Books I Read This Week 2019 – 02

So here we go, hello to 2019. Since I’ve spent the first week of this year at home, I’ve had a lot of time to read and have had some wonderful reads. Since I am using Good Reads here now thanks to Gypsy, I will go ahead and link to and copy my reviews here which means there will be a lot more writing per book. 

Ikigai (2 stars): I bought this book back in February of 2018. I had just heard about Ikigai and wanted to learn more about it. At the time I bought this one on audio and Awakening Your Ikigai for my kindle. I was in Sydney for a work trip and decided to read the print book first. I loved it. Even though the book didn’t really tell me all that I wanted, I highlighted so much of it.

So I was looking forward to starting 2019 with a reminder on what I love so much about the concept. Alas, this book didn’t do it for me. If you’ve never read any books around the topics mentioned here, this book might appeal to you but as someone who’d already read Man’s Search for Meaning and already familiar with concepts of Flow, there wasn’t much in this book for me. It felt like it jumped back and forth and it even managed to annoy me in certain places. 

Depending on where you are in your journey this book might work for you but if you’re going to read one book on this topic, I’d recommend Awakening Your Ikigai over this one. 

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell (4 stars):  I should have started with this as my first read of 2019. This moving story was spectacular. I loved the characters, the plot that circles back in on itself, and the sentiment of the novel. I listened to the author’s note at the end, too, and I love the fact that this novel was inspired by his own mother’s fight for his brother. To me, what makes or breaks a novel has everything to do with how the characters come alive and stay with you. I know these will stay with me for a long while.

I will say a few bits that might matter: 
– the women in the novel are more one-dimensional than one might like. Especially the secondary characters. ordinarily this would bother me a lot, but in this case it didn’t. i can’t tell you why.
– this is not a deep, literary novel, in my opinion, it’s a feel good story about the unbounded love of a mother and thus things fall into place in the ways in which they do in such novels.
– there is a strong religious component to the story as the mother is very religious. that didn’t bother me but i know it might bother some.

I bounce around in my reading. I will be in the mood for something educational, something sad, something light, something serious, something weird, something thought-provoking and sometimes something uplifting. Each of these books have their own types of formulas. I know that going into the story (and sometimes the book surprises me, of course, but that happens relatively rarely.)

This is the uplifting kind. And on that note, it delivers beautifully.

Born a Crime (4 stars): I finally finally got around to reading this book. It’s been in my audible pile forever but I kept prioritizing my library checkouts so this one has been sitting quietly waiting for me to be ready for it and today was the day.

I had heard so much praise about this book that it was going to be hard for the book to live up to the hype. But it didn’t disappoint. 

I’ve stopped watching The Daily Show since Jon Stewart stopped hosting it so I knew nothing at all about Trevor Noah. I also knew almost nothing about growing up in South Africa and so much of what he talks about in this book. I think this is one of the reasons why this book is such a success: he talks about topics most of us don’t know about and manages to make the reader feel the horror at the same time as making the reader laugh. There are moments of terrible tragedies in this book and yet it doesn’t feel didactic in the least.

And, of course, the biggest joy is seeing where he came from and where he ended up. The kind of story that gives you hope, reminds you much is possible in this life, and makes you feel another level of respect for Trevor Noah.

The Library Book (3 stars):  I have mixed feelings about this book. 

I checked it out of the library several times before I finally decided to tackle it today. Often times, there’s a reason I end up putting the book off but sometimes a book I’ve checked out six times ends up being one of my favorites and I regret not having read it sooner. I’ve liked Susan Orlean’s previous novel and I love libraries so I had reasons to read this one. When I saw it was the Reese bookclub pick for January, I decided it was a nudge from the universe (or Reese?) to finally read it.

The book is told sort of in alternating chapters. There’s the story of the fire which I found fascinating and then there are stories about the author’s childhood around libraries and also about the history of the library which I found less interesting. In my experience, many non-fiction novels end up stretching their subject too much in an effort to make a book out of it when it could be a really intriguing long article. This felt a little like that. Like there was a lot of filler. And the book, in my opinion, didn’t fare better for it.

I did enjoy several of the stories and especially the little mention of Overdrive which I love and use multiple times a day. But there were too many side stories, too much of the history, and too much back and forth for my liking.

I am still glad I read it.

The Art of the Good Life (2.5 stars): It’s always tricky to write a book on “how to be.” I know this book isn’t titled as if it’s telling you what to do/who to be but it’s trying to do exactly that, in my opinion. Even though I agreed with some of his ideas, learned new ideas, and disagreed with some of what he said, the part of the book that put me off the most was the tone in which it was written.

Maybe it’s necessary to be “authoritative” when writing a book on how to live, but I would have been more open to his ideas if the author took some of his own advice and was more humble and argued the opposite of his ideas more often. Presenting alternate ways of thinking is most valuable to me when you give me both sides of the coin and I can make my own choices with what I’ve learned. But then again maybe that’s an altogether different book and this one is the author having done his homework and telling me the choices he’s come to after having done his homework. 

Alas that was my favorite part of the book, all the stories throughout and the appendix which is full of his sources, other thinkers that he quotes throughout, etc. The author clearly did his work. He’s well read, he spent the time thinking about what matters to him, what he thinks should matter to me, etc. But I guess I didn’t end up as big a fan of how he distilled it all. He brought together several different thoughts of school, wrapped it in a nice bow for me and ta-da! I have my present on how to life my life well.

I guess, for me, part of living a good life is learning what that means for me. What my definition looks like and what are the pieces that contribute to it. So a book that’s wrapped up this neatly was never going to get me there.

Having said all of that, I’ve highlighted a bunch of this book and it gave me a lot of ideas to think about and of course a lot of sources on who else to read to go deeper, to learn more, to think more. Hence the stars. 

Here are a few of the ideas that stuck with me:
– First pay, then enjoy. I don’t like to spend money, especially on myself. When I buy things, I like to pay cash because, at that moment, I made up my mind and I am ok to spend it and generally I get an immediate satisfaction (of whatever I bought in return.) With a credit card, I get the bill in the mail later and I have to “re-pay” that bill. I have to relive the decision to spend that money. It makes me unhappy all over again. The downside to paying with cash is that it’s very hard to track where your money goes which is why I now usually use credit cards. The author here talks about how he pays for the hotel at the beginning of his vacation so he can really enjoy it and end it on a high note since we know endings matter so much. So this made me think about how I can incorporate more of that into my life. Maybe I can get a prepaid credit card where I put X amount of money up front into it and then use it. This way I have the “records” of what I spent it on but I am not paying again at the end of the month. (In this same chapter, I think, he talks about how the duration of the vacation is less important than how it ends, which gave me a lot of food for thought on how to spend our vacations, too. this one is still forming.)

– It’s easier to do it 100% of the time: I believe in this wholeheartedly. Gretchen Rubin has a saying that what you do everyday matters more than what you do occasionally. I find that it’s easier for me to commit to something every single day than it is to do it X times a week etc. If it’s everyday, there’s no question or bargaining around it. I am doing it. 

– Don’t pick a side. When we pick a side, we look for proof that our perspective is right, that our story is the correct one and we keep feeding it so it gets more and more solid. I like the author’s idea of a “too complicated” bucket. Saying “I don’t know” helps reaffirm the truth that I don’t actually know.

– Don’t assume the things/people you’ve accumulated in life are due to some credit to what you’ve done to deserve it. So much of life is chance. The part of this thought that resonated with me the most was this “The best attitude to have is that all of them are on loan to you, and may be taken away at any time.” I love this. Not just for the non-attachment part but as a reminder for me to really pay attention to what I have and how lucky I am. Not sure the author meant it that way but it doesn’t matter to me. 

– The idea of pre-mortem was not new to me in this book but it’s a good reminder to help avoid potential circumstances I can avoid and also help pinpoint sources of my own anxiety around a decision.

– I wildly disagreed with reading only a handful of books of course. The fact that I don’t remember much of what I read doesn’t bother me and doesn’t detract from the experience of reading it and feeling what I feel at the moment. Maybe it’s a way to honor my experiencing self 🙂

– I liked the idea of mental subtraction but I have to read about it more to really understand it better. 

– I liked the idea of applying Sturgeon’s law to my thoughts too. 90% of what I think is garbage. It helps me not take myself so seriously.

A bunch of food for thought. I’d really give this 2.5 stars but somehow it doesn’t feel right rounding up to 3. Maybe in a few weeks, I’ll come back and change it.

Uprooted (4.5 stars): I started this book yesterday thinking is was going to be slow and long but I had three more days before I had to go back to work. Having read Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver I should have known better.

The moment I started this book, I was lost in Novik’s world. I am not usually a fantasy lover. The more complicated the world building, the sooner you might lose me. I am not super patient and have no appetite for unusual creatures. But if you give me flawed, interesting, funny and three-dimensional characters, you pretty much have me. Novik’s characters never disappoint. Her twisty, dark, rich plot is just icing on the cake. The fact that her main character is a strong female character is the bonus that just makes her one of my favorite fantasy writers ever.

Not to say that the book is perfect. I think if I had read this first, I would have given it five stars because discovering an author this talented comes with a halo effect. But since this is my second one, I think a bit of that has worn off. This book definitely could have been edited down a bit; there were parts that I would have likely glazed over had I not been on audio. I’d say this is a 4.5 star book, for me, but not enough to tip over to 5. 

Having said that, I couldn’t stop listening to it all day, and it took me less than 24 hours to finish this ~18-hour book, even at 2x, you can do the math that I pretty much read it the whole time I was awake. On a side note, the audio narrator is excellent and aligns with the feel of the story perfectly.

If you haven’t read any of Novik’s books and like Fantasy, I say it’s time to grab one of her novels. Just make sure you have nothing else to do all day.

And there we go, a reasonably solid start to 2019. I am now reading book number 7 and loving it. Here’s to wonderful books in 2019.

Books I Read this Week 2019 is a year-long project for 2019. You can read more about my projects for 2019 here. I am also tracking my books in real time on Good Reads here. If you’re on Good Reads add me so I can follow you, too!

2 comments to Books I Read This Week 2019 – 02

  • Tiffany Mitchell

    Love that you are on goodreads! It will be easier to add your recommendations to my “to read” list! I love following why you read. We have similar taste in books.

  • Zewa

    Hi Karen and happy New Year – I ❤️❤️❤️ the detalled Book reviews you do now. I have decided to read a few of your reads and now Its easier to See how and why a Book moved you. This is excellent.

    Thank You

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