Book Review: Pachinko

Book Review #22: Pachinko (Min Jin Lee)

***

I had really high hopes for this book given that I had read rave reviews everywhere and had to wait for it to become available at the library for several months. In the end, it was a satisfying read but I also felt let down. I found the writing and plot sometimes to be overly simplistic and not prone to giving enough depth to characters. I know part of that was out of necessity because the book had to cover an absurd amount of time, but I would have rather read an even longer novel that filled in some more details for me. I will say it was the first book I read from start to finish in quite some time.

Monthly Review: June

Here is my monthly review for June. If you want to read May’s, check it out here.

1. What went well this month?

Honestly, I can’t think of much. It was a hard month that felt off the rails.

2. What didn’t go so well this month?

  • Routine. For a variety of life reasons, it just felt like every structure in my life fell apart. Rhino and I were out of town for consecutive weekends, I had a week-long business trip where I could never leave the hotel, my workout friend and I had ZERO weekends we could both make, and my office was closed for a problem in the building so I was working from home everyday. And, there was an insane heatwave (reaching into the 100s every day) so even my usual long walks were difficult. I came out of the month just feeling so ungrounded and so unhappy.
  • Meditation. Because of strange timing, I had two weekend meditation retreats this weekend. And I haven’t meditated since. I feel totally burned out on the experience and like I never want to meditate again.

3. What did I work on last month and how did it go?

  • Mindfulness. Terribly. I never want to meditate again, though I have been fine with more general mindfulness.
  • Summer fun. I had a hard time enjoying myself just because everything was so busy and I couldn’t find any structure in the enjoyment. Without any disciplined time (working out, walking, eating well, productive work, etc.) it was hard to enjoy downtime.
  • Being accepting of where I am. This is fine. I have been self-compassion but I don’t know that self-compassion is what I need as much as structure and discipline.

4. What am I working toward?

  • Better structure and routine. I just really need this. I want to create a daily schedule for myself everyday that creates space for working out, the meals I will eat, my work hours, etc. I especially want this for working out because skipping the gym for me is a spiral that leads to doom. This is it. The sole goal for July.

Monthly Review: May

Here is my monthly review for May. If you want to read April’s, check it out here.

1. What went well this month?

  • Relaxation. We had 9 days off work and that was such a joy. We stayed pretty local but it felt so nice to have a real respite and spend a lot of time doing whatever we wanted. We swam in the ocean, took day trips, walked many miles each day, ate a lot of ice cream. It was just delicious all around, and we were also able to see a lot of family and friends.

2. What didn’t go so well this month?

  • Mental obsession. As my two blog readers know, I have had high anxiety over fertility. For some reason, though I can take most things as they come, I started to get overwhelmed with this fear that it would never happen. It was really, really hard to let these thoughts go.

3. What did I work on last month and how did it go?

  • New office routines. This went terribly. I hate hate hate my new office which is basically like working inside an HVAC machine. I have had real difficulty getting any work done in my office because of the noise, the lack of good lighting, and a non-working phone line for much of the month.
  • Self-compassion. I had forgotten this was a goal, but have been doing a lot of work offering compassion to myself. This has become almost an automatic behavior which is nice. I’m also much better at offering compassion to others.

4. What am I working toward?

  • Mindfulness. I have two meditation retreats coming up. One is silent (starting tonight!) running Friday-Sunday. It will be my first formal, silent retreat. The second will be more of a fun weekend retreat with my meditation friends at a cabin upstate. I’m looking forward to both, especially because both are phone free. And, I rarely take weekends out of NYC that aren’t to visit family, so that might be nice as well.
  • Summer fun. Everyone who lives in NYC knows the summer vibes are great. Our summer plans are pretty full until July 4th and then we decided we wouldn’t make any more plans so we maximize fun each weekend. Our weekend plans for the next month include a Vermont wedding, two meditation retreats (one silent, one with friends), and July 4th in CT.
  • Being accepting of where I am. This is linked to self-compassion, but I want to continue to be gentle with myself and aware of how I am doing and what I need. The concept of nurturing comes to mind — just treating myself with a loving friendliness.

Book Review: The Little Friend

Book Review #21 – The Little Friend (Donna Tartt)

*****

Wow. What a book. I can’t even think of what to say. This was a book I read, frequently, but also thought about reading when I wasn’t reading it. The only book I can compare it to is Light in August by Faulkner. There is a similarity — the gothic Southerness, the focus on race and class relations, the loss of innocence, the sense of individual people making logistically sound choices but getting caught up into a chaotic world. It’s a book about a 12-year old avenging her brother’s murder but it’s so far beyond that. Nothing much happens but also everything happens.

Donna Tartt, like Jeffery Eugenides, has written three books. Like Jeffery Eugenides, one has won the Pulitzer Prize. But unlike him, she has published each book ten years apart. Each one constructs a completely realistic and surreal world, and each one lets you go so deep into that world that it’s a struggle to let go.

Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea

Book Review #2O – A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin)

**

I really thought I’d love this book. I have been reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s blog which is amazing. I love hearing her perspective on small moments, news events, and appreciate the value she provides as both a wonderful writer and someone older, who has an interesting perspective and view of the world. A Wizard of Earthsea is arguably her best known book. Written for children (or young adults might be more accurate), I found it really complex. Maybe it just wasn’t what I was expecting. The plot was almost hesitant, and I often found myself confused and having to go back a few pages to pick up the lost thread. I was curious about the book and how it would end, but couldn’t really get into it.

Giving up on Happiness

Recently, all of my life advice has included some variation of, “You’ll never be happy.” I increasingly think this is true, not just for me, but for everyone.

Happiness at its root is essentially a neuro-chemical reaction. Your brain shifts its chemical makeup slightly due to whatever reason and your mind interprets those feelings as happiness. Almost by definition, your brain will adapt to whatever that first stimuli was, and re-change the chemical processes to remove the additional dopamine.

What does this mean?

You basically can’t sustain happiness. You can live a meaningful life in many ways, but you can’t shift your life to ensure feelings of happiness are foremost in your mind. Being happy, by itself, almost causes a shift that will eventually reverse and be experienced as unhappiness.

Since realizing this (and most credit is due to my MBSR class), I care a lot less about my mood at any given moment. I still notice and acknowledge it, but now I try to accept it regardless of whatever it is. I don’t feel guilty for being upset or strive to channel happiness. Instead, I let myself accept what is actually present which, ironically, often leaves me happier because I’m not trying to force something onto my circumstances.

Book Review: The Marriage Plot

Book Review #19 – The Marriage Plot (Jeffrey Eugenides)

**

Jeffrey Eugenides has published three books: The Virgin Suicides (adapted into a movie directed by Sofia Coppola), Middlesex (a Pulitzer Prize winner), and The Marriage Plot. I have read all three. The Virgin Suicides, which I read in my teens, I thought terrible and completely unrelateable. Middlesex, I found completely moving and phenomenal, and the Marriage Plot. What do I think about the Marriage Plot? It is a book I have seen – at the library, at the bookstore – many times, picked it up, read the back cover, and placed it back down. I do honestly believe it’s not worth reading. The characters are flat, the plot is absurd and slow-moving — there is just a completely vapid nothingness. It almost reminded me of Revolutionary Road in terms of how much of a novel you can craft around unlikable flat characters who can’t seem to learn how to be better people.