book also makes it user-friendly, and the go-to reference you’ll want at your fingertips. If you’re looking up a specific card, there’s a separate table of contents in the front pages just for the 78 cards.
The meat of the book is subdivided into six parts: Practical, Intellectual, Emotional, Aspirational, Personal, and The Big Picture. Respectively they correspond with discussions on the suit of Pentacles, Swords, Cups, Wands, the court cards (under Personal), and the Major Arcana (under The Big Picture).
Thus, for instance, Part I: Practical opens with preliminary considerations for the beginner tarot reader, from choosing a deck to keeping a tarot journal and daily draws. How do you phrase questions to optimize the answers that the cards give, and how do we balance both psychology-based and mystical rationales– these questions and more are explored in the first 30 pages.
Most tarot primers will begin card meanings with The Fool or sometimes The Magician, but Chanek starts us off with the Ace of Pentacles, and as the first card for a total tarot beginner to interact with, this works. “Aces in tarot represent new beginnings, and the Ace of Pentacles is specifically the beginning of something material. It could be a new job, a new house, an investment oppportunity, a sudden windfall, news about your health, or anything similar that introduces a new thing into your immediate, physical, practical life.” It’s an optimistic and attractive opening to begin tarot study.
What Chanek does remarkably well in these entries is a balance of what each card could mean in terms of the positive and negative. Take the Ace of Pentacles, for instance, “Not all beginnings are good–or easy. Sometimes the Ace of Pentacles signals difficulties or obstructions with getting a project off the ground, or it can point to the arrival of unwelcome news about earthy subjects like money, work, or health.”
Tarot for Real Life de-mystifies the cards and presents it as a tool that anyone can pick up and use in a wholly practical way. Chanek describes tarot as “an inexpensive and versatile habit,” one that inspires you to reconsider any situation you’re facing from a different perspective, to awaken your psychic abilities, and to access your subconscious mind.
As for the card meanings provided, these page entries are among the best I’ve come across on how the card meanings are written and presented. The level of organization, the clear attentiveness to ensuring that the book is accessible and user-friendly, that you can actually consult the book to look up a card you’ve drawn and get concrete answers on how you can interpret that card– that is Tarot for Real Life‘s greatest attribute.
The concluding chapter offers great advice on next steps in the event a reader wants to advance in their tarot practice. The advice ranges from exploring other decks from the one you’ve learned on, other deck systems; using the tarot for pathworking or meditation; creating tarot art; and continuing your tarot education with other books from different perspectives.
Recently a college friend of mine was going through troubled times. She asked me for a tarot reading and afterward was inspired to pick up and learn tarot for herself. She asked me for some tips on how to get started. I gifted her one of my tarot decks and then started going through my personal library of tarot books to see which would be the most beginner-friendly.
(Okay, hilariously enough, I didn’t pick Holistic Tarot because I knew the size of it and level of detail would be too daunting for her. Also, luggage weight considerations, because she’d have to take it on an airplane and fly it home with her.) And honestly, the only stand-out book I thought would be the best for her was this book, Tarot for Real Life, *BUT* I didn’t want to give away my copy! =D So the best I could do for her was give her the title and author name, and told her to order her own copy from Amazon.
This is a book you can read cover to cover, making your way through its given sequence of tarot cards for study. Or dip into and spot-read depending on your interests. The card meanings section is comprehensive, and will easily become the most practical and indispensable resource you have to get straight to the point of what the cards in your reading mean.
If you’re looking for a book recommendation for tarot beginners, one that is practical, yet doesn’t excluded the benefits of tarot when integrated into personal spirituality, with concise yet comprehensive information on all key aspects of the tarot, then that book is Tarot for Real Life.
To write a book that appears so simple, straightforward, in plain-speak, and well-organized is extraordinarily difficult, and only speaks to Chanek’s talent as a writer and thinker.
Having a personal library of tarot books to reference is one of the most effective ways to deepen your knowledge of and proficiency with the cards. Chanek’s Tarot for Real Life is one you’ll want to have on your bookshelf!