Old Favorites: Georgia Nicolson

Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging (Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, #1)On the Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God (Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, #2)Knocked Out by My Nunga-Nungas (Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, #3)Dancing in My Nuddy-Pants (Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, #4)Away Laughing on a Fast Camel (Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, #5)Then He Ate My Boy Entrancers (Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, #6)  Startled by His Furry Shorts (Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, #7)Love Is a Many Trousered Thing (Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, #8)Stop in the Name of Pants! (Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, #9)Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me? (Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, #10)

Whenever I can’t decide what to read next, or whenever I just need a break from reading new things, I always go back to one of my favorite series: the Georgia Nicolson books by Louise Rennison.

Georgia is a British teen who hates her wide nose, her pimples (lurking lurkers), her embarrassing father (an utter madman), Stalag 14 (her school), and Slim (the Oberfuhrer who runs the school).

But Georgia loves her cat Angus (part mad housecat, part Scottish wildcat who spends his time mocking the neighbors’ prat poodle), her toddler sister Libby (who is sweet but smells a little hamsterish), the Love God (an older boy in a band), and the Italian Stallion (an even sexier boy in a band who speaks limited English and has a scooter). Oh, and snogging. Georgia loves to snog, but only if she has just the amount of makeup on so that she appears to not be wearing makeup.

She tolerates her friend Jas (obsessed with her fringe, nature walks, and her boyfriend Tom, a legume heir), Dave the Laugh (who may or may not be in love with Georgia and vice versa), and her basoomas (inherited from her free-spirited mother whose unapologetic middle- agedness is truly a cross for Georgia to bear).

I’ve read all of the books in the series at least twice. No matter what kind of slump I’m in (reading or otherwise), a few hours with Georgia cheers me right up. I’m sad Rennison died in 2016. I’d love to spend time with Georgia in her adult years. I’d like to think she’s still a loon on loon tablets.

 

 

Some Thoughts: Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits–to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life by Gretchen Rubin

I’ll read any book about habits. It’s my weird addictive genre-crack. So I finally picked up Gretchen Rubin’s book on habits from the library, and have some thoughts.

Let’s just start by saying that even a book about habits that I didn’t love is still worth it to me. As far as I’m concerned, any book about habits is a treasure.

As you can probably guess by that lead-in, I didn’t love this book. I did, however, learn some useful things from it. I’ll start there, and then I’ll tell you what turned me off.

Useful Stuff

1. Rubin uses a personality framework to talk about habits. She suggests that everyone (basically) falls into one of four categories: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Your personality framework will largely determine how you develop, modify, keep, and break your habits.

  • Upholders are the Type-A people of the world. They do things just because you should. They never waver because they know what they ought to do and they just do it. I’m the child of two Upholders.
  • Questioners are the people who want verified research and data before they commit to anything. Questioners will question everything until they are completely satisfied that something is worth doing. I’m a Questioner, which is probably why I read habit books all the time. I’m married to a Questioner and together we ask questions all day long.
  • Obligers are accountable to external forces. They work best with clear rules and expectations, and they often value other people’s expectations more than their own. I have Obliger tendencies. I suspect many women do.
  • Rebels do whatever they want, depending on how they feel. They create habits if they want to. They break habits when they don’t work anymore. They basically are accountable to no one.

2. Once you know your personality framework, you can figure out the best way to develop your habits. As a Questioner, I need research first. If you are an Obliger, you need external accountability. If you are an Upholder, you just need to believe a habit is the right thing to do.

So all of that was quite interesting. Plus, I like Rubin’s writing style. It’s fun to take the journey with her as she learns about these ideas and applies them in her life. But here’s where I had some problems with this book.

A Questioner Questions

1. Rubin is an Upholder. Maybe because of that, she comes off as a very joyless person. Her life is so regimented and so filled with all the things she has to do that I ended up feeling kind of depressed reading about it. I kept hoping she’d sleep in until 6:30 some morning and then–I don’t know–watch TV in the middle of the day while eating Cheetos.

2. Rubin rarely breaks any of her rigid habits and insists that that makes her happy. It probably does. But because her framework isn’t mine, I had trouble seeing how anything she writes relates to me. By her own admission, everyone’s individual personal determines how we approach habits. And while she gave some suggestions for each framework, it was pretty clear this book is for Upholders like Rubin. Her “fall-off-the-wagon” moments were basically eating a raw, unsalted almond after 8:30 pm or failing to put a book back on the bookshelf.

3. I felt like Rubin had a pretty clear agenda here: She wanted this book to be an encomium to carb-free eating. After reading about her carb-free existence, I felt like I’d accidentally joined a cult. Rubin’s cupcake-eating sister and her candy-sneaking daughter felt way more relatable. I wanted to hang out with them. As a Questioner, I feel compelled to point out that Rubin’s research on carb-free eating isn’t as settled as she suggests.

4. The more interesting issue that Rubin implicitly raises, in my opinion, is one about why we are obsessed with “good” habits and what those mean. A lot of Rubin’s habits–and my own too–are basically things I think are good and right, but are actually at least partially part of the framework of capitalism and patriarchy.

For instance, we know that weight doesn’t predict healthiness (and vice versa), yet we all loudly announce just HOW GOOD we feel when we are thin. I mean, does your blood really feel better in your veins? Or do you feel better because your skinny shorts fit and that’s what the world expects? When we complete a bunch of tasks, we feel productive. But do those tasks matter? Or are we keeping busy because the world has said that busy little beavers are the best kind? I didn’t get the sense that Rubin cared much as long as she upheld. That’s what felt so joyless and depressing to me.

Still, I actually really liked Rubin’s writing, and I’d still recommend the book.

But if you are looking for real strategies, I’d recommend Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.

What I Read: July 2018

July was a good month for reading, in part because my hiking vacation was canceled (due to extreme heat, flooding, rock falls, and locusts).

(Just kidding, there were no locusts.)

(But the other stuff was real).

We did a home staycation instead, which turned out to be marvelous. There was much reading, napping, walking, and eating–all of my favorite things. And because I was on brain rest, I had the mental capacity to read some longer and more complicated books that I never seem to get to during the school year. In between the harder books, I indulged in some brain candy.

I read nine books in July:

1. The Queen and I by Sue Townsend (fiction)
2. Sunburn by Laura Lippman (fiction)
3. If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio (fiction) (see my review)
4. A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza (fiction)
5. The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter (fiction)
6. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson (nonfiction)
7. The Moral Arc: How Science Makes Us Better by Michael Shermer (nonfiction)
8. Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella (fiction)
9. Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter (nonfiction)

Genre
3 Nonfiction
2 Contemporary Fiction
2 Funny/Brain Candy Fiction
2 Mystery/Thriller

Publication Dates
4 Published in 2018
3 Published in last five years
2 Published before 2013

Here are July’s superlatives:

Most Entertaining
Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella
I’d forgotten how much I like Sophie Kinsella’s standalone novels until I mentioned this one last week. I grabbed it from the library and re-read it. It’s not my favorite Kinsella, but it’s still funny and deeply entertaining in its ridiculousness.

My tagline: Three’s Company meets Neil Simon meets Are You Being Served?

 

Most Educational
The Moral Arc: How Science Makes Us Better by Michael Shermer (nonfiction)

I read my first Michael Shermer book on a 24-hour Greyhound bus ride from Oklahoma to North Dakota. It was basically the worst 24 hours of my life (second only to the return trip), but at least I had Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things to keep me company.

In The Moral Arc, Shermer argues that all of society’s biggest moral advancements  (specifically in terms of human rights) sprang from the kind of logic- and reason-based arguments that marked the Enlightenment. It was that kind of thinking–with an emphasis on the inalienable rights of individuals–that helped us build morality. It’s an interesting response to the claim that religion has a monopoly on moral living.

Most Disturbing
Perhaps surprisingly, the most disturbing book I read in July was not the one about Nazis (though that was plenty disturbing). The one that gave me nightmares was The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter. I debated quitting it multiple times and finally slogged through to the end. It’s not a bad book. It was just too much for me. I’m not a particularly squeamish reader, but the violence in this one was just too visceral and didn’t feel totally necessary.

 

Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by [Alter, Adam]Most Likely to Change How I Think About My Online Life
Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by  Adam Alter

After reading this book, I’m vowing to limit my own time on social media, the Internet in general, and on email (the greatest time-suck of my working life)!

Happy Reading in August!

 

Books About Weddings

I’ve attended a lot of weddings. My favorite was one wedding in which I was the maid of honor. I absolutely loved my dress. It was a bright, shiny forest green with huge poofy short sleeves. It had a fitted bodice and a full skirt. I wore velvet black pumps with it.

The whole outfit was the very pinnacle of 80s fashion (though keep in mind that I wore it in 1995–I was seriously behind the times). I loved that dress so much, I’d probably wear it now if I had it. And if I could fit more than my big toe in. (Remember that dress, Camille? I hearted you for letting me have it.)

A Place for Us: A Novel by [Mirza, Fatima Farheen]I just finished reading A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza, which is a family saga about a Muslim Indian American family gathering for a long-awaited wedding. I really wanted to love this book. And I did love parts of it. The writing is beautiful and often very insightful. It just didn’t come together for me.

I still recommend it because I’m in the minority opinion here. Everyone else really loved it, so it’s possible that I’m just wrong. I often am.

I did love the fact that a wedding is the central event that brings the characters together. Here are four other wedding books that I loved:

Midnight Champagne by A. Manette AnsayMidnight Champagne: A Novel (Mysteries & Horror) by [Ansay, A. Manette]
I love books set in the Midwest, and Ansay is my go-to author for such books. The opening quotation from Chekhov is all you need to know about this one: “If you fear loneliness, then marriage is not for you.” Also, bonus points for any book that can correctly identify what hot dish is.

The Arrivals by Meg Mitchell Moore
Rich people floundering around acting like fools is one of my favorite subgenres. This is a wedding that’s so full of family chaos, you’ll be glad you’re home reading instead of being at a family wedding.

The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant GinderThe People We Hate at the Wedding: A Novel by [Ginder, Grant]
More family drama here with some wicked sibling rivalry. I thought it was funny and quite poignant. And isn’t it true that at any wedding, at least two people will hate each each other?

Wedding Night: A Novel by [Kinsella, Sophie]Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella
I love that Kinsella’s books read like farces. It’s like watching a comedy of manners on stage. I often forget the plot details after I read one of her books, but I adore the experience of reading everything she writes. I enjoyed this one immensely, which means it’s time to read it again.

I’m not going to lie: If I had my shiny green dress, I’d put it on right now to re-read this book.

Reasonable facsimile of the most wonderful dress in the world. (This is actually for sale on Etsy.)

 

Review: If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

If We Were Villains: A Novel by [Rio, M. L.]

Elevator Pitch: Oliver Marks has served ten years in prison for a crime he confessed to committing. On his first day out, the only thing the lead detective on the case wants to know is the truth. To get there, Oliver has to take him back to Dellecher Classical Conservatory, the liberal arts college where ten years ago he and six theater classmates lived and breathe Shakespeare–onstage and off.

My Tagline: Hamlet meets The Secret History by Donna Tartt meets a troupe of teen stage actors from a summer theatre camp in Peoria.lived and breathed Shakespeare–onstage and off.

My Opinion: I love seeing a really good Shakespeare performance, and this book felt like one at times. It’s full of murder, jealousy, hubris, sex, intrigue, and fate. The seven students who function as our main characters are pretentious as all get out, but it works here. I assume that college wannabe Shakespearean actors are occasionally, if not always, insufferable. And rest assured, almost all of them have redeeming qualities. They are just young and naive.

My favorite part was the dialogue. Every student speaks in a sort of pidgin language that’s one part millennial college student a two parts obsessive Shakespeare worshiper. The characters are creative in how they deploy Shakespearean lines, and the author takes some wonderful creative liberties that really work.

Verdict: If you like Shakespeare, a good tragedy, and college students, you’ll love it as much as I did.