10% Happier

10% Happier- How I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found self-help that actually works- A True Story, by Dan Harris, tells his own story of how he came to mediation but it also serves as a reference for many other religious or self-help books. He includes brief synopsis of what the main teachings are for many of the teachers out there.

I found this book after spending a weekend at a meditation retreat. It was recommended for beginning meditators by several different participants. I was able to read it faster than any other book in the last couple of months. It helped clarify some aspects of meditation that I was working on, like clearing my mind, how to get comfortable, how difficult mediation can be, etc. He includes many helpful types of mediation and I really enjoyed the compassionate meditation, where you focus your compassion on others as part of your practice.

I really enjoyed how honest Dan Harris was about his approach to meditation and how others in his life viewed this new passion of his. He’s helping mainstream meditation and showing how meditation can help with real life challenges.

Great read and exactly what I need in my life right now. Highly recommend for anyone having a hard time turning off their inner voice.

Read November 2016.

A Walk in the Woods

I loved this book! Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods makes me want to take a couple months off from life and venture into the wild. When the only thing that matters from day to day is getting to the next camping spot. He documents the frustrations and challenges, but the beauty of just walking sounds wonderful.

The information about the Appalachian Trail and how nature is being destroyed in places and preserved in others, is an honest discussion about how Americans use their wild spaces. In such a large country its good to know that there are people working hard to save the woods as close to what they were before America happened. On the other hand, I’m not surprised at the inefficiency of bureaucracy and government as well as the opportunists who want to make some money without worrying about the destruction they may be causing.

This was a well-written book about a very interesting topic. I’m not usually a fan of non-fiction, but there’s something about this book, and also Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, that help me realize how hectic my normal life is and how nice it is to think about escaping from it all.

Read June 2016

Primates of Park Avenue

Primates of Park Avenue, by Wednesday Martin, was a hard book for me to read. Martin is a humorous writer and her quirky anthropologic observations of Upper East Side (UES) women amused me. But there’s just something hard for me to stomach about how much these women invest in their appearance and their children, which just seem to an extension of their appearance.

At one point Martin roughly calculated what an average UES women spend yearly on their appearance…$95,000. Which is insane!! These women are highly educated, run charitable organizations, and are married to extremely powerful men and they value how they look more than any work they can do. And the men are ok with this. The worst is that the women don’t seem to be enjoying themselves after spending this much money on themselves.

This novel made me value the people I surround myself with so much more. If I wear the wrong yoga pants, or do the wrong work-out, or really choose to sit around and get fat, no one will judge me as harshly as these women judge each other and themselves. Again, these are highly intelligent women who get lost in their crazy world and just don’t seem happy. Or maybe they are. I really hope they are.

Interesting read.

Read April 2016

Modern Romance

Aziz Ansari’s book about dating in the 2010’s, Modern Romance, goes in depth about what its like to try to find love in the modern, technological era. It opened my eyes into things I wouldn’t have otherwise known, like there are apps out there if you just want to hook up with someone for the night! How crazy! I felt a little old reading it and it feels weird to write, but I met my husband the old-fashioned way…in college. How is that the old-fashioned way?!? Apparently people can’t meet each other in the real world anymore. Anyway, this was a very well researched and written book told in Ansari’s comic tone.

Highly recommend!

Read December 2015.

The Boys in the Boat

In, The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown tells the story of a group of college students from the University of Washington, raised during the depression, who went up against the elite, rich teams from the east coast schools and around the world, and took home the gold medal in Berlin in 1036.

Brown mostly focuses on Joe Rantz, a boy who was abandoned in western WA by his father and step-mother as a teenager, but worked hard and saved money to pay his way through school.

There are many emotional roller-coasters in this story, even knowing the end ahead of time. Brown educated me on all aspects of rowing as a sport and the equipment that they used at the time. So many things came together to have this rowing team defeat the great teams of the Eastern elite schools and the European teams who’s life and training were subsidized by their governments.

I’m not usually interested in non-fiction, but this story gripped me from the beginning. There are so many stories from how the boys earned money during one of the poorest eras in the country’s history, to interactions in Nazi Germany, that it kept my interest from beginning to end.

Great stories, very well told!

Read November 2015.

Bonk

Mary Roach’s Bonk is about sex. The boring academic studies as well as some very interesting personal experiences involving the author, her husband, and an ultrasound wand. And she does it in as much of a non-clinical way as possible. Well, at least most of it was. From the beginning I was drawn in to her crazy world of sexual physiology and stories of how the scientists risked their academic reputations to get some of the information that we take as common place today.

I was floored that for years it was “common knowledge” that a woman needed to orgasm in order to get pregnant and if a woman was infertile that the man was to blame. Based on the misogynist history of almost every culture, this was very surprising.

There were some more scientific sections where Roach lost my interest, but then she’d often bring it back to some study where people had sex in front of researchers in Alfred Kinsey’s attic, and for the most part my interest returned. The book was a little too long to keep my interest all the way to the end. I think there’s only so much sex I care to read about before wanting to return to the world of fiction. A friend that reads a lot about the pelvic floor muscles and vaginal walls said this was the best book on the subject she’s ever read and said she laughed out loud on many of the scientific topics. I don’t read much on the topic, so many of these sections were dry to me, but very interesting to someone more versed on the topic.

Overall, I enjoyed to book and the discussion that it prompted amongst my friends and husband. The first half of the book flew by and was very enjoyable. It dragged for me by the end, but the I think if a reader has a little more interest in the science of sex, emphasis on the science part, the whole book would probably be enjoyable.

Read February 2015

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – A Year of Food Life

Barbara Kingsolver and her family chose to live and document their challenge to live a year on locally produced foods, either from their own modest farm or their surrounding farms. I initially listened to the first half of the book as an audiobook which I normally enjoy. But for Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – A Year of Food Life I didn’t like it. Barbara Kingsolver may be a great story teller, but I found her voice to be just shy of whiny. Maybe I spend too much time around toddlers, but I had a hard time listening to the book.

Once I got ahold of a hard copy, I breezed through the book. The premise is very interesting to me. I live as a vegetarian due to the environmental impact of a meat based diet. The idea that eating a banana in the middle of the winter is more destructive that eating meat intrigued me. I can’t say that I fully subscribe to the idea of eating locally as a sustainable diet, but this book made me think about the produce that I purchase on a regular basis. I’ve also started paying attention to the flavor of fruits and vegetables when they’re in season versus out. Before reading this book, I already dabbled in homemade items like sauerkraut, sourdough bread, and kombucha, but after reading I successfully made my own mozzarella cheese. While daunting and hot, I did feel a weird pleasure eating cheese I made from scratch. Although, to be honest I didn’t think it tasted better and the cost of the milk plus cheese products didn’t make it cheaper to make.

Kingsolver really let the reader into her farm and family. She has her oldest daughter and husband write excerpts in the book based on their experiences and findings which add to the depth of this family experiment. Overall, I enjoyed the facts of the book and many of the side stories of other farmers and locavores, but I found myself getting bored with some of the details.

Overall, this was an interesting read and would recommend for its insight into our food system as well as the storytelling.

Read Decemeber 2014.