Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

the life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing by Marie Kondo
Published October 2014 by Potter/Ten Speed/ Harmony/Rodale
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary: 
Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles?

Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).

With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international bestseller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home—and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.

My Thoughts: Although I didn’t start organizing my things when I was only five, as Kondo did, I’ve long been looking for the best way to keep the things we have organized and to keep the number of those things from becoming out of control. When this book first came out, I certainly considered giving Kondo’s methods a try. But the whole idea of touching every single item in my house and deciding if it “sparked joy” started to seem more and more preposterous and turned me off from looking into her methods further.
Having recently enjoyed Kondo’s Netflix show, I decided it was time to give it a try. I still think touching every single item in my house and deciding if it sparks joy is a bit nuts, particularly assuming you look at things strictly as needing to be something that makes you happy.

After watching the show and reading the book, though, I feel like I can broaden that out a little and make it work for me. Would not having a particular object make me unhappy, for example? Take, for example, a toilet plunger. I doubt even Marie Kondo looks at hers and finds that it sparks joy. But not having one would certainly make me unhappy.

I do think Kondo is all too eager to convince us to part with some things. She recommends, for example, we toss all boxes that purchases come in, suggesting we can always find another box to put that item in if the need should arise. This doesn’t take into account the fact that some manufacturers require you to return items in the packaging in which they arrived. It doesn’t take into account the idea that people may move frequently and having the originally packaging for an item will absolutely be the best way to pack that item up for transport, as my son has found in his many moves. Mind you, those boxes are stored in my basement, not his apartment, so that might not work as well if he had to find storage space for them. It also goes against Kondo’s dictum that shifting your things onto others is a no-no.

The absolutely craziest thing I found in this book was Kondo’s idea that dishes should be dried on the veranda. You know, the place were bugs might (in Nebraska, will) land on them. Sunlight may be a good disinfectant, Marie, but not good enough to kill off the fly poop that’s getting on my dishes outside, to say nothing of dirt. All that being said, I did find a lot of good to take away from Kondo.

I’ve previously tried the idea of getting rid of one thing every day. I’ve done 40 Bags In 40 Days for several years now, working on one area of the house each day. And still I feel overwhelmed by the amount of things we have. Clearly those methods are not doing for me what I need done. I like the idea of breaking the process down into categories and working through one category before moving onto the next. Kondo’s order that the categories should be done in makes perfectly logical sense to me, guiding people through the easier categories first and leaving sentimental items for last.

It makes perfectly logical sense to me to make sure we are gathering all of one category together before we start deciding what to keep. In my house, there are writing utensils in three different places on the first floor alone; there is no one to know if we are holding on to far too many pens in total if we never see them altogether. And Kondo provides good guidance on how to part with items we are only holding onto out of guilt. And while I balked when she started talking about getting rid of large quantities of unread books, suggesting that if you didn’t read them when they first came into your house, you never would, later she did make allowances for people who might want to hold on to more, as long as their remaining books made them happy.

Kondo clearly developed her method around the Japanese way of life. Some of the things she’s done to make her method work for her would not work for me. Kondo and I will just have to agree to disagree when it comes to talking for our inanimate objects and expecting a response. But, as I do with all methods, I’ll take what will work for me and give it a try. If it fails, Kondo would clearly believe it’s because I didn’t follow all the rules, including thanking my house and all of my things for the great job they are doing, but I’m good with that.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
Read by: Hope Jahren
Published: April 2016 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
Geobiologist Hope Jahren has spent her life studying trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Lab Girl is her revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also a celebration of the lifelong curiosity, humility, and passion that drive every scientist. In these pages, Hope takes us back to her Minnesota childhood, where she spent hours in unfettered play in her father’s college laboratory. She tells us how she found a sanctuary in science, learning to perform lab work “with both the heart and the hands.” She introduces us to Bill, her brilliant, eccentric lab manager. And she extends the mantle of scientist to each one of her readers, inviting us to join her in observing and protecting our environment. Warm, luminous, compulsively readable, Lab Girl vividly demonstrates the mountains that we can move when love and work come together.
My Thoughts:
Finally – a book I feel like merits being on all of the best-of lists the year it was published! This is a book that is beautifully written, painfully open and honest, makes science come alive, and is one of the best read books I’ve to which I've listened.

Jahren is telling so many stories in the book – what it’s like to try to do scientific research in an age where there is shockingly little money for it, what it’s like to try to rise as a scientist when you’re female, her life outside of being a scientist including her battle with mental illness and a very dangerous pregnancy, and the story of the wonderful friendship she and Bill have had for decades.

When Jahren became convinced that she couldn’t become a doctor, she decided to major in English literature. It shows in her often poetic writing, never more so than when she includes passages from David Copperfield to illustrate points she is making in the chapter about her time working in the pharmacy of a hospital.

Oh, my lord, if you don't read this book for any other reason, you really do need to read it for the relationship that Jahren has with Bill. They have such a close bond that if her now husband would have had a problem with Bill, that would have been a deal breaker. They "get" each other in ways that are both poignant and so very, very funny.

Did I mention that the book is often hilarious? Jahren finds the humor in ridiculous situations but she also uses humor as a shield against pain. From her relationship with her mother to her bipolar disorder, from her pregnancy to her battle against men in her profession, Jahren is brutally honest about what she has been through and her ability, or inability, to handle these times.

Jahren’s passion for science shines throughout the book but she never gets dragged down by it. She finds a way to make plant life relatable to life’s events that is original and captivating. And Jahren as the reader of her own book is absolutely marvelous - she knows how to make a book come alive, how to make readers feel her pain and her passion.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Life: It Goes On - June 23

This past week I had to question that title. Last Sunday morning, we got the news that some of our oldest, dearest friends' son had been killed the night before in a motorcycle accident. The funeral was Friday. And still today I struggle to believe that it can be true. I'm so sad for my friends and their other children; I worry about how this is affect them as a family. Their family is our family. He and Mini-me were great friends. We just went to his wedding last fall. Right now I'm as angry as I am sad. This past week has passed in a fog and the only thing that has helped me get through it is to throw myself into books. I've got so many reading commitments I need to take care of, but what I really want to do is re-read Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished Hope Jahren's Lab Girl and started Mindy Kahling's Is Everyone Else Hanging Out Without Me?

Watched: A lot of the College World Series and, in an effort to find something that would be a comfort food kind of a movie, Reese Witherspoon in Home Again. I'm sad to say that I can't recommend it and know why I'd never heard of it before finding it on Netflix. In an effort to get over that Witherspoon memory, yesterday I started watching the latest season of Big Little Lies, in which she stars. I'm curious to see where they go with it now that they don't have source material to work from.

Read: I finished Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and read Melanie Benjamin's The Girls In The Picture. 

Made: It's been all I can do this week to scrounge up meals; I've had no interest at all in cooking so nothing note worthy has been made this week.

Enjoyed: Watching my three kids on Friday. I know they're all adults but watching them talk with our friends, meeting new people, and providing comfort to the family reminded me again of how incredibly proud I am of them.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On getting caught up on things that have fallen by the wayside this week.

Thinking About: Starting up Marie Kondo's tidying up process soon.

Feeling: Helpless. What to do to help? What to say?

Looking forward to: A quiet week.

Question of the week: If you've lost a child or know someone who has, I'd love your advice on how I can help my friends. What to say to help them through it? How much should I check in? When does reaching out become intrusive?

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
Read by Rebecca Lowman
Published April 2018 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: checked out the audiobook from my library

Publisher's Summary: 
To be admired by someone we admire—we all yearn for this: the private, electrifying pleasure of being singled out by someone of esteem. But sometimes it can also mean entry to a new kind of life, a bigger world.

Greer Kadetsky is a shy college freshman when she meets the woman she hopes will change her life. Faith Frank, dazzlingly persuasive and elegant at sixty-three, has been a central pillar of the women’s movement for decades, a figure who inspires others to influence the world. Upon hearing Faith speak for the first time, Greer—madly in love with her boyfriend, Cory, but still full of longing for an ambition that she can’t quite place—feels her inner world light up. And then, astonishingly, Faith invites Greer to make something out of that sense of purpose, leading Greer down the most exciting path of her life as it winds toward and away from her meant-to-be love story with Cory and the future she’d always imagined.

Charming and wise, knowing and witty, Meg Wolitzer delivers a novel about power and influence, ego and loyalty, womanhood and ambition. At its heart, The Female Persuasion is about the flame we all believe is flickering inside of us, waiting to be seen and fanned by the right person at the right time. It’s a story about the people who guide and the people who follow (and how those roles evolve over time), and the desire within all of us to be pulled into the light.

My Thoughts:
It's official - I am not Wolitzer's biggest fan. I've suspected as much when I've read other books she's written (The Ten-Year Nap, The Uncoupling, and The Interestings) but this time I was certain that I was going to be blown away by her writing. I mean, this book got rave reviews. Kirkus Reviews, which I feel has issues with every book they review, called The Female Persuasion "the perfect feminist blockbuster." I'm all about feminism so this should be perfect for me, I should finally really be able to connect with one of Wolitzer's novels.

Meh - not so much.

An anonymous reviewer on Barnes and Noble's site had this to say:
"I'm considering building a video game where no one can find the plot to this book. People will search everywhere and it will go into excruciating detail about all the characters' back stories as well as forecast the details of their future. Gamers will try to guess what it is that will actually "happen" and keep playing and playing learning little cliches about how life is hard and disappointing but also sometimes kind of great. And sometimes the players will level up but it won't last, they'll end up going back down levels in confusion because, guess what? The game will have no plot, no way to win. No way to ever let the player succeed and I'm thinking that way players will *have to come back for more!"
It's perhaps a little harsh; the book is not entirely without a plot. But the larger point is that it keeps getting lost in never ending backstories that keep popping up well into the book. Maybe Wolitzer's point is to remind readers that things are not always as they appear on the surface. Valid point. And Wolitzer certainly explores many of the issues that face women these days, that are foremost in the minds of feminists (and should be foremost in the minds of most women). She addresses campus sexual assault and the responses of college administrations, abortion, social activism, sexual orientation, finding our voice, and empowerment. Along the way, Wolitzer touches on other important themes including fidelity, loss, compromise, chasing your dreams, and friendship.

There's a lot going on here and I'm not suggesting it's not a good book; it is a good book. And at least it didn't make me angry, like The Ten-Year Nap did. Like all of Wolitzer's books, it made me think, which I find important in a book. But I've been convinced to read four of Wolitzer's books now, which is a lot by one author for me. She has yet to really blow me away with her writing and I am always look for the books that will blow me away. It's time to stop looking at Wolitzer to do that.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert

The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert
Published February 2014 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my copy purchased the the Omaha Lit Fest and signed by the author

Publisher’s Summary: On the eve of the World’s Fair, Ferret Skerritt, ventriloquist by trade, con man by birth, is unsure how the fair’s events will change him or his city. Omaha still has the marks of a filthy Wild West town, even as it attempts to achieve the grandeur and respectability of nearby Chicago. But when he crosses paths with the beautiful and enigmatic Cecily, his purpose shifts, and the fair becomes the backdrop to their love affair.

One of a traveling troupe of actors that has descended on the city, Cecily works in the Midway’s Chamber of Horrors, where she loses her head hourly on a guillotine, playing Marie Antoinette. And after closing, she rushes off, clinging protectively to a mysterious carpetbag, never giving Ferret a second glance. But a moonlit ride on the swan gondola, a boat on the lagoon of the New White City, transforms everything when the fair’s magic begins to take its effect.

My Thoughts: I have long been a fan of Schaffert’s and grabbed this one up shortly after it was released when I was at an event where I could have it signed. And then it sat. Because I’m Facebook friends with him and I was sort of holding off on it until I knew he had another book headed to the publisher. Seems he’s still working away but I couldn’t wait any longer; it felt like this was just the book I needed.

I was right. The Swan Gondola absolutely enchanted me. Truly, I was under Schaffert’s spell from the beginning, when I was introduced to the Old Sisters Egan, two sisters who live on the plains of Nebraska and whose quiet existence is suddenly upended when a hot air balloon crashes into their house and Ferret Skerritt is deposited, broken bones and broken spirit, in their field. From there Schaffert weaves his story back and forth in time, including letters from Ferret and Cecily.

Of course, I’m particularly partial to the story because it’s set in Nebraska, most of it in Omaha. I was also eager to learn more about the World’s Fair that was celebrated in Omaha in 1898 and 1899. Nothing, no landmark of any kind remains of it today which makes it all the more fascinating and mythical – it hardly seems possible that it happened in what was then a dirty, rough city on the edge of the wilderness. I really only knew about the New White City portion of the fair – the beautiful, magnificent, educational buildings that appeared out of nowhere. What a treasure it would be if any of them had survived! But I had no idea that there had been an equally large midway and it’s really there that Schaffert sets his love story.

It's a love story that's melodramatic in all of the right ways and it feels every bit as Victorian as the time period it is set in. A murderous automaton, backgrounds that make both Ferrett and Cecily damaged goods, an incredibly wealthy man who will pull out all of the tricks to get what he wants, and a cast of characters that the Lincoln Journal-Star reviewer called lovable "Schaffert-esque." I know exactly what he meant - Schaffert always peoples his books with characters who are quirky, often damaged, and have emotional depth.

The Swan Gondola is certainly influenced by L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz but it is absolutely not a retelling, more of an homage. Schaffert includes a character named Dorothy, a balloonist who crash lands into another land, an Emerald Cathedral, and even a cyclone. To an extent, I suppose you could even say that the ending resembles Baum's book in a way. But it's also an ending that settles quietly, even as Schaffert throws one last surprise readers' way.

There is an element of spiritualism and even, perhaps, a bit of magic. You all know how I feel about magic in my books and I began to be concerned that a book I was enjoying so much was going to veer too far down that path. But Schaffert plays that perfectly for my tastes and I came away without feeling like he had copped out of trying to resolve his story in a mystical way.

I really don't know why this hasn't been optioned for a movie. In its scope, its characters, its story lines, I would love to see this on the big screen.