Is this OK with you?


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


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.

The third metric for success


In the summer I always go through a non-fiction phase. I’m easy to spot at the beach: amidst a crowd of tan-hungry, light readers holding paperbacks adorned in bright illustrations and catchy titles, I’m the one holding a book with someone’s face on it and a one-word serious heading to top the cake. And I don’t budge from under the umbrella.

So this summer, I let my teeth sink into Arianna Huffington’s Thrive, which had me nodding at various points while reading it. In fact, I ended up underlining so many bits from the book that it ended up becoming a central part of my conversations with friends as I’d whip out my Kindle to quote this and that. The premise of the book is simple: Huffington questions our present-day definition of success — it can’t just be measured in terms of money and power. She claims that there is a need for a third metric for success, which consists of four pillars: well being, wisdom, wonder and giving. She divides the book accordingly and dives into each of those sections and explores the extent of contribution each makes to making individuals more fulfilled and able to succeed.

Being connected in a shallow way to the entire world can prevent us from being deeply connected to those closest to us — including ourselves.

– From Arianna Huffington’s “Thrive”

She peppers the book with great quotes from artists, philosophers, poets and many more and substantiates many of her points with her own experience and with established literature. As such, each of the four sections is broken down to smaller sub-sections that are frequently broken up by interspersed quotes that link to the writing. Though I found most of the quotes great, this kind of disjointed reading made for an awkward reading experience; I often felt like I was reading a series of articles stringed together rather than a cohesive whole.

Huffington goes into great length in discussing technology and our dependence on technology, and in fact extols technological detox — a point that reverberated well with me. Paradoxically though she claims that sometimes the help we need to get away from technology comes from technology, and proceeds to give a list of top apps that help remind us to disconnect an X amount of time per day. This kind of digested, watered down writing, of lists and quotes only helped draw my attention to the fact that this is a format familiar to me from extended online reading. I expect a bit more from a book; if I’ve picked it up to read, it doesn’t have to be broken down into smaller bytes to get a point across. I can handle it, thanks.

 Ours is a generation bloated with information and starved for wisdom.

– From Arianna Huffington’s “Thrive”

Despite these minor quirks, the book is quite reflective in its tone, and this is what I liked best because it also invites the reader to self-reflect. The anecdotal stories help to ring truth to her points and illuminates a more personal Huffington, whose name has almost become a metonymy for success. The stories also make what she’s saying easily relatable to any reader. There is much to digest in this short book, and a great list of follow-up reading provided in the extensive bibliography, and this is purposeful. “Whatever you entry point is — embrace it” she writes in the epilogue. And if there’s one thing certain, it’s that everyone can find an entry point in this book. If anything, it will provide you with great quotable material and an involuntary self-evaluation that may or may not end up changing how you live your life.