Month: October 2014

Belated Ten on Tuesday: vacation, kitty cuddles, and HTML woes

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1. Finally on vacation! Thank god. I know it’s terrible to be this thrilled to be away from work for a while…but I am.

2. I ended up spending almost all of Sunday and Monday just sleeping. I didn’t even make it to the bed, I crashed on the couch.

3. I’ve had such a craving for pitas lately, so I’m making some for dinner tonight.

4. I could also do with tacos…and spring rolls…and pie…just all the yummy hearty stick-to-your-ribs food, basically.

5. Now that it’s chilly the cats are extra cuddly. That’s a good thing!

6. I swear using HTML can be one of the most irritating chores ever. I need to learn more about it.

7. It’s time to break out the colored tights for fall.

8. Looking at style posts on Pinterest just makes me realize how little I fix up anymore. It’s kind of sad.

9. I think I have most of the items in my closet to recreate this look, or something like it. I’m just not sure if it would look cool on me, or silly.

10. I would really love this world map necklace.

Essentialism, by Greg McKeown (book review)

Essentialism is the opposite of having it all--and it's a concept that changed my life.(Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.)

This is one of those “must-read” books for anyone who feels overworked, overwhelmed, and as though they’re no longer in control of their life. You could say it’s an “essential” read (do you see what I did there?) for the 24/7 generation–people who are hyper-connected, constantly taking on new commitments, mega-busy, and yet strangely enough, not accomplishing nearly as much as they would like.

The author likens essentialism to cleaning out your closet, and if you’ve ever purged a closet overstuffed with clothes, then you know the familiar routine: decide which things you absolutely love (and therefore want to keep), which things you absolutely don’t want (and will therefore purge), and which things fall somewhere in the middle, meaning you probably need to think long and hard about why you’re hanging on to them.

The comparison is an apt one, but McKeown takes it a step further by suggesting that if anything winds up in that third pile, you shouldn’t be considering hanging on to it at all. Rather, Essentialism says that something that you’re less than 90% thrilled about should go. The idea is to pare down your life to the absolute essentials and cut out all else, leaving yourself with more time and energy to devote to the things you really love. It’s basically a minimalist approach to life and work.

McKeown outlines a practical approach to this pursuit, going over such important topics as how to define your top priorities, cutting your losses, the power of “no” (and how to say it gracefully!), why you can’t have it all (and shouldn’t try), and the reason setting aside time to sleep and play is important. Altogether I think this is an amazing book, and one everyone should read, whether you’re trying to streamline your career, balance a hectic home situation, or strike out on a new path in life. So I know what you’re thinking…why not five stars?

Basically, I think there are situations in which you really just do not have the option of paring down. I agree that many people are too passive and don’t make the right choices in setting boundaries at work or with family, but there are times when you truly do have to sacrifice personal time or sleep to get things done–when caring for an ill family member, as a single parent working multiple jobs, as a student working and going to school, etc. I think a small dose of essentialism could help in even these situations, but it won’t revolutionize the situation. I don’t think the author is implying as much, but it would have been nice to see him acknowledge that in some cases, you will just have to grin and bear it as much as you can, because cutting out one of your commitments just isn’t practical.

That said, I can honestly say that Essentialism has changed my life and my goal strategies in my twenties. Especially as I’ve sought to define my freelance career, it’s helped me to decide what to focus on and what to ignore. So if you’re a blogger or new business owner feeling overwhelmed by all your options, pick this up! It’ll help a ton!

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown (hardcover, 260 pages). Published 2014 by Crown Business. Genre: business, self-help, psychology, management. Four out of five stars.

Ten on Tuesday: Demetri Martin and book packages

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1. It’s officially the season of Pumpkin Spice Everything and I could not be happier.

2. With that in mind, here are thirty vegan pumpkin recipes to experiment with over the next couple of months!

3. It’s also officially the season of the electric blanket. Ahhh…

4. Apparently I’m going on a surprise date today at noon? But I have no idea what’s been planned!! Hmm…can’t wait. :)

5. This cracks me up. I hate automatic operations in public restrooms so I think Demetri’s observations are spot-on.

 

6. If you like that, here’s a longer-stand-up set. (It includes the above clip.)

7. I love used book sales and hate waiting for the packages to arrive. My husband calls it “stalking the mailman”. I call it “observantly monitoring the mailbox”.

8. I successfully badgered the husband into reading Gone Girl. Now I have to talk the rest of my friends into reading it. Hehe.

9. Only one more week until vacation. Counting down.

10. Link up with Alyssa here!

Thought Questions, #176-#182

 

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(photo by Silvestri Matteo via Unsplash)

#176: What are the primary components of a happy life? Books, tea, cats, and a cozy place to enjoy them all.

#177: How would the world be different if you were never born? Well, no one would have rescued my two cats, for starters. And there would be one less person passionately pestering everyone around them to read books! I like to think of myself as an advocate for literacy.

#178: What is your favorite song and why? Hmmm…I love “Of the Night” (Bastille) and “Steve McQueen” (M83). Also “Crystallize” (Lindsey Stirling).

#179: With the resources you have right now, what can you do to bring yourself closer to your goal? I can set aside a little more time each day to write.

#180: What are your top three priorities? Reading, eating, and sleeping. I have pretty basic needs.

#181: Why do we idolize sports players? For the life of me I don’t know! It’s cool that they’re talented. But I don’t see why we should elevate them above the level of any other person in the way that we do. The same goes for actors or other celebrities.

#182: What is the nicest thing someone has ever done for you? Bought me a book, maybe? :)

 

What I read: September 2014

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Emperor of Thorns (The Broken Empire #3), by Mark Lawrence (hardcover, 434 pages). Two out of five stars. Worst conclusion to a trilogy I’ve read in a long time, and that’s including the lackluster ending of The Night Angel trilogy.

Here’s the deal: the book itself was really good. We’re wrapping up Jorg’s story, learning more about some of the things that are driving his quest to become Emperor and also more about his enemies. The writing as usual is great. So what kills it? Simply put, out of nowhere the last fifty or so pages of the book take a sudden sharp turn into philosophy about the afterlife and man’s myth of a higher presence and heaven. It was so weird and out of place with the rest of the book that it felt tacked-on.

I also thought the resolution with the Dead King was kind of…well, people will get mad if I say “dumb”. But I was hoping for a kickass Boss Fight, and what I got was so not that and also such a disappointment that it ruined the buildup for me. I know endings are hard, but this was honestly one of the biggest let-downs I’ve ever experienced in a series. It was bad enough to make me feel that I would never recommend this to any of my friends, because why pump yourself up for three books only to end with that? (If you want to see a spoiler for the ending, I’ve posted one on my Goodreads profile.)

The Strain (The Strain Trilogy #1), by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (paperback, 585 pages). Four out of five stars. This is a really interesting mash-up of the mythical vampire and the medicinal vampire–that is, vampirism as a virus. It definitely hooks you from the start and keeps you turning the pages. That said, I hope the plot will move a little faster in the next two installments of this trilogy. At times it did feel like a lot was happening without the plot moving forward at all.

I’m also knocking off a star for some of the dumb decisions made by some of the main characters. I know they were necessary for the plot, but they still annoyed me. (Kind of like when you yell at characters in a movie, “DON’T GO THAT WAY! NOOOOO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”)

Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy #1), by Pierce Brown (hardcover, 382 pages). Did not finish about 1/3 of the way in, but I would give it two out of five stars. A lot of people seem to passionately like this book, and I think they’ll really hate me for saying that I didn’t like it. But I stopped about one-third of the way in and just couldn’t go any further. It took me a while to decide why I wasn’t clicking with this book and then it finally dawned on me: I just didn’t care about Darrow. He seems very cardboard to me. He’s so average as to be bland, and yet he’s so perfect at everything he tries to accomplish. Hmm. Also: the death of his wife, Eo, which is supposed to set him up for his future as a rebel son, has no emotional resonance for me. We meet her so briefly, and Darrow’s memories of her all seem to revolve around her being pretty, so her death just doesn’t touch you the way it ought to.

I don’t think this is a terrible book. Someone else might really like it. I just don’t feel like slogging through it when I have so many other books on my TBR shelf. I might come back at a later date and give it another go, but for now, I’m moving on.

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Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (Outlander #8), by Diana Gabaldon (hardcover, 825 pages). Three out of five stars. You can view my GR profile for some spoilers on why I didn’t like this book as much as the previous seven in the series. I waited and waited for the library to call me and say my hold had come in, and then once I picked it up I felt so disappointed, hence the reason I didn’t fly through this as quickly as I thought I would. Don’t get me wrong, Outlander is still totally one of my favorite book series ever…I just feel like this book was padded out a bit more than was really necessary.

First thing that made this book drag a bit for me: I think one of the things that hurt this book was the lack of a sense of peril for certain main characters. Things happened to make you think that they were in danger, but I never really felt that there was a genuine chance we’d lose any of them. It’s not that the writing was poor, the sense of peril just wasn’t there for me.

Second thing that caused me knock off a star: It didn’t feel like the plot moved forward very much. A lot of things were happening, sure. Time moved by. But as far as major plot elements moving forward and new storylines opening up? Just not enough (for me personally, anyway) for an 800-plus page hardcover book. In a way this book reminded me of some sections of A Song of Ice and Fire. Lots of pages and lots of things happening…but the plot is crawling.

Third thing, and then I’ll wrap it up, I promise: Certain storylines seemed to exist merely as padding. At times I felt like some of these subplots existed only to stretch out the word count, or else they were being grossly overstretched with no resolution.

In conclusion, I’m glad I read it, after the cliffhanger ending of the last book. And I’m interested to see where Gabaldon takes her characters in the next book. But this definitely wasn’t my favorite installment in the series.

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury (paperback, 159 pages). Four out of five stars. I read this for Banned Books Week (September 21-28). There’s not a lot to say about it that hasn’t already been said. I used to avoid Bradbury because a) I’m not a hardcore sci-fi fan and b) classics are kind of dull, right? Combine the two and I was sure I wouldn’t care for his work. I ended up having to read The Martian Chronicles earlier this year for school and loved it, so when Banned Books Week rolled around this autumn I thought I’d try another Bradbury story–fittingly, one about banned books!

Bradbury writes about socio-political issues like censorship and environmentalism with a graceful lyricism that makes you forget you’re reading science fiction. His imagery is haunting. And as they’re fairly short and easy reads, they don’t feel daunting like some weighty classics that run on for hundreds of pages of tiny print. Total bonus points for that.

My Inventions, by Nikola Tesla (hardcover, 111 pages). Three out of five stars. Tesla has been called everything from a genius to a madman to a wizard, but the truth is unfortunately somewhat less headline-worthy: he was a brilliant but troubled man who suffered from a healthy dash of egotism and an inability to interact with the world in the way society dictates as “normal”.

Reading autobiographies is always a little hit or miss for me. In general people are not the most impartial narrators of their lives, and Tesla is no exception, so parts of his book are a little strange to wade through. On the other hand, as so much material has been written about him, it’s interesting to hear about some of his life and work in his own words, even if you often get the feeling you’re not getting the whole story.

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Strange Shores (Inspector Erlendur #11), by Arnaldur Indridason (hardcover, 296 pages). Four out of five stars. I’ve been waiting for some time for the library to get a copy of this book! It was nice to see Erlendur tackle a new case and also wrap up an old one at the same time.

The Absent One (Department Q #2), by Jussi Adler-Olsen (hardcover, 416 pages). Three out of five stars. Carl and Assad are back! I didn’t care for this novel quite as much as The Keeper of Lost Causes because it wasn’t a “whodunit” but more of a “whydunit” or a “howdunit”, and I really prefer whodunits myself. But it was still good.

A Conspiracy of Faith (Department Q #3), by Jussi Adler-Olsen (hardcover, 504 pages). Three out of five stars. This was good, but…a little overlong. I can’t put my finger on why I didn’t care for this book as much as some of the others. I’m going to chalk it up to “people doing stupid things that make you say ‘no, don’t do that!’ but then they do it anyway and suffer” syndrome. There were just too many different characters acting or reacting in ways I found implausible or just plain stupid. Nonetheless, looking forward to the next book in this series.