Is this OK with you?

Reviews

9780451483010When I stumbled on the title of this book, I was somewhat excited that this is not just my thing. I’m always that over-eager person who wants to please; the competitive overachiever who basically wants to outdo herself. It’s annoying most of the times, but I think Salie nails it with the moniker.

I started reading Approval Junkie on the plane en route back from London, about an hour after I had finished reading We Were Liars. Don’t get me started on that last book. Suffice it to say, I was clearly not its target audience. Faith Salie‘s book, on the other hand, offered a refreshing change to an issue that’s close to my heart. The book often reads like a set of disjointed self-reflective memoir-style essays, that are mostly punctuated by good punchlines but are also sometimes filled with cringingly personal details that had me feeling awkward for all the named real people mentioned in the book. I mean, they are all a google search away from an actual person with a face, you know.

Salie spends considerable part of the book writing about her (mis)adventures with her ex-husband, which apparently fed a big part of her need for approval. She refers to him as a “wasband” throughout, a name I found annoying, at best. The fact that the book spends so much time on this seemingly toxic relationship between her and ex-husband often had me thinking that the writing was some kind of cathartic, self-exorcism activity that I felt I didn’t need to witness. The personal details she divulges often made me feel uncomfortable, though the writing was good and kept me engaged throughout.

“All this happened at that age[…] when you think thrity is a big deal, and thirty-five equals a spontaneous hysterectomy, when you have to attend a wedding every month, and you fear being left behind by life.”

I found the accounts that dealt with her mother’s loss were the most honest and authentic — she captures the absence of a loved one in a way that connected well with me and read as less performative as her other, more scathing accounts that revolved around her ex-husband. By far my favorite chapter was one focused on her dad, called “Book Marked”. The stories that feature her parents have a starkly different tone to the rest of the book and were really enjoyable to read.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a light, fast read – especially if you’re the kind of person who seeks (implicit or explicit) approval on a daily basis. You’re definitely going to find yourself chuckling out loud, but don’t expect it to be a book you remember much about after a couple of weeks.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding

Reviews

When I first read the title of this book, I chuckled to myself. Sure, it was a bit on the sarcastic side, if not borderline bitter, but it connected with me at a level I thought was noteworthy. It gets a little awkward when you’re past a certain age and everyone else seems to be busy either getting married or having kids. I’m not really in denial or resistant to either, but what’s-the-rush is more of my attitude.

So when I added this book to my Kindle list of unread books some months ago, I accidentally forgot all about it until very recently when I was about to meet up with my best bud from across the pond. Our reunion was set in Italy and we were looking for reading material to both devour and talk about in person (book nerds, much?). I initially recommended Naomi Wood’s Mrs Hemingway, which ended up becoming the very book we ended up reading, only to come across this on my Kindle by accident and promptly asking for a change of plans. I was too late, but as soon as I returned home, I started reading it, regardless.

So, Newman takes a little getting used to. If you liked Eat, Pray, Love and was an avid Sex & The City fan, this is the book for you. The book is divided in terms of trips to different locations, and the travel experience becomes as much a part of the locale as the relationships / flings do. The writing often felt intimate and some of the chapters even felt lifted straight out of a journal entry, and as such were often too divulging in their details. The majority of the book has a rather apologetic tone, the kind you might use with a close friend: I wanted to do this, but you see, I did this because…. I found this unbearably annoying and just wish she could own up to her experiences without needing to justify them. Where she was most honest about her insecurities and personal reservations is where I think the book was at its best because it provided an accessible and personal take on the author; the instances where this was done were limited, though.

Ultimately, this book wasn’t for me. I would say it’s mostly targeted to an American audience that has had a much more limited experience of travel. It all seemed a bit immature to me, but someone reading this could potentially choose to live vicariously through Newman’s experiences.

Ironically my best bud stumbled across this very book at the airport gate on her way back to the US. She’s reading it too, and I can’t wait to hear her take on it because maybe I’m the one who got rubbed the wrong way while reading. Maybe I’m just too damn foreign.

Goal: To be resolute

Commentary

As with every new year, I make a list of resolutions that I often adhere to religiously for the first month or so and then gradually, but persistently ignore until the following December rolls around. Once the reflective period sets itself in motion I rush to wrap up what resolutions can be salvaged, a pitiful attempt to stroke my ego and assuage my ever-increasing fears of not really moving forward in life. Needless to say, my resolution lists are often laughable.

My first problem with resolutions is that they are often overambitious. I’ve learned that if you set your goal way too high, you’re so disappointed with yourself that you can’t really make it happen, you actually quit ahead of schedule. I know this because my resolution last year was to run a half marathon. Have I even run a marathon? No. Does the word marathon scare me? Yes. Does the word half make it sound possibly more attainable? Yes. Did I know how much distance equates to a half marathon? I found out after I wrote down the resolution, and began researching training tips. It suddenly became an overwhelmingly ambitious goal that I decided to forfeit last January, even after I’d run my first 10K.

It consoles me that I am not the only one that falls in this trap. Just today I saw that one of the people I follow on Goodreads had set her 2015 reading challenge (for my slightly obsessive take on this, read this previous post) for 300 books. Surely that’s a little over the top? I mean, live a little, won’t you? Having been in the infuriating situation of not meeting my (what then seemed to be) high goal of 50 books a year, I’ve since toned it down to a meandering 36 for 2015.

Another issue I have with resolutions is that they sometimes don’t make sense to me when I revisit them a year later, either because they are too abstract or generic. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, this year I had to decide whether I actually achieved the following two resolutions:

1. Be less absolute

2. Write more.

The problem with exhibit #1 is that I have no idea what I meant here. Surely some kind of event took place that gave me some kind of profound insight into some obscure character weakness I have (maybe not so obscure if you know me well), but seriously, how the hell am I meant to know if I’ve pinned this one down or not? How much less counts as worthwhile and how much more writing is equal to a gold star? Who knows? Who’s checking? I’ll just quietly put a tick next to both to help my yearly stats and carry on as normal. Don’t tell on me.

So this year, I’ve decided to do things slightly differently: I’ve incorporated other people into my new year resolutions. Before you jump to conclusions, no, this doesn’t mean I’ve made resolutions for others, though I might be better at doing that than doing my own. Actually, the two resolutions I’ve written down and have already started (remember, it’s January still), are:

1. Take up trail running. Keep running. Just run. 

Now I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t make this slightly masochistic. By keep running I mean wake up at 5:30 a.m. on weekdays and go running before work. Why? Because that’s when I have time. Also, the view of the city waking up slowly is pretty breathtaking, and why should the garbage collectors be roaming the streets alone at this beautiful time? And of course, the best way to keep at this post-January is to have a running buddy, who’s more of a masochist than I am.

2. Take #bookportraits

Because of my Goodreads stats obsession, and general voracious reading appetite, I’ve decided to document what I read this year through a series of book portraits that I’ll upload on my flickr page. I’m going to try to add reviews or general thoughts to what I read through this blog (to cover that “write more” goal on my list) because if anything, I’m darn good at reflection. Duh. I’ll be taking these photos along with my partner in crime, who may or may not hate me by the end of this project.

Tune in next year, when I revisit my resolutions and determinedly add “stop collaborative goals” at the top of my list. Oh wait, sorry, that’s just me being absolutely cynical again. (Note to self: be less cynical).

What are your goals?

Essential bookkeeping

Commentary

picture by Moyan Brenn on Flickr

Recently, a friend asked me to get a book for her while I was out shopping. The rules were simple: I need a beach book. Well, deceptively simple. Because really, what makes a good beach book? Something brainless that you can easily sink your teeth into? A story so engrossing that you can’t put it down? A book by your favorite author? Or simply something you just don’t mind getting all wet and gross?

In the absence of a clearcut definition, I rummaged through shelves looking for that vague something, meanwhile feeling an extraordinary amount of pressure on my shoulders. And that’s when I happened on Nick Hornby’s book: Stuff I’ve Been Reading.  To be honest, I’d glanced at this book online when it came and thought, “Why would anyone care?”. I mean it’s not a review of books as such, it bears no story, it’s just a journaling of thoughts surrounding books read by Hornby. And that struck me as the publisher trying to make an extra buck on the name of an established author.

But then, at the bookstore, I leafed through the book. And I loved it.

You see what Hornby does at the beginning of each chapter / entry is begin with a balance sheet of sorts: Books bought Vs Books read. And this stirred my curiosity because the books he buys are just so varied. And it turns out that he buys far more than he reads, and that actually made me feel quite…normal! It also made me look at my own book statistics with a different eye: the lists one can make are endless.

For instance:

Pages read so far in 2014 vs 2013: 7,928  vs 8,792

Fiction vs non-fiction books read so far in 2014: 12 fiction vs 13 non-fiction

Books bought this year:  17

Books read this year: 25

Of which E-books vs Audiobooks vs Physical books: 10 vs 4 vs 11

This kind of incessant list-making of statistics could pretty much go on for a whole day so I’m going to stop myself here. The bottom line is to get reading done, but beyond that bottom line is that competitive ego that wants to see how she’s sizing up against someone like Nick Hornby, or quite frankly even you (how are you sizing up?).

Maybe I’m not the voracious reader I used to be, but I’m definitely not doing that badly, in terms of reading progress. I got a nod of confirmation from the universe just the other day, as I was out for a drink with some friends. The table next to us had a group of 22-year-old girls drinking sangria and philosophizing about the meaning of life, the beginnings of career-making and the unsuspecting changes that occur when growing older. And then one girls says, in a voice of authority reserved for generalized statements: You know once you hit thirty, you stop reading. I can start to see it even now, I mean, I used to read 5 to 6 books a year and now it’s all dwindling to an insignificant number. 

Well, you know, nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone I know has read at least 5 or 6 books so far this year, but maybe I’m hanging out with the wrong crowd. Or maybe we’re all in denial that we’re past thirty.

Yeah, that must be it.

Getting over it

Quote du jour

QUOTEDUJOUR

“You ask everybody you know, How long does it usually take to get over it?

 

There are many formulas. One year for every year you dated. Two years for every year you dated. It’s just a matter of will power: the day you decide it’s over, it’s over. You never get over it.”

Junot Diaz

A Cheater’s Guide to Love

The late adopter

Commentary

I’m what they call a late adopter when it comes to technological gadgets. Though the emphasis in that phrase should be on the adopter, because eventually not only do I adopt new technology but I become its most annoying evangelist.

Usually, I’m resistant in adopting something new, simply because I have so much access to existing technology that seems to work fine. I remember when my (still) favorite cell phone, the Samsung U700, decided to throw in the towel and I had to get a new phone by force. I stood in front of the 30-or-so phones on display and proceeded to internally debate as to whether I should get a touch phone instead. I would ask the salesperson at intervals, “Should I get a touch phone?” repeatedly, and the fact that there was no one in the shop but me made for a pretty uncomfortable exchange for the both of us. In the end I caved in. Today, I’m all for touch technology and all the great conveniences it affords us at the touch of a fingertip (and with a little help from 3G connectivity). You can be the smart-ass of the group at any time — who wouldn’t cherish that?

The same happened when I bought my Kindle ink display. I was doing work on my laptop till late one night during Christmas vacation, and then I got it in my head that having a bunch of Kindles at the school could revolutionize how my students do research. I started getting so excited about it and before I knew it, I had added the product to my basket and I was about to click buy.

I always work on impulse, and I knew that this impulse might have been an unwarranted splurge so I tried to wake up my boyfriend, passed out on the couch, to get an “OK do it, it’s a great idea!” Somehow getting a verification from a third, outside party always works in stroking all my financial insecurities. He tried to be objective, but he was drowsy and it worked to my advantage because two days later, I had a Kindle in my hands that I didn’t know what to do with. I’m an avid reader, and I’m one of those people that loves touching books, leafing through them, stacking them next to my bed, the toilet, the door. So the Kindle brought with it a little existential crisis: did I just betray the book? And what if I ended up loving the Kindle? And so I gave myself the excuse that I would buy e-books that I wasn’t 100% keen on — second-choice books, if you will. But of course, what happens when after you read a second-choice book, you realize it’s actually pretty great? Turns out, nothing happens. Because you’ve still read it, and you feel all the better for it. I marveled at the accessibility, speed and convenience of an e-reader. And it helped me mix up my reading: a real book by my bedside table, an e-book in my bag that I can take out and read whenever I’m waiting in line somewhere and an audiobook in the car.

That’s right. Time wasted: zero. Knowledge gained: maximum.

So recently, I had another great, yet borderline stupid, idea that had me convinced I was missing another gadget in my life. Before breaking off for summer vacation, I borrowed an iPad from school so I could experiment with ways I could actually incorporate use of tablets in my lesson. Needless to say, after some extensive research, I was convinced that this was a great tool that I, as of yet, hadn’t been utilizing. The problem was that I couldn’t very well customize the borrowed iPad to play around with possible apps that could work for different class activities, and so I was actually debating getting an iPad, to add to my technological arsenal. Everyone I asked, first gave me a sour expression. So I asked more people. Turns out, Twitter was for it, as was my bestie across the globe. Verification confirmed. Add to that a random promotional e-mail I received on my school e-mail that informed me of a €100 discount, and heck, even the universe was giving its benign nod to my newest obsession.

And so, hello iPad.

I’m still experimenting, so please, share your iPad insight. I’m in the process of becoming an enthusiast, but I haven’t quite recovered from the shock of realizing the sum of all the technology I own. Sure, my generation has been labeled digital natives, but I wonder the extent to which that’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy or an act of voluntary digital immersion. Behind the glow of LCD screens and frantic tapping we are illuminated with the power of the internet and its connectivity. And that kind of connection in an increasingly disconnected world has come to mean something. It’s come to mean a lot.