As I was planning my wedding, I asked the readers of my old book blog what would be their pick for the absolute worst book to read on one’s honeymoon. I got a lot of darkly humorous responses. I took the advice not to pack them with my trousseau, but out of curiosity I did read a few later. I’d have to say the winner was Revolutionary Road. A close second was The Shining, and wouldn’t that top the list of books not to read during quarantine?
In a similar spirit, I offer here a sampling of Books Not to Read Right Now. They are all great and well deserving of a read, but let’s just maybe save them for a brighter day, shall we?
The Stand. The most light-hearted of these selections, this book might be worth reading, as many chapters are quite practical. Let’s also be glad we aren’t dealing with Captain Tripps.
The Siege. ...of Leningrad. Only read this if your pantry and freezer are full and you’ve just eaten an extra-large stuffed crust pizza.
Room. A young mom entertains a small child in a single room using only the craft supplies she has on hand.
The Hot Zone. If you really want to understand the concept of contagion or zoonotic disease, here ya go. From today’s perspective, it has a somewhat happy ending, which my roommates and I did not know when we were trading this book back and forth in 1994.
Rats, Lice, and History. Another nonfiction book that wants to scare us with something (bubonic plague) that was much more contagious and a much bigger threat in its time than it is now.
The Coming Plague. If you’re disgruntled about top-level responses to COVID-19, have I got a little something for you. Publication date: 1994
In times of trouble, it can be hard to remember that such a thing as “luck” exists. Janice Kaplan decided to research the topic from an analytical perspective, not being a natural optimist, with the goal of finding out if she could learn to be lucky. How Luck Happens is the delightful result.
The first thing that becomes clear in the research and writing of How Luck Happens is that Kaplan gets tons of help whenever she asks. People keep saying Yes to her request for interviews, giving her extra time, and connecting her with other well-placed people. She recognizes that this is her way of making extra luck. Over and over, these successful people list off how they’ve been lucky in their own lives and how they do their best to pay it forward, which is clearly a way to become even luckier.
This was an exciting book to read, because I see myself as a lucky person even though I have lived through some pretty serious misfortunes. There are a lot of tricks to it, and one of them is learning to think in counterfactuals. “If X had happened instead” or “If Y hadn’t happened.” For instance, last month my husband had a terrifying and very painful eye injury and we spent the night in the emergency room, where we both picked up either a bad cold or the flu and were sick for a week. Anyone would consider that bad luck; you wouldn’t even have to qualify as a pessimist. The counterfactuals, however, go on and on. We felt so lucky that we have health insurance, that this happened near home instead of in the backwoods or on vacation or overseas, that we have antibiotics in our century, that there were numbing eye drops, that his vision was saved and his eye healed completely, that we’re both able to work from home so I could take care of him, that we ranked so low on the triage list that a lot of people in much worse shape got to go in first. Rather this than the kidney failure...
THEN we realized that we were even luckier than that, because this happened early enough in the year that we got “the flu” (or whatever) and we missed COVID-19.
How Luck Happens does a great job of explaining the concept of luck, which includes what I would consider to be ‘good fortune.’ Kaplan does an amazing job of demonstrating how to create your own kismet and generate serendipity. I also loved how she started looking for ways to create lucky circumstances for others, something that my husband and I do all the time and which it is thrilling to see explained and encouraged. Nothing is more fun.
I hope this book is wildly successful and that readers start testing these ideas right away. Maybe writing this review will throw a little extra luck my way?
Sometimes the seed of opportunity that we plant doesn’t blossom into luck until weeks or months or even years later.
“Real luck occurs at the intersection of chance, talent, and hard work,” I said.
You have to believe you’re lucky to take the action that will make you lucky.
The real trick is to recognize those moments of luck moving forward.
The grit and fortitude and steely resolve that come with being passionate make positive things happen. Putting your desire out to the universe just means that you know what you want.
You get lucky when you admit what you want and go after it.
Money Diaries is like a combination smart personal finance class-slash-dirty secret. There is something seriously naughty about snooping through the intimate details of other people’s daily expenses. Would I be willing to share mine? *snort* Not likely! Even posting everything I read on Goodreads is pushing my limits.
This is a very smart book, partly because it shows people making what may not always come across as smart decisions. These stories are unique, though, and each person makes different spending priorities. I like reading the examples from women who earn significantly more than I do and imagining if I would spend my income in the same way. This, among other reasons, makes Money Diaries a great book to share with a romantic partner. You can pick through the details and talk out whose side you take. This is how a couple starts to form a united front and start making team financial decisions.
This book is aimed at younger, urban people. While it does touch on “extreme” savings and debt reduction, this is definitely not a frugality book or a financial independence book. As such, it may be a better choice for those who are repelled by austerity measures. This makes it more pragmatic than other books, especially because it includes realistic material about wine, birthday presents, yoga, therapy, and other personal necessities like buying hardcover books to read during chemo.
I respect Money Diaries as an approachable and practical book about financial literacy. All the case studies are not only fun to read, but enlightening, and they make sense of abstract, complicated topics like health savings accounts. Money Diaries reads like a glossy magazine, if there were any glossy magazines that could get you out of debt and help you set up a retirement account.
Maybe we don’t even realize that we’re doing it, but it’s easy to get caught up in thinking that we should be able to afford those lifestyles.
Real wealth is about being able to make choices.
The reason there is still a market for books on clutter-clearing is so many people are still buried in clutter. There’s another reason behind that, and that is that most of these books are written by methodical people who think the process is simple. Just get four boxes and start sorting! Tracy McCubbin knows better. Making Space, Clutter Free arose from years of working directly with people and understanding why almost everyone finds the process so emotionally challenging.
Making Space, Clutter Free is built around seven “Clutter Blocks.” I have seen all of these in play with my own clients (and many of them I have experienced myself). No amount of physical effort, no amount of bins or tubs or boxes, no approach is going to work until these blocks are identified and acknowledged.
The good news is that, in my experience, this emotional work can be done anywhere, at any time, and you don’t have to have a duster in your hand to do it. It’s much easier to do the inner work and go in prepared, having developed the interior certainty that it’s definitely time for this stuff to go.
Making Space, Clutter Free is the book to read if you’re still stuck, if you’re working through someone else’s things, if you’re having power struggles with your family, basically in any situation in which the whole “spark joy” thing isn’t working.
We use shopping as a shorthand for doing the work.
We imbue objects with tremendous power.
“I can love and hold their memory and still let go of their things.”
Instead of thinking of buying the item, think of buying the option of that item.
Invariably, these people are kicking the clutter can down the road because they don’t trust their judgement.
None of us want to be contributing to landfills, but that is no reason to let your home become one.
Don’t give your power away by thinking you need someone else to show up and get this done.
Your Goal Guide is a workbook aimed at people who know they want to do something, but they aren’t quite sure what. Debra Eckerling developed the concept after running goal-setting workshops and discovering that, guess what, most people don’t find the process very intuitive. If it were obvious, everyone would constantly be setting and achieving goals. This book, then, is designed for exploration, and it even has a road-trip theme to remind us to see goal-setting as an adventure.
I like to skip January when I plan my annual goals, because as much as I love making New Year’s Resolutions, I believe that January is a terrible time to try to get anything done. I set aside the entire month for poking around and doing a bit of research and experimentation on goals in each area of my life. By the time February rolls around, I finally feel ready to get started. I remind myself that it’s much more important to have my goal integrated into my life at the end of the year, when I’m likely to keep on going, than it is at the beginning, when there can be a temptation to obsess over unbroken streaks and then quit at the first obstacle.
Your Goal Guide supports this approach. Using the road trip analogy, obstacles might be like taking the wrong exit, having a flat tire, or needing to stop for gas. We expect these things, so we don’t quit and go home the first time the plan is disrupted. We also recognize that we can only go a certain distance before we need to eat and sleep, where, again, we often design our resolutions with unrealistic expectations of our physical stamina.
This book feels like the product of a lot of reality testing. The planning exercises are useful and they feel like they evolve naturally. I particularly appreciated Eckerling’s focus on research and her reminders to schedule check-in sessions. When the first month has rolled around, it’s a better idea to ask ourselves what we need, and then rework our plans, than it is to shrug and give up on our dreams.
Don’t leave your goal on the side of the road. Pick up Your Goal Guide and don’t get towed!
Give your plans a chance and give yourself a break.
Remember, everything will get done.
Unbelievable! I thought when I saw this book. The great and powerful BJ Fogg has finally written a book!!! This guy’s research on habit formation is mentioned constantly by other writers, and I used to wonder how they were able to get this special access. How Tiny Habits finally got written is addressed in the book, and it’s like meta-proof that this stuff works.
Of course habits have nothing to do with how fascinating, moving, and endearing this book is.
Personally I’m pretty good at starting and stopping habits, as soon as I realize what it is that I want to do. Tiny Habits had an interesting explanation for why that might be. I often do a little dance, make up a little song, jump up and down, or otherwise physically express how excited I am that I did a small thing, like hitting Send on an email that I struggled to write. Apparently this is the key to building a habit, teaching the brain that YES, this is the right step. Then I realized that I picked up this habit from my mom and it cheered me right up.
This book is loaded with diagrams and exercises that I found truly helpful. It’s designed for someone to learn it and also teach it to others, such as a team at work. I particularly liked the brainstorming method of the Swarm of Behaviors. The lists of sample habits aimed at people in different situations is terrific, and I think the list of little ways to celebrate is best of all.
Tiny Habits is based on years of extensive research, and it’s been tested on real people with real, shall we say, situations. It works on the tough stuff, like caregiving, grief, parenting for special needs, and health issues. It also works on the more light-hearted stuff, like wanting to eat ice cream every night. Amazingly, Fogg even includes research on how to help other people build their habits.
It is no surprise that Tiny Habits hit the bestseller list. I fully expect this book to stay in print for many years, to go through multiple editions, and to help millions of people create positive changes in their lives. Starting with me, and, I’m hoping you’re next!
There’s nothing wrong with taking bold action. Life and happiness occasionally demand it. But remember that you hear about people making big changes because this is the exception, not the rule.
One of my personal themes for the last year has been to “strengthen others in all my interactions.”
Creative Calling is an incredible book. Chase Jarvis, founder of CreativeLive, shares everything he knows about creativity, building a life as a working artist, and dealing with failure, procrastination, and resistance. It feels like the sort of book you could just keep next to you as you work, occasionally touching the cover for reassurance.
Our culture somehow values all kinds of creative work with massive amounts of money, fame, and material support, while also doing its best to browbeat creative impulses out of people. I live in Southern California, and frequently visit Las Vegas, Nevada, and what both of these areas have in common is that they reliably churn out billions of dollars of entertainment sales. Working in the arts has the highest ceiling of almost any field. Yet we’re trained to doubt ourselves and feel that working in a creative field is unrealistic. “Don’t quit your day job.” It’s nuts.
A young artist repeated some of this pushback to me. We happened to be standing in the middle of Powell’s Books, a veritable temple of proof that writing pays. She didn’t think she could make a living as the extremely talented illustrator that she already is. I waved my arm around in a wide circle, pointing out that tens of thousands of books and products around us all, each and every one, had a professionally designed cover. Where do they come from? Even humdrum consumer products still have art on the label. Proof is all around us and we still struggle to believe that art is work.
I have two pieces of advice for hopeful creatives. One. Don’t tell naysayers about your projects. Two. Read Creative Calling. When in doubt, repeat.
Choosing to pursue every creative interest is equivalent to abandoning them all.
Who says you can’t do those things? And what have those naysayers ever done themselves?
When artists can’t figure out how to pay the bills, we all lose.
Your life is not a democracy.
Productivity has become a self-help institution that deals with the symptoms rather than the cause of our problems.
What you’re really struggling with is the willingness to value as-yet-unmade work.
If you want to understand your true priorities, look at two things: your calendar and your bank statement.
All you have to do is follow instructions and do the work.
It’s January, the best month to DO NOTHING except explore, learn, and develop your curiosity about goals and resolutions. I’m proud to say that I haven’t really done anything toward my annual goals yet, just like most years. This is because of everything I’ve learned about “productivity” and habit formation over the years. Perfection be gone! Death to unbroken streaks!
The War of Art utterly changed my life. You can read it in one sitting, or you can listen to it on audio like I did and walk around with your mouth hanging open.
For those of us who want to DO ALL THE THINGS at the same time, multipotentialites who struggle to stay focused, generally people who feel stretched too thin - try The One Thing,
There is no way to read Better Than Before without finding several helpful insights. Plus Gretchen is a really sweet person with a gentle approach.
Getting Things Done is the one to show off at work, although only after you’ve read the first couple of chapters. This is an analog sort of book and I don’t really agree with Allen’s tech-free focus; that being said, it’s great for pencil-and-paper people.
This book helped me see that Getting Organized actually mattered. I didn’t really see the point of it all before I read this. It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys, indeed.
The one true clutter book! I have this practically memorized. Flip through it and read any section of any page.
It was inevitable that I would read this book. All my favorite writers talk about Marie Forleo all the time. Most of them thank her in the acknowledgements. Who IS this woman? I thought.
Then I read Everything is Figureoutable and found out what the fuss was about.
This is an incredibly motivating book. It is packed with examples of Forleo’s students solving problems from their lives, and sharing the thought process they went through when they realized that they actually had the power to do something about their situation.
The book takes on skeptics, starting with the very concept that everything is indeed figureoutable. I like this approach. As a coach, I find that people on the low end of the readiness scale spend a lot of time venting, telling others that they “don’t know what it’s like,” and exclaiming that they’ve “tried everything.” Meanwhile someone who has resolved the very same problem in the recent past may be sitting right there, waving for their attention. Everything is Figureoutable but contrarians don’t want to believe it, or admit it.
Perfectionist? Procrastinator? Naysayer? Give it a look. Literally what is the worst that could happen?
If you’re hell-bent on looking for reasons why this won’t work, congratulations. It won’t. But neither will anything else.
No matter what you believe your limitations are, I promise that if you look hard enough, you’ll find someone with more challenges than you.
There are two kinds of people in the world: those with reasons and those with results.
Embrace the fact that if you were powerful enough to create an overcommitted and overstretched life, you’re powerful enough to uncreate it.
If you had to find the time, you would.
You never get stronger if you only do easy things.
Ten Years a Nomad is an honest account of what it is like to travel full-time, passing through over 90 countries over a decade. Nomadic Matt, as he is known, took off to live the dream. Anyone who is considering the same would do well to read his story.
The travel bug caught him the way it catches so many of us. Work a boring job and commute in the snow and it doesn’t take long to want something different. (It’s somewhat the opposite when you live in a sunny beach community; you know that every resort area and vacation destination is full of obnoxious drunks leaving trash and breaking glass). The guy who was not yet Nomadic Matt booked a two-week vacation, a temporary escape from dissatisfaction.
What he discovered was that travel allowed him to assume a persona who was more confident and adventurous than he was at home. Nobody knew him and he was free to behave however he liked. It wasn’t just an external but an internal adventure.
Ten Years a Nomad is full of practical details that can really help a wannabe nomad figure out how to get started. He talks about meeting people on the road, breaking the news to his family that he quit his job to travel full time, and how he built his business. He shares some savings strategies, such as living off PBJ sandwiches and then cutting out even the jelly. He describes dealing with scams and the frustrating, boring parts of travel.
(It really helps when you assume from the very beginning that you’ll spend hours standing in line, that something traumatizing will happen in security, that something will leak in your luggage, your flight will be delayed, and that’s before you even leave! Then, whenever something actually goes smoothly you can feel excited and lucky).
Matthew Kepnes offers a fascinating, compelling, and achievable vision of the nomadic life. He also makes a convincing case that maybe it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Try it if you like, you can do it if you want to, but remember that you bring yourself with you. Also remember that other people travel from “over there” to wherever you live. Pack a copy of Ten Years a Nomad to read on your next trip.
When I planned the trip, there was no sense that I was also planning to change my life, that my trip would be the first step to a rejection of nearly everything and everyone I had ever known.
I don’t know if who we are on the road is closer to our real self than who we are at home—having changed so much in my life, I’m not sure if the idea of a real self is all that useful, honestly.
It was on the road that I felt most at ease, most alive, and, most importantly, happy.
HERE’S ONE THING THAT IS CERTAIN about travel: All your plans will go out the window.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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