This book inspires. It teaches. It’s honest. It’s personal and heartfelt. And it’s even sort of literary. By that I mean the author draws on literatur...moreThis book inspires. It teaches. It’s honest. It’s personal and heartfelt. And it’s even sort of literary. By that I mean the author draws on literature, classic movies, history, art, and travel, along with her experiences in over thirty-five years of marriage. Her approach feels different in tone and content from any other marriage book I’ve read, and I try to read one every year to refresh my motivation for improving and developing my own relationship. Written by a woman for other women, reading this book feels like being mentored by an older, wiser friend in the art of being a wife. I had to stop and think a lot about how the principles she teaches apply to myself as I read. There are parts that were unsettling for me. But I know I will reread and continue to ponder her words. This book a great gift to the world, Ramona Zabriskie! (less)
I liked this book even better than Gretchen Rubin's first book--and I really liked the first book. She seems more relaxed in her writing here, with le...moreI liked this book even better than Gretchen Rubin's first book--and I really liked the first book. She seems more relaxed in her writing here, with less to prove. She knows she has an audience now, waiting to hear her ideas about how we can be happier. In the first book she had to convince her audience she had something valuable to offer, so there was a lot of explaining about why it's not selfish to want to be happy and reports on her happiness research. She still includes a significant amount of research, but it isn't as heavy as in the first book. The emphasis is on her personal experience. Some of the reviews call this self-indulgent. It doesn't strike me that way. A number of her goals benefit her family, friends, and larger community as well as boosting her own happiness.
Gretchen Rubin is highly goal-oriented and holds herself accountable for her resolutions. I love reading about someone improving her life. I find it invigorating! A couple of Gretchen's goals are brave and out of her comfort zone—try acupuncture. Some are outward directed—going on an adventure with one of her daughters every week and finding her Calcutta. Some are just plain smart—abandon self-control (make it easier for yourself to eat right). Most are simple—like giving a little jump each day, creating a thresh-hold ritual for every time she returns home, or creating personal little shrines at home to commemorate what she loves. My main criticism is that two areas of life are conspicuously missing in this book. There aren't any overtly spiritual goals or financial goals here.
I've always had goals that I'm currently working on, but Gretchen has inspired me to be 1) More systematic about my goals. I'm now keeping records and charts. I know this sounds obsessive to some, but I like it. This self-accountability really does help me. 2) More poetic about it. I've observed in this book that the way you phrase a goal to yourself matters. The goal statement should have some poetry about it to make it sing in your heart. The quotes for each month help create the poetry too. 3) More focused about it. I like Gretchen's themes for each month. I've used this approach myself with a goal-setting group I started, but lately I've been trying to push forward every area of my life at once. It's far easier to keep one focus in mind, doing projects and developing habits in that one area before moving on to another focus next month. You can keep the habits you developed and go forward, adding other good practices into your life. (less)
This was a delightful book to read the week after Christmas, when the tree was still up but the hurry and worry of the season had receded. It is a col...moreThis was a delightful book to read the week after Christmas, when the tree was still up but the hurry and worry of the season had receded. It is a collection of Christmas classics. Here are a few thoughts about each selection:
“The Gift of the Magi” by O.Henry. I have read the illustrated, abridged version of this story to my children many times, but this was my first time through the complete story. It is one of my favorites stories of all time and captures the spirit of Christmas, the spirit of sacrificial marriage, and true romantic love. The dramatic irony in this story is a heart-twister no matter how many times I’ve read it.
“Where God Is, There Love Is Also” by Leo Tolstoy. This is a morality tale, but so sweetly and artfully told that the lesson goes down easily. Martuin dreams that he hears Christ’s voice telling him to look for Him tomorrow, for He will visit him. He watches all day, but sees only the poor and lonely who pass his window and whom he invites into his home to help and comfort.
“The Seven Poor Travelers” by Charles Dickens. This was a new find for me and I loved it. It is a story within a story. The first story is of a good deed done for the sake of remembering a loved one and for the sake of Christmas charity. The story within the story is a Jean Valjean type story of a lost soul reclaimed by love. Those change of heart stories always touch me.
“What Christmas Is as We Grow Older” by Charles Dickens. This is not a story, but an essay. I like the theme Dickens chose of a taking a mature view of Christmas. So often I feel nostalgic for the time when all I had to worry about for Christmas was what to put at the top of my wish list. Now that I am the Christmas-maker, I feel the weight of responsibility for the Christmas joy of others. Dickens reminds us that when we are children, Christmas is about the present merriment. But as we grow older, we bring to Christmas not just the now/this year perspective, but our memories of Christmas past. Our celebration is richer when we invite to our Christmas hearth all that was meaningful from our past. We can welcome the memories of people we have loved who used to share Christmas with us, but who have since died. We can recall the ambitions we had in our youth and the young love that made Christmas a romantic season. These memories can help us love and understand the young people around us whose own ambitions and romantic leanings are now in bloom. We can remind ourselves that Christmas happiness, when we have grown to the age of responsibility, is found in remembering to do our duty to others and to live with charity and compassion and a desire to impart happiness to others. (less)
Since the age of 14 I’ve been obsessed with how to make the most of each day, how to use my time to the greatest effect. So I’ve read a fair number of...moreSince the age of 14 I’ve been obsessed with how to make the most of each day, how to use my time to the greatest effect. So I’ve read a fair number of books on this topic and gleaned principles along the way. This is the best book of its kind I have read so far. Maybe I feel this way because David Allen takes a similar approach to my own in getting things done. He confirm that some of my intuitive time-management practices are sound and effective. Allen also taught me how to refine those processes and make them more conscious. And he added new strategies to my repertoire that I am excited to incorporate.
Besides all the practical strategies I got from this book, I relearned an important life principle, this time through the lens of productivity. Tasks you tell yourself to do or projects that you make an agreement with yourself to take care of and then don't do not only clutter your mind and make it hard to concentrate on anything, they actually feel like broken promises to yourself and weigh on your spirit. To have what the author describes as a “mind like water,” meaning a mind that is fluid, creative, relaxed, and capable of sustained attention, requires that you know what you have to do right away and what you have agreed with yourself you can put off. You have to be able to feel good about what you are not doing right now in order to feel good about what you are doing right now.
If you keep agreements with yourself, you will feel peaceful. If you break them you will feel bogged down and guilty. The mind and spirit do not differentiate between small, relatively insignificant tasks, like getting your carpets cleaned, which you told yourself you would do this month or important life resolutions, like spending more time with your children, which you to told yourself you would do this month as well. They are both just broken agreements that weigh on you if you don’t follow through.
So here is the biggest gem from this book: Renegotiate with yourself often. This is how you keep a mind like water. You renegotiate your list. You go through your in-box every day and assign everything a spot. You look at each project on your project list at least once a week, deciding what the next action is and adding it to the appropriate list, determining when you will do it. Allen says that the day most people feel best about their work is the day before they go on vacation because that is when most people take the time to renegotiate their to-do list and reassign every task a spot. You can feel like that all the time if you regularly process your in-box, assign everything a spot, and then frequently renegotiate what will be done and when.
Allen acknowledges that there is never enough time in this life to do everything. But when you have a good system, you can feel peaceful about what you are choosing to do at each moment and enter fully into the experience with attention and presence of mind.
I feel this author's love for the Savior and for other people on every page of his book. The insights he presents are meaningful as well as memorable....moreI feel this author's love for the Savior and for other people on every page of his book. The insights he presents are meaningful as well as memorable. His story-telling is engaging and illustrative. The tone of the writing is personal, encouraging, and hopeful. But Wilcox’s greatest gift as a writer is metaphor, not only in creating apt ones (I love the piano lesson metaphor) but also in upending the standard ones we may have accepted without too much question. Wilcox has a way of turning metaphors around in our minds so that we can examine them from new angels and see their limitations and implications.
I read a little of this book with my scripture study for a month or so and it was a beautiful way to start my day. This is a book I will read again. (less)
This is a book I’ve been meaning to read for several years and finally picked up this summer. I knew I would like it because I loved this author’s bio...moreThis is a book I’ve been meaning to read for several years and finally picked up this summer. I knew I would like it because I loved this author’s biography of John Adams so much. As it turned out, I could not put 1776 down for the last 100 pages, except when I had to stop to cry for a while and blow my nose. My son came into my room when I had only a few pages left to go. He took one look at the tears streaming down my face and beat a hasty retreat, shaking his head as he went.
I always tell myself that George Washington is too common a hero for me to love. After all, everyone admires him. He’s on the dollar bill, for goodness sake. And part of me wants to be more unique than that, choose a hero fewer would claim. But I can never resist the attraction of Washington’s magnetic personality, his powerful ethos, which he manages to exert even all these years after his death. Jefferson is flawed and problematic as a hero, though a great man. But Washington—I can admire him without reservation. Since I was a little girl writing a fifth grade report about Martha Washington, I have been drawn to George Washington. I feel a sort of kinship with him, as I know many do. I understand the impulse of the patriots who named their children after George Washington and of the newly freed slaves who adopted his last name as their own. It is as if he is every patriot’s own ancestor, each American’s personal founding father.
This book was not just about George Washington, but he is at the heart of it. It's easy to think of men like Washington as icons, but they were flesh and blood, flawed, real. And in getting this up-close view of him, I loved him more because I could see that he was heroic in spite of his being so very human. It was also fascinating to read about the great men Washington surrounded himself with-—Nathaniel Greene, John Reed, and Henry Knox—-and of their loyalty and devotion to their commander. The common soldier in the Continental Army comes off as a hero here too, not idealized, certainly, but in all his faults, able to inspire my deepest gratitude.
This account covers a little more than a year in these men's lives, but how telling a year. It makes me wonder if someone were to write the story of one year from my life, what year would be the most telling? The years we least want to live are those that others would most want to read about—how strange! I suppose that is because, as Abigail Adams wrote, “Affliction is the good man’s shining time.”
God Almighty was definitely a player in this story, as even the determinedly objective historian David McCullough could not refrain from admitting on occasion, such as when he pointed out the miracles of weather and timing that worked together in the American’s favor. Before reading this book I had no idea how much the turning of the weather had helped the American cause at so many junctures.
I appreciate McCullough’s insights and reportage of each side’s perspective, going back and forth between General Howe and General Washington, back and forth across the line between enemies to show what each side was thinking and facing. This strategy made the contrast between the character of Howe and Washington clear, without the author ever directly comparing them. For example, while Washington was longing for his beloved home at Mt. Vernon, General Howe was paying a man to let him keep his wife as a mistress here in America. Howe was a man who “liked his glass, his lass, his game of cards.” Washington was obviously the better man, if not militarily, then morally.
A friend of mine who loves this book says every American child should know the stories of Dorchester Heights and the battle at Trenton. I agree with him and plan to tell my children these stories now that I know them better.
Here are my favorite quotes by and about Washington. Don't read them if you haven't read the book yet! I don't want to spoil their power by pulling them out of context, but if you've already read 1776 you can compare my favorite lines to yours.
“If there are spots on his character, they are like the spots on the sun, only discernible by the magnifying powers of a telescope.” (The Pennsylvania Journal).
“The glorious cause was to a large degree a young man’s cause. The commander in chief of the army, George Washington, was himself only forty-three." (I like this because Washington is young at 43; I am 42! Maybe I still have time to do something interesting with my life.)
“A people unused to restraint must be led, they will not be drove.” (George Washington)
Washington did not like New Englanders. He thought they were dirty, obstreperous, and uncouth. Yet he was a man who could change his opinion and overcome his prejudices as he saw the courage and character of some of his best New England officers. “After the miracle of Dorchester Heights, Washington was never again to speak ill of New Englanders because they were New Englanders.” (David McCullough)
“He was not a brilliant strategist or tactician, not a gifted orator, not an intellectual. At several crucial moments he had shown marked indecisiveness. He had made serious mistakes in judgment. But experience had been his great teacher from boyhood, and in this his greatest test, he learned steadily from experience. Above all, Washington never forgot what was at stake and he never gave up.” (David McCullough)
“My brave fellows,” Washington implored the troops after the victory at Trenton, “you have done all I asked you to do, and more than could be reasonably expected, but your country is at stake, your wives, your houses, and all that you hold dear. You have worn yourselves out with fatigues and hardships, but we know not how to spare you. If you will consent to stay one month longer, you will render that service to the cause of liberty, and to your country, which you can probably never do under any other circumstances.”
Again the drums sounded and this time the men began stepping forward. “God Almighty,” wrote Nathaniel Greene, “inclined their hearts to listen to the proposal and they engaged anew.” (less)
I reread this book every ten years or so. It speaks to me in new ways each time, but never fails to soothe and inspire. This time I read it on an airp...moreI reread this book every ten years or so. It speaks to me in new ways each time, but never fails to soothe and inspire. This time I read it on an airplane, and it seemed like I was looking down on my life through the window of this book from a higher perspective. (less)
My son had to read this book for his AP Literature class, and I was intrigued by the title, so I read it for myself. I wish I had had this book as an...moreMy son had to read this book for his AP Literature class, and I was intrigued by the title, so I read it for myself. I wish I had had this book as an undergraduate English major! Even now it has helped me look more closely at the literature I read. A character who gets wet has been baptized. When characters share food it is communion. Winter is death, except when it isn’t, which makes for irony. This may sound like a simplistic approach, but in Foster’s hands it's not. Foster applies his analytical skills to wide-ranging literary selections and shows how symbolism and allusion, far from being simplistic, open up doors for irony, rich ambiguity, political commentary, and resonance. If you read for escape and don’t want to think too much beyond the surface plot-line and characters you can love or hate, this book will bore or frustrate you. But I recommend it for all who love to see the layered meanings and nuances in what they read. I expect to refer back to this book again and again. (less)
Fascinating analysis and excellent writing. I'll never look at food the same way again. Read this book if you are interested in food--where it comes f...moreFascinating analysis and excellent writing. I'll never look at food the same way again. Read this book if you are interested in food--where it comes from, the processes it goes through, how it gets to us, and why any of that matters. (less)
This was the third or fourth time I've read this book. This time I listened to a recording in the car. Fascinating to read during this election period...moreThis was the third or fourth time I've read this book. This time I listened to a recording in the car. Fascinating to read during this election period. Times have changed, but principles stay the same. (less)
This is the best writing book I've ever read. It is aimed at screen writers, but is valuable for anyone telling a story in any genre. This book will a...moreThis is the best writing book I've ever read. It is aimed at screen writers, but is valuable for anyone telling a story in any genre. This book will also make you a more astute critic of films and literature.(less)
Mark Twain is a master story-teller and Joan is an inspiring heroine. I read that Twain considered this to be his greatest work. Knowing his gift for...moreMark Twain is a master story-teller and Joan is an inspiring heroine. I read that Twain considered this to be his greatest work. Knowing his gift for irony, I was impressed by how respectfully, even reverently, Twain treated his subject. He finds other characters to direct his ironic perspective toward, but never Joan. I would highly recommend this book to anyone, young or old, male or female.