The Happiness Project

img_4325Date Read: February 19, 2017 to March 15, 2017

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

For some reason, this seems to be a fairly polarizing book. There are tons of people who love it, and tons of people who seem to take issue with the premise. I actually understand the reasoning of why people take issue with this, although I definitely fall into the “love it” category. Immediately upon finishing this book, I felt compelled to share it with someone else. I lent my copy to a friend just a few days later. She also loved it. Just this past Christmas I bought it as a gift for my Secret Santa at work. Although the book does not necessarily call it by name, one of the primary topics is a huge area of interest for me: Positive Psychology.

Honestly, I think the Positive Psychology aspect of this is what most people have a problem with. While not quite revolutionary, it’s a non-traditional approach to wellbeing. Happiness is not the opposite of depression. You do not have to be unhappy to want to improve your happiness. You could even potentially argue that you can improve your happiness even if you are depressed, but it is not the same as curing depression. I think the general idea of this perspective on happiness makes people uncomfortable. I also think it’s a bit contrary to what people think of as “happy.”

Many of the approaches to happiness that are explored in the book do seem to be small, novel, or even indulgent. But, well, that’s kind of the point. You do not have to move mountains to improve your satisfaction with your life, you just need to find what works for you and work with it. Do you. If something that makes you truly happy seems silly to other people, who cares? Perhaps it seems selfish, but your attitude and emotions impact so much of your life– taking time to put yourself in a positive frame of mind, while being “for you” in the moment, can lead to more positive results for everyone you interact with on a day to day basis.

I feel like I have so much to say, but also that I’ve hit upon the things that I feel are the core of what I enjoyed about this book. I love the balance between narrative/personal stories, and the research of Happiness (often termed in research as “subjective wellbeing”). I would highly recommend it to anyone willing to read with an open mind.

Boris’s thoughts: “Spending time with me makes you happy, right? 4 paws.”

No Country for Old Men

img_5897Date Read: March 9, 2018 to April 1, 2018

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

Anyone who does not believe that there is a sort of beauty in destruction and decay has clearly never read anything by Cormac McCarthy. This is the third of his books that I have read, and I do intend to read more. There is an internal struggle every time I go to my shelf to choose my next book, and my eyes fall upon the McCarthy section. I had finished reading “The Road” shortly before I heard some terrible news– my favorite bookstore, Borders Books, was going out of business. After I recovered from the shock, there was a more pleasant realization: closing stores means discount books. Once prices reached 80-90% off, I bought every McCarthy book the store still had available (among many others). As a result, I have relatively large collection from this author that hangs out on my “to read” list. I want to read them so badly, but I know they will devastate me.

As expected, No Country for Old Men was no exception to this. It was beautiful, and it was horrifying. While it could be said that the first bit of the book moves a little slowly, I love how the setting is built up slowly, bit by bit. This then eventually leads into a whirlwind of gruesome activity. Throughout the book, there are moments of unexpected calm, a short but compelling description of innocuous detail that is quickly disrupted by gunfire. My eyes moved easily over the words, devouring them, but my mind often forced me to close the book even at moments I was dying to know where the next turn would lead.

I very much enjoyed the dynamic between Bell and Chigurh. Although there is no direct interaction between them, they are essential to the existence of the other character. I try not to put too much time into perceived symbolism in my reading– while I feel that there is sometimes some obvious link, I think much of what we discover in literature is what we want to find there. Bell is interesting in the obligation that he feels to his community. Even when he realizes how much of the situation is outside of his control, he continues to search for meaning. He is not willing to accept that the unfolding events are just simply events, with no meaning beyond their immediate consequences. I have seen Chigurh compared to Death, but I think this is too simple. While he presents his actions as the inevitable, he is also self-preserving and elusive. He could be fate, or he could be random chance. Or perhaps he is neither, and both of these possibilities are just what we choose them to be.

Boris’s thoughts: “This all seems too complicated for me. Can you just pick up the book, or put the book down? 2 paws.”

Am I There Yet?

img_5996 Date Read: April 1, 2018 to April 4, 2018

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

I discovered Mari Andrew’s Instagram account (bymariandrew) a few years ago, and immediately fell in love with it. It was some time around when she completed her first 365 days of illustrations. There was something about her illustrations that spoke to my heart, and I went back to look at all of her previous posts (and so now have no recollection of when I actually starting following her). Her illustrations are thoughtful and honest; it’s obvious that she puts her heart (and heartache) into her work. She bravely shares her experiences and herself in a way that makes the viewer (and now reader) feel like they know her personally, even if just a little bit.

I wanted to share this about her artwork first for a few reasons (first of all being why someone who has never met an author might feel compelled to refer to them on a first name basis). Second, to say that Mari’s writing is very much like her art. She makes you feel. Although the experiences she shares have been quite different from my own, there is a universality in the emotion that her writing evokes. Her essays are perfectly paired with her artwork to lead you through the story of each chapter, and the “Loop-de-Loop, Zigzagging Journey” to where she finds herself now. This is a book that I definitely plan to revisit, and absolutely will be sharing with others.

As a final note on the personable feelings of Mari’s art and writing, I want to share one more (perhaps unusual) feeling after reading this book: proud. Although I do not personally know Mari, I feel like I have followed her along for a chunk of this journey, and am proud of her accomplishment in creating this book. Even if I have only participated through being one of the thousands reading and “liking” her online posts, I have experienced an emotional journey of my own. I think that is the magic of Mari’s work, and I feel honored to have been able to share in that, even if from a great distance. Thank you for your work, Mari. I look forward to seeing where you go next!

Boris’s thoughts: “Great snuggle book, since you want to read it all at once! (Just make sure you feed me first.) 4 paws.”

One Crazy Summer

Date Read: March 1, 2018 to March 8, 2018img_5861

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

This was the selection for the “One Book, One City” program in Grand Rapids for 2018. Grand Rapids Public Schools and Grand Rapids Public Library partner on the project that provides a copy of the book to all 5th grade students in the city, as well as classroom resources for teachers and an online community for students to participate in. It is an incredible project, and one that I have seen students truly take off with. This year, students were encouraged to participate in an online classroom and blog project, where they answered questions posted throughout the month and had opportunities to interact with students from other schools. Several schools that were active with the online resources were invited to an event to meet the author and talk about her book. Being a part of the schools in Grand Rapids (albeit not a classroom teacher), I often find myself compelled to read the books I see becoming popular with students. While the 5th graders in my city were reading and marking up their personal copies of this book, I decided to took advantage of my access to the school library.

I suppose to summarize my thoughts in a sentence: What a great choice of books for this project. There are so many great conversations that can be started from this book: family dynamics, sibling relationships, racism, history, social justice, independence, growing up, poetry, personal identity. I love how many different paths a book can take you in. One difficulty I can see with this, however, comes from a teaching perspective. Because there are so many dynamics, you’re really only scratching the surface of most of it. While I am familiar with the history of the time period, many of the students in the target age range are not. I suppose you could see this as both positive and negative: most students who encounter this book today probably know about as much about the Black Panthers as Delphine and her sisters did when they were on their way to the community center.

I suppose it is worth pointing out the probably cliche, but probably perfect for the story, use of the unattainable: Disneyland. As Delphine and her sisters depart for California, she is saving the money that their Pa had given them, planning to take her younger siblings to Disneyland. Of course, when they arrive in Oakland to meet their mother, one of the first things she does is confiscate their money– to which Delphine protests: they are going to Disneyland! It is the fantasy highlight of their trip. As an adult reader, I can see how unrealistic the expectation of Disneyland truly is. The amount of money given to them surely was not enough, and although in California, Disneyland is nearly 400 miles from Oakland. At least the girls get to see the Golden Gate Bridge, and visit Chinatown. Perhaps though, we have the perfect metaphor for their whole experience. Undoubtedly, the girls were heading to Oakland expected their mother to be their fantasy mother. Cecile falls far short of that, but at the same time, I think in the end they did get something from that relationship– just not what they had been expecting.

Boris’s thoughts: “Black Panthers? I approve. 4 paws.”