Archive by Author

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

1 Mar

Note: this post was first published at In Limbo.

Photo thanks to Christine Whelan

Today, I’d love to share a book review of a book that recently inspired me: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.

I’ll be quick to emphasize up front: the author doesn’t present this book as an all-encompassing guide to happiness. It’s not a solution that postures to work for everyone, but merely an account of one woman’s guide to become happier in her everyday life. The everyday life bit is the most interesting – she works on small, positive resolutions, and seeks to be happier where she is. She doesn’t pack up and move to Hawaii or quit her job, she simply resolves to increase her positive experiences and diminish her negative ones. In this way, the book becomes a lot more accessible and helpful than one like Eat, Pray, Love (which I also liked!) in that it’s more doable.

The premise of the book is, Rubin realizes that she’s living her life away, one day at a time, without much thought to happiness. She decides to devote a year to promoting her happiness, focusing on an area such as “energy”, “mindfulness”, “money”, etc, for each month of the year. She tracks her progress with small, measurable resolutions on a chart that she fills out each day. Along the way she learns several truths about happiness and adulthood, among other things.

The book is very well researched – it cites several studies and research findings, as well as countless quotes on happiness. In my reading, I found myself scribbling down quotes, ideas for resolutions, and thoughts on happiness. In fact, much of the book hit home for me, in unexpected ways. Of course, the author and I lead very different lives (for one thing, I’m not a married mother-of-two), but I could do well to remember the majority of her resolutions in my day to day life.

One thing I like about the book is that it emphasizes that each person’s happiness project will be utterly different, since we all derive happiness in different ways. In fact, one of Rubin’s “Secrets of Adulthood” is that “what’s fun for others may not be fun for you, and vice versa”. There are lots of these juicy tidbits of wisdom to snack on throughout the book, and I found myself gobbling them up as fast as they came. I felt a sort of “Aha moment” (a la Oprah) at several points in the book, and these statements are already pervading my everyday interactions just a few days later.

“Act without expectation” turns out to be my #1 commandment – I am a person with high expectations, which tends to interfere with my happiness. One crucial thing Rubin hits on in her writing is that certain of our actions can make us feel unhappy, such as nagging, criticizing, getting upset, saying rude comments, losing our temper. If we can work to diminish these reactions, we can increase our happiness. After all, the only person we can change is our self. With this revelation, I already feel a great deal more at peace. I am the type of person who doesn’t leave things unsaid, who loses her temper, who has high expectations (and gets upset when they are not met). Even in just a few days, practicing restraint on these behaviours (biting my tongue, letting it go, not worrying about it) has made me feel more uplifted and happy about myself.

Another important truth she toucheson is feeling good in your body. Keeping myself well-rested, well-fed, well-dressed and well-groomed is so important, and yet I tend to let it fall by the wayside quite frequently. If I don’t feel good in my clothes, I don’t feel positively about myself; if I’m hungry, I’m grumpy and irritable. The simple task of taking care of myself has the power to influence all my daily interactions, and it should be taken more seriously.

Possibly my favourite tip from the book: if something takes one minute or less, do it now. It’s hard to think of examples, but in my day there are so many things that bum me out when I think about doing them, but that only take one minute. I’ve found that just doing them makes me feel more productive, and therefore: happier!

It’s much too hard to condense the whole book into a single blog post. She presents countless revelations and nuggets of wisdom throughout, and really inspires you to think more deeply about your own happiness. I encourage you to check out Rubin’s website for the Secrets of Adulthood, the Commandments, and lots of other interesting articles on happiness.

I’ll end with a few of my favourites from the book:

You can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do.

It’s okay to ask for help.

It’s easy to be heavy, hard to be light.

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Act the way you want to feel.

The days are long, but the years are short.

I’d love to know – have you read The Happiness Project? If so, what did you think? Were you inspired to start your own happiness project, as I am?

And if you haven’t read it – does this post make you think about your own happiness? What makes you happy?

As always, I’d love to know what you’re thinking.

xoxo,

You can purchase the Happiness Project online here, and for your Kindle here.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

23 Jul

Cloud Atlas

Photo thanks to condalmo.wordpress.com

‘Ahhh.’

That’s the precise feeling I had as I hungrily gobbled up the last words of this masterpiece. Even after turning the last page, closing the book and rubbing the back cover in that clichéed but perfect way, I was unable to let go. In fact, for the next couple days, I kept it with me, thinking about the characters, pondering the detail and the storylines and at times flipping back through the book to read through the delicious mind traps and perfectly woven plot.

Even before I was halfway through, it had instantly become one of my favourite books. It’s that good. The amount of precision and detail involved is astounding, but all the while that finely tuned machinery of the novel is masked by the easy breezy, enchanting style of the author’s prose. I was willingly swept up in the storylines, hanging on to every word and re-reading pages just for the fun of it. It was less a novel than an experience for me, full of wonder and excitement and, surprisingly, powerful political commentary. It’s a thinking book.

It’s hard to describe this book without taking away from its perfection, which lies in the way the stories unfold to the reader. This much can be told without spoiling it: six characters, spread out across centuries, in different parts of the world entirely. Each character has a powerful story, connected in subtle and fascinating ways to the other characters, those connections revealed slowly and carefully throughout the book. The author effortlessly (well, I’m sure it required much effort, but it doesn’t seem that way to us) inhabits each of the characters’ souls and personalities, writing in a variety of styles to reveal the different facets of their personality. The styles include an interview, a journal, a movie script, a first-hand account..each perfectly suited to the characters themselves.

As the book (or maybe the reader!) races back through the stories, revisiting them and tying up loose ends, you’re struck again and again by the connecting details, the characters’ links and the magnitude of detail involved here. It’s incredible.

The book made me feel alive, in a way I can’t really explain. It made me happy, it entertained me at the most primitive level of my being: it told me stories. It told me rich, detailed, fascinating and compelling stories, beautifully crafted stories, stories that might once have been real and could become real in the distant future. And although it’s intellectual, it’s not an impossibility to read. The stories aren’t pretentious, they’re real.

It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2004, and won several other awards including the British Books Awards for Literary Fiction. It’s David Mitchell’s third book, and I’m itching to get my hands on his others. His newest book is called The Thousand Autumn’s of Jacob de Zoet, published this year. If you want more spoilers on Cloud Atlas, read them here.

This book made me happy to have read it. It tricked me and messed with my head and made me think. How wonderful! All in all, a wonderfully entertaining and intellectual read. I can’t wait to read something else by this marvelous author.

Cheers!

Shelfari

30 Jun

Hello fellow book-lovers! How are you this fine evening? I hope everyone liked the last review, by adistantlife, who is our new contributor! Hopefully over the next little while we’ll get some more contributors set up here on the site and there will be lots more content available. You can check out his ‘about’ page for more information on the types of things he likes to read!


For now though, I thought I’d stop by and do a feature post on one of my favourite websites. Shelfari is a wonderful website for any and all avid book-readers. It’s a service that allows you to create your own shelf (you can even choose the finish on said shelf, if you wish!) which will contain electronic versions of books.

There are three categories per shelf: I’ve Read, I Want to Read, I’m Reading. You can indicate your favourite books, and the ones you own also. Think of it as having an electronic bookshelf.

The really cool part about this service is that it allows you to make books a social thing, without going so far as to start a book club. A few of my good friends are using the service, and it’s so fun to check out what they’re reading or what’s on their ‘to-read’ list. It can start conversations, provoke sharing and provide tons of inspiration!

Whenever you read a new book, or hear about one in the newspaper/radio/tv, all you have to do is search for it, quickly choose which category it belongs in on your shelf, and it’s there for future reference. You have the option of rating books that are on your shelf, providing information on their characters/summaries on their general info pages, participating in discussions of the books with other Shelfari members, and more. There are also tons of groups you can join on the site, depending on what sort of books you enjoy.

All in all, I think it’s a fun service. I don’t use it for social networking so much as for my own records and amusement, but it could be used for any number of other things! Like I said, it’s a favourite service of mine and I thought you might want to check it out.

If you’re interested, here’s my profile on Shelfari, feel free to check out what I’m reading these days!

xoxo, S.

Dying To Read..

14 Jun

These are a few books that I’m so excited to read that I’m practically tying myself to a chair to prevent the inevitable sprinting to Chapters to buy them. I am typically a patient(ish) person – I’ll see a book I want to read, either online, in the paper or in the store, and then I’ll place a hold for pickup at my library. The only problem is that sometimes, other people want to read the same books that I do. Then what happens is I get stuck in an inevitable holds lineup of anywhere from 7 to 44 people. And the line never gets any shorter. It’s so frustrating. And yes, I’m the type of person to check my library holds online 4 times a day. Guess what people! READ FASTER! But, since I’m poor and cheap, I must sit patient(ish)ly and await my turn to read said books. Sigh. Such is the life of a reader, I suppose.

Anywho, here they are: the ‘I-Can’t-Wait-To-Reads’!

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

By: Aimee Bender

First, read the reviews from The Globe and Mail and The Millions.

Photo thanks to opl.on.ca

And here’s the book description from Amazon.ca:

On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother—her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother—tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.

The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden—her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a luminous tale about the enormous difficulty of loving someone fully when you know too much about them. It is heartbreaking and funny, wise and sad, and confirms Aimee Bender’s place as “a writer who makes you grateful for the very existence of language.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

By: Alan Bradley

This one has been recommended to me by several of my old colleagues at the bookstore, who say that it is absolutely adorable, but also a very compelling mystery story.

Photo thanks to opl.on.ca

Here’s an article about the author himself – a 70 year old from Cobourg, ON initially! Props to Canada.

And here’s the description from Amazon.ca:

A delightfully dark English mystery, featuring precocious young sleuth Flavia de Luce and her eccentric family.

The summer of 1950 hasn’t offered up anything out of the ordinary for eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce: bicycle explorations around the village, keeping tabs on her neighbours, relentless battles with her older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, and brewing up poisonous concoctions while plotting revenge in their home’s abandoned Victorian chemistry lab, which Flavia has claimed for her own.

But then a series of mysterious events gets Flavia’s attention: A dead bird is found on the doormat, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. A mysterious late-night visitor argues with her aloof father, Colonel de Luce, behind closed doors. And in the early morning Flavia finds a red-headed stranger lying in the cucumber patch and watches him take his dying breath. For Flavia, the summer begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw: “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”

Did the stranger die of poisoning? There was a piece missing from Mrs. Mullet’s custard pie, and none of the de Luces would have dared to eat the awful thing. Or could he have been killed by the family’s loyal handyman, Dogger… or by the Colonel himself! At that moment, Flavia commits herself to solving the crime — even if it means keeping information from the village police, in order to protect her family. But then her father confesses to the crime, for the same reason, and it’s up to Flavia to free him of suspicion. Only she has the ingenuity to follow the clues that reveal the victim’s identity, and a conspiracy that reaches back into the de Luces’ murky past.

A thoroughly entertaining romp of a novel, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is inventive and quick-witted, with tongue-in-cheek humour that transcends the macabre seriousness of its subject.

Summer at Tiffany

By: Marjorie Hart

The wonderfully glamourous-sounding memoir of one woman’s move to New York City to be a clerk at Tiffany’s for a summer. How luxurious! Well, maybe it wasn’t exactly a breeze, but that’s exactly why I want to read it..all the gritty details of the world’s most glam store.

Photo thanks to amazon.ca

And here is the description from Amazon.ca:

New York City, 1945. Marjorie Jacobson and her best friend, Marty Garrett, arrive fresh from the Kappa house at the University of Iowa hoping to find summer positions as shopgirls. Turned away from the top department stores, they miraculously find jobs as pages at Tiffany & Co., becoming the first women to ever work on the sales floor, a diamond-filled day job replete with Tiffany-blue shirtwaist dresses from Bonwit Teller’s—and the envy of all their friends.

Looking back on that magical time in her life, Marjorie takes us back to when she and Marty rubbed elbows with the rich and famous, pinched pennies to eat at the Automat, experienced nightlife at La Martinique, and danced away their weekends with dashing midshipmen. Between being dazzled by Judy Garland’s honeymoon visit to Tiffany, celebrating VJ Day in Times Square, and mingling with CafÉ society, she fell in love, learned unforgettable lessons, made important decisions that would change her future, and created the remarkable memories she now shares with all of us.

Runners Up

Photo thanks to opl.on.ca

Photo thanks to opl.on.ca

Okay, fine, I’ll wait..

..but you know I’ll be watching my holds very closely. Or, I could break the bank and scamper on down to the local bookstore. Huh. We’ll see!

Let me know: what books are you dying to read??

xoxo, S.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

12 Jun

Eat, Pray, Love

Photo thanks to detrie

I just finished this wonderful memoir last night. I have always been a travel junkie, and this book was definitely not helpful in quenching that thirst. I am consumed with a desire to GO GO GO. I need to get up and discover! I want my own saga, my own journey, my own experience. I want freedom and pure, unadulterated joy, and I want to relinquish the hold that the so-called ‘real world’ of cynics and joy-repressors have on me. I urge you to read this marvellous article on one of my favourite websites: The Art of Non-Conformity. This is a particularly useful article for people who really resent the world constantly telling them

a) there’s only one way to do things; b) grow up; c) face reality.

Please read it, then come back and read this. I’ll wait patiently.

Ah, you returned! Did you like the article? I know, so did I. I believe it’s important to cultivate more of that spirit into people’s lives. We currently live in so much fear of doing things differently, and it leads to great unhappiness for some people.

I feel that so many times, negative people like to try and hold others back because they’re too scared to live outside the box themselves. That’s what I loved most about Eat, Pray, Love: she pushed back against that group of naysayers. She abandoned her so-called ‘perfect life’: a great career, a great apartment, an ‘ideal’ husband because guess what? She just wasn’t happy. She had followed the ‘normal’ path and it led her straight into a terrible depression, a messy divorce, and a love affair that crippled her emotionally.

Throughout her life, she had been passionately in love with travelling and men, never with herself. Battling depression, anxiety and discontent, she had never learned what it means to be your own friend, how to keep yourself strong, or how to be happy on your own.  At 32, she leaves her husband and perfectly-put-together life for something more.

She decides to do the suburban unthinkable. She decides to travel. For a year.

A year! Oh mon dieu! NO! say the suburban naysayers. She says: I need this, and I am taking it. I say: dudes, it’s a year. It’s not going to disrupt your entire life, you probably have enough money for it, and you won’t be able to do it later. LIVE A LITTLE.

She splits the year in three: eating, praying, loving. Eating in Rome. Praying at an Ashram in India. Loving in Bali, Indonesia. Each part of her journey is special in its own way.

Photo thanks to mccun934

In Italy, she learns how to relax and feel pleasure. And no, not that kind of pleasure. Just the pleasure of eating beautiful food, learning a language, making new friends, rebuilding her strength and confidence, releasing the horrors of her depression and rejuvenating. She spends her months there nourishing her mind and body. She gains back all the weight she’d lost during her depression, she breaks off (for good) the love affair that had been draining her, she spends her days not looking at churches or art, but reading, conversing and eating. She lets go of the pressures of her life and simply does exactly what she wants. Which ends up being: learning Italian and eating. She learns from new Italian friends that in Italy, pleasure isn’t something you have to earn, like it is in America/Canada. It’s simply something you deserve, and should have whenever possible. I love this idea of living the way you want, not the way that is dictated to you.

Photo thanks to Meanest Indian

She leaves Italy replenished physically and mentally. Good thing, too, because her next leg is not quite as luxurious. She travels to an Ashram (yoga center) in India. Not yoga as in simply exercise, she explains, yoga as in the lifestyle. Every day they wake at 3AM, mediate for an hour, sing a chant which has 182 verses, spend the day doing some sort of work to give back to the community (in her case, scrubbing the temple floor) and various other activities. It is not easy. She explains in detail about her spirituality, using the word ‘God’ to refer simply to the presence of an ‘all-inclusive and unspeakable entity’. She does not look down on any religions, and believes that any paths that a human can take religion-wise will always lead to the same greater power. She makes a few especially wonderful friends, including a very wonderful voice of reason in the form of Richard from Texas. She experiences great success in mediation practices, learning how to channel such great energy and peace. And most importantly she begins to have a wonderful sense of inner peace and finally relinquishes the pain of her divorce. She becomes more spiritual and harmonious and strong.

Photo thanks to riza

When she finally arrives in Bali, she is rested and at peace. She’d visited two years previous and met a wise old medicine man. She returned for the last leg of her journey: to achieve balance and harmony. She quickly does so: splitting her days between visiting the medicine man, spending time with a divorced Balinese mother, making new friends and actually allowing herself to cultivate a strong romance. Along the way, she tells us much about Balinese culture, which is wonderful and rich. It’s a great conclusion to the story, she finally allows her heart to re-open, while preserving her strength and sense of self.

To me, this book is a love song written to the various cultures of the world. It celebrates individuality, community, the unique, the traditional and the innovative. It says: go out there and carve your own path! Be open to the wisdom of others! Learn as much as you can! Experience different cultures, experience different people, experience yourself. Be exactly who you want to be, especially if it terrifies you.

For me, this was an incredibly interesting and detailed book with a very simple message: live. Just live.

Read this book!

Bookie

11 Jun

One of my two personal bookshelves!

Welcome!

Literature is an ax for the frozen sea within us.

-Franz Kafka

Bonjour! I’m effieboo, and you know me from my website: In Limbo. Far from being bored with my website (on the contrary, I am so passionately in love with my blog that if it was a choice between you or my blog, I might choose blog. But I do love you!), I just wanted to have another sort of community.

You see, such a huge part of my life is reading. Books, literature, ideas. And I wanted to create a place to worship books and their magnificence. To speak fully on the nuances, quotes, truths and poetry found in each book I’ve read. When I read, I tend to be struck by various quotes or thoughts, and will write them down on scraps of paper of in a notebook. I hope that together, we can create a space where all of our paper scrap quotes and their meanings can come together to be talked about. Stories are all we really are, each of us, and books are a reflection of human truths. They are ever-so-important to me, and I know they are ever-so-important to you. So let’s go!

What does she know?

What makes me an expert? Nothing, I’m not an expert! Despite my best wishes (and to the chagrin of my favourite bookstore owner, Rob), I haven’t read nearly enough of the great classic novels of our time. I probably have no idea what I’m talking about when I pick out passages to lean on or tell friends about the tone of a novel. But I think that’s what makes reading so astonishing. Nobody cares if you’re an expert! You’re a human, and humans love stories. We tell them every day! They are the basis for our whole social life (Timmy fell off the play structure, I made ricotta pancakes for breakfast, etc) and so integral to our sense of self.

So, about the website..

So here’s the motto of this website: NO EXPERTS HERE. I don’t want rigorous analysis of grammatical structure or anything like that. I want discussions on what the words mean to you, how they make you feel, how a book changed you. This should be fun, interesting and uplifting.

Let’s just have fun! I’ll start by myself, then bring in contributors (aka friends and family) and then whoever else wants to review a book! Everyone is welcome to participate in the discussion.

Happy Reading!

xoxo, S.