img_2215Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Date Read: September 2 to 30, 2019

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

With my focus on some spooky children’s books in September, I am a bit behind with my normal posting. This book was actually my September pick for The Unread Shelf Project—a book that you can buddy read. Surprisingly, I do not have a big group of friends that read. One of my friends has been trying to read more, so we decided it would be fun to pick a book that was on both of our “want to read” lists. We ended up deciding on this one, as the one that we thought could lead to the best discussion.

While we did not actually get in as much discussion on the book as we had expected, I am glad that we decided upon this one. This is the third of Malcolm Gladwell’s books that I have read, and I really do find much of his work fascinating. However, I feel like I have to say that I find it a bit limited. There is a ton of great research referenced here, and so many great thoughts, but in the end, this really is a work of “pop psychology.” Is there something to it? Yes, probably. But I’m also not quite prepared to take all of Gladwell’s conclusions as fact. Despite this, I think it’s a great starting place for thinking and learning. I just think that the case of “Outliers” is more complicated that laid out here.

It may seem like a strange jump, but this book made me think about my brother’s speech at his friend’s wedding this summer. My brother was the Best Man at the wedding of two amazing friends of our family, and I was lucky enough to be present at the wedding as well. In his speech, my brother referenced some incredible accomplishments shared by the couple—a self renovated home, a successful business, and the wedding itself, which was very much planned and decorated “from scratch.” My brother shared an important belief he feels is connected to all this: if there is something you want to do and you don’t do it, you didn’t want it enough.

Perhaps this is a simplification as well, but I think it speaks to one of the missing pieces from Gladwell’s conclusion. Genetic potential, opportunities to practice, and being born at the right time in the right place can put you ahead of the game—but there is still a drive to that accomplishment that is unaccounted for. It may be true that 10,000 hours of practice is a “magic number” to become an expert or a master in a field; but it is also true that it takes a certain amount of personal drive and dedication to be willing to put in that time. So you did not become a master at the task you wanted? There’s nothing wrong with that, of course; but remember: you did not want it enough to dedicate the amount of time needed to do it.

Boris’s thoughts: “The only thing I want to be a master at is napping. I think I’ve got a pretty good start on my 10,000 hours or practice. 4 paws.”

Silver Linings Playbook

img_5051Book: Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

Date Read: August 8 to 13, 2017

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

I very much enjoyed this book. It has been awhile since I initially read it, so please forgive me for bouncing some of my commentary off of input and opinions of others. At this point, I think that’s the really the best way for me to frame my thoughts in this instance. Browsing through the top reviews on Goodreads, it seems that one of the most popular descriptions used is “fun,” which I find… interesting. I suppose I can see it, a bit. There are definitely some fun elements in the book, but that would not be my first inclination. Easy read? Sure. Funny? Definitely. But not quite haha funny, more dark comedy funny. Someone else called it “the adult Perks of Being a Wallflower.” I’m definitely more on board with that description, but still not quite there.

If I am going to boil this down into a simple statement, I will say that this book is depressingly hopeful. That doesn’t sound quite right though. Hopefully depressing? No, that’s not it either. Depressing and hopeful? I’m having a hard time hitting on the exact right words. I suppose part of that is that I think Quick did an incredible job of making these characters real.

The majority of this book contains really depressing material. Pat is obviously a mess, but is trying to put things back together with the outlook of a hopeless optimist. It’s pretty obvious to the reader that his expectations are unrealistic, but such is life. I love that we get to see two sides of his therapist– not just as a doctor, but as a real person! It’s like when you’re in elementary school, and it never occurs to anyone that teachers do anything other than live at school. Tiffany, too, is a mess, but not quite in the same way as Pat. At moments, she seems more self aware, but perhaps too far into the spectrum of pessimism. But she’s not quite a pessimist either, as we can see in her passion for the dance competition. The plot was good, a bit predictable as to where it was heading, but there were sufficient twists along the way to keep things interesting.

I suppose I should wrap this up before I give too much away. The ending was fitting for the story. I can understand why some readers were a bit frustrated with it, seemingly a bit anti-climactic. However, I think that fits with the realness of the characters. Life does not generally wrap things up nicely like in the movies. Throughout the the book, Pat tells us about the movie of his life. The ending is the final reminder that this is not, in fact, a movie. This is Pat’s real life.

Boris’s thoughts: “Good for long stretches on the couch. 4 paws!”

The Happiness Project

img_4325Book: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Date 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.”