Better Than Before – A Book Review

betterthanbeforeA fan of self-help literature, I look forward to each year’s crop of inspirational and motivational books. Right now, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives is at the top of my Favorites List.

New York Times best-selling author Gretchen Rubin has expertly woven research, anecdotes, and personal insights in this excellent study of habit formation. She does not provide a one-size-fits-all approach or prescribe specific habits. Instead, she explores how to develop sustainable habits that will help us achieve our own versions of Everyday Life in Utopia (a chapter title suggested by her daughter Eleanor).

Rubin starts by outlining The Four Tendencies—Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, Rebel—and then suggests appropriate strategies in the Pillars of Habits section. While the concepts of Monitoring, Foundation, Scheduling, and Accountability are not new, they are presented using a lively, conversational style aimed at increasing self-knowledge.

I paid special attention to the following strategies:

Foundation Four – Begin with habits that help us sleep, move, eat and drink right, and unclutter. These habits will serve as the foundation for forming other good habits.

Power Hour – To deal with the small, one-time tasks (e.g. creating a photo album) that Rubin kept putting off, she decided once a week, for one hour, she would work on these chores.

Clean Slate – Fresh starts such as a new apartment, job or school and changes in personal relationships wipe the slate clean and can help us launch a new habit with less effort. But a clean slate can also disrupt good habits or break positive routines.

Lightning Bolt – While this is a very effective strategy, it cannot be invoked. A new idea triggered by an inspirational book, milestone birthday, pregnancy or another event can instantly transform habits.

Blast Start – When small steps are not working, a blast start can help us take the first step. This kind of shock treatment cannot be maintained, but it can give momentum to a new project.

Bright-Line Rule – A clearly defined rule or standard that eliminates any need for decision-making can help us achieve greater clarity. E.g. Answering every email within 24 hours.

Throughout the book, Gretchen Rubin shares her own successes and challenges along with those of family members, friends, and blog followers. Intrigued and inspired by the low-carb diet she adopted and the ripple effect it created within her circle, I picked up a copy of Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It by Gary Taubes.

And I couldn’t resist classifying myself: I am an Upholder, Abstainer, Marathoner, Finisher, and Owl.

Where to find Gretchen Rubin…

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Linked In | Amazon

Book Review: Never Too Late

As an author on my own road to reinvention, I’m always on the lookout for stories about women who boldly seek adventures that propel them into second acts. I was thrilled to discover Claire Cook’s delightful novels and read about her extraordinary journey.

Reinvention is a recurring theme in Claire’s life and novels.

nevertoolateShe wrote her first novel at age 45 in a minivan while her children were at swim practice. Five years later, she walked down the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere of Must Love Dogs, the film adaptation of her second book.

After eleven best-selling novels and numerous speaking engagements, Claire has written a nonfiction book, Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention (without getting lost along the way).

Using her trademark humor and wit, Claire tells her own story and that of other reinventors while providing tips on finding that sweet spot, staying on track, securing a support system, building a platform, and overcoming perfectionism.

You don’t have to be a writer or midlifer to appreciate this book. It will appeal to any woman who feels stymied or dissatisfied with her present circumstances. And by the end of the book, the reader will be able to answer Claire’s thought-provoking question: “What would you like your life to be in five years and what’s getting in your way?”

Quotable Quotes

Karma is a boomerang.

You don’t have to be good at it—that takes time and hard work. But you have to love it enough to want to be good at it.

If Plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters (204 if you’re in Japan!).

If failure comes with a lesson, take it. If it doesn’t, put it behind you and move on.

There were only three things standing in my way all that time: me, myself and I.

Dreams don’t have an expiration date. Not even a best by date. If it’s still your dream, it’s still your dream.

Where to find Claire…

Website | Twitter | Facebook

A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea

teaspoonIf author Dina Nayeri had stayed in Iran, she would have lived a life “full of setar music, saffron rice heaps and native comforts under the terrifying eye of the Islamic Republic.” Instead, she immigrated to the United States at age ten and quickly adapted to western life, earning multiple Ivy League degrees.

In her mid-twenties, she developed a deep longing for Iran and started asking herself: “What kind of person would I be there? Would I recognize myself in that Dina?”

She decided to write a novel about twin girls, one growing up in Iran and one in the United States.

Tragically separated from her mother and sister, eleven-year-old Saba Hafezi is convinced that her mother and twin, Mahtab, have moved to the United States without her. Left behind with her father, Saba grows up in a rice-farming village with substitute mothers, old traditions and limited possibilities.

Throughout the novel, Saba concocts stories about the life Mahtab must be leading as “May,” an American girl with auburn hair and pale skin that has “no olive peeking out from under porcelain powder.” As Saba falls in and out of love and schemes to leave Iran, she often asks: “What would her braver sister do now?”

Easily read in two sittings, A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea is a compelling novel with conflicted characters, set against the brutal—and often terrifying—backdrop of post-revolutionary Iran.

Almost English

almostenglishAlmost English is about the ugly years and a startlingly plain adolescent.”

While Author Charlotte Mendelson’s description is definitely apt, the novel is actually held together by two protagonists—mother and daughter—facing their own crises in West London during the 1980s.

Sixteen-year-old Marina is being raised by her emotionally fragile mother Laura and three elderly Hungarian relatives in a cramped basement flat filled with strange traditions and even stranger foods.

Longing to escape this tiny Hungarian enclave, Marina goes off to Combe Abbey, a posh, traditional English boarding school, hoping to reinvent herself and “set off towards the glorious adulthood which awaits her.”

Desperately homesick, Marina feels more of a misfit than ever as she tries to conform to English ways and customs. Several comedic episodes follow when she is invited to a classmate’s country home.

Struggling to deal with her own painful secrets and dilemmas, Laura wonders if she is on the brink of a nervous breakdown or simply having “a disappointing life.” Abandoned by a handsome and spoiled husband, Laura moves in with her mother-in-law where she lives uncomfortably for over a decade.  The insecure and often distracted forty-two-year-old fails to notice that Marina is desperately in need of an intervention.

The scenes involving the endearing trio of aged Hungarian women provide much of the domestic humor. Their conversations are sprinkled with “darlinks” and “von-darefuls” and their extravagant gestures create constant drama, much to Marina’s chagrin.

A delightful read, Almost English is worthy of its Man Booker Prize nomination.

Thanks to Harper Collins Canada for my review copy.



Awaken

awaken

“A masterless student, learning from all but attached to none.”


I couldn’t help but smile at this description of author Patsie Smith. From the start, it is clear the book does not espouse any one school of thought. Instead, using clear and practical language, Smith shares lessons she has learned along her own twenty-seven-year journey.

Divided into two sections—“Before Awakening” and “After Awakening”—each chapter begins with stick artwork and ends with a short reflection.

While the book could be easily read in one sitting, it is better to take time with each chapter, absorbing the succinct and powerful messages. Only then, will you experience the many “Aha!” moments inherent in this book.

Some of my favorite “Aha!” moments…

“The biggest cause of the blindness and shriveling of our spirit is our analytical mind.”

“The words of the Buddha are like a raft built to cross the river. When the purpose is completed, the raft must be left behind if we are to travel further.”

“Sometimes life has its own way of working things out through the power of doing less or doing nothing at all.”

I enjoyed this book thoroughly and will return to it often, keeping in mind Patsie Smith’s advice: “Growing your spirit requires feeding it every day with wisdom, teachings and direct learning experience.”

I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway.