loulamac’s #CBV review #79: 9 Things Successful People Do Differently by Heidi Grant Halvorson

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I bought this for my husband at JFK, as he’s a bit prone to sofa-attachment and procrastination. We were on our way home from a trip that saw me run the Chicago marathon, so I was feeling smug and ‘successful’. One of the eponymous nine things, however, is not buying this book for other people to try to galvanise them into action. That lesson was worth the purchase price alone.

This is a cosy little self-help read that sits snugly in your hand. Which means you can hide the title if you’re on public transport, something I felt the need to do having drawn a few strange looks (us Brits just don’t read books like this). The nine things in question are, as is often the case in books like this, pretty obvious and based on common sense, but as is also often the case do bear writing down and exemplifying.

My personal favourites were numbers one (get specific) and five (focus on getting better rather than being good), as both spoke to my long distance running goals. The rest (which include ‘have grit’ and ‘don’t tempt fate’) are pretty sensible too, and all challenge the notion that successful people have ‘genius’ or ‘talent’ that mere mortals don’t have. According to this helpful little book, being successful is ‘about making smart choices, using the right strategies, and taking action’. You can’t argue with that can you?

In case you’re wondering, my husband’s still sitting on the sofa.

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loulamac’s #CBRV review #67: The Flinch by Julien Smith

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This self-help book is meant to be so life-changing that the publishers are giving it away for free. Either they’re thinking that they have a duty to the human race to share this explosive piece of writing, or they’re doing it on the basis that you’ll then go on to buy Seth Godin’s ‘Poke the Box’. My money’s on the latter.

The premise of The Flinch is that we’re all carrying around atavistic programming that drives our response to threatening or challenging situations. This is the flinch of the title, our instinct to draw back, protect ourselves, put our hands in front of our faces. Thousands of years ago, when our ancestors lived in a world full of very real threats (sabre-tooth tigers, bears etc), the flinch was what kept us alive. But, Smith contends, what used to keep us alive is now holding us back. In the 21st century, capitalist Western world, very few of the things that we face and flinch from represent any real threat. We are simply programmed to avoid a sense of danger or insecurity, and as a result we don’t go for our dream jobs, get out of dead-end relationships. In avoiding the things that scare us, we are limiting our potential, and this book, through some cheesy self-help prose and a series of ‘homework’ exercises, seeks to break that cycle.

It’s an interesting premise, but not dissimilar to that of ‘Poke the Box’ or ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’. So while using the frame of ‘the flinch’ makes it mildly thought-provoking, the content and message of the book is hardly ground-breaking.

 

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #28: Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood by Wayne Muller

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My minister recommended I read this after I found out my husband cheated on me. Well, after I told him about that and he asked me to tell him about my life growing up and some of my other relationships. And I told him about my alcoholic and workaholic father, my mother with her host of problems, the familial strife and secrets, the arrested development I had until I was, oh, I don’t know…well into my 20’s more than likely. I hit the library, ordered a copy and started reading…and it hurt how close to home it hit. I don’t think I made it past the first two or three chapters the first time before returning it. Other books were easier. I was ready for them.

About a month ago, I decided to give it another try. Many things were changing in my life and I needed to take a serious look at some patterns that kept cropping up, see if the past I thought I had “dealt” with was really playing more into my present day than I thought.

And holy hell, I saw myself and my family (and my husband) in so much of this. Patterns of behavior, explanations to those patterns. And throughout the whole book, a gentle, uplifting message. That you can change and transcend those bad roots. And it gives you specific things to meditate about, clear ways to think about things in a new way, to examine why you do certain things and how to improve them.

I was partially afraid it would be a “blame your parents for all the shit that’s wrong with you and take no responsibility yourself” kind of book but it wasn’t. It acknowledges that there are some really fucked up things that parents or family members can do, but that you are the one who needs to make peace with that and move forward. It reminds you that you are not a powerless child anymore. That most likely you are an adult in charge of your own food, clothing, shelter, love, relationships, transportation. There is power in that. There is power in changing your thinking and seeking better from yourself and others in your life. And there is comforting power in this book.

Lollygagger’s #CBR5 Review #34: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Meh.

Since one-word reviews are frowned upon at the Cannonball Read, I’ll elaborate. Like Sophia, who read this book prior (and whose review I should have read first), I had some issues with the depth of this book. I got some useful tips from it, and it was a pretty quick read (I read it in about three days), but I didn’t enjoy it. It was like watching a rerun of one of the filler episodes of Friends – it was fine, and I laughed a bit, but I could have been doing something better with my time. (And also like the characters in friends, the people in this book are affluent, white, and seem fake.)

That’s probably part of my problem. I don’t particularly like what this author presents of herself. While that doesn’t really matter with other books, it’s kind of a big deal with this style of book. There was an ‘aww shucks’ quality that is not my particular cup of tea. Additionally, this woman started from pretty high up on the happiness scale. Not that any happiness discussion should be limited to those who have been deeply unhappy, and I recognize that there is value in helping people improve their lives regardless of where they started from, but COME ON. This woman is rich. This woman has two healthy, adorable daughters that she clearly loves. Both the kids grandparents were alive as of the writing of the book, and her in-laws (whom she also adores) live around the corner. She makes a living following her passion. And all of that was BEFORE she started the Happiness Project.

But as I said, that doesn’t necessarily mean what she’s going to say doesn’t have value; it just means a whole hell of a lot of people aren’t going to be able to find much in common with her and so may find it a little hard to think that singing in the morning is really going to change things for them. And Ms. Rubin is clear that this is *her* happiness project, and that everyone’s will be different. But I’d be more inclined to start on my own if the one I’d just read hadn’t been so … weirdly lacking in self-awareness. For example, she talks about wanting to eat better but seems to applaud herself because she’s NOT going on a diet. She’s just … cutting out food groups entirely to lose weight. O-kay. And while she has the healthy view that you can’t change others, you can only change yourself, some of the discussions around trying to give up needing to be praised kind of make her husband look like he’s taking total advantage of her. And since I know about 300 pages worth of her marriage (i.e. next to nothing), I’ve no right to actually judge that relationship. But it was impossible to remove my thoughts on the author from what the author was saying.

Here’s my take-away: if you respond well to checklists, you’ve got an interest in somewhat saccharin writing, and you are looking for a dozen or so useful nuggets, sure. Add this to your list. Otherwise … no need. Shoot, you can even email me and I’ll send you the items I thought were the most useful if you’d really rather not bother.

ElCicco #CBR5 Review #32: Self-Inflicted Wounds: Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation by Aisha Tyler

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I’m familiar with Aisha Tyler through her work as Lana Kane on the excellent FX network adult cartoon Archer, which my husband and I have been watching since it first aired. But to many others, she is a nerd queen on a level with Mila Kunis and Felicia Day. Tyler is an actor, stand-up comedian, gamer, podcaster, and Ivy-League educated lover of all things geeky and nerdy. She is also a talented and funny writer, and her second book Self-Inflicted Wounds is not only laugh-out-loud funny, but also truly inspiring. It’s comedy but should be cross-referenced under self-help.

Tyler’s message is to “…embrace your fears, learn from your failures, celebrate your victories, and run headlong into (metaphorical) danger.” Yes, you will make mistakes and they might be pretty awful, but you can survive the failure and/or embarrassment. Each chapter of the book then details specific episodes from Tyler’s life in which she sustained “self-inflicted wounds.” These she describes as “… a demon entirely of one’s own making — a self-conjured gorgon pulled from the netherworld, if not voluntarily, then at the very least unbidden. Eventually one has to wake up and smell the metaphorical blood; you did this to yourself.” Rather than allow these self-inflicted wounds to beat her down, Tyler views them philosophically: “You screwed the pooch. All you can do now is try to turn it into a learning experience.”

Tyler has plenty of fodder to draw from for her book, such as: nearly burning down the apartment and ruining her mother’s chiffon blouse when she was a kid and had decided to make fries; revealing her “meditation name” to classmates in a school where she already stood out as the very tall sci-fi reading, boob-sprouting (in 3rd grade) poor vegetarian black girl; joining a renegade a capella singing group at Dartmouth whose signature look was the mock turtleneck; drunk tweeting; and, of course, trying to break into stand-up comedy. My favorite chapter deals with her childhood desire to get her period and purchasing a box of maxi-pads in preparation. She decides to wear one on a test walk around the neighborhood and her description of the event is hysterical.

As humiliating as some of these self-inflicted wounds are, for Tyler, they are worth it. She says, “…I never look back and wish I had gone after something that I didn’t.” She gives a lot of credit (and dedicates this book) to her parents for her adventurous and independent spirit and her resiliency. As funny and entertaining as this book is, at the end, it really is inspiring to consider the adversity and obstacles that might have deterred Tyler from following her dreams. Nothing came easy for her and she’s pretty honest in saying that, for comedy especially, there’s no easy way to succeed. It’s all about hard work and learning how to handle the setbacks.

And if you aren’t familiar with Archer, do yourself a favor and check it out on Netflix or Hulu. It’s one of the smartest and funniest shows on TV. Tyler described it in an NPR interview as being “thinky and stinky,” a potent mix of intellectual and potty humor. They had me from the first “Bartleby the Scrivener” joke.

SJfromSJ’s #CBR5 Review #5: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

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This is a book I looked at a few times in the store but never felt compelled to purchase right away. I was finally compelled days after having an epiphany regarding my work:life balance. I figured maybe I could use some guidance.

Gretchen Rubin is a law-clerk-turned-writer who lives in Manhattan with her husband and two daughters. She had an epiphany one morning that she felt like her life was passing her by and all she wanted from it was to be happy. She decided to devote each month of a calendar year to improving a different facet of her life, including relationships, career-building techniques and general quality of life.  Continue reading