Solve for Happy: Engineer Your Path to Joy by Mo Gawdat, 4/5
If I wasn’t absolutely, abjectly ready to hear someone else say what my husband has been telling me for years, then I probably would have hated this book for its many cliches, general cheesiness, and cringy clip art. Though a highly intelligent and successful businessman, Gawdat is rather a layman in terms of psychology and philosophy, so one might expect that his contribution to the well-worn topic of “happiness” would be in a uniquely analytical approach to existing research, rather than any foundational insights. I was very surprised to find that this was not the case. In fact, the much-advertised “happiness equation” and concept of “solving for happy” seemed under-developed and forgettable to me. What will stick with me for a long time and, in fact, motivated me to copy all those “cheesy cliches” into a Word document for later reference, was three concepts: 1. the natural, default human state is happiness, 2. unhappiness is generally rooted in thoughts about the past or the future, and 3. mental suffering is useless.
These ideas fly in the face of what have been, up until now, my beliefs that 1. happiness is an otherwise unattainable by-product of pursuing a passion in life, 2. controlling every aspect of my life will compensate for my uncontrollable thoughts (and their accompanying emotions), and 3. suffering is necessary to stimulate personal growth. Frankly, these beliefs have not worked out that well for me over the last three decades and recently having a child has intensified my desire to enjoy every moment and make peace with my own existence, instead of obsessing over what the “point” of it all is.
Though it did not come from any of the many decorated philosophers or psychologists whose work I have read, and it can feel over-simplified and unreasonably optimistic at times, Gawdat’s perspective brought me immediate relief and seems to be in line with the life experience I have accumulated. I don’t expect everything to be sunshine and roses from now on, but (or maybe, and) I’m excited to apply this new perspective to each moment as best I can.
Why I read it: my dad sent me a link to an interview with Mo Gawdat, but I don’t have the attention span to watch slow, unstructured conversations, so I opted to read his book instead.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, collected by Alvin Schwartz, drawings by Stephen Gammell, 3/5
It is clear that children are the target audience for this book, but the simple layout and child-friendly writing style provide a disturbing contrast with the extremely dark and gross stories it contains. I wouldn’t have wanted to read such terrifying things as a kid and certainly wouldn’t want my own children to be exposed to these ideas at a young age. As an adult, I found the stories to be entertaining, if a bit simplistically retold, and the artwork in particular is outstanding.
Why I read it: a thrift store find. I’ve always been interested in fairy tales and myths, so paranormal stories are not that much of a stretch.
David Busch’s Canon EOS 5d Mark IV Guide to Digital SLR Photography, 5/5
Much more appealing than the chunky little manual that came with my camera, this book is thoughtfully laid-out and well-illustrated. I read straight through it, but it was also easy to look up the answers to specific questions, thanks to the functional index.
Why I read it: Because I was waiting for my new camera to arrive and knew this model would be a bit different from my previous one.
helium by Rudy Francisco, 3/5
By the time my library bought this book for me (have I mentioned how much I LOVE libraries?!) and I got around to reading it, I had forgotten why I requested it in the first place and only remembered a vague feeling of excitement and anticipation. Despite the positive feelings going into it, I didn’t really connect well with most of Francisco’s poetry and found the vocabulary a bit forced, cliched, and melodramatic. It wasn’t until I reached the penultimate poem that I remembered why I had looked the book up in the first place and also why I wasn’t enjoying it. Earlier, I had come across Francisco’s powerful spoken-word performance of “Complainers” and it had inspired me to find out more about his work. Turns out, spoken-word poetry needs a speaker just like a song needs a singer. Both the artist and the performance are such an integral part of the art that it is virtually lifeless without these elements. So, this book has value as a physical collection of Francisco’s writings and as a way that fans can provide financial support for him, but to really explore his work, I think YouTube is a better option.
Wired to Eat: Turn Off Cravings, Rewire Your Appetite for Weight Loss, and Determine the Foods that Work for You by Robb Wolf, 3/5
If lack of information is the reason you struggle with weight loss, then you may find this book to be life-changing–it certainly contains a lot of information. If lack of motivation is what’s holding you back, then you may find this book to be helpful–its tone is very motivational. However, if you are already familiar with the ultimate weight loss triumvirate Sleep More, Move More, Eat Less Processed Food, but you simply lack the self control to put it into practice, then you will likely find this to be just another useless diet book.
Many of Wolf’s observations are in line with my personal experience, especially that junk food makes you feel hungrier beyond reason and hyper-palatable, highly-processed foods are pure evil. However, I think of these facts as incidental to weight loss; in other words, learning them was simply the by-product of successful weight loss and maintenance in my case, not the cause. If knowledge gained through personal experience is insufficiently motivating, how much less is knowledge gained from merely reading a book? Such pessimistic practicalities aside, Wolf does his best to get his readers fired up and seems genuinely motivated to help people. His use of pop science/psychology is purposeful at least, though somewhat nauseating, and I respect his unusual advice that each person find the foods that work for them (within limits, obviously) instead of slavishly following some one-size-fits-all diet/religion. However, I feel that Wolf does not make nearly as convincing, scientific or detailed a case for the paleo diet as Good Food, Great Medicine makes for the Mediterranean diet (with the added benefit of much less hype and pop science).
Why I read it: My boyfriend thought it sounded interesting but I thought it sounded sketchy, so I read it first to save him time in case it sucked.
Big Mushy Happy Lump: A “Sarah’s Scribbles” Collection by Sarah Andersen, 5/5
I love the Sarah’s Scribbles webcomic and this book is more of the same laughs. My boyfriend looked at the first illustration, of a small girl with big eyes cozied up in a comically huge hoodie, and was like “This is written about you?” Then he turned to the first comic, about procrastination, and was like “This is written about you!”
Why I read it: saw it advertised on the webcomic site.
Wit and Wonder: Poetry with Rhythm and Rhyme by James D. Herren, 5/5
When the author, a fellow fan of Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled, asked me out of the blue to review his newly self-published e-book of poetry, I felt a bit worried about balancing the responsibilities of being both a Very Nice Person and an Honest Book Reviewer. Thankfully, this moral dilemma was postponed to another time–I wholeheartedly love Herren’s poetry, finding it to be unpretentious, heartfelt and skillfully written. There is something in it for everyone–I kept pausing to read certain poems aloud to family members and even sent a couple screenshots to my sister on the east coast. When print copies of Wit and Wonder become available in April, I plan to buy one for my private library, as well as one for my family’s library and one to give a friend (something to look forward to, Alison B.). For those of you who aren’t quite as addicted to the smell of fresh ink as I am, the e-book is available now on Amazon through this link.
I tried to pick out a favourite poem to include in this review, but I liked too many of them to narrow it down to one. So I decided to pick out two that illustrated the range of tone and style in this collection, but they contrasted too much to appear side-by-side. So I finally narrowed it down to three (which is pretty good, given that there are 148 poems to choose from).
I juggled the bills —
and my family, and job —
all while keeping a roof on our heads,
then I threw in a dance,
and a dash of romance,
for my wife who was juggling kids.
Away with words.
Crash in a dazzling way.
Dance on the shoulders of giants.
Mock them with your brilliance.
The things I think are sometimes not
the things I think I thought I thought.
I thought I heard a dinosaur
but that was just my father’s snore.
I thought I saw a crocodile
but it was just my sister’s smile.
I thought I heard a dying cat —
my mother’s singing, only that.
I thought the world was torn apart
but that was just my brother’s fart.
I think it would be fun if you
could think of things the way I do.