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  • feedwordpress 21:36:56 on 2022/08/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , Books, , ,   

    What I Read This Month: July 2022 


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    For six years now, every Monday morning, I've posted a photo on my Facebook Page of the books I finished during the week, with the tag #GretchenRubinReads.

    I get a big kick out of this weekly habit—it’s a way to shine a spotlight on all the terrific books that I’ve read.

    As I write about in my book Better Than Before, for most of my life, my habit was to finish any book that I started. Finally, I realized that this approach meant that I spent time reading books that bored me, and I had less time for books that I truly enjoy. These days, I put down a book if I don’t feel like finishing it, so I have more time to do my favorite kinds of reading.

    This habit means that if you see a book included in the #GretchenRubinReads photo, you know that I liked it well enough to read to the last page.

    When I read books related to an area I’m researching for a writing project, I carefully read and take notes on the parts that interest me, and skim the parts that don’t. So I may list a book that I’ve partly read and partly skimmed. For me, that still “counts.”

    If you’d like more ideas for habits to help you get more reading done, read this post or download my "Reading Better Than Before" worksheet.

    You can also follow me on Goodreads where I track books I’ve read.

    If you want to see what I read last month, the full list is here.

    Lately, I've been listening to a lot of episodes of Backlisted, a books podcast that I love, and many of the suggestions this month were inspired by the hosts' conversations.

    July 2022 Reading:

    Constructing a Nervous System by Margo Jefferson (Amazon, Bookshop)—a thought-provoking memoir with an unusual structure.

    Beyond the Vicarage by Noel Streatfeild (Amazon)—More Streatfeild! The third volume in her three-volume third-person memoir.

    Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century, edited by Alice Wong (Amazon, Bookshop)—A collection of excellent essays from different authors about their experiences of living with disabilities.

    A World for Me and You by Uju Asika (Book Depository)—A lovely picture book about appreciating the beauty and joy of living in a diverse world. (If you want to read my interview with Uju Asika, it's here.)

    Say the Right Thing: How to Talk about Identity, Diversity, and Justice by Kenji Yoshino and David Glasgow (Amazon)—A very practical, thoughtful consideration of how to have conversations with greater compassion and understanding (in galley).

    Drive Your Plow: Over the Bones of the Dead: A Novel by Olga Tokarczuk (Amazon, Bookshop)—Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature—A fascinating, surprising novel.

    The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by E. L. Konigsburg (Amazon, Bookshop)—I love the work of E. L. Konigsburg, and when I did an event with the people making a musical of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (Amazon, Bookshop), I met Konigsburg's three children; when her son said this novel was his favorite, I realized that somehow I'd never read it.

    This is Not a Novel and Other Novels by David Markson (Amazon, Bookshop)—experimental, interesting, not like anything I've ever read before. I want to read more of his work.

    Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend (Amazon, Bookshop)—mystery, magic, competition, champions, hidden identities, and a delightful hotel...so many elements I find irresistible.

    Good Company: A Novel by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeny (Amazon, Bookshop)—New York Times Bestseller, A Read with Jenna Today Show Book Club Pick—I really enjoyed The Nest so wanted to read this excellent novel about marriage, family, love, theater, and what matters over time.

    Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay (Amazon, Bookshop)—a classic work of fantasy, with kingdoms, powers, conflict, strong characters, and a well-realized world

    Troy Chimneys by Margaret Kennedy (Amazon, Bookshop)—a terrific old-fashioned novel, and I mean that as high praise.

    The Last Interview: and Other Conversations (The Last Interview Series) by Nora Ephron (Amazon)—I'm reading through a lot of these short "Last Interview" collections; they're wonderful.

    The Last Interview: and Other Conversations (The Last Interview Series) by Toni Morrison (Amazon)—ditto.

    The Children’s Bach by Helen Garner (Amazon, Bookshop)—a short, intense novel about the collision of characters.

    Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner (Amazon, Bookshop)—More Helen Garner—a terrific collection of her non-fiction.

    Left on Tenth: A Second Chance at Life by Delia Ephron (Amazon, Bookshop)—A "Best Memoir of 2022" by Marie Claire, A "Best Memoir of April" by Vanity Fair—I love the writing of Delia Ephron (also Nora Ephron, see above), and this is a wonderful memoir of losing her husband, finding new love, and dealing with a health crisis.

    I Wrote This Book Because I Love You by Tim Kreider (Amazon, Bookshop)—A People Top 10 Book of 2018—terrific essays; I just bought another collection by Tim Kreider.

    A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk & Robot, 1) by Becky Chambers (Amazon, Bookshop)—I love the work of Becky Chambers! Plus I love a pantheon of gods.

    The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe (Amazon, Bookshop)—A magical world set in Appalachia. It reminded me a bit of the work of Nina Kiriki Hoffman, which I love.

    The Last Days of Roger Federer: And Other Endings by Geoff Dyer (Amazon, Bookshop)—A meditation on endings in Geoff Dyer's inimitable voice.

     
  • feedwordpress 16:00:34 on 2022/07/14 Permalink
    Tags: , , Books, Crying in the Bathroom, Erika L. Sanchez, , ,   

    Erika Sánchez: “I Realized…You Can’t Achieve Your Way Out of Trauma.” 


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    Interview: Erika Sánchez

    Erika Sánchez is a poet, novelist, and essayist. Her debut poetry collection, Lessons on Expulsion (Amazon, Bookshop) was a finalist for the PEN America Open Book Award. Her debut young-adult novel, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter (Amazon, Bookshop) is a New York Times bestseller, a National Book Awards finalist, and is currently being made into a Netflix film directed by America Ferrera. Her memoir, a collection of essays called Crying in the Bathroom (Amazon, Bookshop), just hit shelves.

    I've read both her novel and her memoir, and I couldn't wait to talk to Erika about happiness, habits, and mental health.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Erika: I have to take solitary walks to feel balanced. There’s a large park and river trail close to my house that I love. It’s a beautiful piece of nature in the city. I enjoy the trees, the birds, and the people, most of whom appear to be in a happy mood. Whenever I start to feel anxious or depressed, I make myself take a walk even if I don’t want to. By the end, I usually feel refreshed, and I have drawn some sort of conclusion or made a connection I didn’t expect. My imagination comes alive. My mind wanders in all directions because I’m present, which perhaps makes no sense to anyone but me.

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    At that time, I thought that if I achieved enough success, my depression would magically disappear and that I would be happy for the rest of my life. It wasn’t until I had a mental breakdown after my first two books were published that I realized this wasn’t true. You can’t achieve your way out of trauma. At 18 I also hadn’t yet learned that I have a mental illness that requires medication. I now understand that I literally can’t experience happiness when my brain chemistry is not right. Thank you, science!

    Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit – or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    I don’t always particularly enjoy working out—it’s a love/hate relationship— but I force myself to do it because I know how relieved l will feel after the fact. My favorite form of exercising is running outdoors. I like to get fresh air and enjoy the scenery. There’s something very satisfying about exerting myself physically. I’ve also shifted my perspective on working out. I make myself move because it feels good, not to lose or maintain my weight. Even though I’m incredibly slow, I feel like I deserve a parade when I’m finished.

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    I’m a Questioner!

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)

    Social media is a real pain in the butt for me. Part of me wants to delete it forever, but another part of me enjoys it and believes it’s now necessary to my career. Sometimes I scroll mindlessly, and I hate myself for it. Sometimes it becomes a compulsion, and it makes me feel very gross. I’m still trying to figure out my relationship to it. I don’t want it to take up too much space in my brain. I want to be present in the world.

    Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    This happens a lot when I’m reading or taking a walk. A few months ago, I was at the park and realized that I carried my female ancestors with me. Their flesh is my flesh. I believe both my rage and talent come from them. I’m the first woman in my family to have the opportunity to determine my own life. I had been working through a lot generational trauma, and that fact stunned me. I cried it out and felt stronger for it.

    Is there a particular quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?

    “I stood at the border, stood at the edge and claimed it as central. l claimed it as central, and let the rest of the world move over to where I was.” –Toni Morrison

    Has a book ever changed your life – if so, which one and why?

    Books change me all the time. One that comes to mind right now is When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron (Amazon, Bookshop). I read it when I was recovering from a very severe bout of depression. It helped me reconnect with my Buddhist faith and find meaning in my suffering.

     
  • feedwordpress 16:00:01 on 2022/07/07 Permalink
    Tags: , , Bookends, Books, , Zibby Owens   

    Zibby Owens: “Books Change My Life Every Day.” 


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    Interview: Zibby Owens

    Zibby Owens is the founder of Zibby Owens Media, which, among other things, includes a new publishing house for fiction and memoir. She's also the host of the award-winning podcast, Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books, and a regular columnist for Good Morning America. And if all that's not enough, she's also an editor and author—her new memoir, Bookends: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Literature (Amazon, Bookshop), just hit the shelves this week.

    I've known Zibby for many years. We first got to know each other through our deep love of reading and libraries.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Zibby about happiness, habits, and, of course, books.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Zibby: A habit that makes me more productive is active email management. Once a day, I stop replying to incoming messages and attack the backlog. (Okay, fine, maybe once a week.) When I do that, I dedicate at least two hours to it and sort the emails alphabetically rather than by date received. That way, I can go through one person’s emails at a time, delete unnecessary emails, and then really dig into the rest. I note the starting amount when I get discouraged about how many I have left, I start working my way up from the Z’s. Then I’ll flip back to working down from the A’s. If I don’t do this after two weeks max or when I get to 500 emails, I basically freak out.

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    That I could be profoundly happy at my current weight. I think that would have horrified me then.

    Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit – or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    I’ve started eating a protein and veggie shake for breakfast every morning instead of my kids' leftover pancakes. It sets the day on a better path. (I love the chocolate flavor from Ka’Chava, a sponsor of my podcast that I have grown obsessed with.) I did it a few times in a row and realized it really did make me feel better. Now I miss it on the days I’m traveling or have run out.

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    Obliger. 100%. After doing a recent event with Gretchen, I realized that each one of my four kids is a different temperament. It’s actually changed the way I parent in such a positive way!

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness?

    My compulsion to manage my emails and not get behind on work. (See #1 above.) It throws a huge wrench in my determination to move more.

    Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?

    Don’t miss the plot. An old therapist told me that and it helps me every day.

    Has a book ever changed your life – if so, which one and why?

    Books change my life every day. I do 365 podcasts a year, each one with a different author. I’ve learned such an enormous amount it’s crazy. I’m like in the school of life.

    In your field, is there a common misconception that you’d like to correct?

    I’m in a lot of fields: podcasting, publishing, book-fluencing (is that a thing?!), parenting, being an author. A misconception is that you have to pick just one field!

     
  • feedwordpress 16:00:35 on 2022/06/30 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , Books, , ,   

    What I Read This Month: June 2022 


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    For four years now, every Monday morning, I've posted a photo on my Facebook Page of the books I finished during the week, with the tag #GretchenRubinReads.

    I get a big kick out of this weekly habit—it’s a way to shine a spotlight on all the terrific books that I’ve read.

    As I write about in my book Better Than Before, for most of my life, my habit was to finish any book that I started. Finally, I realized that this approach meant that I spent time reading books that bored me, and I had less time for books that I truly enjoy. These days, I put down a book if I don’t feel like finishing it, so I have more time to do my favorite kinds of reading.

    This habit means that if you see a book included in the #GretchenRubinReads photo, you know that I liked it well enough to read to the last page.

    When I read books related to an area I’m researching for a writing project, I carefully read and take notes on the parts that interest me, and skim the parts that don’t. So I may list a book that I’ve partly read and partly skimmed. For me, that still “counts.”

    If you’d like more ideas for habits to help you get more reading done, read this post or download my "Reading Better Than Before" worksheet.

    You can also follow me on Goodreads where I track books I’ve read.

    If you want to see what I read last month, the full list is here.

    June 2022 Reading:

    Pure by Andrew Miller (Amazon, Bookshop)—A terrific novel that captures an interesting moment in history—the moving of the contents of the Les Innocents cemetery in eighteenth-century France.

    Sorrow and Bliss: A Novel by Meg Mason (Amazon, Bookshop)—Winner of the Book of the Year (Fiction) at the British Book Awards—an absorbing novel of a woman and her family.

    Artificial Conditions: The Murderbot Diaries (The Murderbot Diaries, 2) by Martha Wells (Amazon, Bookshop)—USA Today Bestseller—I rarely listen to audiobooks, but for the Murderbot Diaries, I tried the audiobooks, and really enjoyed the experience. I love the main character of these novellas.

    Rogue Protocol: The Murderbot Diaries (The Murderbot Diaries, 3) by Martha Wells (Amazon, Bookshop)—ditto

    Exit Strategy: The Murderbot Diaries (The Murderbot Diaries, 4)  by Martha Wells (Amazon, Bookshop)—ditto

    The Absolute Book: A Novel by Elizabeth Knox (Amazon, Bookshop)—Several people told me to read this book. It reminded me a little of Little, Big: Or, The Fairies' Parliament by John Crowley.

    Becoming a Gardener: What Reading and Digging Taught Me About Living by Katie Marron (Amazon, Bookshop)—I have no desire to garden but I love books about gardening. This meditative memoir looks at the power of gardening, with gorgeous illustrations.

    A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch (Amazon, Bookshop)—I'm on a Murdoch kick. They're always worth reading, though this wasn't one of my favorites.

    Also A Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me by Ada Calhoun (Amazon, Bookshop)—A fascinating memoir about a complex father-daughter relationship...plus Frank O'Hara.

    The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison (Amazon, Bookshop)—I couldn't wait to read the next book in the Cemeteries of Amalo series.

    The Reason I Jump by Naomi Higashida (Amazon, Bookshop)—New York Times bestseller—an interesting memoir from an unusual perspective (after reading it, I learned that there's some controversy about this book).

    The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thorton Wilder (Amazon, Bookshop)—Winner of the Pulitzer Prize—a short and thought-provoking story about life and fate.

    The Great Passion by James Runcie (Amazon, Bookshop)—A historical novel with a compelling narrator—a thirteen-year-old who finds himself in Bach's circle.

    Left on Tenth: A Second Chance at Life: A Memoir by Delia Ephron (Amazon, Bookshop)—A "Best Memoir of 2022" by Marie Claire, A "Best Memoir of April" by Vanity Fair—Romance, marriage, aging, New York City, bone-marrow transplant, sisters...a terrific memoir.

     
  • feedwordpress 16:00:05 on 2022/06/16 Permalink
    Tags: , Books, Finding Ecohappiness, , , Sandi Schwartz   

    Sandi Schwartz: “Nature Stimulates Creativity.” 


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    Interview: Sandi Schwartz

    Sandi Schwartz is the founder and director of the Ecohappiness Project, and an author and journalist who specializes in parenting, environmental, and wellness topics.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Sandi about happiness, habits, and her new book, Finding Ecohappiness: Fun Nature Activities to Help Your Kids Feel Happier and Calmer (Amazon, Bookshop).

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Sandi: I treasure my morning walks, whether they are in my neighborhood, at a local park, or during the summer along the beach. Listening to the birds chirping, breathing in the fresh air, and mindfully viewing the colorful nature around me is my daily meditation. Getting this exercise and meditative time in kickstarts my day so I can clear my head. As a writer, I often come up with ideas for blog posts, articles, and other projects during my walks since nature stimulates creativity.

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    The most fascinating aspect of happiness to me is that we each have our own baseline, and even when we have an amazing thing happen and we get a boost of happiness, we end up back at that set point. Genetics influence 50 percent of our happiness, while our life circumstances control 10 percent. That leaves us with 40 percent to take our own action to try to feel happier. Knowing this helped me understand my own personality and happiness level to accept what my baseline is and to recognize what I have some control over to change how I feel.

    You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or your readers – most?

    Everyone is always fascinated to learn that we can benefit from nature connection even through a screen or virtual reality. Scientists are closely studying this concept and are finding that simulated nature can have medicinal effects, although not as effective as being immersed in nature. In an analysis of over thirty studies that reviewed the effects of spending time in nature versus urban environments, researchers found that being exposed to nature led to people feeling happier whether they were outdoors or viewing nature on a screen. They also discovered that simulated environments with realistic images of nature, such as interactive VR, led to greater psychological benefits than less immersive choices like photographs.

    Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit – or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    One of the most important habits that I am trying very hard to keep is writing in my brief evening journal. I write five bullet points: the most important aspect of my day, something social I did to connect with others, and three pieces of gratitude. I find that keeping this daily habit helps me feel more balanced and my emotions in check. My biggest challenge from the pandemic was getting way too comfortable being at home, so my goal these days is to try and be more social. Tracking this in my journal helps keep me on track.

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger

    I am a Questioner; no surprise there. I am very self-motivated and tend to do what I want on a daily basis, minus my commitments to my husband, children, and work clients. I definitely wake up every day and think, “What needs to get done today, and why?” I am constantly updating my daily to-do lists and personal goals. I am also thirsty for knowledge and love asking questions and doing research to find the answers. I also resist doing anything that seems to lack purpose. Additionally, I am an INFJ and have a huge need and passion to change the world, which is evident by my focus on environmentalism and exploring how nature can improve well-being. If I am not living my purpose, I begin to struggle emotionally. I crave new challenges and goals.

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)

    I am a homebody and most effective in meeting my goals and sticking to my habits when I am at home with my routine. Therefore, anything that knocks me off my game, like travel or stressful situations, interferes with my ability to keep my healthy habits that improve my happiness.

    Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?

    My husband taught me a very helpful phrase that I turn to often when my anxiety is acting up: “This too shall pass.” I find this quote very soothing, as it helps me shift my focus from the stressful situation that is freaking me out to realize that I have faced many similar challenges and was so upset, but time marched on and they are now distant memories. If we can master this type of shift in our thought process, then we can have more control over our strong emotions like anxiety.

    Has a book ever changed your life – if so, which one and why?

    Many books have changed my life. I truly believe that books come into my life when I need them. I might just happen to see a book at the library or in a bookstore, or maybe a friend or someone in a Facebook group posts a recommendation. It’s as if the book calls out my name. Some examples include The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz (Amazon, Bookshop), Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks by Barry McDonagh (Amazon, Bookshop); Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen (Amazon, Bookshop); and Gretchen’s book, The Happiness Project, which changed the trajectory of my career path to focus on positive psychology and ultimately the intersection of nature and mental health. [Gretchen: That's so wonderful to hear!]

    I also believe that authors write the books they need the most, and that’s what happened with me and my book, Finding Ecohappiness (Amazon, Bookshop).

     

     

     
  • feedwordpress 16:00:19 on 2022/06/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , Books, , ,   

    What I Read This Month: May 2022 


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    For four years now, every Monday morning, I've posted a photo on my Facebook Page of the books I finished during the week, with the tag #GretchenRubinReads.

    I get a big kick out of this weekly habit—it’s a way to shine a spotlight on all the terrific books that I’ve read.

    As I write about in my book Better Than Before, for most of my life, my habit was to finish any book that I started. Finally, I realized that this approach meant that I spent time reading books that bored me, and I had less time for books that I truly enjoy. These days, I put down a book if I don’t feel like finishing it, so I have more time to do my favorite kinds of reading.

    This habit means that if you see a book included in the #GretchenRubinReads photo, you know that I liked it well enough to read to the last page.

    When I read books related to an area I’m researching for a writing project, I carefully read and take notes on the parts that interest me, and skim the parts that don’t. So I may list a book that I’ve partly read and partly skimmed. For me, that still “counts.”

    If you’d like more ideas for habits to help you get more reading done, read this post or download my "Reading Better Than Before" worksheet.

    You can also follow me on Goodreads where I track books I’ve read.

    If you want to see what I read last month, the full list is here.

    May 2022 Reading:

    Smile: The Story of a Face by Sarah Ruhl (Amazon, Bookshop)—I love the work of Sarah Ruhl (see below), so couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy of this memoir about her experiences with Bell's palsy, a high-risk pregnancy, play-writing

    Parson's Nine by Noel Streatfeild (Amazon)—On a recent episode of More Happier, I talked about how happy I was to discover Streatfeild's adult fiction. I loved this novel.

    Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey Through Autism by Dawn Prince-Hughes, Ph.D. (Amazon, Bookshop)—A fascinating memoir about how studying the interactions of gorillas offered a lifeline to the author.

    In the Early Times: A Life Reframed by Tad Friend (Amazon, Bookshop)—A thought-provoking, honest, revealing memoir about family and marriage.

    Signal Fires: A Novel by Dani Shapiro (Amazon, Bookshop)—A gripping novel that I finished in one day. I keep thinking about the characters.

    The Copenhagen Trilogy: Childhood; Youth; Dependency by Tove Ditlevsen (Amazon, Bookshop)—Haunting. A fascinating portrait of a person and a time.

    The Office BFFs: Tales of The Office from Two Best Friends Who Were There by Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey (Amazon, Bookshop)—we'll be talking to the authors in upcoming episode 381 of the Happier podcast, for the Happier Podcast Book Club. Such a delightful book. Behind-the-scenes at the iconic TV comedy The Office, stories of best friendship, Hollywood stories, and more.

    Mothering Sunday by Noel Streatfeild (Amazon)—more Noel Streatfeild!

    Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood (Amazon, Bookshop)—New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of the Year, Winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor—a thought-provoking family memoir that was both funny and somber. (Side note: much of it took place in Kansas City, which made me feel a personal connection.)

    The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E. Smith (Amazon, Bookshop)—A great novel about romance, grief, family, music—all set on an Alaskan cruise ship.

    Ties by Domenico Starnone (Amazon, Bookshop)—2015 Bridge Prize for Best Novel, Sunday Times and Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year, Strega Award—the story of a marriage told with an unusual and effective structure. (Side note for Elena Ferrante fans: some argue that Starnone is her husband and that this novel is "in dialogue with" her novel The Days of Abandonment.)

    To Siri with Love: A Mother, Her Autistic Son, and the Kindness of Machines by Judith Newman (Amazon, Bookshop)—a fascinating memoir about a family, about autism, and about technology.

    Letters from Max: A Poet, a Teacher, a Friendship by Sarah Ruhl and Max Ritvo (Amazon, Bookshop)—Kirkus Best Book of 2018—see above—I loved this collection of letters exchanged between Sarah Ruhl and her student, colleague, and friend Max Ritvo before his early death from cancer.

    The Aosawa Murders by Rick Onda (Amazon, Bookshop)—A gripping story about a crime and the mystery of who committed it, and why.

    In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss by Amy Bloom (Amazon, Bookshop)—New York Times Bestseller—A beautiful, thought-provoking memoir about love and death.

    The Book of Boundaries by Melissa Urban (Amazon, Bookshop)—in galley! A practical, helpful book that's also hilarious and a real page-turner, on the question of how to create healthy boundaries.

     
  • feedwordpress 20:20:04 on 2022/05/26 Permalink
    Tags: , , Books, In the Early Times, , Tad Friend   

    Tad Friend: “Happiness Comes from Immersion—in a Job, an Art Form, a Challenge, a Relationship.” 


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    Interview: Tad Friend

    Tad Friend is a staff writer at the New Yorker, and previously was a contributing editor at Esquire and Outside. He is the author of a memoir, Cheerful Money: Me, My Family, and the Last Days of Wasp Splendor (Amazon, Bookshop), and Lost in Mongolia: Travels in Hollywood and Other Foreign Lands (Amazon, Bookshop), a collection of his articles. His latest memoir, In the Early Times: A Life Reframed (Amazon, Bookshop), hit shelves this month.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Tad about happiness, habits, and relationships.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Tad: Drinking way too much coffee. Fight me! But I’ll win because I’m teeming with caffeination.

    Has a book ever changed your life – if so, which one and why?

    Let us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee (Amazon, Bookshop). I read Agee’s account of three Alabama tenant farming families struggling through the Great Depression when I was in college, and the book was a revelation. No one had thought tenant farmers worthy of much attention, but Agee made me care deeply about every aspect of their lives. His work made me realize that nothing is anything until a writer makes it something. And that it’s possible to report so thoroughly and write so passionately and empathetically that nonfiction rises to the level of art.

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Happiness comes from immersion—in a job, an art form, a challenge, a relationship. But while you’re immersed it doesn’t even occur to you to assess your emotional state. Only later do you realize, “Oh, I was happy then.” The challenge of life is that it’s lived forward but understood backward.

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    I’ve long been an Upholder with Questioner tendencies. I wanted to do the thing that people expect of me, but I also wanted to make sure that doing it made sense, and that I’d be rewarded. However, I’ve recently discovered that if someone I love really wants something, that alone is reason enough to do it, no questions asked, no reciprocity demanded. Reciprocity comes unsought, as selflessness turns out to be contagious.

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? 

    Rampant procrastination. I catch up on “Atlanta” or do the Spelling Bee instead of just tacking the onerous thing and rewarding myself later with a pop-culture treat. Using Pomodoro helps: I set the timer for 25 minutes and go, knowing that I’ll soon have 5 minutes to refill my coffee mug.

    Multitasking is another bad habit. Multitasking is actually just rapid focus switching, so I keep losing all the clarity and momentum that attends sustained attention. On the other hand, I have become quite adept at doing a crappy job on three things at once.

    Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Yes, I stopped being unfaithful. My wife discovered my infidelities, and I so hated the monstrous me that I saw reflected in her eyes, and was so grateful to her for being willing to work this very thorny issue through together, that I reversed course, hard, overnight. Without her willingness to give me a second chance—if, and only if, I became an actual, you know, husband and partner—I would have remained lost. Amanda is not only my true love, she’s my hero. I write about all this in In the Early Times.

    Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?

    “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.” It’s from Theodore Roosevelt’s Autobiography (Amazon, Bookshop), where he attributes it to someone else. I heard the maxim from a squash coach, and it absolutely applies to squash, to keeping your focus and playing within yourself when you feel outmatched. But it also struck me as a great motto for daily life. It’s both a recognition of imperfections and a summons to get the most out of your imperfect vehicle, nonetheless.

    If I had to pick a second quotation, it would be from Sigmund Freud: “Life, as we find it, is too hard for us.” It sounds glum, but once you realize, well, ok, life is too much for everyone, it’s actually curiously freeing. You’re going to lose eventually, so why not fight a strong rearguard action? And that fight, for me, is embodied by “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.”

     
  • feedwordpress 16:00:16 on 2022/05/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , Books, Data science, Don't Trust Your Gut, , Seth Stephens-Davidowitz   

    Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: “I Started Giving Myself a Life Report Card.” 


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    Interview: Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

    Seth Stephens-Davidowitz worked as a data scientist at Google and is currently a contributing op-ed writer for the New York Times. His first book, Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us about Who We Really Are (Amazon, Bookshop), was a New York Times bestseller and an Economist Book of the Year. I loved his first book, and was very happy when I happened to meet Seth at an event here in New York.

    His new book is Don't Trust Your Gut: Using Data to Get What You Really Want in Life (Amazon, Bookshop). If you'd like to get a sense of his approach, he recently published the article "The One Parenting Decision That Really Matters: Almost none of the choices you make are as fraught as you think they are" in the Atlantic.

    I couldn't wait to read his new book and to ask him about happiness, habits, and the human psyche.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Seth: I started giving myself a Life Report Card. At the end of every month, I grade myself on 15 categories for that month, including “relationships with friends, relationships with family, financial performance, fitness, fun, career advancement, giving back, and learning. “When I tell people this, they say it sounds nerdy, high-pressure and insane. And maybe it is. But I find it helps me achieve balance. If, for a few months in a row, I get a very low grade in, say, fun, I make sure to schedule more fun things the next month. Also, discussing the report card with others has allowed me to learn of new areas for growth that I hadn’t realized. My girlfriend suggested I add a category for “emotional openness” and hinted that my grade in that category is very low. Now I am working on turning those Fs into Ds.

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Happiness is more of a choice than I realized. My brilliant, life-changing therapist Rick told me I was choosing to be depressed. It was a somewhat shocking thing to say, and a lot of people would recoil at the suggestion. But it immediately registered with me. And my mood has improved by telling myself I can choose how I feel.

    You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or your readers – most?

    In researching Don’t Trust Your Gut, I became obsessed with the Mappiness project founded by George MacKerron and Susana Mourato. They pinged people on iPhones and asked them some simple questions: What are you doing? Who are you with? How happy are you? From this, they created a dataset containing more than 3 million data points.  The major lesson I took from their ground-breaking research is that the things that make people happy are really simple and obvious. As I summed up the research, the answer to happiness is “to be with your love, on an 80 degree and sunny day, overlooking a beautiful body of water, having sex.” The key to happiness, I concluded, is ignoring the noise from the world that over-complicates things.

    Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit – or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    On my Life Report Card, I noticed the only category I was consistently getting A’s in was fitness. And that’s because I hired an awesome personal trainer, John. From this, I concluded the only way I can really stick to difficult habits is external pressure. I’m working on setting up systems that pressure me to do the (many) things I don’t want to do but should do.

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger

    I’m a questioner and a rebel, which gave me a proud smile upon writing. Makes me seem like a badass. [Gretchen: Hmmm...from the way you answered the question above, I'm wondering about that.]

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? 

    My job is really isolating, which is not good for happiness. Research shows that both introverts and extroverts get a big mood boost from being around people.

    Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    I get hit by lightning bolts like once a week. I have strong emotional responses to things I read; pretty much every time I read a book, I am tempted to make some massive change based on the content. Like yesterday, I read the book The Simple Path to Wealth by JL Collins (Amazon, Bookshop). It included the parable of The Monk and the Minister, which goes as follows:

    Two close boyhood friends grow up and go their separate ways. One becomes a humble monk, the other a rich and powerful minister to the king. Years later they meet. As they catch up, the portly minister (in his fine robes) takes pity on the thin and shabby monk.

    Seeking to help, he says: “You know, if you could learn to cater to the king, you wouldn’t have to live on rice and beans.”

    To which the monk replies: “If you could learn to live on rice and beans, you wouldn’t have to cater to the king.”

    That was a major lightning bolt and tempted me to quit the consulting work I do. But I think making big, dramatic decisions based on something you read or hear isn’t a great life strategy. I try to talk things over with people and be more deliberate.

    Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?

    “This too shall pass” has gotten me through some rough times.

    Has a book ever changed your life – if so, which one and why?

    I thought Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman (Amazon, Bookshop) was profound.

    In your field, is there a common misconception that you’d like to correct?

    My entire book is about correcting misconceptions. Here are some: that successful entrepreneurs tend to be young; that the average rich person works in tech; that joy and smiles are the way to sell products; that work makes people happy; that great businesses are due to luck; that lacrosse is a better path than baseball for getting a college scholarship; that it’s crazy to try to be a celebrity; that parents have a big impact on their kids; that lounging around makes people happy; and that marital happiness can be predicted.

     
  • feedwordpress 16:00:49 on 2022/05/05 Permalink
    Tags: , , Books, , Daniel Coyle, , interviews, , , teamwork, The Culture Playbook   

    Daniel Coyle: “When You Shift into a New Narrative, You Are Opening Up an Entirely New Set of Possibilities” 


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    Interview: Daniel Coyle

    Daniel Coyle is a contributing editor for Outside Magazine and the author of six books, including the New York Times bestsellers Lance Armstrong's War (Amazon, Bookshop) and The Culture Code (Amazon, Bookshop). In his new book, The Culture Playbook: 60 Highly Effective Actions to Help Your Group Succeed (Amazon, Bookshop), he provides readers with sixty concrete skills to help any team build a strong, cohesive, positive culture.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Daniel about happiness, habits, and success.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Daniel: I find it deeply insane how much my internal state can be boosted by a hard physical workout. The simple, idiotic, Neanderthal act of putting your head down and pushing really hard for a few minutes shifts something deep inside you. It wakes you up in a new way. It’s your body saying, Hey, I’m down here, and the outside world saying, Me too! And those combine to get you out of your own head. It’s not that different from losing yourself in beautiful music.  

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Being young brings many happiness advantages because A) you don’t know much about the world; and B) you’re not actively trying to be happy. I find that the instant you start aiming for happiness as a goal, it evaporates. I think that’s why people who focus on happiness as an extrinsic goal (hello, wellness industry) project such a narrow, almost businesslike vibe. Now that I’m older, I focus less on happiness, and instead try to spot it out of the corner of my eye whenever it bubbles up. To pause and take it in for a second. Then get back to whatever it was that caused it to happen. Which usually involves some activity that is not centered on me – either absorbing work or doing something for someone else. 

    You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or your readers – most?

    I’ve spent most of my career exploring big mysterious questions right under our noses – why do certain people and groups succeed, and others don’t? What is success, really? The continuing, everlasting surprise has been how much success is generated and governed by our internal narratives. To put it simply: success looks like a talent contest, but it turns out to be a story contest. Certain stories generate awareness and behaviors that generate virtuous spirals, producing creativity, well-being, and connection. Other stories generate the opposite effect. So story remains the strongest drug ever invented. When you shift into a new narrative, you are opening up an entirely new set of possibilities and pathways – which is sometimes a bummer but ultimately hopeful, especially considering the challenges we are facing as a species right now. 

    Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit – or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    For most of my life, I had a big-time sweet tooth. I would not want to estimate my glucose intake from ages 5-25, but it would be measured in metric tons. Over the past few years, I’ve dialed back a lot, mostly by noticing the chain of sensations – the desire and the taste and the feelings in the body afterwards -- and then thinking about what is really happening during each of these steps. Not that I didn’t eat an entire box of Milk Duds at a movie last night – but hey, at least I realized what was going on! 😉 

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger

    I’m an Upholder with my kids, an Obliger with colleagues, a Questioner with my siblings, but down deep I’d describe myself as a Rebel. I am attracted to boundaries and I like to push against them to see what happens. Maybe this is connected to spending my childhood in Alaska and visiting my parents’ homes in near St. Louis, Missouri, every summer. Early on, I was alert to the nearly-cartoonish contrast between the two places – one place wild and invented, with gravel roads and a culture of making up the rules as you went, the other tidy and traditional, where you color inside the lines (or else!). All that added up to create in me the unshakable idea that borders are most fun if they are discovered, stretched, and occasionally broken. 

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness?

    Like everybody, I would put distraction at the top of the list. At the same time, I want to put a good word in for distraction, because I find that it can help with creativity. I know it’s not supposed to (the research on “switching time” is pretty definitive) but I have to confess: the little time spent watching a funny video while I’m from writing (even as I’m writing this) ends up leaving me a bit refreshed and able to see new pathways that I might have missed. I’d say that the key is in paying attention to the ways that you are distracted – and in being intentional about it, so that you use your distraction in a healthy way (as a lever), and not in an unhealthy way (as a perpetual escape).  

    Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Reading The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe (Amazon, Bookshop) at age 15 set me onto this path of being a writer. For me, that experience was like when musicians of a certain age describe the feeling seeing the Beatles perform for the first time on television – a feeling a door opening to reveal an entirely new world — you mean people can get paid to do that? That book – that smart, fun, rollicking voice — lit me up and led to a set of questions that I’ve ended up exploring in various ways for my entire career: where does greatness come from? How do you get it? What is the price?

    Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?

    I like “Get up on the Roof.” You use it when you feel stuck in a situation or in a particularly narrow emotional reaction to a situation, and it works because it nudges you toward the truth: there exists a higher perspective, and all you have to do is take the time and step up onto it, and look around.  I also like the way it speaks to the magic inherent in perspective shifts. Unlike so many other progressions in life, which require sweat and grit and time, changes in perspective actually do happen in a micro-second. Life seems fixed and utterly irreversible and then — presto! — you get on the roof and see it in a new way that makes your old way of seeing seem like a distant memory. This mantra is doubly useful because it applies in both “good” and “bad” situations.  It reinforces the truth: our lives, no matter how dire or how wonderful, are never purely bad or good, but rather exist in multiple ways. 

    In your field, is there a common misconception that you’d like to correct?

    Most people – me included, for much of my life – walk around thinking that good books are about providing answers, that the role of the author is to be the deliverer of Big Secrets. I’ve come to think this is wrong. Great writers aren’t the ones with the answers; they are the ones with the enduring questions and the useful tools for exploration. 

    They are able to do this because they are in in touch with the inner lives and curiosities of their readers. They have a sense for what anxieties, dreams, and questions people are thinking about when they’re laying awake at 3 am. Then they find ways to explore those areas – mostly questions. In all, I think good writers are sort of like the divers who explore these great oceans inside of us, and then they hand you a snorkel and flippers or maybe even a scuba set so that you can do it yourself.

     
  • feedwordpress 18:09:08 on 2022/05/02 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , Books, , ,   

    What I Read This Month: April 2022 


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    For four years now, every Monday morning, I've posted a photo on my Facebook Page of the books I finished during the week, with the tag #GretchenRubinReads.

    I get a big kick out of this weekly habit—it’s a way to shine a spotlight on all the terrific books that I’ve read.

    As I write about in my book Better Than Before, for most of my life, my habit was to finish any book that I started. Finally, I realized that this approach meant that I spent time reading books that bored me, and I had less time for books that I truly enjoy. These days, I put down a book if I don’t feel like finishing it, so I have more time to do my favorite kinds of reading.

    This habit means that if you see a book included in the #GretchenRubinReads photo, you know that I liked it well enough to read to the last page.

    When I read books related to an area I’m researching for a writing project, I carefully read and take notes on the parts that interest me, and skim the parts that don’t. So I may list a book that I’ve partly read and partly skimmed. For me, that still “counts.”

    If you’d like more ideas for habits to help you get more reading done, read this post or download my "Reading Better Than Before" worksheet.

    You can also follow me on Goodreads where I track books I’ve read.

    If you want to see what I read last month, the full list is here.

    April 2022 Reading:

    The Joy of Sweat: The Strange Science of Perspiration by Sarah Everts (Amazon, Bookshop)—An Outside magazine 2021 Science book pick—A fascinating look at a very common aspect of life.

    The Bell Family by Noel Streatfeild (Amazon, Bookshop)—I just realized that Noel Streatfeild has several novels that I've never read, and it's so delightful to plunge in. This children's novel is based on her own childhood. It's very much like A Vicarage Family, below, which is a memoir.

    How to be a Family: The Year I Dragged My Kids Around the World to Find a New Way to Be Together by Dan Kois (Amazon, Bookshop)—I'm a big fan of the podcast Mom and Dad Are Fighting, which was co-hosted for many years by Dan Kois, and I knew that Dan and I would both be at the Iceland Writers Retreat, so I wanted to read his memoir. Funny, thought-provoking.

    Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (Amazon, Bookshop)—New York Times bestseller; I loved this novel; it was the chance to be inside a pure mind.

    In the Land of Pain by Alphonse Daudet (Amazon, Bookshop)—When I interviewed Meghan O'Rourke about her book The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness (Amazon, Bookshop), she suggested this book. Short, haunting account of Daudet's experience of chronic illness and pain.

    Inside Grandad by Peter Dickinson (Amazon)—I'm a huge fan of the work of Peter Dickinson but had somehow missed this novel. A simple, lovely story about a boy's love for his grandfather.

    Thinking 101: How to Reason Better to Live Better by Woo-Kyoung Ahn (Amazon, Bookshop)—A very engaging, readable, and powerful examination of how we can think more clearly.

    My Year Off: Recovering Life After a Stroke by Robert McCrum (Amazon, Bookshop)—A very moving account of the author's experience of having a stroke at a relatively young age.

    First Bite by Bee Wilson (Amazon, Bookshop)—Fortnum & Mason Food Book of the Year 2016—a fascinating examination of why we eat what we eat.

    True Biz: A Novel by Sara Nović (Amazon, Bookshop)—New York Times bestseller, Reese's Book Club pick—I read this novel in one day. I'd just binge-watched the reality series Deaf U, and True Biz picks up on many of the same themes related to Deaf culture.

    The Vicarage Family by Noel Streatfeild (Amazon)—Streatfeild writes this memoir in the third-person, which gives it a different atmosphere. If you love the Shoes books, you'll love this.

    You'll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar (Amazon, Bookshop)—New York Times bestseller, a Library Journal Best Book of the Year—These essays highlights very serious issues of racism by using humor and sisterly banter.

    Under the Glacier by Halldór Laxness (Amazon, Bookshop)—I wanted to read at least one novel by Laxness before coming to Iceland. This is an extremely odd and interesting novel.

    Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson (Amazon, Bookshop)—A travelogue from a very different time and place. I very much admire the work of Stevenson, and had never read this one.

     
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