The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo | Book Review

★★★☆☆
March 28th – 31st

Third, and finally in my trifecta of non-fiction was The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. It was spring when I read this, and having been stuck at home for a month at this point, I decided to engage in some spring cleaning. I watched Marie Kondo’s show of the same name on Netflix last year, and I really enjoyed seeing her method in action. I’d heard good things about her book, and wanted to give it a try.

I did listen to the audiobook for this, and I wish that I had read it physically. There were a lot of descriptions of how to fold and how to organize which I felt would work better in a physical book than over audio. I don’t know if it was because of the audiobook, but this book was just okay for me. I enjoy Marie Kondo, and liked when her personality came out in the book, but the advice itself I found to be slightly unrealistic and not entirely practical.

She speaks a lot about only keeping things that bring you joy. We all know this. There have been countless memes about this. But one thing that I didn’t feel like was touched on was things which you don’t necessarily like, but which you need. I don’t necessarily love having cleaning products in my house, but I need them in order to stay clean.

The biggest example of this for me was her section on getting rid of books. Every book that I own currently doesn’t necessarily bring me joy, but I own them for a reason. Marie Kondo doesn’t seem to see the value in collection, something which I really enjoy. As an example from my life, I own a lot of enamel pins. I really like them, and though I try and limit how many I purchase, I still own a lot of them. I can’t see myself getting rid of them, because though each individual one doesn’t bring me joy, the collection as a whole does. With my books, I definitely go through and will get rid of some that I know I’m never going to read on occasion, but I like owning books that I’ve physically read, even if I don’t have plans to go back and reread them. To me the representation of the time that they were read in is worth keeping them.

The most impractical aspect of her book was the time that everything takes. In several sections, she calls out other cleaning and tidying advice for taking place over the course of several days or a routine which has you tidy a little bit every day. She says that this is unrealistic and talks about how doing it all at once is much better.

I definitely do not have the time for this type of approach. With the combination of work stress and life stress, it would be extremely difficult for me to dedicate an entire day (or several, if we’re being honest) to the level of tidying that Marie Kondo recommends. This is something that I felt was missing from both her show and her book, was an explanation for how people merged this approach into their daily lives without needing to take a week of vacation to get everything started.

I do like the order that Marie Kondo has you tackle the items to get rid of, and I think that her explanations for why to get rid of things, and how to know if something is worth getting rid of is extremely valid and well thought out.

If I was able to dedicate the time to this type of method, I could see it being beneficial to help pair down the amount of stuff that people have. I was also really surprised to hear about the amount of things that people had in her examples. Descriptions of overflowing closets were absolutely crazy to me. I know that they’re mostly there for shock factor, but I can’t imagine dealing with that type of stress on a daily basis.

Overall this was a fairly mediocre read. I’m glad I read it, but I don’t know that I’d recommend it or ever read it again.

-Siobhan

10% Happier by Dan Harris | Book Review

★★★★☆
March 26th – 27th

Second in my little grouping of non-fiction was 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduce Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works, which I think wins the title for the longest title I’ll be reading all year.

I’m luckily enough to work for a company which provides the Ten Percent app, owned by Dan Harris, for their employees. Meditation was something that I found beneficial when extremely stressed, and let’s face it, we’ve all been extremely stressed out the past few months. Scribd had the audiobook, narrated by Dan Harris, so I decided to redownload the Ten Percent app, and give this book a listen.

I was expecting the book to be a lot more “preachy” about meditation, but it felt very grounded. It read more like a memoir about Dan Harris’s life, his struggle with mental health and addiction even at the peak of his career, and how meditation helped him with that.

I really liked how candid he was in a lot of the book: how he valued science and the medical benefits of meditation. One of the people he specifically mentions in the book, Sam Harris, is a fairly prominent atheist, and one who also practices meditation. It was interesting to see the separation of spirituality or religion from meditation, and focus more on the psychological and medical benefits.

Some of my favorite parts of the book were his descriptions of a ten day meditation retreat he went on, something I don’t think I could ever do. He describes his struggle, his euphoria, and then back to his struggle with trying to bring his brain back to focusing on just his body over and over again. I can barely get my brain to do that for ten minutes, let alone ten days.

The title itself, and the description of where it came from was one of my other favorite parts of the book. The idea that meditation, for Dan Harris, and also for me, isn’t about being one with yourself or expelling thoughts to think about nothing. At first it’s about forgiveness, and being kind to yourself. Not berating yourself for slipping up or having your mind wander, but instead guiding it back to focus on the breath, or what you’re trying to focus on. Meditation doesn’t solve your problems. It doesn’t get you a promotion, or more money, or a new life overnight, but it can give you the tools to be a little bit happier.

I will say that this book did convince me to give meditation a more serious attempt, and to try and incorporate even 10 minutes a day into my routine. So far I’ve found that the days that I don’t want to meditate at all are the days I need to the most, and we’ll see if it makes me 10% happier.

-Siobhan

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

★★★☆☆
March 19th – 26th

As we all know, 2020 has been bananas. I’ve had this book on my shelf since it came out, and following an ankle injury that pulled me out of work for several weeks, as well as the following quarantine I was in, I was looking for titles to help me reduce anxiety. This was the first of those titles. This book is about what you should be worried about, what you should care about, and what you should desire to change.

I found it an interesting, although short read. My favorite part of the book was the anecdotes that Manson inserted, mostly about the ones from other cultures and history. It made the book feel so much more grounded, and it didn’t at all read like a stereotypical “self-help” book. That being said, my enjoyment of the book mostly stopped there.

Manson’s description of himself as a perfect husband (who doesn’t tell their wife that they look terrible if they try something new?) whose relationship is built on “honesty”. He describes a series of his relationship conquests, and most of it is extremely unnecessary, and then talks about how settling down with his wife made those relationships seem even more frivolous. Even most of the swearing and all of his profanity is built mostly for shock factor, and had no real substance to it.

A lot of this felt like interesting aspects of religion taken out of context and then shoved into a set of conservative values about pulling yourself out and just getting things done, and those were the parts that I wasn’t a fan of.

I likely won’t be reading Manson’s other book, because he’s definitely not for me.

-Siobhan

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara | Book Review

July 18th – 20th
★★★★★

I’m picky. I’m especially picky when it comes to non-fiction. Looking at my read books from this past year, I’m happy with how much non-fiction I’ve read. It’s definitely more than in the past. I’ve read astronomy and a lot of memoirs this year, but one thing I’ve been hesitant to dive into is true crime.

I love true crime. Growing up, I watched CSI all the time. I wanted to be a forensic anthropologist when I grew up. That changed as time went on, but I did also minor in anthropology in college. I find true crime especially fascinating. The first season of the podcast Serial hooked me in deeply, as did the HBO series The Jinx. But like I said, I’m picky. I like true crime that presents facts and lets the audience come to their own conclusion. I don’t like agendas.

This book hit every note for me, and is my second five-star book of the year.

Michelle McNamara’s writing is deliberate. She has the ability to weave a narrative based off of case files which happened twenty years before I was born and hook me in. She rekindled the piece of me that wanted to solve mysteries growing up.

The Golden State Killer is McNamara’s name for the East Area Rapist or Original Night Stalker, a man who went on a full crime spree in the late 70’s in the Sacramento area. The crime details are gruesome and horrific, and McNamara doesn’t gloss over this fact. I listened to the audiobook, and there were times driving home late at night where I found myself gripping the steering wheel a bit too tightly, or stepping too far down on the gas pedal, completely engrossed in the narrative.

The book also discusses McNamara herself, who died in 2016. It goes into her obsession, sometimes a bit too much, as well as her past and her reasons for becoming so invested in this case. The book was completed by those who shared a fixation on this case with her, and published earlier this year. A few months after the book was published, the Golden State Killer was caught and convicted.

This is the type of true crime that I think we need more of. We need the passion projects, the stories that grip people and that they need to find a solution for, even if there is no solution to be found. (See the first season of Serial as an example of this.) We need less “did he or didn’t he” and more “here’s what happened.”

I would love to find more books like this, and I’m sure that I will.

-Siobhan

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson | Book Review

December 18th 2017 – January 3rd 2018
★★★★☆

I did this book as an audiobook starting in mid-December, and I really enjoyed it. I don’t think that you can really do spoilers for a non-fiction work like this, so I’ll tag it with spoilers just in case.

I found this book really enjoyable. Since it’s read by the author, it felt more like a podcast than a book. This book is also very casual, and because of that I think it made it more fun as an audiobook. It was definitely an interesting experience to listen to some astrophysics talk at 7:00 in the morning on the way to work.

Simultaneously, one of my favorite and least favorite things about this book was its informality. This book seems to be written more for people who have been out of school for a while, and haven’t gone into a scientific field. I don’t fall into that demographic, but I still really enjoyed it. It built up a large foundation of basic information at the beginning, and then followed up that with things that aren’t known. I went into this expecting a bit more addition on my current (albeit small) foundation of science knowledge.

I would like to try some of his other work this year to see if I like that a bit better than this one, and see if that is more challenging to get through.

-Siobhan