Reading, Reviews

Me Before You: Why I Was Happier Before This Book

Me Before YouWell, I seem to be a bit of a Negative Nancy this week. I didn’t particularly enjoy The Rules of Civility and now I am thoroughly disturbed by Me Before You.

Here’s the synopsis:

Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time. -Goodreads.com

Liking or disliking a book varies so much from person to person, so I’m not usually surprised when a book with rave reviews leaves me cold. It happens to all readers sometime. This time, though, it’s more than just liking or disliking. I’m not looking to be the little boy exclaiming that the emperor has no clothes on, but I feel a burden to explain why I am appalled by the popularity of this book.

1. All the characters are flat out selfish. Yes, even the main character, Lou Clark. She does what she does because she wants to. On the surface, she can make it look like she’s being sacrificial for her family, but she admits that she likes working at the home town coffee shop. And don’t get me started on Will.

2. We are introduced to Lou as the narrator tells us that Lou knows exactly how many steps it takes to get home from work, whether she’s walking fast or slow. I have no patience for characters that count steps, stairs, wall tiles, etc. Unless you’re introducing a neurotic scientist or child prodigy who can’t help but notice all the numbers of the universe, don’t let your character count everything. (I’m sure this has nothing to do with my aversion to mathematics…). Okay, so this my weakest point for not liking this book, but there’s got to be a better way to tell readers that the main character’s life is tedious.

3. The plot is much like a tearjerker, Nicholas Sparks-like book, without the saving truth that love is noble. I’m not convinced that anyone actually understood what love is in this book. Maybe Lou’s parents. Maybe.

4. It is in support of euthanasia, an idea that is terribly controversial but always extremely sad, and selfish, at least on some level. I get that humans as a race are self-centered by default. But I also believe everyone has a soul, and this book ignores that fact entirely.

I need someone to show me the redeeming qualities of this book! If you’ve read it and enjoyed it, don’t leave me in the dark–please help me see why it is considered such a great book by so many.

7 Challenge, Nonfiction, Reading, Reviews

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, And My Own 7 Challenge

I should have read this book a long time ago.

Any book with a number in the title scares me. I try not to be too limited in my thinking, but I must admit that math gives me a panicky feeling. I know this is illogical. I try to talk myself out of it: I got an A in Algebra 2, for crying out loud! Apparently, the 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excesseffort that A took left its scars. Big ones. I would rather give a speech to 2,000 Nobel Prize geniuses than repeat a single week of college Pre-calculus. Maybe it was due to my aversion to numbers that I hadn’t really considered reading Jen Hatmaker’s book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, though I’d heard a lot about it. Then some of my friends started sharing her blog posts on Facebook. I read them, and that was all it took for me to say, “Okay, I have got to read this woman’s book.” I’m really glad I did.

I love Jen Hatmaker for making a thought provoking, challenging book that is so hilarious. I laughed out loud right in the midst of my musings on how catastrophically out of whack consumerism and starvation is in the world. (Okay, to be honest, I would have laughed, but my heart has been heavy due to a tragic event in our church family. That I kind of laughed should be a testament to how funny Jen Hatmaker is, because I was having trouble reading through my swollen eyes, and that is not an exaggeration).

Note: From here on out, I’m going to call Jen Hatmaker just Jen, because she’s that personable and I don’t think she’d mind.

7 is a challenge that Jen gave herself to live with less in several different areas of life.  The challenge areas are: food, clothes, spending, media, possessions, waste, stress. Each challenge lasted for 4 weeks. Her main premise is that our culture as a whole is “trapped in the machine of excess.” Her desire was to “fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence.” I’m in agreement with Jen. The American Dream has gone from a desire for freedom to a desire for way more than we need. And it happens to be sucking the life out of us, one overworked, overeaten, over stimulated hour at a time. What’s worse, it’s sucking the life out of entire nations who aren’t getting any relief from their suffering because we’re too fat and happy to notice them. I’m talking about me, not you. Or maybe that is you, too. Whatever the case, this book was life changing for me. So much so, that I am beyond thinking about this stuff and ready to take actions. For each of Jen’s challenges, I’ve come up with a version of my own.

Food

Jen’s challenge:  Limiting herself to 7 foods.

Yes, just 7. My first reaction to this was, “WHY?” I came to see that she wanted a concrete way to discard the burden and the blindness that her love of food was putting on her life. I was more drawn to the challenge that several of her friends gave themselves for the first month: to pick seven of the world’s most poverty stricken countries and eat like an average person from that country for three days. They picked Haiti, Ethiopia, Uganda, Afghanistan, Bolivia, Cambodia, and Sudan. Jen and her friends came to understand more about their misuse of the food abundance in America and came away from it with a desire to do more for those who don’t have enough. Jen also realized what an idol food can become.

My challenge: Pick my own impoverished countries that I feel particularly burdened for, research their average food intake, and eat like them for one day each. I wish I could do three days, but I’m a mom of littles, and I don’t want my family to suffer a grumpy, malnourished mother. (Who am I kidding, they suffer the grumpy mother regularly). I’m still working on fleshing out this challenge, because I’d like it to include a way to transfer my eating less to some hungry person eating more. Also, I’d like to add a book to my reading list about each impoverished country I choose. If you have any ideas, please tell me!

Clothing

Jen’s challenge: Wear 7 pieces of clothing for four weeks.  Her discoveries about how she views clothing and how she expects other women to view her clothing were enlightening. Her honest evaluation of her excess clothing made me think twice, for sure.

My challenge: Part 1 — Clean out my closet and give the excess to refugees. Part 2 — No clothes shopping for myself for 3 months. I think this will be an easy challenge, because I don’t really like to shop. I ignore clothes to a fault sometimes. You know, that moment when you realize you have nothing that fits the bill for the event you’re attending in, oh, less than half an hour. I don’t think about what clothes I need. Except for those new boots I promised myself last winter…. However, I think it will be an interesting challenge to share with my four-year-old daughter, who is a budding Fashionista. (Help.) I need to think through ways I can show her how abundant her clothing is and how some little girls have next to nothing.

Possessions

Jen’s challenge: give seven things away every day for a month. And not just to Goodwill, but to tangible people who will benefit from Jen’s entire family’s acknowledgement that they have way more than enough.

My challenge: Same as Jen’s this time. I’ll be honest–I’m a little worried. I keep our house at a minimum of stuff to begin with.  We get rid of things all the time. My husband hears “Hey, can we get rid of this?” on a regular basis. Still, our house feels cluttered. But the point isn’t to de-clutter the house. The point is to find good things we don’t truly need and give them to people who do really need them. I’m hoping to connect with a ministry that supplies refugees with basic household items for this month’s challenge and the clothing challenge.

Media

Jen’s challenge was a good old-fashioned media fast from everything not work related. I always think this type of challenge would be a no-brainer challenge for me. I don’t watch TV, what’s the big deal? But her challenge included blogs, Facebook, sports news, and everything else not work related. Yikes. No sports news! There would be troubles. However, I’m going to try it.

My challenge: Limit my media to certain times during the day. I will allow myself to read blog posts from 6-7am. I will check/post to Facebook at 10am, 2pm, 9pm, or not at all. No internet surfing at all until after the kids go to bed. Otherwise, my media will only involve work-related or research related usage. My e-mail will have to be a continuous thing because it’s my main form of communication, but I think I can limit it to checking it every hour to two hours. And it’s football season, so…sports can’t completely go unless I want to spend hours away from family and friends on the weekends. Football is king in South Carolina, people. But I do plan to seriously limit it.

Waste

Jen’s challenge: seven habits for a greener life.  I’m summarizing it as a serious cutback on waste and use of natural resources. Before you roll your eyes at the liberal tree hugger, please know that I happen to be a conservative tree hugger. I was totally convicted by this chapter. Give yourself a chance and you will be, too. It’s sad to me that people who believe God doesn’t exist are so often the only ones concerned about God’s creation. I can’t put it as well as Jen does, but I hope you read this part if no other part of 7.

My challenge: get Ella out of pull ups at night, buy less prepackaged food, recycle everything possible.

Spending

Jen only allowed herself and her family (her husband was on board for all of this, by the way)  to pay money out to seven vendors, two of which were online bill pay and her children’s school. This translates into no eating out, no shopping for fun, no family outings that cost money, etc.

My challenge: Don’t buy stuff.

No, seriously. I’m not shopping for anything outside of basic food and household needs like toilet paper. No home goods, no clothes, no potentially life changing organizational tools, no the-neighborhood-needs-my-flower-beds-to-be-beautiful plants. I’m going to have to choose this month wisely. We’re coming up on Christmas…this will have to be an after Christmas month. Which brings my grand total of months I’m not shopping for clothes in this challenge to four. This is going to be interesting…

Stress

Jen’s challenge: Keep Sunday as a true day of rest and pause seven times a day for prayer and reflection.

My challenge: Stop clothes shopping.

Oh, I kid. My challenge will be to (1) Become a planner and (2) Set daily goals for my gratitude journal.

Much of my stress is caused by not planning ahead for things. Just this morning, I totally stressed my kids out with trying to get to MOPS on time (didn’t happen). I didn’t have anything prepared. It’s no coincidence that all the moms got a nice little reminder email about labeling sippy cups and bags this afternoon from the childcare workers–see, I’m spreading stress to everyone by my lack of planning! Those poor childcare workers. Anyway, the goal is to plan for the next day the night before.

The other part of the stress challenge is based on Ann Voskamp’s Joy Dare. I have kept a gratitude journal for a long time, but I’m too sporadic for thankfulness to truly take root in my heart. Thankfulness isn’t thriving in me yet. I think stress would be obsolete if I could be grateful in my waking moments. I don’t consider myself to be a particularly stressed person, but then I think about the discontentment, the insomnia, the way I get fed up with the mess I live in, the inexplicable nightmares I’ve had since childhood, and I think there’s definitely proof of stress. The beauty is I truly believe it doesn’t have to be there. I’m going to strive during the Stress month of this challenge for peace that I know is attainable.

So there are the challenges for the next seven months. I’m eagerly looking forward to tackling (most) of these challenges. My overarching desire is to find ways to positively help those who really need it. I don’t want to just simplify and clarify my life. I want to relieve pain in others’ lives, even oceans away. I hope you will cheer me on and give me ideas on how to do this when my brain is too consumed with the self control to not…buy…another…book!

If you have the wherewithal to read this droning dribble about my 7 Challenge, then I guarantee you will enjoy the book 7 so much more. It will make you laugh and remind you that you have the power to make a difference in this world. And if you want to join me on my own journey, you’re more than welcome.

Reviews

Rules of Civility Review

Rules of CivilityLast week I finished Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. It came highly recommended on several book blogs. I can see why: the writing was very clever, the characters started out as intriguing, and the setting of New York City in the late 1930s was dazzling. However, what started as refreshingly different ended as testament to meaninglessness.

The main character, Katey Kontent (pun intended), has grown up in Brooklyn. Through a series of career movies and friendships, she works her way into the center of New York’s elite socialites. The book also follows, Tinker Grey, the city’s most eligible bachelor, who also happens to be pretty down to earth and likable. Or so it seems.

For the first half of the book, I was thinking, “man, this books is pretty great.” For the second half I was thinking, “this book is pointless.” At the crucial point where the main character should be reaching some clarity, she makes choices that just make things foggier. I think the reader is supposed to draw meaning from Tinker’s choices, but they, too don’t seem to lead to much meaning.

Final verdict: while I enjoyed the writing style at first, the characters and the messages were without roots. Their evolution was not into something better than what they were at the beginning. They seemed soulless. Yes, I know that technically they were; they were fictional characters. But fiction at its best should be a presentation of characters real enough to understand and learn from. Maybe it was personal differences that kept me from understanding the characters in Rules. Whatever the reason, I can’t recommend this book very highly, but I know I’m in the minority of readers.

After finishing Rules of Civility, I moved on to 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.” Friends, I love this book. Reading it on the heels of a Rules of Civility, a book that presents a lot of questions about the typical American Dream, drives home some of the points even more. Expect a detailed post on to appear soon. Though it’s non-fiction and I’m a self-proclaimed slow non-fiction reader, I read half of it in one day.

Reading, Reviews

All The Eerie Books: Friday The 13th Edition

Happy Friday the 13th! I don’t give this date any credence. But I thought it’d be fun to write out all the scary books I’ve read. Because it’s probably the shortest list of books you’ve ever seen.

Frankenstein1. Frankenstein

No, it isn’t really that scary. Not like the dumb movies supposedly based on it. But it’s still pretty eerie. And I absolutely love it.

2. The Fall of the House of Usher and other works by Edgar Allen Poe

I had to read these for school. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have touched them. People buried alive, implied incest, murder, ravens…shudder. Great writing, but not my cup of tea.
The Thirteenth Tale3. The Thirteenth Tale Again, just kind of eerie and “off.” Not material for a horror movie. If it had been, I wouldn’t have read it, believe me. It was a very intriguing story, though. Diane Setterfield is a darker Kate Morton in style.

4. Macbeth

Why can’t I count that as something scary I’ve read? There’s a ghost in it and a mad woman! For that matter, can I count Jane Eyre?

It seems my “scary” books list starts and ends with eerie to slightly eerie.

If I had to list the number of scary movies I’ve seen, the list would be even shorter than my scary book list. In fact, it doesn’t exist at all. Unless you count the movies that scared me as a child (E.T., The Wizard of Oz, etc.). I simply can’t do scary movies. Chalk it up to an overactive imagination or being too sensitive, they just appall me.

Is your scary book list long or short? I’m not planning on lengthening mine any time soon. Maybe someday I’ll work up the nerve to read some Wilkie Collins, but I doubt it.

I hope your Friday the 13th is full of good things and nothing scary.

Everyday Life

The Buffet of Busyness

Since starting this blog a few months ago, I have thoroughly enjoyed being a book blogger. The only real problem I’ve come up against is that in writing about the books I read, I’m admitting to  everyone I know that I spend  a good amount of time reading (in my defense, I read pretty fast…doesn’t everyone say that, though?). And it’s pretty clear that I have a bunch of other going on, too, not the least of which is raising young children.

“You certainly have your plate full.”

Has anyone ever said that to you? I have been getting it a lot lately. As much as I appreciate the recognition that I’m taking on a good bit of work at this point in my life,  having someone tell me that I appear to be busy to the max doesn’t really help me calm down about it. Or feel less guilty about some of the decisions I make. It also leaves me a few questions about this plate I’m apparently carrying around through life. Here are the most prominent ones:

1. How did I get this plate to begin with?

No one told me that upon entering adulthood, one also enters a buffet of busyness.

2. Can I get a bigger plate?

Does everyone have the same size plate? Who decides what size I get? Is there an upgrade available?

3. Who keeps sneaking stuff onto my plate?!

I know I didn’t put that activity on there. So who did? Is that allowed? Where are the buffet etiquette guidelines posted?

4. Is there a busyness pyramid?

Is there a guideline for what I’m supposed to put the most of on my plate? What is the busyness equivalent of vegetables?

Eatwellplate-300x212

I would think that a carb-loaded plate would have a lot of keep-life-going activities like grocery shopping, cooking, going to work, etc. And maybe a protein heavy diet would consist of lots of deep thinking and exercise. Maybe if you add lots of fruits and vegetables, you do a lot of good works. It’s all a bit confusing—what should I actually be putting on my plate? If someone could come up with an activity pyramid, I’d really appreciate it.

5. Where is this buffet’s exit?!!!

 

…..You can see, the plate of stuff to do metaphor is getting to me these days. I walk around thinking, “This plate is just too small.” But we all know it comes down to how I manage my time.  As mentioned in the post There Is No Time To Find, everyone has to use his/her own set of priorities. We all make decisions every day about what we are and aren’t going to do. We don’t often get to choose the things we want to do most. A lot of times, we choose what’s most pressing. But we usually at least have a choice. Not many people can truthfully say, “I didn’t have time to do that.” The reality is there are things we choose not to do.

It’s really hard to say to say that to someone, though, because in essence we’re telling that someone we didn’t prioritize the same thing she prioritized. “Sorry, I didn’t have time to read that article you sent me.” “Sorry, I didn’t get chance to call you back.” “Sorry, honey, I haven’t had time to vacuum in three weeks.” We all say things like that, and that’s okay. What we all have come to understand is most everyone is really busy and decisions have to be made. (And we should remember that in all this busyness, people legitimately forget about things, too).While these decisions are, in fact, personal, we shouldn’t take them personally.

Still, it’s often impossible not to take them personally. Because time is a love language as much as anything else. As much as I wish life could be less like a buffet of activities to choose, I’m learning that my time decisions are usually people decisions. I’m just beginning to ask, “By deciding to spend my time doing _____, will I negatively or positively affect myself or someone else?” I try not to over think it or take other people’s decisions too personally. Yet it’s good to be aware that my time, just like your time, is a commodity in an economy that isn’t so much activity as much as it is relationships. So I try to make the decisions to wash dishes instead of read, or to read instead of wash dishes, based on how it will effect me and those around me. Will it be better for my husband to come home to a clean kitchen or a refreshed wife? Or can I somehow do this?

No, I can’t.

Will it be better to get an extra 30 minutes of sleep or spend an extra 30 minutes writing in my journal? Exercise or to fold laundry? To Return a phone call from a friend or pay a bill? The answer is different depending on the day. I’m just starting to realize how important it is to know what most refreshes me or drains me, what most serves my family or doesn’t. I need to know this kind of thing so I can make good decisions on how time is spent by me and everyone else in my family.

It’s really, really hard to think this way on a regular basis. I’ve barely begun working on it. But I hope that I’ll always be shifting time decisions around, in the attempt to arrange the stuff on this one-size-fits-all plate as best as I can. There is no exit from this life buffet that’s a better option than the blessing of work for my hands to do and people to do it for.

Remind me of that next time I complain about how much of my plate is taken up by washing dishes. 🙂

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