Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Audible Monthly Credit(s) Report: January and February 2019

Once again, I'm failing to report in a timely fashion.  To catch up any new readers:  I've been a 2-credit per month Audible subscriber since 2003.  The ritual of spending these credits is a monthly highlight that I have been reporting upon for the past few years.
I spent my first January credit on John Carreyrou's Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup.  I've already written about this book.  It's only March, and I am confident that Bad Blood will be in my top five books of 2019.  This true story is endlessly fascinating to me, and I am so excited to watch the HBO documentary about Elizabeth Holmes.  Before you watch it, I recommend reading Bad Blood.
Not sure why I delayed, but I spent my second January credit in early February on John Kenney's Talk to Me.  The story this novel depicts is one that is going to become increasingly familiar:  the story of how one's life implodes after one does something regrettable/despicable that is caught on film.  Internet-fueled public shamings are part of life now, and I think this novel tackles the topic well, though its ending is perhaps a bit too sunny.  I think I preferred the non-fiction take on this topic in Jon Ronson's So You've Been Publicly Shamed, but still, I'm very glad to have listened to Talk to Me.

Not sure how I bought three books with two credits in February.  Perhaps I had returned something along the way or purchased one of the three books (seems unlikely, but my feeble memory can't reconstruct the events of a few weeks ago).

I chose Jane Harper's The Lost Man because I so enjoyed The Dry and Force of Nature, the first two novels in her Detective Aaron Falk series.  This stand-alone mystery is about past sins and family dynamics and prominently features the punishing heat of the Australian Outback.  I'm basically on board for whatever Jane Harper writes from this point forward and will mostly likely always opt to listen to her books as I love the Aussie narration.

Jessica Hindman's Sounds Like Titanic was an attempt to be thrilled (once again) by a truth is stranger than fiction story, having been so blown away by Bad Blood and by Michelle McNamara's I'll Be Gone in the Dark.  While Sounds Like Titanic is a mighty strange tale, I didn't find it as powerful as the others I just mentioned.  Hindman pretends (on purpose) to play the violin as she tours with a strange and strangely compelling composer for several years.  Hindman tries to place this experience in the context of feminism, the female body, her West Virginia upbringing, and her outsider status at Columbia.  The second person point of view makes her conclusions feel a bit too sweeping so that didn't work for me.  Hers is definitely a unique and uniquely American story though.  I'd actually enjoy learning more about the composer.

I put Gregory Blake Smith's The Maze at Windermere on my TBR list after reading a glowing review by Ron Charles.  I loved this novel and its glimpses of Newport at different moments in history.  It took a bit to settle in to all the storylines, but I was intrigued by all of them and liked how they were tied together by questions of power, possession/property, love, class, and marriage/potential for marriage.  I've been to Newport twice, which improved the reading experience.  I wanted the novel to go on longer as I felt invested in all of the storylines and would have been happy to see them endlessly play out.

Any other Audible subscribers out there?  Any credit-worthy listens of late?

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Bye, Bye, Bye Book-Weeding System

After five years of waiting and dreaming, we were able to install the bookshelves of my dreams and turn our living room into a library.  Three years later, lovely though they are, these shelves (not pictured in their entirety in the photo above) are at capacity.

But how to weed one's garden of books?  Booklovers understand that most of us can't just Kondo our books.  If we'd already read all the books on our shelves maybe, just maybe, we could start eliminating the ones that fell short of that "spark joy" mark for us.  Part of the beauty of having bookshelves, however, is the ability to store books one hasn't yet read.  It's not easy to weed out books that have the potential to spark joy even if we can't remember how or why we acquired some of them in the first place.
This is my laundry room, NOT my kitchen.  Kitchen slightly less C.H.A.O.T.I.C.
Inspired by a book, I came up with a new tool for weeding the book garden.  Earlier this winter, I read The C.H.A.O.S. Cure by Marla Cilley (also known as The Fly Lady).  Cilley has helped thousands with her books and newsletters on cleaning, organizing, and de-cluttering.  The C.H.A.O.S. Cure is a collection of tips that perhaps attempts to cover too much ground, but it did leave me with two extremely valuable takeaways.

First, Cilley's title diagnoses the exact problem that I am battling every single day:  Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome.  I'm not a hoarder living in filth, but I am also not someone who can welcome unexpected visitors into my home without a certain degree of shame and panic. 

Second, Cilley's book gave me a helpful strategy:  Take 5 minutes.  Junk drawer getting too full?  Set a timer for 5 minutes and discard as much as you can.  Bookshelves getting overloaded?  Set a timer for 5 minutes and add to your giveaway pile.  Repeat throughout the house.

I added a twist to my five minutes of weeding my bookshelf garden...

My Bye, Bye, Bye Book-Weeding System
1.  Set timer for 5 minutes.

2.  Stand in front of bookshelves and identify books that were just okay.  Books you are not likely to ever read again.  Books that no one is likely to want to borrow from you or to need for an academic purpose.  Put them in a giveaway pile.  If it's "just okay," it doesn't deserve valuable bookshelf real estate unless it was a gift from someone who sees your shelves regularly or was written or autographed by a friend or family member.

3.  Stand in front of your bookshelves and get out your phone.  Open your Goodreads app.  Now, identify books you have on your shelves that you haven't read yet.  Focus on the ones that you can't even remember why you bought in the first place.  Look up these titles on Goodreads.  What I found is that a bunch of my unread books had average ratings in the low 3 star range (and some even had 2 star ratings).  Life is too short to waste time on a book with an average rating of 2.65 or 3.13 stars (again, unless it was written by a friend or family member).  I weeded out two dozen books easily and without guilt or hesitation with Goodreads as my guide.  A few books that had low average ratings but a higher rating or positive review from a Goodreads friend received stays of execution.

4.  The five-minute timer went off a long time ago.  If you're worn out, call it a day.  You did your time and then some.  If you're exhilarated, feel free to keep weeding.

5.  Donate or sell the books you've weeded out.  (Mine are still sitting in a Macy's bag as I am not sure where I'd like to donate them or if I want to face the humiliation of receiving $6.40 in store credit for them at Half Price Books ... if I'm lucky).

6.  Repeat as often as you can.

How do you weed your book garden?  

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Bad Blood, Great Book

John Carreyrou's Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup blew my mind.  It's a meticulously researched account of Theranos, the medical device/technology startup that Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford to start.  She raised billions with smoke, mirrors, and her magnetic personality.  She earned the trust and money of well-known, successful, seemingly smart people and even large public companies.  She promised amazing blood tests with one drop of blood, and she was willing to put the health of many at risk before admitting that her company's devices couldn't quite deliver.  You couldn't make this stuff up.

This book was especially interesting to me because I have always been intrigued by the larger than life, narcissistic personality type.  It was also interesting to me because my husband invests in health care companies (not startups so, thankfully, not Theranos) for a living.  Even for those who don't share my personal interests or frame of reference, this book is well worth reading. 

Much has already been written about Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes so I am just going to briefly share my takeaways.

1.  FOMO is a dangerous investment strategy.

2.  Even people with lots of money, success, and knowledge can be snowed.  People want to trust and believe, especially when the product/company seems to have the potential to transform an industry and improve people's health and lives.  If you happen to have millions to invest somewhere, don't skimp on research because you trust the good sense of other investors or board members.

3.  Not to be a glass half empty gal, but often things that sound too good to be true are too good to be true.

4.  Real journalism matters.  Carreyrou had the guts and patience to dig in on this story and see it through (even despite threats to many of his sources) and did a huge public service by sticking with it. 

5.  Scientific research matters.  Real, peer-reviewed studies are invaluable.  Labs that follow proper protocols are essential.  Again, if you happen to have millions to invest, it would be reasonable to want to see the labs and research.

Finally, Bad Blood reminded me that we need more people willing to ask tough questions, play devil's advocate, trust their gut, speak out, and be willing to walk away.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Life Lifts for Less

I haven't written a Finds & Buys post in quite awhile, but I've got three fantastic finds and buys to share.  I'm not sure what the weather's been like where you live, but in Chicagoland we've experienced snow and more snow, followed by polar vortex, followed by a bit more snow, followed by crazy fast thaw, followed by threat of ice storm, followed by today's mix of semi-cold, damp, bleak, grey, and depressing.

Money can't buy happiness or better weather, but it can buy stuff and sometimes stuff gives us a little life lift.

For about $8, you could lift your life with all three of today's products.
 Life Lift #1:  Smartly All Purpose Cleaner Smells Like A Meadow 
Buying cleaning products that smell good is a priority for me.  For years, I've kept Mrs. Meyers stocked at home with the occasional sub in of a Method or J.R. Watkins product.  I didn't expect much when I saw this large bottle of cleaner on the shelf at Target but was pleasantly surprised when I screwed off the lid to take a sniff.  I don't know if it smells exactly like a meadow, but the scent is clean, fresh, springy ... a reminder that spring will come, all the dirty snow will melt.  Let's call it "hope in a spray bottle."  Best part?  I think this huge bottle was either $1.67 or $1.76.  There are two other scents, but they didn't do it for me.
 Life Lift #2:  Trader Joe's Rose Oil Ultra Moisturizing Hand Cream
The nearest Trader Joe's is about a twenty minute drive for me.  That's far enough that I don't go regularly.  I had an Aha! moment two weeks ago at my WW meeting (see what I did there with Aha! & WW -- Oprah, people, Oprah!!) when it struck me that I was halfway to Trader Joe's and could just scoot over there after my meeting.  Twas a delight to be back at TJ's and I secured some WW-friendly options as well as some cheap fresh flowers and the meringues, full-fat fruit and cream yogurts, and pretzel bagels that my kids love.  I stopped in after today's meeting for more of the same-ish and left with this Rose Oil Ultra Moisurizing Hand Cream.  Let me tell you ... it's plenty of life lift for $4.99.  It's a big tube of cream that is hydrating without being greasy.  I know rose is a scent that some people detest, but I am not one of them.  The cream smells fresh and rosy without being cloying or old-ladyish.

Life Lift #3:  Great Value Chicken Dipping Sauce
Conservative estimate is that I visit the Chick-fil-A drive-thru three times per week.  Once or twice on my own (it is two minutes from the place where I play tennis) and probably once a week on behalf of my family.  I'm there enough to be known by name ("Miss Megan") by multiple employees.  I've achieved Red Status via my Chick-fil-A One app, which means, NTMFB, that I am invited to visit the Chick-fil-A Home Office for a "complimentary backstage tour" for myself and up to five guests and can also enjoy two free tickets to the Chick-fil-A College Footbal Hall of Fame.  All of this is just to prove that I know the restaurant and its menu options, including condiments, quite well.  So when my friend Mina shared on Facebook that she had secured this Chicken Dipping Sauce from Wal-Mart and confirmed via family taste test that it mirrored that of the famous Chick-fil-A sauce, I knew I better get my grubby paws on some.  Before I could even say, "Don't change out of your PJs, kids, we're going to Wal-Mart," Mina had dropped off a bottle for me.  And guess what?  It tastes remarkably similar to the delicious and famous CFA sauce.  The Great Value sauce may have a slight smoky flavor that the CFA sauce doesn't, but all in all, they are very similar.  As a Chick-fil-A loyalist, I want to point out that they are very generous with sauce packets at the restaurant and they do sell larger tubs of their sauces as well.  But, they don't offer a squeeze bottle.  Can you believe that you can secure this delicious sauce in a conveniently squeezable vessel for a mere $1.62?  This product seems ideal for anyone who loves CFA and its sauce, especially if one loves CFA and its sauce but does not live near a Chick-fil-A.  
There you have it, three little life lifts for less than 10 bucks ... what's giving you a lift this winter?

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Ready to Learn!

From October through December, I slowly made my way through Timothy Ferriss's Tribe of Mentors:  Short Life Advice from the Best in the World.  The advice is short, but there's a lot of it and for whatever reason, this was not an ebook that I flew through.  I read it in small chunks, took a lot of screen shots as I went along, and though I resented the time it took, I think the investment was worth it as there is plenty of wisdom and inspiration to be gained.  The advice comes from successful people in all walks of life.  Some pieces of advice contradict others, but there's something here for everyone, particularly for a young college student or recent graduate or anyone at a moment of uncertainty or transition.  Ferriss asks all of of the mentors in the tribe to answer the same questions, which is very effective as it is interesting to compare their answers.  Not all successful people became successful in the same way. 

Instead of writing a massive summary post, I thought I'd start by highlighting two pieces of advice that resonated with me.

The first comes from Jon Call, best known as Jujimufu, an anabolic acrobat.  One of Ferriss's questions is "In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to?"  I just loved Jon Call's answer:

"I've gotten better at telling my brain 'no' when it wants to relate to conversation with a 'bigger' story. What I mean is, somebody might be telling me a story about an experience they had, while I have a related story that sounds bigger or more dramatic than theirs. Rather than wait for a moment to jump in with mine, I'll just let that desire go and ask them more questions about their experience. What I've discovered is incredible: the loss of the opportunity to possibly impress someone is far outweighed by what I can learn when I ask more questions. There is always something else to their story that will amaze you. Don't expect that what they start with is as exciting as it will get. Ask and encourage them to say more."

I love this piece of wisdom because it makes conversation less exhausting.  Forget about ego and insecurity and just listen.  Instead of worrying about what you can teach, what you can share, how you might impress, just approach conversations with this thought:  What can I learn?

Not too far after Jon Call's advice came a related piece of wisdom from Evan Williams, co-founder of Blogger, Twitter, and Medium.  Here's the first sentence of Williams's answer to Tim Ferriss asking "What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the 'real world'"?:

"Be in a hurry to learn, not in a hurry to get validation."

I've spent years of my life trying to please others and depending upon outside validation (grades, compliments, performance reviews, gold stars, etc.) and I like being reminded, even as I approach the "halfway" point, of the importance of learning in work (and life too, I hope).

One of the phrases I wrote in my journal for 2019 is LISTEN AND LEARN.  I'm not doing either perfectly, but I'm learning.     

*Call's quotation can be found around the 64% mark in the ebook of Tribe of Mentors; Williams's quotation can be found around the 65% mark.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Several weeks ago, I listened to the audio edition of Amy Hollingsworth's The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers: Spiritual Insights from the World's Most Beloved Neighbor.  I had not really thought about Mister Rogers in years and I was really inspired by this book and the way Hollingsworth framed his show as a ministry wherein Rogers preached the Gospel without using words.  Hollingsworth had the opportunity to interview Rogers in the later years of his life and exchanged letters with him for many years.  Selections from the interviews and letters are included and really give you insight into the man outside the television screen (who was actually quite a bit like the kind, patient man on the television screen).  If your library subscribes to Hoopla, you can borrow this book for free and I recommend that you do.

Inspired by The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers, I decided to track down the Mister Rogers documentary I had been hearing about.  It was showing one-day only at my local theater so I texted some friends and we met up for a 1:00pm showing of Won't You Be My Neighbor?  I loved it.  To see and hear what he was trying to accomplish with his show, his dedication to creating programming that treated children with respect, kindness, and honesty was wonderful.  As a child, I enjoyed the show and remembering feeling calm and safe while watching it.  I remember the satisfaction I felt watching Mister Rogers change into his sweater and sneakers.  I remember how transported I felt when the trolley traveled to the Land of Make Believe.  I loved when Mister Rogers went on field trips.  I loved the opening credits with the aerial view of the neighborhood.  What the documentary drove home to me was how hard Mister Rogers worked to acknowledge the fears and anxieties of children, to address current events/tough topics in ways that could be helpful, and to send the message over and over again that each child is worthy of love just as he/she is.  I was pretty much weeping by the end of it.  There were not many (or any?) dry eyes in the theater.  Even my friend who grew up in Mexico and did not have a childhood that included Mister Rogers enjoyed this documentary.  It's available now to buy on Amazon or rent/stream as well so please do check it out.

One more thing that struck about Won't You Be My Neighbor? was Fred Rogers' concern about what the long-term effects of children's television programming would be, particularly the programs centered around violence, frenzied pacing, cheap gags and jokes, and the demeaning of others.  That concern gave me pause as the bratty kids, bumbling parents, and abysmal writing on many of the shows on Disney, Nick, etc. now seem the least of our concerns with the new influences of social media, YouTube, XBox.  I'm not saying there aren't good things our kids are absorbing these days (or good things they could be absorbing), but there's just so much out there and so much we don't know about the messages they are receiving.  I need to take more ownership of what messages my kids hear most powerfully.

Going to see a documentary is one of those things that I would typically think about doing but never follow through on.  I'm so glad I tracked down the movie time, sent the text, and enjoyed this experience with others.  Bonus:  We saw Won't You Be My Neighbor? at the York Theatre in Elmhurst, IL.  If you attend an Art at York film (it's a once, sometimes twice a month series), you can show up thirty minutes early and enjoy live organ music played on an organ that rises up from the floor of the theater.  So fun!  How'd you like to have that in your neighborhood? 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

#bookstagram & #bookstagramjoy

So, I'm on Instagram, four times over actually; each of my accounts allows me to follow and connect with people who share various interests of mine.  As @booksandcarbs, I follow readers and booklovers in the #bookstagram community.  If you're on Instagram and curious, click on #bookstagram and see the many kinds of posts this hashtag inspires.

Some aspects of #bookstagram are annoying to me:
* Some users post pretty pictures of books but offer no commentary about the books.  Are you recommending it?  Do you just like the cover?  Did it just match your couch, socks, patio furniture, etc.?

* Some users post pretty pictures of books that they aren't actually reading (or even planning to read) and do this multiple times per day (Hmmm, you have several kids and a job and you've posted photos of seven different books today and five different books yesterday.  Are there more hours in your day than in mine?)  No one has asked me to be a #bookstagram detective, but I'd explore the position if asked.

* Users who have received review copies of books post photos of them.  I know that's what's expected when one accepts a review copy, but I get annoyed when I scroll through my feed and see the same book pictured over and over, often with very little text to tell me if it's a book I'd enjoy or not.

* Users who are all about numbers of followers and don't focus on creating interesting content.

There are some other aspects of #bookstagram that annoy me, but I already feel petty and nitpicky about what I've said so far.  The bottom line is that I am looking to connect with lovers of books more than with photographers and promoters of books.  

Some aspects of #bookstagram are glorious to me:
* Some users post beautiful photos of books that I've never heard of and include commentary.  Then, I have the pleasure of learning more about that book/author and tracking down a copy if I'm especially intrigued! 

* Many users talk about the books!  I love honest feedback about what they're reading paired with cool photos of the books.

* I have found a few "kindred spirits" on #bookstagram, people whose reading tastes are similar to mine and from whom I learn about books beyond the current bestseller list (not that I am against contemporary lit or bestsellers -- I read plenty of both!!).
I've had a few "happy ending" reading experiences, thanks to #bookstagram -- times when I've discovered a book and then gone on to read and enjoy it!  I'm going to try to write up some of these experiences on this blog under a new feature called #bookstagramjoy (or a cooler hashtag that hasn't come to me yet).  Stay tuned.