Friday, February 28, 2014

Fifty is the New Fifty by Suzanne Braun Levine


Fifty is the New Fifty by Suzanne Braun Levine is a book written for older women, those approaching or already ensconced in middle-age.  When I saw the book in the bookstore, I initially overlooked it, assuming the title was along the lines of “fifty is the new thirty.”  Like many women I know, there is no need to be what we are not.  Being fifty is as wonderful as being any other age.  To desire to be something you cannot be is an exercise in futility.  I refuse to invest in that mentality and seek resources that celebrate a woman’s age at every age.

This book does precisely that, each chapter focusing on a different facet of a woman’s life.  The author talks about this time in a woman’s life as a “Second Adulthood,” a term I did not especially find necessary or even appropriate.  It’s like suggesting there’s also a second childhood (there isn’t!) or third adulthood.  I’m content with one journey through being an adult and don’t need to subdivide it beyond what my body will naturally do for me (aka menopause). 

Chapter by chapter, Levine addresses how women redefine themselves through learning to say “no” to those things that no longer offer fulfillment, how friendships with other women also change, how older women can mentor younger ones, and the changes above and beyond the purely physical aspect of menopause.  There are many stories of other women’s lives.  So while one woman shares a story of leaving a life or lifestyle behind, another woman’s story focuses on going deeper into who she has always been.  Career changes, relationships ending or beginning, traveling to a new country or moving into a new home.  Life doesn’t necessarily settle down with age but that’s as much because women have learned not to settle.  Becoming older, Levine suggests, means coming into her own and she encourages the reader to not follow anyone else’s path but forge her own, regardless of what the perceived consequences may be. 

I didn’t especially connect with some of the chapters and felt that the last chapter, in particular, felt forced, as though the author didn’t know how she wanted to end her book so she tried to write something profound.  Profundity should feel organic, not simply tacked on.  There’s enough good content to make this book a good one for its target audience but I still prefer Victoria Moran’s Younger by the Day, a book I recommend to all women who are approaching menopause, and all that this change implies. On a purely practical level, I also recommend The Best of Everything After 50 by Barbara Hannah Grufferman.  I would recommend this book after those, if more information and/or encouragement is needed to journey through the 50s and beyond.  

Thursday, February 27, 2014

God is Disappointed in You by Mark Russell


God is Disappointed in You by Mark Russell is meant to be a sardonic look at the Bible, going through from Genesis to Revelation, with illustrations from New Yorker cartoonist Shannon Wheeler.   My expectations may have been too high or the humor not my cup of tea because, in the end, I was left feeling apathetic.  An occasional chuckle does not make up for the blah blah blah boredom I experienced and, by the time I reached the Book of Psalms, I found myself wanting to flip through just to look at the cartoons and forget slogging through the rest.

Yes, some of the observations Russell makes aren’t amusing.  After all, he’s right—Israel is the only nation named after a wrestler.  However, as I read the book, I became increasingly confused about who is the intended audience for this book.  Is it the Bible believer?  Probably not as Russell and Wheeler clearly don’t take the the Bible seriously enough to please Christians.  Is it the person who doesn’t believe in the inerrant Word of God?  Maybe, but the humor is more quirky than extreme, more silly than insightful.  I can only imagine how one of the New Atheists would virtually eviscerate the text.

Wheeler’s illustrations are what you would expect from a New Yorker cartoonist.  Sardonic, satiric, and really the best part of the book.  The problem as I see it is that Christians will think the book disrespects the Bible and non-Christians will think the humor doesn’t go far enough.  If, as I said, I can’t figure out who the reader should be, I know one thing for certain—this book is not written for a reader like me.  Fact is, I can't think of a single person who would appreciate this book more than I and can think of quite a few who would appreciate it less.  God may be disappointed in me.  I'm disappointed in this book.  *sigh*

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin


The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin is a look at how the author pushed herself outside of her comfort zone to both change behaviors she didn’t appreciate in herself and develop new ways of being.  At one point she shares a story of how she went to her husband and announced that her blog was a form of stunt nonfiction and, from this experience, she was able to develop a whole book.  She’s not the first and she probably won’t be the last.  There’s definitely a market for these types of books and I’ve read one or more myself.  Let us not forget that some people even manage to get a movie deal out of the “stunt.”

The truth is, I didn’t start off reading this book for myself.  I liked the premise and I know someone who I thought would benefit from the idea.  You see, Rubin does something slightly different from the usual “New Year’s Resolutions.”  Rather than trying to commit to a long list of changes to be implemented at the beginning of the year, she decides to introduce new things once a month.  So January is focused on decluttering and boosting her energy, February on not nagging and her relationship with her husband, etc.  Each month has a theme and there are several things she tackles during the month, with each habit not necessarily mastered at month’s end.  Mastery is not the goal here so much as practice so January’s intentions roll over into February and both January and February into March, etc.  Layering her goals rather than trying to do them all at once. 

And really, is it any wonder people give up on their New Year’s Resolutions after only a few weeks when more often than not the resolutions involve numerous changes and adaptations to one’s schedule?  So I love how she plans things out in a way that allows the year to evolve, and her with it.

There are a few things I didn’t like, and I want to focus on those a moment because I definitely want to end on a (well-deserved) positive note.  Rubin refers to a lot of research and studies but she never specifically cites them.  I would like to read the data for myself.  When someone vaguely says, “Studies show most people blah blah blah” I want to know several things—who sponsored the research, who participated in the research, how was the research conducted (survey, double blind, etc.).  After all, for decades tobacco companies claimed research that proved cigarette smoking was not hazardous to your health but never admitted that they themselves paid for the research.  And political parties can pull research pro and con to support their political stance but so much depends on how the statistical data are gathered, how a question is phrased, etc.   It is not enough for this reader to have some author tell me “research shows.”  Show, don’t tell.  Show me the research.  I’m intelligent enough to draw my own conclusions on the reliability, or lack thereof, of the research.

Also, as I mentioned before, I picked this book up with a specific person in mind and quickly realized that she would not appreciate it very much.  There were times I confess that the author’s bougie dilemmas irritated me.  Not to say I didn’t feel a kindness towards her or even sympathize with some of her struggles.  How could I not read about her sister’s diabetes diagnosis and not project empathy towards her having gone through a very similar situation with my own husband?  But I did find it tedious to read some of the chapters, so much so that I put the book down for a week or more at a time, just to get a break from it.  Yes, I learned some things in the chapter on parenting but I’m no longer at that stage in my personal life and reading the chapter was more a duty than a joy.

Nonetheless, I definitely enjoyed this book far more than I struggled with it.  Perhaps this is because early on I latched on to what she said about other people’s Happiness Project looking different from hers.  (She repeats this . . . repeatedly . . . because I guess she doesn’t trust her reader to remember her saying it even one time.)  Still, it’s a good point.  I’m not a mother and I don’t think even Rob feels I nag him.  In fact, he has encouraged me to nag more than I do.  Well, nag my children more, anyway.  For him, he just wants gentle reminders. 

I would recommend reading this book not as a how-to guide so much as an atlas, mapping the way you can try to make similar changes in your own life.  For Rubin this included things like taking a laughing yoga class, buying herself small but pleasing things, taking a five day Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain workshop, etc.  But really, and what I saw happening as I read along, what Rubin did was simply reframe her circumstances to allow more room for pleasure, for acceptance, for kindness, and, yes, for joy/happiness.  How she did this is not the point.  And how you do it, how I do it, will be different but no less valuable.

PS:  I still may not think that this book is a good fit for the one person but I can think of two other people that will appreciate it very much.  Now I just need to keep my eye out for it in the second-hand bookstore. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman


Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman with illustrations by Skottie Young is a delightful story about a father’s adventures running to the store to get his two children some milk.  When their mother goes away, she seems to be unconvinced that he will be able to take care of them and it does take him a little longer to get home than it probably should.  But once he tells the children why it took him so long, it makes perfect sense.

Okay.  Not really.  Because the story he tells is outrageous, unbelievable, and so much fun to read.  The children occasionally interject their skepticism, reflecting what the reader is experiencing.  Well, this reader, anyway.  And the illustrations but Skottie Young are quirky, delightful, perfect for this book I plan on buying for Bibi because I’m sure she’ll love laughing along with ridiculous story.

Definitely a must read.  And clearly a must own.  So glad I borrowed this from the library.  I needed something fun to read. 


Monday, February 24, 2014

Online Content Marketing in 30 Minutes by Derek Slater


Online Content Marketing in 30 Minutes by Derek Slater is a bare bones look at content marketing, written for the small-to-medium sized business.  There is internal evidence that this book was intended to be only an e-book and I almost didn’t finish reading it past the introduction because of a graphic with a rather glaring typo/misspelled word. 

I’m glad I didn’t give up on the book altogether.  I found it to be very interesting, albeit it took me longer than 30 minutes to read and I’m a fast reader.  The author begins with where you and your business are today.  Starting with the end in mind, something he admittedly took from Stephen Covey, he has the reader look at what is already there.  Using Google AdSense and similar online tools to assess what content is already working for the business as the foundation, Slater gives several ideas of how to build from there.  No need to reinvent the wheel.  Maybe just add some new tires to increase your traction.

There are three additional chapters at the end of the book--one summarizing the overall content, and two more from other books written by the author.

Ultimately, the book was interesting because I learned a few things.  If you know about content marketing and want to learn some new tricks of the trade, this book will not meet your needs. But for a novice like me, it was insightful.  I almost wish I owned a business so I could put some of its suggestions to good use.  As it is, I think I know a few people who will benefit from my newfound knowledge and I may even know someone to whom I can pass this book.  Regardless, I know it won’t go to waste.




Monday, February 17, 2014

The New Atkins Made Easy by Collette Heimowitz


The New Atkins Made Easy: The New Atkins Made Easy: A Faster, Simpler Way to Shed Weight and Feel Great -- Starting Today! by Collette Heimowitz is the latest in the still growing library of books that explain the Atkins diet.  I haven’t read them all nor do I think anyone really needs to.  If you already know the research and the rationale behind the Atkins diet, you don’t have to worry about spending too much time revisiting familiar territory.  Most of the technical content is saved for the end of the book. 

While the Atkins content itself may not be new, the easy part is definitely something different.  The specifics of when and how to transition between phases is more clear and each chapter ends with a personal story from someone who has successfully used Atkins to lose weight.  Some of the people have even fallen off the Atkins wagon but recommit watching carb calories to lose the weight again.  Men and woman, younger and older people all share their stories and each also shares a simple tip that helped them reach success. 

There are also new recipes and the usual (for diet books anyway) menu plans so you don’t have to think too much.  They even include a shopping list, which you can find on the atkins.com website.  There were a few recipes my husband and I are going to try, including desserts.  This is not necessarily new as each Atkins book I’ve seen includes recipes and such but now there are foods that are more easily available than before.  Coconut flour and flax seed were hard to find when Atkins first published in 1972.  There are some other changes.  And not too long ago, hardly anyone had heard of kale chips but this book includes a recipe for making your own. 

While before unlimited amounts of certain cheeses were allowed, now there are limits.  Nor is Atkins a high-fat diet.  Lean proteins are encouraged and most of the daily carbohydrates, even in the earliest stage, come from green vegetables like broccoli, kale, and spinach, alongside such other choices as cauliflower.   Over all, this book is far more reader-friendly and accessible than Dr Atkins’ New Diet Revolution.  For those who like ease, there are more Atkins pre-packaged foods as well.  These are clearly labeled by stage so you know which are permissible and can wait until later.  As for me and my husband, we love cooking from scratch so incorporating some of the new recipes into our menu will be a joy.  Definitely a book I recommend to anyone considering a low-carb diet.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Marilyn & Me by Lawrence Schiller


Marilyn & Me by Lawrence Schiller is a very short memoir by one of the lucky photographers who had the opportunity to work with Marilyn Monroe.  When he first meets her, she is working on Let’s Make Love and he is a young photographer, aching for an opportunity to have one of his photographs on the cover of a magazine like Look or Life.  There are several photographs from Shciller’s own collection taken at several times he was invited to take photographs of her, some taken merely days before her death.

In spite of its brevity, Schiller manages to convey the complicated person that Monroe was, surrounded as she was by people who wanted to protect her (like her personal assistant and acting coach) and those who wanted to exploit her (directors, magazine editors, and the many men who hoped to become her lover).  As he tries to capture candid moments, he talks with her.  She is determined and frustrated but also vulnerable, as unsure of herself in the real world as she is bold and confident in front of the camera.

The most interesting part of this memoir for me was how Schiller himself becomes merely an opportunist.  He is aggressive about one particular set of photos, striving to keep them exclusive and, even after Monroe herself shows ambivalence about one of his ideas, he continues to pursue it completely disregarding her lack of interest, practically manipulating her into doing something she clearly does not wish to do.  When she says “You’re like a business man” he cannot even recognize the implied judgment, the nuanced accusation a pretty woman is making when talking about herself in relationship to him.

This book can easily be read in a day, enjoyed for what it is—one man’s memories about a remarkable woman.  Schiller doesn’t fall into the hubris of thinking he was an influence in her life but it is clear she had a lasting impact on his own.  At least on his career, anyway.  But he isn’t the only man whose professional life benefited greatly from having Marilyn Monroe in it.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Fourth Comings by Megan McCafferty


Fourth Comings by Megan McCafferty is the fourth in the Jessica Darling series and in some ways redeems some of the flaws in the previous two books while still having a few flaws of its own.  The novel picks up shortly after the third book ends, with Jessica filling in a blank book given to her at the end of the third book.  Rather than the usual journal entries, this book is written to the person who gave her the book.  Having graduated from college, Jessica is trying to step boldly into being an independent adult which is, unfortunately, easier said than done.  She lives with two of her friends from previous books (but don’t count on learning much more about Hope as a character) while coming to terms with her love life.

It isn’t easy writing about this series at this point without giving away spoilers so, if I seem a bit vague, please forgive me.  Something happened towards the end of the third novel that I found distasteful with one of the characters manipulating Jessica that would infuriate me if it were done to someone I knew in real life.  That is ultimately resolved in this fourth book but it takes a while to get there.

The first few “entries” in the book were a bit contrived.  Imagine someone has given you a book and you are writing to that someone.  Now, you and this someone have a conversation and you promise to think things over, which you are now doing in writing in the book, with the intention of giving that same someone the book in a week.  Why then would you waste time writing about the conversation you just had with the person?  Unless you know the person has a piss poor memory, aren’t they going to read this a week later and remember the conversation? 

Obviously, the sole purpose in contriving to have Jessica record the conversation is for the reader to have a context for what follows.  It is clunky, awkward, illogical and unfortunately necessary, I suppose.  I think a good editor would have pointed out this rather glaring flaw in the narrative logic and suggested the author come up with something more reasonable even if it were to have Jessica have a conversation with one of her three roommates that tells the reader the same thing.  Yes, it would have been an obvious bit of exposition but it would have at least made some sense.  But knowing that the person to whom Jessica is writing quite probably remembers the conversation verbatim, there is no reason for her to bother writing it all out and I couldn’t help but get caught up in the obvious flaw.

Another problem I found with the logistics of this particular novel is that Jessica writes a lot in very few days.  How did she have the time to fill two notebooks in a week’s time and still have time to go to a club, a party, an art gallery opening, have a job interview, see her family, etc., and still find time to write about it in detail?  Not probable or even possible. 

Regardless, I still found myself caught up in Jessica and her story.  Sure, I still have no clue what to make of any of the flat characters that fill her life but Jessica herself is fun and believable.  How she responds to her life, her circumstances, makes sense because she is both young and smart, candid with herself even when she’s writing to an audience.  No, not the many readers out there, that conversation that spans pages 21-36, but the someone who is supposed to read be reading the book at the end of the week, that special someone who must have the worst memory ever.  Yes, I’ll be reading the fifth book and I think I’ll enjoy it in spite of any flaws I may find. 
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