Off the Shelf: Essentialism

Every year is the year I’m going to declutter and minimize the “stuff” I have hanging around in my house. And every year…it doesn’t happen.

As a business owner, I’m in the same boat. I want to reduce the number of services I offer so I can simply focus on what I love (but I love it all). I want to stop being so busy and start getting more done (but there’s so much to do). Sigh.

I’ve read all the books and pretended to do all the homework, but yet nothing changes. So when I heard about the book Essentialism, I knew I needed to check it out. And you know what? I just think I might have gotten some key takeaways that can help me get to a more essentialist mindset.

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Books on My Holiday Wish List

If you know me, or have been reading this blog for awhile, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that my holiday wish list is filled with books. (There are also many coffee-related products, but I digress.) People ask me all the time what I’m reading, so I thought it might be fun to share a few books from my wish list. Note that not all of these are new releases. (I hope someone tells my husband to check out this blog!)

The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity

Louise DeSalvo

From Amazon: The Art of Slow Writing is the antidote to self-help books that preach the idea of fast-writing, finishing a novel a year, and quick revisions. DeSalvo makes a case that more mature writing often develops over a longer period of time and offers tips and techniques to train the creative process in this new experience.

I think this book might be suited more toward fiction writers (which I am not!), but an editor friend recommended it so highly that I want to read it.

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges

Amy Cuddy

From Amazon: By accessing our personal power, we can achieve "presence," the state in which we stop worrying about the impression we're making on others and instead adjust the impression we've been making on ourselves.

I’ve been a wee-bit Amy Cuddy obsessed since seeing her TED Talk. (Power poses, anyone?) I cannot wait to get my hands on this book and soak in every word. Calm is something I’m working hard to achieve as my business grows quickly — a good problem to have, I realize.

Born to Run

Bruce Springsteen

From Amazon: Born to Run will be revelatory for anyone who has ever enjoyed Bruce Springsteen, but this book is much more than a legendary rock star’s memoir. This is a book for workers and dreamers, parents and children, lovers and loners, artists, freaks, or anyone who has ever wanted to be baptized in the holy river of rock and roll.

I get it: You love Bruce, or you don’t. I happen to love him. I’ve seen him in concert 19 times and can’t wait to go again. His lyrics soothe me, and I hope the same is true of this book!

Small Great Things

Jodi Picoult

From Amazon: With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn’t offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game.

Jodi Picoult has been one of my favorite fiction writers. She takes research seriously, and it shows in her writing, and she tackles social issues in her books, which I love. I haven’t read one of her books in a few years, so I’m curious if this book is as good as her others were for me.

The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds

Michael Lewis

From Amazon: The Undoing Project is about a compelling collaboration between two men who have the dimensions of great literary figures. They became heroes in the university and on the battlefield―both had important careers in the Israeli military―and their research was deeply linked to their extraordinary life experiences. Amos Tversky was a brilliant, self-confident warrior and extrovert, the center of rapt attention in any room; Kahneman, a fugitive from the Nazis in his childhood, was an introvert whose questing self-doubt was the seedbed of his ideas. They became one of the greatest partnerships in the history of science, working together so closely that they couldn’t remember whose brain originated which ideas, or who should claim credit. They flipped a coin to decide the lead authorship on the first paper they wrote, and simply alternated thereafter.

I love, love, love Michael Lewis and his writing. I will read just about anything he writes, even if it’s a topic I might generally not be interested in. Can’t wait to dig into this one.

Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter

Kate Clifford Lawson

From Amazon: In Rosemary, Kate Clifford Larson uses newly uncovered sources to bring Rosemary Kennedy’s story to light. Young Rosemary comes alive as a sweet, lively girl adored by her siblings. But Larson also reveals the often desperate and duplicitous arrangements the Kennedys made to keep her away from home as she became increasingly difficult in her early twenties, culminating in Joe’s decision to have Rosemary lobotomized at age twenty-three and the family’s complicity in keeping the secret.

Why am I so obsessed with the Kennedys? I don’t know, but I sure am. It boggles my mind that Rosemary was treated the way she was — by her own father, no less.

As you can see, my reading taste is all over the place. What books are on your holiday wish list? Let me know in the comments. I’m always looking for book recommendations!

Off the Shelf - October

Just two book reviews this month, friends! With my own book launching next week, there wasn't much time for leisure reading this past month. We'll get back on track In November!

The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life
Hal Elrod

In my effort to be more productive, I purchased the Kindle edition of this book. And then didn't read it for months. That was a mistake! The book essentially opens with the scene of the author's car accident. He calls his survival a miracle and the catalyst for him making the choice to be "grateful for all that I had."

The author talks about mediocrity in our lives -- how we tend do be doing well in one area but mediocre in another (or others). I think a lot about work-life balance, so this rang true for me. What causes mediocrity? The author talks about a lack of purpose as one reason, lack of accountability as another, as well as a mediocre circle of influence, a lack of personal development, and a lack of urgency.

He then talks about how a morning routine can set our day up for success and lists some of the most common results: more energy, lower stress levels, improved health, less worry, more gratitude, uncovering your life purpose. The challenge with any routine, the author says, is finding the time. He insists that it must be the morning because then there is no time for "excuses to accumulate" throughout the day. (Good point!)

Another challenge is figuring out what will be the most impactful for you. The author has six areas he focuses on: silence (meditation; 5 minutes), reading (learning from experts; 20 minutes), affirmations (5 minutes), visualization (5 minutes), journaling (5 minutes), and exercise (20 minutes). This is a 60-minute routine. There is a chapter in the book titled "The 6-Minute Miracle (For the Busy People)" in case you really can't do 60 minutes a day.

Throughout the book are testimonials from real people whose lives have been changed and impacted by implementing a morning routine.

The author also addresses the elephant in the room: sleep. Chapter 5 offers a "5-Step Snooze-Proof Wake-Up Strategy" so we have no excuses not to at least try to develop this habit.

I enjoyed this book tremendously and have implemented some of it. I've got a ways to go, but I'm making progress!

Here are a few quotes from The Miracle Morning that resonated with me:

"While blame determines who is at fault for something, responsibility determines who is committed to improving them."

"Even when life is difficult or challenging -- ESPECIALLY when life is difficult and challenging -- the present is always an opportunity for us to learn, grow, and become better than we've ever been before."

"Our outer world will always be a reflection of our inner world."

 

The Dressmaker
Kate Alcott

The Dressmaker tells the tale of Tess, an aspiring seamstress who is hired by famed designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon to be her maid on their voyage on the Titanic. Tess bites her tongue and keeps her head down regularly, both on the ship and once they reach New York City, in the hope that she will earn increased responsibilities from Lady Duff Gordon and be taken under her wing so that she can be a famous designer one day, too.

Lady Lucile Duff Gordon was not a particularly likable woman. Even when circumstances are revealed to soften her (namely, Tess is the same age as the daughter Duff Gordon wanted), it falls flat because she has been so nasty to all those around her. Does she just have a nasty personality, though, or is she evil, as she's being accused of letting others perish while sitting in a mostly empty lifeboat? On that front, I admit it is easy to say that I would've done the right thing on one of those lifeboats. But to consider that there were hundreds and hundreds of people screaming in the water for help, the noise and the panic and the chaos -- well, who can say?

Tess is confronted with knowing, deep down, the truth about Lady Duff Gordon, and either keeping quiet (but retaining her income, job, security) or standing up for what was right. Never mind that the person being taking the rap in her place was Tess's love interest.

I wished there was more about the Titanic in The Dressmaker, but that happened at the very beginning of the book. The book was mainly set in New York, which was fine, but the Titanic was the hook that first interested me in the book. This is not quite a beach read, but it's a fairly light read. Worth checking out!

Off The Shelf - September

The 8-Minute Writing Habit
Monica Leonelle

I must admit I was skeptical about this book, but a few people whose advice I value recommended it, so I was curious to read it. The author had me at “butt-in-chair” is a myth, because I concur wholeheartedly. Though I acknowledge that there comes a time in every project when you need to do this anyway, and though I believe that you can train your mind to create on demand (for lack of a better phrase), I also believe that sitting down to write does not always work. Simple as that.

Leonelle’s system has three basic steps:

1. Break through the blocks that are holding you back.
2. Use her nine strategies.
3. Create a plan to write faster and more consistently.

The five blocks she lists will sound familiar. I’ll mention just a couple of them here. One is that writing may not pay off. Leonelle notes that writing is sometimes easier when you take away the expectation of outcome. I love that! Don’t write while giving yourself pressure about book sales, or number of readers for a blog post, or any other self-imposed expectations. Just write. (Trust me: There will be plenty of time later for expectations!) The next block Leonelle addresses is anxiety — the idea that we get too far ahead of ourselves is true. Think about writing only. Then think about editing. Then think about publishing. Taking the process one step at a time can help reduce anxiety and overwhelm. This is especially important if you are not a writer by profession, because the process is already (likely) overwhelming for you due to its unfamiliarity. Another block is distraction. It’s so important, Leonelle argues, to get buy-in from what she terms “your most important people.” Whether that is a spouse or partner, a roommate, or an accountability partner, the support and buy-in from a support system goes a long way, Writing is a lonely profession, after all.

Leonelle’s strategies are next. She notes that eight minutes is a short enough time for anyone but it’s also enough time to produce something. She encourages readers to incorporate the eight minutes into your already-established routine rather than trying to add something new, since we’re already so busy. In addition to writing for eight minutes, the strategies include writing in the morning to get it “out of the way” to collaborate with a fellow writer, to set public deadlines (this has been a game-changer for me), and to take your writing mobile (AKA to go somewhere new to write).

The third part of the book is Leonelle’s 8x8 Challenge: eight days of writing eight minutes per day. She gives an assignment for each day. Day 2, for example, involves switching up something: stand to write if you usually sit, or dictate your words if you normally type. Day 7 is to make a plan. How many eight-minute sessions do you need to finished a first draft?

The 8-Minute Writing Habit contains many useful takeaways for writers whether beginning or established. I loved the 8x8 Challenge and have done it several times. If you’re feeling intimidated by the idea of incorporating writing into your already-too-busy life, check out this method.
 

Blog in Bloom
Rosie Morley

Blog in Bloom is a dream. This workbook contains examples and exercises (with answers!) throughout to help you work through the logistics of blogging. There are checklists, tips to avoid burnout, and a working blog post before and after. Hedera begins by noting the Golden Rule: Write for your reader. All bloggers want to do this, but sometimes that’s easier said than done. To that end, Morley walks readers through how to figure out who your reader is. Blog in Bloom then walks readers through all the areas where we can get stuck and make mistakes.

The first part of the book, Foundations, covers structure and cohesion. Structure discusses the topics planning, subheads, and body. Cohesion includes signposting, using repetition, analogies, and conjunctions.

The next section is Polishing, which includes grammar and mechanics as well as proofreading. (Don’t worry: This is more fun than it was in seventh-grade English class!) The grammar and mechanics section includes discussions of sentence structure, punctuation (dashes, hyphens, colons, semi-colons, apostrophes), capitalization, comma splices, fragments, and subject-verb agreement. The proofreading section covers how to proofread, often-confused words, and consistency. (I feel like the list of often-confused words grows by the day.)

And finally, there’s You, which tackles style and voice. Style includes person, voice, construction, “weasel words” (words used intentionally to dilute meaning, such as basically or virtually), jargon, sentence length, boring verbs, and plain language. Voice covers contractions, casual writing, and breaking the rules.

Each chapter includes a section Hedera titles “So What?” to explain the why behind the lesson. The tone of the book is casual and fun, rather than stuffy and “there’s only one right way to write.” Each topic Morley includes is done so thoughtfully to show readers how to strengthen their writing while still keeping in mind — always — the Golden Rule. Blog in Bloom is a great writing refresher for your blog and any other writing you do.

The Husband’s Secret
Liane Moriarty

My book club read this book and, though a few of us assumed the secret couldn’t be an affair because that’s too obvious, what makes me sad was that that was the first thought every single one of us had. Yikes. (Surely that says something about our society today, though I am not sure what!) Liane Moriarty writes rich and complex characters, and this book was no exception. In this twist on Pandora’s box, protagonist Cecilia finds a letter in her husband, John-Paul’s, desk to be opened in the event of his death. He is on a business trip, and Cecilia wrestles with the idea of opening the letter or not. (I wouldn’t have wrestled at all; I know me: I would  have ripped that envelope open the second I laid eyes on it! My husband knows this about me, so this would never happen in our house.) The secret was not an affair. Instead, John-Paul confesses to the murder of a teenage girl when he was a teen himself.

Cecilia’s story becomes intertwined with that of Rachel, the mother of the murder victim. Rachel bears the loss of her daughter daily and is facing loneliness as her son announces that he and his wife — and therefore Rachel’s grandson, one of the few things to bring her joy — are moving out of the country. Rachel believes a man named Connor murdered her daughter. The police said that there was not enough evidence against Connor. One day as Connor was crossing the street, Rachel was driving took matters into her own hands. She accelerated in an attempt to hit Connor but instead hit a little girl who had ridden her bike into the street: Polly, Cecilia and John-Paul’s daughter. Polly’s leg is amputated, and John-Paul must deal with the guilt of his crime and of keeping the secret. If he had confessed years earlier, Rachel would never have tried to hit Connor with her car, and his daughter would not have lost her leg. Cecilia struggles with guilt, too. Should she tell Rachel? (Spoiler alert: She does.) She also wrestles with the idea that the man she has loved for so many years, with whom she has built a family, committed a crime — and lied about it.

The intersection of the characters’ stories is handled with ease, as is generally the case in Moriarty’s books. If you’re a fan of this author, The Husband’s Secret won’t disappoint.

P.S. Rumor has it there’s a movie on the way based on this book.

What have you been reading lately?

Off The Shelf - August

Check out what I’ve been reading lately. I’ve been soaking up summer with my family, so it’s an abbreviated Off the Shelf this month. I’ll be back to three books in September  — promise. 


If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?
Raj Raghunathan
 
The premise of this book is simple yet fascinating: Could the same traits that drive your career success also be keeping you from being happier?
 
Raghunathan breaks down the science of happiness before getting into how to achieve happiness and/or be happier, and he includes exercises in each chapter to do so. I found this book both engaging and compelling — because it makes perfect sense! As a business owner, I like control. In “real life,” trying to control everything is a recipe for disaster. As a business owner, I like to be in charge. In “real life,” I have a partnership. But this book teaches readers that we can take those qualities that are positive in our business life and use them to build a happy and fulfilling life.
 
Rather than “chasing” happiness, it makes more sense to do those things that we like and that we’re good at. Those things make us happy. Again, this is not rocket science, but If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? is a great read for any entrepreneur.
 
 
Rocket Boys
Homer Hickam
 
My book club read this memoir a few months ago and I really enjoyed it. In 1957, when Homer “Sonny” Hickam was 14 years old, he and a couple buddies decided to build rockets after seeing Sputnik. Homer saw them as a way out of Coalwood, a dying, West Virginia, mining town where boys, frankly, were expected to work in those mines. His father, superintendent of the mine, was a 100-percent company man. The town relied upon the mine for its vitality in a way that’s difficult to wrap our heads around today. (As an aside, one of my nephews visited my husband and me this summer and we took him on a coal mining tour in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. He was (and we were) amazed by what that life must have been like for miners: dark, dusty, cold, dangerous.) Sonny’s mother and his science teacher encouraged him to pursue rocket building. His father, like most of the town, was much more interested in the high school boys’ football team. Eventually people start to become interested and the boys earn the nickname “Rocket Boys” throughout Coalwood. More and more people become interested in what the Rocket Boys are doing. Throughout the memoir, it’s clear what small-town life was like, in Coalwood and in towns like it throughout the country. Spoiler alert: Sonny does get out of Coalwood. He went on to become an engineer at NASA.
 
 
What have you been reading this summer? Anything to share? I’m always looking for recommendations.