Book Review: The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Can some please explain to me why everyone and their mom loves this book? I just don’t get it. Like, really, I just don’t get it. 

This book felt unspecial and frankly boring. Honestly, I’m glad I read it, so I can say that I read it. But overall, I’m underwhelmed and unimpressed. 

Some back story: When I was younger, I used to go to a camp called Great Books Summer Program. It’s truly one of the best experiences of my life thus far, and it’s where I met some of my closest and best friends. Hello, Eve and Ben! Anyway, one summer I had a literature elective class called  Southern Gothic Women Writers. In this class, I read the first chapter of this book. I enjoyed it. Anyways, fast forward to this summer, and I’m looking for something to read because I’m getting bored of Pride and Prejudice. This where The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter comes in. I saw it while browsing on the Libby app one night, and immediately I rented it. I didn’t even stop to read the synopsis. 

So, I’m reading the book, and about ⅓ through the book I think to myself  “What the heck is happening in the book? Where is this going?”.  I’ll tell you the answer – no where. I mean, the book does have a resolution for all of the characters it follows, but this book was a slow meandering ride to nowhere. Still, as I read, I thought to myself, “Since I started reading the book without reading the synopsis, I want to finish the book without having read the synopsis. I’m too far in. I just have to commit.” This book is why I have a fear of commitment. I committed to finishing this book, and it was a lowkey waste of time. It’s better than watching YouTube but not better than watching an interesting documentary.

Yes, the protagonists are loney. Yes, many of them have traits that contribute to their loneliness in 1920s Deep South. Yes, there is some nice prose in here. But that is not enough to carry the book.

Final thoughts: I’m glad I read this book. I’m also glad I didn’t buy the book. Thank God for libraries! There are some books you read to be a part of the conversation – this is one of them. I’ll be able to take part in the conversations because I’m so cultured. 

A deepy “meh” book.

Book Review: The Year of Less

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The Year of Less by Cait Flanders

Rating: ★★★★☆

This book convinced me to stop buying sh*t. That in and of itself is an accomplishment. Really. If you don’t believe me, you should see my amazon account … Yikes.

Anyways, I really enjoyed this book. One, I *love* memoirs that are narrated by the author. It just feel that authors know exactly where to put the emphasis and it just works. Ya know? I’m a big fan.

Since lockdown, I’ve been doing a lot more chores. Normally, during the school year, I barely have time to sleep, so my parents are pretty lax about my not doing chores. In lockdown, my parents have tasked me with doing the dishes most nights after dinner considering my school basically gave up on remote learning. I used to HATE doing the dishes, but oddly enough, now, I kinda like it when I’m listening to a good audiobook. Sometimes I also listen to more narrative based podcasts like Lore or This American Life. So far, I’ve listened to Make Trouble by Cecile Richards, The Year of Less by Cait Flanders, and now Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Anyways, this book actually made me kinda look forward to doing the dishes. Crazy! I know, but let that show as a testament to how good this book is.

Anyway, moving on from my tangent, I just found this book to have some, dare I say, profound insights. One of my favorite ideas Flanders talks about is asking yourself “Am I buying this for the person I am or the person I want to be?” After listening to this, I didn’t think much of it, but now I realize – this is such an important idea. I can’t tell you how many shirts, pens, and books I’ve bought thinking to myself “this is what ideal me would wear/use/read”. Like do I really want to read Pride and Prejudice? No, not really.

Here’s a tidbit of information from The Year of Less I want to share with you all: a shopping ban is more like a browsing ban. Think about all the notifications you receive from your favorite stores. I get an email at least twice a week from LL Bean. I almost always scroll through it, imagining myself as a savvy outdoors-woman. It made me all the more inclined to purchase whatever they were advertising. The solution: stop browsing, stop window shopping (IRL and online), unsubscribe, and unfollow.

Cait totally convinced me to try a shopping ban. I’ll be writing more about that here. She also encouraged me to start decluttering. I will be headed off to college in the fall of 2021, so I want to gradually start decluttering to avoid the massive pain of rapid decluttering.

Lastly, Cait really made me think critically about myself and my finances. Like I said earlier, I’m about to go to college. That means for the most part, I’m going to be responsible for my own finances. My parents have agreed to give me a small monthly stipend for expenses when I’m away, but I still have to be a fiscally responsible *gasp* adult. Because of this honestly scary revelation, I have started tracking all of my purchases whether I spend my own money on it or not. I’m planning to do another post about this. Ultimately, my goal is to be more conscious and mindful about what I’m spending and why.

“The ban uncovered the truth, which was that when you decide to want less, you can buy less and, ultimately, need less money.”

– Cait Flanders, The Year of Less

Honestly, everyone needs to read this book. I think “seeing” someone else do it helps you feel like you can do it – you can want less, buy less, and save more.

I’m beginning a 3 month long shopping ban. I’m hoping to extend it to 12 months, but I’m starting small!

Wish me luck!

Sincerely,

Marie

the year of less

What I’ve Been Reading No. 1

I’ve been reading a lot lately.

//ONE//  The Results Are In for Remote Learning: It Didn’t Work

Wall Street Journal

I thought it was super interesting to hear about other parents’ and students’ experiences with home based learning. I haven’t enjoyed it, but it is nice to have more freedom in choosing when and how I want to work. On the other hand, though, I miss having instruction and lectures from my teachers. Without their teaching, I get so lost so quickly in my school work.

//TWO//  The New World Disorder

The Economist

I’m a big fan of the UN. I keep a miniature UN flag on my desk. I definitely agree with the stance of this article. The basic thesis is in the wake of US abdication of global leadership, middling countries such as Japan, Germany, France, Australia, and Canada should pick up the slack to prevent China increasing its global hegemony.

The UN was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell.

If other countries do not act, the system will come to reflect China’s expansive views of national sovereignty and resistance to intervention, even in the face of gross human-rights violations.

//THREE//  Is Taiwan the Next Hong Kong?

Foreign Affairs

I’ve been really interested in Taiwan and generally China’s expansion since 10th grade when I got the Extemp question “How should the international community react to China’s renewed threats of forced reunification with Taiwan?” – or it least it was something like that. Since then, I’ve been following the conflicts happening in the South China Sea, the internment of the Uighurs, and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Honestly, China’s growing hegemony terrifies me. One thing I really liked about this article was that it laid out specific solutions and policy recommendations. My annual $30 student subscription to Foreign Affairs is definitely one of the best purchases I’ve made.

//FOUR// Scientists Accidentally Bred the Fish Version of a Liger

New York Times

A “sturddlefish,” a hybrid of Russian sturgeon and American paddlefish, accidentally bred in a nursery in Hungary.

This is up there on the list of moderately disturbing weird things I’ve seen. It’s just uncomfy, ya know? Anyways, I thought this was a super fun read, and I really enjoyed it – definitely out of the realm of my normal reading.

Have you read anything interesting lately?

Sincerely,

Marie

Book Review: The Pomodoro Technique by Francesco Cirillo

Amazon.com: The Pomodoro Technique: The Acclaimed Time-Management System  That Has Transformed How We Work eBook: Cirillo, Francesco: Kindle Store

The Pomodoro Technique by Francesco Cirillo

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Francesco Cirillo reminds me of a really strict teacher. He has a very particular, inflexible way of doing things and expects everyone to follow. In essence, my way or the highway.

I never really liked teachers like that, so I wasn’t crazy about this book. But, I do like the Pomodoro Technique as a method for time management. FYI: One Pomodoro is equal to 25 minutes of work and a 2-3 minute break afterwards.

I didn’t like that Cirillo had so many strict rules. For example,

A Pomodoro is indivisible. If a Pomodoro is interrupted by someone or something, that Pomodoro should be considered void, as if it had never been set; then you should make a fresh start with a new Pomodoro.

If I desperately need to get a drink of water or use the bathroom quickly, I think I should be able to do so quickly then resume my Pomodoro when I get back to my desk. On the other hand, I also recognize that a Pomodoro is supposed to be deep work with deep focus, and if you interrupt said focus – then the whole thing is moot. However, Cirillo dictates that you should make note of how many Pomodoros it takes to complete a task, but if you’re constantly voiding Pomodoros then that direction doesn’t really work anymore.

With all that being said, I do think some of the rules in the book are useful. For example, the “If it takes more than five to seven Pomodoros, break it down” rule is quite helpful. An application of this is writing an essay for example. Chances are writing a proper 5 page essay will take you longer than 2 hours. For me, it tends to take a cumulative 4 hours. This definitely exceeds the 5-7 Pomodoros. Cirillo would advise you to break writing an essay into subtasks

      1. find sources
      2. make notecards
      3. make an outline
      4. write body paragraphs
      5. write introduction and conclusion

Another tip I liked was about dealing with distractions. Cirillo suggested that when a thought pops into your mind or someone asks you to do something in the middle of your Pomodoro, you should write down that task if it isn’t urgent and decide when your Pomodoro is complete how and when you’ll approach that task. If the task is urgent, then deal with it immediately.

Overall, I feel like the advice given in this book is pretty rudimentary. It’s just feels like common sense. Here’s what you need to know:

  • A Pomodoro is a 25 minute time block followed by a 2-5 minute break.

  • After 4 Pomodoros, you take an extended break for 10-25 minutes.

  • 4 Pomodoros is called a cycle.

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I think this sums up the system pretty well.

Lastly, the book tackles how to use Pomodoro Technique in a workplace environment. This is the part of the book I felt the most skeptical about. First, some background: I don’t think of the Pomodoro Technique everyone needs to use. I think it’s the most helpful for people who procrastinate or need to find a way to think about and manage their time. Pomodoros are great for that. If you don’t fall into one of those broad categories, then I think the Pomodoro Technique won’t really make your life materially much better. In groups, I think it’s impossible and unnecessary to implement the Pomodoro system. In the book, Cirillo suggests in groups of 2, people in that group should work on the exact same Pomodoro – starting and ending at the same time. If you’re ever had the unique displeasure of working on a group project, you can recognize just how terrible this idea is.

The Final Verdict

Please don’t waste your money on this book it is truly not worth it. Everything said that is worthwhile in this book is summarized here. If you must read this book, rent it from your library. It certainly isn’t worth the $18 Barnes and Noble is charging for it.

Good luck managing your time! (Lord knows I need it.)

Sincerely,
Marie

Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadatte by Maria Semple

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Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Rating: ★★★★★ (4.5 stars/5 stars)

I LOVED THIS BOOK! The book is mostly a collection of letters plus some narration of the days leading up to and after Bernadette Fox disappears. The parts of the book that are Bernadette’s letters are straight up, laugh-out-loud, downright HILARIOUS. These were some of my favorite parts of the book

Sometimes these cars have Idaho plates. And I think, What the hell is a car from Idaho doing here? Then I remember, That’s right, we neighbor Idaho. I’ve moved to a state that neighbors Idaho. And any life that might still be left in me kind of goes poof.

My daughter did an art project called a “step book,” which started with the universe, then opened up to the solar system, then the Earth, then the United States, then Washington State, then Seattle—and I honestly thought, What does Washington State have to do with her? And I remember, that’s right, we live here. Poof.

It’s funny because Bernadette hates living in Seattle, but I actually lived in Seattle and loved it! But then again, I was like 3, so… Anyways, her rants are just the best. I really loved her comments on seasickness.

Do you get seasick? People who don’t get seasick have no idea what it’s like. It’s not just nausea. It’s nausea plus losing the will to live.

This bit is so accurate! I get terrible motion sickness. Once I took a cruise from the Boston Harbor (which smells DISGUSTING in case you were wondering) to Bermuda. The first 2-3 days on the cruise, we travelled from Boston to Bermuda against the current. Those might have been the worst 3 days of my life! I was so sick and practically bedridden!  There wasn’t enough Dramamine in the world to help me.  I mean, totally not a real problem, but it felt pretty dire to me.

Seriously, though, this novel is an absolutely delightful read! There were some really interesting twists and turns: some of which I anticipated and some that I did not (which makes all the more fun!)

This book also jumps back in time to show more about how Bernadette Fox came to be where she is currently, and I have to say – she’s got a damn good backstory.

Also, I found out that Where’d You Go, Bernadette was turned into a movie! Here’s the link to the trailer! I’ll definitely watch the movie next!

Sincerely,

Marie

Book Review: The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

The Female Persuasion

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

Rating: ★★★★☆

I really enjoyed this book! It was a fun read – I just genuinely enjoyed this book. I’d recommend it. It didn’t blow by socks off like Circe by Madeline Miller, and I don’t think it’ll stick with me as much as Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld has.

A couple of things I really enjoyed about this book:

  1. It features a number of different narrators. The book revolves around the protagonist, Greer, who idolizes the second wave feminist (think Gloria Steinem), Faith Frank. I’m not a supperr huge fan of switching narrators especially when I feel it gets in the way of the plot progressing, but Wolitzer is masterful in (mostly) further through narration changes rather than in spite of narration changes.
  2. The story jumps around in time. I love to see how certain situations unfold in the book with the additional knowledge of how the past has shaped the events of the present. For example, it is revealed that one of Faith’s dear friends had an illegal abortion that nearly killed her. This near death experience of her best friend serves as the impetus for Faith’s transformation into the feminist firebrand she is presented as in the book.
  3. There is some serious characterization happening! For Faith especially, her story often jumps back in time to present her as a more whole and well rounded character. Wolitzer’s characterization of Faith is just phenomenal. It reminds me a lot of the characterization of Marilyn in Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You in that both authors rely heavily on flashbacks to the past to develop the characters.
  4. An imperfect protagonist. Greer at times is deeply unlikeable, but her insights are interesting and her flaws show her humanity. Although she often got on my nerves, I still felt myself rooting for her to succeed.
  5. Third person narration – when describing the setting, the author often used third person narration. This was one of my favorite parts of the book. Here are some gems:

Faith, who approved of Greer. The approval was as soft as velvet, and the desire for that approval was, also like velvet, a little vulgar.

Having power meant that the world was like a pasture with the gate left open, and that there was nothing stopping you, and you could run and run.

The audience was well-dressed; it was a sea of soft pastel and the occasional basic black, because even though this was California, New York roots ran deep.

Everyone here knew that shriek, which signaled the happiness of women spending time together.

Her résumé was peppered with acronyms, the names of NGOs with which she’d consulted. All those capital letters, when looked at on one sheet of paper, had the effect of a firewall, or a code that could only be broken by someone much smarter than you.

Final Impressions

This book didn’t feel like pure fluff like summer beach reads such as those by Madeline Wickham/Sophie Kinsela. This book falls neatly into the middle: a book that feels “literary” in that it has something to say but also is approachable. I liked that. Ultimately, I’d recommend this book to a friend – that’s all that really matters.

Sincerely,

Marie

Battle of the Books: The Bullet Journal Method vs. Dot Journaling

Recently, I got into bullet journaling. In quarantine and remote learning, I quickly learned that my beloved Lilly Pultizer Agenda just wasn’t what I needed. I need a place where I could keep all of my tasks and random thoughts. Basically, a place to brain dump.

I had dabbled bullet journalling earlier. In October 2018, I bought a superrr dot grid journal from Walmart on a whim. I *hated* how my spreads looked. I was so frustrated that they didn’t look like the picture prefect spreads I saw on tumblr and pinterest. Long story short, I quit.

I’ve been using my bullet journal (bujo) off and on since then, mostly as a collection of to-do lists. Little did I know that that’s exactly how you’re “supposed” to use a bullet journal. Anyway, since quarantine, I re-entered the world of bullet journaling, and in true Marie fashion, I turned to books to help guide me.

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The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll

The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Ryder Carroll is the creator of the bullet journal method. He started this whole trend. He is to bullet journaling what Kim Kardashian is to naked bathroom selfies. Essentially, he need a framework to organize his life that was simple, effective, and ultimately analog. Working in tech, he needed a break from screens (as many of us do) and choose to pick the mode of pen and paper.

That’s all great, but you know what’s not great? This book. Urgh! This book was great, until I was on like page 250 with what felt like no end in sight. Allow me to number my thoughts so this some incomprehensible rant.

Number One

This book is so dang self congratulatory. He spends a solid fifth of this book raving about how amazing the bullet journal system is. He also goes on these pseudo-intellectuctual tangents about matters about philosophy for example. That particular tangent felt completely out of pocket because isn’t this a book about bullet journaling?

Number Two

For a book about bullet journaling, this books talks surprising little about bullet journalling. The second fifth of the book is consumed by Ryder’s absolutely random life stories. If I wanted a memoir, I would’ve bought one. The third fifth of the book is stories of people who had wonderful, life-changing experiences with their bullet journal. Like, great, bullet journals are amazing – we have established that. Now, will you finally tell me how to make and use one???

Number Three

This isn’t necessarily a complaint, but the advice in this book is just fine. It’s really not anything special. It’s perfectly satisfactory. If I was rating this book solely on the advice given in book, I’d give it a solid 3 stars.

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Dot Journaling: A Practical Guide by Rachel Wilkerson Miller

Dot Journaling: A Practical Guide by Rachel Wilkerson Miller

Rating:★★★★☆

I liked this book! I really enjoyed it. Compared to Carroll’s book, this book is fun, interesting, and concise: three adjectives you could not use to describe Carroll’s book. I enjoyed this book for three main reasons:

Number One

Rachel Wilkerson Miller is seriously funny. There were moments while was reading this book where I had real laughs out loud. In this except, Rachel talks about a list she started called “Wins” in which she writes things that went well.

“As you may recall, 2016 was a garbage year (although calling it that honestly feels a bit unfair to garbage), so I did except to find [many wins]. But I ended up filling four pages with all the good things that happened to me in 2016″ (Wilkerson Miller 152).

Number Two

This was a quick read that taught me everything I needed to know. I feel that productivity books, in particular, ought to be as concise as possible. Why delay the positive gains from reading said productivity book because it takes you a month to get through it?

Number Three

Practical Examples. For every major idea introduced in the book, there are also accompanying pictures to show you how to do it. I wouldn’t consider myself a visual learner, but seeing examples was incredibly helpful in deciding how I wanted to organize my bujo. Additionally, Rachel also shows multiple ways of accomplishing the same spread (ex. 5 different ways to do a habit tracker).

Final Thoughts

Obviously Dot Journaling: A Practical Guide by Rachel Wilkerson Miller wins! I just really enjoyed this book. It’s 172 pages compared to Carroll’s 320 pages. This is pretty trivial considering the whole point of a bullet journal, but Wilkerson Miller’s graphics are just so much more visually appealing.

Originally, I was skeptical of Dot Journaling: A Practical Guide. I thought “If I’m gonna try bullet journaling, I should go straight to the horse’s mouth”. I was wrong. Ryder Carrol’s book is truly a waste of money. That should be your big takeaway from this post. If you want to learn bullet journaling for Ryder, himself, check out his youtube channel. I do think his youtube videos are helpful. He comes across far more approachable and humble on his youtube videos than he does in the book.

The Verdict: If you’re going to buy a book on bullet journaling, byDot Journaling: A Practical Guide by Rachel Wilkerson Miller. But you really don’t need a book – Ryder’s youtube videos will be more than enough for a beginner. However, Rachel’s book is a delightful read and has new and interesting ideas and spreads.

Links to buy (Amazon):

The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll

Dot Journaling: A Practical Guide by Rachel Wilkerson Miller

Happy journaling!

Sincerely,

Marie

Book Review: Make Trouble by Cecile Richards

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Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead by Cecile Richards

Rating: ★★★★☆

Some Background

I had never heard of Cecile Richards until April 28, 2020. I was watching a virtual livestreamed interview of Stacey Abrams, the former gubernatorial candidate for governor in Georgia. Her ultra-corrupt Republican opponent, Brain Kemp, stole the election by voter suppression. It was shameful! This fact was kindly pointed out by Cecile Richards during the interview.

As soon as Richards called this out, I was like “Who is this older Southern white lady who is totally hip to the goings-ons?!?” Turns out it was Cecile Richards, daughter of Ann Richards, the late governor of Texas (my home state!). I was sold on this lady. When I saw she had written a memoir, I checked it out as an audiobook from my local library using the Libby App. (Bonus the book is narrated by Cecile, herself!) 

It should also be noted that my mom was a huge fan of Ann Richards. As a young girl growing up in Texas, she looked up to Ann Richards. I remember watching a PBS documentary with my mom about Ann Richards and being just as enamored by this powerful woman as my mom was!

My Thoughts

I loved this book! It was so inspiring and down right interesting! It was a riveting ride (mostly) from start to finish! At times it felt a bit boring, repetitive, and cliché, but that’s typical of memoirs. Still, I didn’t find that it really impacted my enjoyment of the book too much. I highly recommend. Also there is a young readers edition for all the future reproductive health activists in your life! Linked here. There were some real gems in this book:

“If you’re not scaring yourself, you’re probably not doing enough.”

“It shouldn’t be up to women to dismantle the patriarchy, but we can’t sit around and hope someone else does it either. Feminist is not a passive label; it means speaking out and standing up for women everywhere, and also for yourself. One woman calling out an injustice is powerful enough; when we raise our voices together, we can shake the status quo to its foundation.”

“There is a takeaway here for aspiring hell-raisers: We get only what we’re willing to fight for—nothing more and, I hope, nothing less.”

“This is your life. It is the only one you get, so no excuses and no do-overs. If you make a mistake or fail at something, you learn from it, you get over it, and you move on. Your job is to be the very best person you can be, and to never settle for anything less.”

Firstly, as a Texan, I was so proud to listen to the story of a great Texan!

I just really enjoyed hearing some old stories from a different perspective. For example, the story of Wendy Davis’s filibuster to stop a bill restricting women’s right to abortion in Texas. I remember Wendy Davis from when I was a kid; my grandfather always talked about how he believed she should be governor “instead of that clown Rick Perry”. My sentiments, exactly. I also watched pieces of her filibuster in the Netflix documentary, Reversing Roe. Still, I was moved to tears, listening to Richards describe the experience having been there!

This book is also a great resource for learning more about the struggle for safe and legal abortion access in the US. This is so so incredibly important. I learned a lot about what other women in different states have to endure to access adequate reproductive healthcare. It made me want to go punch Mitch McConnell in the face, but then again, it really doesn’t take much for me to feel that way…

Towards the end of the book, Richards begins recounting the final years of her time as president of Planed Parenthood. Of course, much of this time was consumed by campaigning for Hilary Clinton. This whole part of the book, I held back tears. I was completely swept away by the hope I had felt at the time. I was also reminded of how spectacularly my dreams came crashing down. This was one of the most heartfelt, visceral, and gut-wrenching parts of the book, but it totally made me want to get outside and go canvass and door knock for my candidates! So, I emailed a campaign I had worked with in the fall, and I’ll be working with them this summer!

If nothing else, this book is a call to action – and a damn good one at that!

Sincerely,

Marie

P.S.: Be strong and kick some serious ass!