Book review – Life Reimagined by Barbara Bradley Hagerty

25776251To be completely honest, when I first started listening to Life Reimagined, I was filled with dread and regret: I’m going to die alone, immobile and demented! It’s a hard book to read when you’re in the middle of questioning all your life decisions (what I thought was a mild “mid-life crisis”, but this book points out that mid-life crises don’t exist). This book doesn’t sugar coat the science, so it can be tough to read. But, it’s also incredibly interesting.

Hagerty lays out the truth of mid-life: we all think that this is when life takes a downward turn, and the choices we make now can certainly have major impacts on our health and well-being in the future, but mid-life is full of new possibilities and opportunities to explore new hobbies and new purposes. As the summary states, “It’s the time to renegotiate your purpose, refocus your relationships, and transform the way you think about the world and yourself.”

Hagerty looks at biology, genetics, sociology, neurology, psychology, and how they all link together, affecting our health and relationships. She ties these to our potential futures, lining our current choices with our future physical and mental health.

I was particularly interested (and worried) about the correlation between mental health (depression, dementia, etc.) and our social lives. Essentially, we all need to remember to stay connected with friends and family, even if we are introverts who’d rather stay at home with a good book. Thankfully, for those of us who still want to read more than we socialize, reading is good for our brains, too.

What I loved best about this book was that Hagerty was honest about the data, but she wasn’t doom and gloom – she focused on the good and showed how even little changes are correlated with good outcomes. Essentially, we all need to eat better, walk more, read on occasion, learn new things on occasion, and stay connected. This is not new information for most of us, but it was nice to see if outlined in the context of middle age.

I enjoyed reading this book, though, as mentioned at the start, it was a bit tough at times. It’s easy to feel we’re failing to lead the “perfect” life, but I kept reminding myself that if I could do just 75% of what Hagerty says I should be doing, then I’m doing better than before. And, I’m both improving my future and my current mental and physical health.

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30×30 direct watercolour challenge – week two

I’ve been participating in Marc Taro Holmes’ 30×30 direct watercolour challenge. This a round-up of the paintings I did for days 8-14 (you can see 1-7 here).

This week involved a lot of quick and simple paintings. You can see them and, where applicable, the reference photos on Instagram.

I should note that I have no training in watercolours. I’m using this challenge as a means of learning, practising, and playing with watercolours.

8. Feather

This painting ended up being a little overworked because I still wasn’t practiced with determining when the painting is the right level of wet/dry for what you need (I’m still not!). But, I had fun trying and the colour mixing was just about perfect, thanks to Payne’s Grey (a personal favourite).

9. Flowers

I just needed a day of playing with all the beautiful colours in my palette and doing something easy. Bonus gold dots!

10. Somewhat abstract sunsets, 2 versions

I wanted to play with colour fields again. I was also starting to think about ideas for an upcoming beginner rug hooking class with Fern School of Craft (I won’t be using these as they’re bigger and more complex than I wanted).

11. A continuation of the abstract sunsets, 3 versions

More playing with sunsets and colour. I think that this one would make a cool quilt.

12. Aster and forest litter (and close-ups)

I’m in love with the aster, not so much the forest litter painting. But, asters are one of my all time favourite flowers and I love the picture this one was based on.

13. Lemon plants

I started some lemon plants last year, and they’re still alive! On this day, I just felt like doing something simple and cheerful.

14. Rocky edge of Lake Louise, AB, 2 versions plus a practice page

Oh the irony. My practice piece is where I did my favourite rocks. I don’t dislike my final piece, but those rocks were tough. I’m still struggling with finding the perfect wet/dry points wen painting and I don’t know if that’s because I’m impatient/distracted or because it’s dry where I live or because this paper isn’t ideal. But, I still enjoyed the efforts and the turquoise water (Wanderlust Watercolour’s turquoise was perfect – no colour mixing required).

***

I was struggling for a few days, which is why I allowed myself to do some really basic, quick and messy abstract sunset pictures. I’m really bad about sticking to challenges and decided to doing something easy was better than quitting. And, I’m glad I gave myself this freedom because this marks the halfway point and I still have some great ideas and I still want to see this challenge through tot he end.

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30×30 direct watercolour challenge – week one

I’ve been participating in Marc Taro Holmes’ 30×30 direct watercolour challenge. This a round-up of the paintings I did in the first seven days.

I started with a few pictures based on or inspired by pictures from my family’s cottage, but I also did a number of abstract style paintings. I’ve had a several days where I’ve completed more than one painting, so there’s more than 7. You can see them and, where applicable, the reference photos on Instagram.

I should note that I have no training in watercolours. So, while some of the paintings are surprisingly good (to me, anyway), I’m using this challenge as a means of learning, practising, and playing with watercolours.

1. The tail end of a sunset in the winter

This challenge started on a high note. While not perfect, I’m really pleased with this painting.

2. The silhouette of grasses with the early evening sky as a backdrop

To be honest, I just wanted to try the clouds I did in the first painting again.

3. The reef at the beach on an overcast day

So far, this is my favourite painting. I love it, love it, love it. I’m so proud of this painting. It’s a sandbar (bottom) and reef (which partially emerges when the tide is low).

4. (a) Pyramids (abstract) and (b) river running through a forest (abstract)

The pyramid started as a completely different idea, but a mistake ruined that plan. I happened to be watching a The Nature of Things episode about pyramids (video), so I changed my plans. The second painting was just an excuse to play with colours and salt (that’s how you get that cool effect).

5. Seaweed and stone

All those little pebbles? They took more patience than I had that day. But, I’m really glad that I persevered because the final piece is exactly what I’d expect to find in between the sandbars at my family’s cottage.

6. Water and sandbar (abstract)Water and sandbar (abstract)

I did this painting as an exercise in colour blocking after watching a video about the colour field art technique by ARTiculations (video).

7. Tulips

Tulips. Bright yellow, delightful tulips. This painting was a bit of a fail (it’s fine, but not what I was hoping for), but it’s still nice. It’s also the first of my paintings done with the Wanderlust Watercolour mixables palette, which has become my primary paints for this challenge.

***

I’ve been enjoying the challenge, especially because I allowed myself a lot of freedom with regards to subjects, techniques, and sharing paintings that aren’t “perfect” (I struggle with accepting imperfect art, which is a big part of why I quite making art for a very long time ).

 

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Book review – Solitude by Michael Harris

31451181I really wanted to love this book, but, as interesting as the many topics Harris covered were, I felt that the book veered into crotchety, distracted old folk territory.

Solitude: In Pursuit of a Singular Life in a Crowded World starts with a good overview of what solitude is (not loneliness, for the record) and why it’s important to have some time to ourselves on occasion (including time away from our smartphones). Harris discusses the benefits of solitude in the context of children (it helps them develop self-governing skills), thinkers (having time to consider your ideas before sharing them), and the general public (consolidating thoughts may help us to find a sense of meaning and happiness in our lives).

“… because whoever can do nothing, letting his thoughts go where they may, must be at peace with himself.”

I didn’t agree with everything he said. For example, he seemed fairly convinced that only miserable artists will succeed, which is utter nonsense. While I understand that dissatisfaction can lead to creativity through what Harris calls attempts to “build a bridge”, I don’t think that you have to be miserable to be an artist, successful or not. I think that happiness can foster creativity. Perhaps being content with how things are can be a road block – if you don’t see a need for change or a need to add another voice, then you may not be inclined to create something. But, the idea that an artist needs to be dissatisfied to be successful seems a bit black and white. In her book, Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert is firmly against the trope of the tragic artist. She notes that it is possible to enjoy making art and that we shouldn’t fetishsize suffering or mental health issues. And, I agree with her.

But, back to Harris’ thoughts on solitude. He also discusses the fact that we should all be able and comfortable with making our own decisions, which can be hard when we’re constantly plugged into the rest of the world (whether that being through social engagement or social media). One of his points struck a chord for me: “… then the choices we make online about what books to read, what songs to listen to, what movies to watch become less independent and more manipulated.” This happened to me over the past two years with regards to books. I went from “oh, hey, that sounds like a good recommendation. I think I’ll read that” to “she says it’s good, so I must read it.” That’s why so many of the books that were on my unread shelf at the end of last year were so easy to get rid of – they were good books with great reviews, but I was only going to read them because they were good books, with great reviews.

Unfortunately, it’s at about this point in the book when I felt that things were starting to go sideways. It felt like a lot of the discussion in the latter half of his book was really just him complaining about cultural evolution. Things have changed, technology has been developed, some innovations have affected our privacy and how we connect. Some of this is good, and some of it is bad, but I felt like Harris was cherry-picking examples to whine about kids these days. For example, he had a long discussion about people who’ve never written a snail-mail letter or used a typewriter before, but completely neglected to look at the people who are embracing such things (not just in terms of the hipster culture, but also in the context of simple living).

Later in the book, Harris started to talk about our failing bodies and death. This where I got lost. I couldn’t figure out what any of this discussion had to do with solitude. It was an interesting discussion about mortality and technology, but I couldn’t find the connection to solitude.

In the end, Harris did swing back to the topic of solitude, but I was a bit disappointed in some of the things he said. It felt like he was imposing his own feelings or assumptions on how we should seek and experience solitude. For example, he discussed the balance between being alone (solitude) and being with others (real or virtual). Overall, the discussion was interesting, but it felt like he assumed that there was a set ratio: you need 1 hour of solitude for every 3 hours you spend with others. But, that’s not true. The kind of company you keep (strangers, friends, friends you can be “alone” with) will affect how much (if any) alone time is needed afterwards. So will the kind of person you are – an extrovert will need (and want) far less solitude than an introvert.

I was also disappointed when he suggested that there was a right way to seek solitude. He used Thoreau and the unabomber as examples, which suggests that if you do it wrong, you’re going to become a domestic terrorist, which is silly and alarmist. There are many ways to be alone, and there are many reasons to be alone. Both of these men chose solitude for different reasons. How the unabomber found his solitude may have exacerbated he’s isolation and extreme thoughts, but it didn’t necessarily result in his actions. In other words, running off into the woods alone isn’t necessarily going to turn someone into murderer.

Overall, I found the book to be fairly interesting (I even wrote enthusiastically about the idea of “rediscovering” ourselves a few months ago), but I did feel that it suffered from a lot of scope-creep (turning off into topics that were only loosely related). It’s worth reading the first half, but it’s certainly not Harris’ best book.

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Book review – Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki

30231806I’ve heard a lot of really good things about this book and it’s positive take on minimalism, so I was really shocked and disappointed by some of the assumptions the Sasaki made. While I believe that his intentions were good and that he did not mean to be exclusive in his assumptions, this book reeks of the his privilege and ignorance. I tried to take everything with a grain of salt and I tried to be open minded (he’s Japanese, so maybe something was lost in translation?), but I just can’t get over some of the nonsense in this book.

Sasaki does have some good ideas and suggestions regarding minimalism in general. I didn’t feel that it was particularly unique or inspirational, but he laid out a good foundation for minimalism and why it’s worth considering. Aside from a few minor comments that were stereotypical (ex: women loving clothes/dresses), I didn’t start finding problematic statements and ideas until Sasaki started talking about how to be a minimalist (about a quarter of the way through the book). At that point, he almost immediately showed his privilege by implying that we all have jobs and housing situations that we love (or loved) at some point. To me, this immediately disregarded anyone with limited options, such as the huge number of people/families who are living in low-income situations or have limited job oppotunities.

Sadly, many of the comments/ideas I highlighted throughout the book oozed with the same privilege. Based on his book, I suspect he knows little or nothing about: having to consider  the needs of the whole household (whether that be partners and/or children), having limited money or resources, having limited choices for jobs or where you live, etc.

He spoke about minimalism like it was so easy and I felt like he was suggesting that it was ridiculous that we weren’t all living at the same level of minimalism as he is (he’s what many would consider to be an extreme minimalist). He claimed that there was no right way to do things and he claimed that that was OK, but the words he used and the suggestions he made in most of the book implied that we should all just get rid of everything, even some (if not all) of the things that bring us joy.

For me, this book was completely out of touch and it framed a way of living that’s not only difficult to achieve (even for someone like myself – childless, good job, low expenses, etc.), but that also sounds horribly stark.

I appreciated some of the ideas Sasaki had, but I hated this book. If you’re interested in minimalism but not interested in being “extreme,” then don’t read this. It will just make you feel bad about your efforts or feel like the idea is unattainable. There are so many other books out there that are better: more inclusive, more inspirational, less judgy, etc. There are also a lot of online resources (YouTubers, etc.) that cover of range of realistic situations and efforts to be more minimalist. Here’s a list of some of my favourites books and resources that are about or that support minimalism or simple living:

One final thought: minimalism or simple living doesn’t have to be a life with nothing but the necessities. You’re allowed to have art, colour, an extra mug (or 3), a box of letters, hobby supplies, books, etc. Just don’t have more than what *you* need to function and be happy. Keep the things that bring you joy, as Marie Kondo would suggest, and stop worrying about keeping up with the neighbours, whether they have all the best consumer items or they are extreme minimalist. Only you can know where your happy spot is.

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Book review – Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner

29491890As noted on the author’s website, Chasing Slow is about “slowing down, about stripping the excess, about refusing to amass in a world that shouts for more”. In other words, it’s about simplifying your life and minimizing your possessions. What makes it stand apart from books like The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up is that it’s not strictly a how-to book. It’s full of advice, but it’s also full of anecdotes about the author’s path to simplicity, the good and the bad.

I enjoyed the book and got a lot of good advice from it. It’s a good, solid read and I think that a lot of people would really enjoy it. Some of the advice she gives is really thoughtful and I found her book to fairly inclusive (for example, she doesn’t preach getting rid of everything and seems to have a fairly realistic view of simplicity and minimalism).

The three main things that I got from the book are:

1. Our default equation is to add more when we feel less

I think this is pretty common knowledge: we buy things to feel better about ourselves, we strive for bigger homes, we work to get larger salaries, etc. But, as Loechner notes, this equation wrong. Adding more things to our lives won’t make us happier, except maybe for that brief moment when we make the purchase (obviously, there are exceptions: if you are poor, a larger income will make you happier; if you have two jobs and three kids, kitchen tools that make meal prep faster will free up more time; etc.).

But, we’ve been led to believe that we should buy more to be more. For many of us, that simply means having more things around, but still being at the same base level of happiness or contentment. Or, being worse off because we spend all our time maintaining all those things or working to afford the space to house all those things.

One of the things Loachner said in her book that struck a chord with me was that we should remove the weight from your wings so we can fly. I’ve seen this or similar ideas in other books, but it felt particularly relevant while reading her book. The idea is that we all have capacity to fly, but it’s easier to do so if we aren’t carrying a load, whether that be stuff, emotional baggage, or the social rules we use to lock ourselves into to be versions of ourselves that we think society will approve of.

2. Things should add value, meaning or purpose

What Loechner said was this: “If it does not add value, it does not add much. If it does not add meaning, it does not add much. If it does not add purpose, it does not add much.”

This is very much in line with Marie Kondo’s philosophy of only keeping things that bring you joy (or have a purpose). And, I think that it’s a good philosophy to follow. It doesn’t mean that you can only have things that add value, meaning, or purpose. It simply means that anything else won’t add much.

And, of course, how “value”, “meaning” and “purpose” are defined will depend on you. Does “value” mean increasing the value of your house, or providing you with a service that is valuable to you? Does “meaning” need to be a family heirloom, or can it be a special souvenir or photo from a vacation?

3. Life lessons in frugality

At the end of the book, Loechner shares several life lessons. The list include basics like “it’s not a sale if you don’t need it” or “never buy anything dry clean only.” It also includes ones that I don’t see that often, like:

  • You can save time or you can save money – shopping universally saves neither
  • Reduce, reuse, or just plain go without (the less you have to dust, the less you have to dust)
  • Don’t be afraid of that thrift store musk (it washes out)

 

Overall, I found the book had a really good balance between Loechner’s own story and her advice about simplicity and minimalism. I think that a lot of people would find it very inspirational and would feel that they could relate to her story more than I did.

It’s a good book and you should read it if this is a topic you’re interested in.

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Reading update, May 2018

In my last update, I noted that my numbers were off. So, I took some time to review all my books (including ones in my discard/maybe piles). I was happy to find that, despite the huge number of books I bought in March and April, I’m still in a really good spot in terms of reducing my unread shelf by the end of the year, which makes me very happy.

I’m not at my target number, but I’m getting close to a number that I could live with. Also, I’m not going to track magazines anymore because I’m not really worried about them and they’re consistently skewing my stats (either to look like I read a tonne or accumulated a tonne).

I currently have 44 unread books:

  • 21 unread paper books
  • 11 unread ebooks, 2 of which are in progress
  • 12 unread audiobooks, 1 of which is in progress

Unread shelf stats for May:

  • Items out:
    • Read – 4
    • Weeded – 6-ish (I forgot to keep track of what was removed)
  • Items in:
    • Bought – 4 (1 has been read and 1 is for June)
    • Won – 1

Books that I read:

InShot_20180531_104347172

  1. Words in Deep Blue – I read this based on Kathy’s recommendation (it was her favourite book of 2017 and you should watch her channel – she has great book recommendations). Its YA and a love story, but her review made it clear that there’s much more to the story then just a bunch of teenagers in love. Guys, this book it beautiful and I’m absolutely in love with the book store and it’s letter library. This is definitely a book that transcends it’s YA romance label.
  2. Destination Simple – This essentially guides the reader in considering and making better rhythms. For example, switching out your regimented morning routine for a more relaxed morning rhythm that suits your particular needs, while still allowing for some “me time.” It wasn’t a groundbreaking read, but it had some good ideas and insight. Plus, it’s very short. On a side note, I really appreciate her podcast, Slow Your Home.
  3. Barreling Forward – (from my unread shelf) An enjoyable short story collection. I’m not sure what to say other then the title is quite apt – a lot of the stories centre around people whose lives are barreling forward, though not necessarily in the direction they would like.
  4. For Everyone – This is more inspiring than I’d expected and quite relevant to my motto for 2018, slow. But, I have to admit that it was the part that came after the poem that really brought everything together for me. I listened to the audio version (narrated by the author) and there was a section at the end where he spoke a bit about his inspiration and what he was trying to convey. It made me want to re-listen immediately. It’s essentially a short and poetic version of all of the “slow living” style self-help books I’ve been reading this year.
  5. Present Over Perfect – (did not finish) I knew this book wasn’t for me almost as soon as I started to read it – it’s for people who are busy overachievers. I’m not one of those people. I can be busy and I can lose sight of the simple life, but I’m not constantly on the go, doing 5 things at once, volunteering for everything I stumble upon, etc. I think this book could be very good for some people, but it was not relevant to me.
  6. The Hidden Life of Trees – (from my unread shelf) This is a delightful book. I think that I was a little let down because I got sucked into the well deserved hyped, but a lot of the information was stuff that I already knew (I studied biology and watched a lot of random science stuff). If you don’t know much about forests or trees, I highly recommend this book. It’s interesting, accessible, and full of delightfully fascinating factoids. Edited to add: What Trees Talk About: A revealing look at the secret life of trees [video, 44 minutes], an episode of The Nature of Things, is a very good companion to this book. It talks about a lot of the same things, within a (mostly) Canadian perspective and it’s really interesting to see the visuals (roots grating neighbouring trees together, etc.).
  7. Gift from the Sea – (did not finish) I read about a quarter of this, but it just didn’t grab me. Also, I found how it was written off putting – instead of “I” or “we,” she kept using “one” as the pronoun and it just sounded odd and impersonal in my head.
  8. Goodbye, Things – (did not finish; from my unread shelf) ) I read most of this, but it made me angry because of the assumptions (read: privilege) that the author made about the reader. I will be posting a review later this month.
  9. Big Magic – (from my unread shelf) This is an inspirational book that lots of people should be reading, especially people like me – amateur creatives who have or had the impression that you have to be dedicated to be an artist/writer/etc. There are a lot of really good points and great stories, peppered with all the pep talk you’d expected from a personal cheerleader. I did find some aspects of the book a bit woowoo for me, but I also underlined a heck of a lot, so I was clearly willing and able to gloss over the woowoo.

June is National Indigenous History Month. Usually, I try to read more books by indigenous authors, but I don’t have many on my unread shelf and I’m trying to cut back on library books while working on my unread shelf project. I do have The Marrow Thieves (which I’ve already started and love) and I picked up another relevant book this month: 21 Things You May Not Have Known About The Indian Act (The Tyee wrote an article about the book). I intend to read them both in June as a very small token to celebrate Canada’s Indigenous people and to acknowledge of the effects of colonization on their culture and well-being (i.e., we treated them like crap and racism is still rampant – let’s be informed and acknowledge our prejudices).

Happy reading.

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Isabelle Arsenault – Illustrator

Let’s talk about illustrators. I’m a sucker for art. If I had unlimited funds and my own library, I would buy just about any book ten times over if I loved the new cover design and/or someone filled it with art.

This is why I love picture books. One of my favourite things about my trip to visit the niblings earlier this spring was reading books to the kids at bedtime. They loved it because they got more time with aunty Anne and I loved it because I got more time with the kids … and I got to read a bunch of kids books. One night, my sister-in-law (who is awesome, for the record) sent me down after bedtime reading with a handful of books that she loved because of the art. I was in heaven. They are all delightful in their own unique ways and I made a list of new-to-me kids book authors and illustrators to check out.

Isabelle Arsenault was not one of them, but seeing all that fabulous art made me think about illustrators, and it got me thinking: I review books all the time and I love art, so why don’t I ever talk about books based on their art?

Today, I would like to introduce you to the art of Isabelle Arsenault, an award winning Canadian illustrator based out of Montreal.

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I first discovered her art through House of Anansi Press. I had a coupon from them and was planning on picking up a novel, but ended up picking a “kids” books called Jane, the Fox and Me, written by Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. I fell in love with the art immediately. I “read” the book twice before actually reading the words because I just loved the art. The story is pretty great, too, but it was the art that I fell in love with.

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From: Jane, the Fox & Me

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From: Jane, the Fox & Me

 

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From: Jane, the Fox & Me

I love the roughness of the pencil and I loved how she easily transitioned from a rugged, almost sketch-like neutral or grayscale illustrations to beautiful, colour-filled spreads that felt like they could be in a gallery. I know that a lot of people would disregard Arsenault’s style as unfinished, but I think that it’s a triumph because it shows that you only need a pencil to make something beautiful.

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Top: Cloth Lullaby. Bottom: You Belong Here.

I picked up a couple of library books that were also illustrated by Arsenault and found the same gorgeous work. You Belong Here (written by M H Clark) had the same mostly-grayscale motif and was full of beautiful pictures. Cloth Lullaby (written by Amy Novesky) was filled with colour and pushed the boundaries of imagination, which suited the content beautifully because it’s a biography of the artist Louise Bourgeois. I ended up purchasing a copy of the latter because I loved both the biography and the illustrations.

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From: You Belong Here

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From: Cloth Lullaby

There are many other books with Arsenault’s illustrations and you can buy prints of some of her work at Sur Ton Mur, a store in Montreal that celebrates and sells illustrations by several wonderful artists.

Who are your favourite illustrators? I’m always eager to find new artists.

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Reading update

This is a combined reading update and unread shelf project update. … Mostly it’s a reading update as I haven’t made much progress on my unread books.

Guys! I finally finished the ebook I’ve been reading for 3 months! Halle-freaking-lujah!

Sadly, other than that one ebook and a couple of the magazines that I bought over the past few weeks, I didn’t make any progress on my unread shelf. Heck, I don’t feel like I read much at all. This is partly because of life getting in the way, but I think I was also just bored with reading for a few weeks and more interested in working on other projects or perusing my new art books (thanks, dad!).

In addition to not reading much from my unread shelf, I also didn’t do a good job of keeping track of what was being added. I bought a lot of books, in April. Thankfully, most of them were reference books that weren’t added to the unread pile (reference books and copies of books I bought to keep). Unfortunately, I kept forgetting to make a note of what I bought and why. I’m sure that my numbers are a bit off, but this is what I think came and went:

  • Items out:
    • Read – 1 ebook, 2 magazines
    • Weeded – half a dozen (I think)
  • Items in:
    • Bought and added to my unread shelf – 4 books, 3 audiobooks, 4 magazines
    • Bought and added to my general collection – 1 colouring book, 3 previously read books, 3 nature guides
    • Given and added to my general collection – several art books

I’ll do a reset count this month, but I’m not too worried about the numbers. Yes, I added more than I removed from the unread shelf, but I don’t regret the purchases I made. Especially not the book club selection, The Great Alone – it’s enthralling!

As for what I actually read, there were some really great books, but there were also a lot that bored me.

March:

  1. Dead Reckoning – The March book club selection. This is a non-fiction book about a woman who decided to contact the man who murdered her father when she was a kid. It was interesting, but I have to admit that I skimmed through quite a bit.
  2. Manhattan Beach – This was one of my favourite books of the month. It was a great story with interesting characters. This is my review.
  3. The Little Book of Hygge – I had a few weeks in February and March when I was a bit obsessed with hygge (cozy) and lagom (enough). This is a good introduction to the concept with some good ideas for making your life a bit more hygge, but I was bored with hygge by the time I read this book.
  4. The Strays – I loved this book so much that I bought a copy to keep. This is my review. I loved the story, the drama, the art, and the characters.
  5. Chasing Slow – I read this as part of my year long goal to embrace “slow.” While it wasn’t one of the most inspirational books I’ve read recently (that award would go to The Year of Less or Soulful Simplicity), I found the content quite useful  and I have several pages of notes and thoughts about the authors suggestions. But, I did get a bit bored after a while and I skimmed through most of the second half, focusing more on the chapter summaries.
  6. The Nature Fix – Last year I tried to read Your Brain on Nature, which I found to be painfully repetitive and long-winded (yes, I actually wrote that on Goodreads). The Nature Fix, though a bit slow at times, is written in a more conversational manner, so it’s much easier to read. It’s also quite interesting. Basically, get outside if you can, bonus points if you can find a wooded park or an actual forest.
  7. Unplug – I quit this in the first chapter or so because the author annoyed me. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but after going on about the science behind the benefits of meditation (which I support wholeheartedly) she decided to slap science in the face and disregard it for her own convenience (science says that you benefit the most from 30 minutes of mediation daily, but her business is based on quick fixes, so she decided that 10 minutes is more than enough). The silly thing is that she’s not entirely wrong (science also says that 5 minutes a day is still better than 0 minutes), but the way she did it made me lose all my trust in her, so I quit the book.
  8. You Can Buy Happiness – Another book that I quit. I think this book is probably very good and useful for people trying to embrace slow living, simplicity or minimalism, but I got bored with it. I may give it another try sometime.

April:

  1. Solitude – This is the ebook that took me three months to read. It started really strong, but eventually strayed from what I thought the book was about and, frankly, got a bit whiny about “kids these days.” But, it was still interesting.
  2. Cruising Through the Louvre – I went to the library with my brother and I found this while we browsed the graphic novel section. He was nice enough to borrow it for me (we live in different provinces, so I didn’t have library borrowing privileges) and it was an interesting story with really lovely coloured pencil art and sketches of pieces in the Louvre.
  3. Flat Broke With Two Goats – I borrowed this on a whim. It was the Overdrive/Libby pick for their book club, which they do periodically. Honestly, I didn’t think that I would stick with it, but I found it very interesting and amusing. It’s non-fiction about a family who go from living the American dream to being close to having no home. I appreciated the author’s honesty about the tough times and strains in their relationship.
  4. Glacial Period – This is another graphic novel about the Louvre (there’s a series of them, all by different authors/artists). It was more of a sci-fi story (in a distant future when the world is covered in snow) with a bit of a fantasy twist. It was interesting, but I wasn’t really in the mood, so I mostly skimmed through it.
  5. Life Reimagined – As a middle aged person, this was a tough read. I spent most of the book lamenting about how I’m going to die immobile, demented and alone. And, no, I am not making light of dementia. The book focuses on how our current choices can have huge impacts on our mental and physical health when we’re older. We always hear about fitness and nutrition, but this book also talked about how our social lives can affect our future mental and emotional well-being. It was hard to read and it’s hard to not feel a bit despondent about how many things I need to improve if I want to avoid being immobile, demented and alone when I’m old. But, I’m glad I read the book because now I know about some things that I need to do to improve my current and future well-being.
  6. Moonshot – This is a collection of short comics by indigenous artists/authors. Some of the art was quite fantastic and many of the stories were really interesting. There were one or two where I lacked the context to understand what was going on, but overall, I really enjoyed this collection.
  7. Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics – I know the benefits and science enough to be bored with these types of books, but I keep looking for ones that might hit that sweet spot of inspiration. This was not the book for me, so I quit. I found the humour to be annoying – it felt like they were trying too hard to be cool.
  8. The Corrections – I keep hearing about how great Jonathan Frazen is, so I decided to read one of his books. This started pretty strong and I can see why a lot of people enjoy his writing, but I didn’t like the characters and I didn’t find this to be even remotely funny (the synopsis promised me a “darkly hilarious” book, but I wasn’t even particularly amused). I considered reading to the end, but I’m reading two books that was much more engaging.

So, my big question this month is this: should I give Jonathan Frazen another chance? If so, what should I read?

 

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This past weekend …

This past weekend was an odd one, weather-wise. Saturday was gloriously sunny and warm, but Sunday was grey and colder by the hour.

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Not realizing that the weather was going to change so drastically, I decided to do a big spring clean on Saturday. I swept, I washed, I scrubbed, and I stayed inside all day. Then, I checked the weather and lamented about a beautiful day wasted inside.I don’t regret the spring cleaning – my place looks and feels better, plus I accidentally discovered a minor change in furniture placement that made a huge difference in the balance and flow of the whole space. But, I was still a bit sad about missing out on a beautiful day.

Instead of being grumpy about it, I decided to just add a bit of spring to my space. I was going to buy some flowers on Sunday, but when I woke up I decided that it would be more interesting, more economical, and more environmentally friendly to find some interesting branches. We’re not yet in bloom season here, but the wee little buds are starting to burst with leaves and I love greenery just as much as I love flowers. So, armed with a warm jacket and a pair of branch clippers, I went for a short walk to look for interesting branches.

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Before you accuse me of being a monster to damages my neighbours’ bushes, I should mention that I live next to a promenade with an adjacent wooded area. It’s a small wooded area (a couple meters of buffer between the promenade and a road), but it’s full of interesting trees and bushes, including many that flower. As I said, we’re not yet in flowering season, but I’ve been living here long enough to remember the approximate location of my favourite trees. Also, the area surrounding my building’s parking lot is full of neglected lilac bushes – given their neglect, I think they’re fair game, too.

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I was only going to pick a branch or two, but I couldn’t help myself and ended up with several (most of which are flowering). They may not be fancy flowers, they may just be sticks with a bit of green, but it’s still a nice treat. I’ve loved watching the leaves emerge and grow, and, if I’m lucky, they may last long enough for a few blooms. If not, I’ll head out with my clippers again.

As for the spring clean, I don’t regret “wasting” a sunny day on my apartment. To me, it’s like a bit of self-care because I love a clean, fresh home.

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