Book review: Mates, Dates, and Inflatable Bras by Cathy Hopkins

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Sometimes a book ages well, and sometimes it doesn’t.  In the case of Mates, Dates, and Inflatable Bras, I am very disappointed to say that it was not nearly as good as I remembered.  I was obsessed with this series when I was a freshman in high school  I read all of the books.  I even had their Guide to Life, Love, and Looking Luscious.  Cathy Hopkins was my girl.  But rereading this book as a full-grown woman well into her twenties, I couldn’t help but look at it with a critical eye.

I can see what Hopkins was trying to do.  There was a whole wave of this kind of book – the lighthearted, funny, YA taking place in England.  Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging is probably the most famous of the set.  (I loved that series, but I’m terrified of what I’d think of it now.)  Katie Maxwell’s Emily series – the first book being The Year My Life Went Down the Loo – is another great example.  These books are hilarious, but they teach important life lessons.  Figuring out what you want to do with the rest of your life.  Dealing with being separated from what you know and having to make new friends.  What to do when boys start spreading rumors about you.  These books were really special to me in my formative years, and I’m glad that I had them.

But, unfortunately, Mates, Dates, and Inflatable Bras just doesn’t hold up as well as I might have expected. In it, Lucy Loverling is a fourteen-year-old girl who looks like a twelve-year-old boy. She’s all of four-foot-eight with a flat chest and a baby face.  Her most treasured friendship is threatened by a new girl in town, and her crush on a mystery boy completely overtakes her thoughts.

Lucy is, for a fourteen-year-old, surprisingly in tune with her emotions. At fourteen (and still sometimes now), I would treat an incoming emotion as something to be battled away, not something to be analyzed and remedied.  Lucy sits down, thinks about it, discusses it with her friends or her psychotherapist mother, or grabs an “Angel Card” (like a box of fortune cookie fortunes) as she comes up with a plan for how to fix it.

But for all of her emotional depth, Lucy is kind of dumb.  Take the best friend theft as an example.  Lucy and Izzie have been best friends forever.  But when new girl Nesta starts hanging out with Izzie, Lucy wants nothing to do with her.  She thinks Nesta is out to ruin her life, maliciously stealing her BFF without a second thought to Lucy.  To the reader, it’s pretty clear that Nesta means no harm. In fact, she invites Lucy to her house, often hangs out with Izzie and Lucy together, and asks Lucy if she can come over.  But Lucy spins everything out of proportion until Nesta is the worst thing that could ever happen to her.

Actually, Lucy spins just about everything out of proportion.  A bad haircut, seeing her crush with another girl, her parents being embarrassing, an essay about what she wants to do with her life – it’s all equally upsetting to Lucy.  I know that this series was written by a grown woman, but it’s almost like what a child thinks it’s like to be a teenager rather than what it actually is.

Or maybe I’m just getting old.  I don’t know.

Another thing that kind of surprised me was Lucy’s quasi-relationship.  Of course, I like to keep my reviews as spoiler-free as possible, so I’m going to try to tread lightly here.  When I first read this book, I thought Lucy’s guy was the cat’s pajamas. The bee’s knees.  Really out of this world.  Oh, if only I could find myself a boy like that, I thought.  But here’s the thing – the whole relationship is a little creepy.  I mean, the guy is three years older than her. He’s considerably more mature.  And not only that, but he’s described as a player who always wants what he can’t have, and the two of them have about five pages of interaction throughout the entire book.  As a former teenage girl, I can understand Lucy’s attraction to him.  He’s cool and cute and mysterious and, hey, I developed crushes on less than that.  But I don’t see why Hopkins put them together.  I’m sorry, but as an adult, it’s weird.  Their relationship develops out of nothing.  When I was younger, I thought it was cool. Now I’m just confused.

This is a really quick read.  It took me a grand total of about two hours to read the entire book, so I can hardly call it a waste of my time.  But I have no desire to re-read the rest of the series, and I’m very sad to find that a book I have such fond memories of hasn’t held up over the years.

For my 2016 reading challenge, I crossed off #4: a book you haven’t read since high school.

(Question: What do people in high school do for this prompt?)

Anyway, final rating: ★★☆☆☆

Book review: The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight

The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonGoodreads
Publication Date: December 29, 2015
Source: Borrowed

Are you stressed out, overbooked, and underwhelmed by life? Fed up with pleasing everyone else before you please yourself? It’s time to stop giving a f*ck.

This brilliant, hilarious, and practical parody of Marie Kondo’s bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up explains how to rid yourself of unwanted obligations, shame, and guilt–and give your f*cks instead to people and things that make you happy.

The easy-to-use, two-step NotSorry Method for mental decluttering will help you unleash the power of not giving a f*ck about:

Family drama
Having a “bikini body”
Co-workers’ opinions, pets, and children
And other bullsh*t! And it will free you to spend your time, energy, and money on the things that really matter. So what are you waiting for? Stop giving a f*ck and start living your best life today!

I was a born fuck-giver.  Maybe you are too.  As a self-described overachieving perfectionist, I gave my fucks liberally all throughout my childhood and adolescence. I tackled numerous projects, tasks, and standardized tests in order to prove myself worthy of respect and admiration from my family, friends, and even casual acquaintances. I socialized with people I did not like in order to appear benevolent; I performed jobs that were beneath me in order to appear helpful; I ate things that disgusted me in order to appear gracious.  In short, I gave way too many fucks for far, far too long. This was no way to live.

Alright, so when a book starts like this, it’s kind of obvious that I’m going to love it.  But in all honesty, this book was pretty eye-opening for me.  You see, I too care far too much about what people think of me.  I make my job more stressful than it needs to be by agreeing to help my boss with things that absolutely are not my responsibility.  I make my home life more stressful by operating on the principle that “if nobody else does it, well, I guess it’s my job now.”  I make my anxiety have anxiety by worrying about what literally everybody will think of literally everything I do.

Not giving a fuck – crucially – means releasing yourself from the worry, anxiety, fear, and guilt associated with saying no, allowing you to stop spending time you don’t have with people you don’t like doing things you don’t want to do.

Have you ever thought about exactly how much time and effort you expend in doing things you really couldn’t care less about?  And not to mention the money involved!  How many trips have you taken because you couldn’t bring yourself to say no?  How many extra tasks have you taken on at work because you wanted to improve your reputation?  How many disgusting meals have you choked down for fear of offending the cook?

For me, the answer is a lot, a lot, and a lot.

Sarah Knight gets it.  She worked for years in corporate America, sucking up to the higher-ups, following stupid rules, and doing pointless paperwork.  Then one day, she decided that enough is enough and quit her job to be a freelancer.  No longer having to worry about dragging herself out of bed in the wee hours of the morning, only to chase down a train (twisting her ankle in the process) just so that she could walk into an unappreciative job on time was life-changing.

And so she wrote this book, The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck.  And sure, the title and premise are obviously a parody of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but, having read both, I have to say that this book is about 12,000 times more interesting and 12,000 times more useful.  (And also infinitely funnier.)

Obviously, given the title, I wouldn’t suggest picking this book up if you’re sensitive to profanity.  I mean, the word “fuck” appears, in various incarnations, over 500 times in this book.  It appears so many times that my Kindle’s search function can’t even tell me how many.  But it’s that very same attitude (of saying “fuck” at least two times per page) that makes this book work so well.

The point of this book is not to be an asshole.  Knight actually goes out of her way to advise you, above all, to maintain the relationships you care about, not get yourself fired, and generally act like a decent person.  But also to do what makes you happy.  Her motto is you do you.

If you don’t care about your coworker’s venture into homemade all-natural peanut butter, don’t feel that you need to buy six jars.  If you don’t care about an acquaintance’s Kickstarter campaign, just say you have a personal policy against supporting them.  (This was actually brilliant advice – “If I support one, I’d feel like I have to support them all, and I just don’t have that kind of money.”)  If you don’t want to attend the destination wedding of an elementary school friend that you haven’t seen in ten years (and are really wondering why you were even invited), RSVP your regrets.

The amount of time, money, and energy you’ll save by not doing things you’re uninterested in (but feel obligated to do) can be incredible.  Just imagine, she says, you opt out of spending $1000 to attend that destination wedding.  Even if you send your regrets with a nice (let’s say $200) gift, you’ve still saved a net $800.  If you’re of a certain age (let’s say mid-twenties to early thirties) and opt out of every non-BFF and non-immediate family wedding you’re invited to, you could save thousands of dollars over the years.  You can then take those thousands of dollars and put them toward something you do care about, like a new car, or your retirement account, or some really great concert tickets.  As long as you respectfully decline the things you don’t want to do, you’re not going to burn any bridges.

This book might be hilarious – and more than a little profane – but at the end of the day, it has a great message.  I don’t think I’ll go into work tomorrow prepared to tell my boss to do her own paperwork, but I am one step closer to living a better life.

Book review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Series: Magic Cleaning #1
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: AmazonGoodreads
Publication Date: October 14, 2014
Source: Borrowed

Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles?

Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).

With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international best seller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home – and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.

When I checked this book out from my library, I was dead set on learning something from it. “TEACH ME HOW TO BE ORGANIZED,” I thought. “SHOW ME HOW TO GET RID OF ALL THE STUFF I DON’T NEED!” After finishing this book (six days later, an incredible length of time for a book so short) I have to confess that I know no more about cleaning and organizing than I did last week. I am, however, considerably more irritated.

First, let me say that this book is translated from the original Japanese, so some of the quirks in language may be due to translation issues. Some of the suggestions that seem weird might just be due to cultural differences. But come on, the word “tidying” shows up about thirty times per page and Kondo is just. so. judgy.

Now, let me say that for a book that praises downsizing and has the main goal of getting you to trash everything in your life that you don’t absolutely need, it is so much longer than it needs to be. On how many pages, and in how many ways, can Kondo rave about her process? Yes, I understand. I must quickly, all at once (over six months), get rid of everything that does not spark joy in my life. Then I must properly store what’s left over in a way that is respectful to the item, and respectful to my home. It’s really not a very complicated method. Honestly, it could have been summarized with a few gifs in a Buzzfeed article. But for some reason, this book is more than 200 pages.

Much of the book is dedicated to little anecdotes about Kondo’s clients. Imagine paying this woman some obscene amount of money to come into your house and tell you everything you’re doing wrong. “Does it spark joy?” she asks you. “Yes, absolutely,” you say. “Are you sure? It’s kinda ugly…” she responds. At this point, I would find myself showing her the door.

But that’s not all. Kondo won’t let you keep excess anything. One client has a toothbrush stash. Another person stockpiles toilet paper. “Get rid of it all,” she says. “You don’t need it. It’s fun to see how long you can go without it!” Um, we are talking about toothbrushes and toilet paper, right? I can’t say that a toothbrush or a roll of toilet paper has ever sparked joy in my heart, but I certainly miss them when they’re gone.

Oh, and don’t forget about that time you invited her into your home to help you purge your unnecessary possessions and got diarrhea. That’s now immortalized in her international bestselling self-help book. Congrats! (Don’t worry, it’s just a side effect of cleansing your home of toxins.)

Prepare to be judged about your wardrobe:

The worst thing you can do is to wear a sloppy sweat suit. I occasionally meet people who dress like this all the time, whether waking or sleeping. If sweatpants are your everyday attire, you’ll end up looking like you belong in them, which is not very attractive. What you wear in the house does impact your self-image.“

You know what? I don’t even wear sweatpants, but I am tempted to go buy some just to spite Marie Kondo. Let people wear what they want. Life’s too short to worry about whether some random author thinks your pants are attractive.

And then the heresy. The blasphemy. The worst paragraph I have ever read in any book:

“Books are essentially paper – sheets of paper printed with letters and bound together. Their true purpose is to be read, to convey the information to their readers. There is no meaning in their just being on your shelves.”

But, Marie, what if beautiful bookcases spark joy in my heart?

This woman really has some kind of grudge against books. I mean:

“If you missed your chance to read a particular book, even if it was recommended to you or is one you have been intending to read for years, this is your chance to let it go. You may have wanted to read it when you bought it, but if you haven’t read it by now, the book’s purpose was to teach you that you didn’t need it.”

She has clearly never done a #killingthetbr challenge.

And she’s super into wasting money. Everything about this book is wasteful. But especially this:

“Only by discarding it will you be able to test how passionate you are about that subject. If your feelings don’t change after discarding it, then you’re fine as is. If you want the book so badly after getting rid of it that you’re willing to buy another copy, then buy one – and this time read and study it.”

Or, you could, y’know, not throw away the original? By the way, she also advocates disposing of “tangles of cords” (because it’s too hard to find the one you need in that mess, so you might as well throw them all out and rebuy) and pennies (so they don’t get moldy, and since no one has ever used a penny ever).

You’re also supposed to wipe off your shampoo bottles and store them outside of the shower so they don’t start dripping with serratia (since your shower is that dirty) and hang your sponges to dry on the veranda (because everybody has a veranda, and it’s not like it’s ever winter).

I mean, I guess the book does make some good points. We can all use a little downsizing. This book, unfortunately, isn’t for everybody. And it certainly wasn’t for me.

Popsugar’s Ultimate 2016 Reading Challenge

I came, I saw, I conquered.  I was really good about this reading challenge at the beginning of the year, kind of fell off the wagon in the middle, and panic-read the last ten or so prompts in November and December.  In any case, I finished, and here’s my final list.

  1. a book based on a fairy tale: Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg
  2. a national book award winner: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  3. a YA bestseller: Hopeless by Colleen Hoover
  4. a book you haven’t read since high school: Mates, Dates, and Inflatable Bras by Cathy Hopkins
  5. a book set in your home state: Arrows by Melissa Gorzelanczyk (Wisconsin)
  6. a book translated to English: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
  7. a romance set in the future: Some Kind of Perfect by Krista & Becca Ritchie
  8. a book set in Europe: City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare
  9. a book that’s under 150 pages: Tyson Caine by Aleya Michelle
  10. a New York Times bestseller: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman
  11. a book that’s becoming a movie this year: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  12. a book recommended by someone you just metMe Before You by Jojo Moyes
  13. a self-improvement book: The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight
  14. a book you can finish in a day: Dirty Little Lies by Clare James
  15. a book written by a celebrity: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
  16. a political memoir: Outsider in the White House by Bernie Sanders
  17. a book at least 100 years older than you: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  18. a book that’s more than 600 pages: Winter by Marissa Meyer
  19. a book from Oprah’s book club: Sula by Toni Morrison
  20. a science-fiction novelArmada by Ernest Cline
  21. a book recommended by a family member: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume (recommended by my mom, my aunt, my grandmother, and several cousins)
  22. a graphic novel: Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 1 by Bryan Lee O’Malley
  23. a book that is published in 2016: Beyond the Stars by Stacy Wise
  24. a book with a protagonist who has your occupation: CPC Training Materials by AAPC (This is possibly cheating, but I could not find a book about a medical coder, and this program involved reading over 7,000 pages that did not count toward my page count or total books read on Goodreads!)
  25. a book that takes place during summerGood Girl by Lauren Layne
  26. a book and its prequel: Every Day and Six Earlier Days by David Levithan
  27. a murder mystery: Ink and Bone by Lisa Unger (originally The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, but I ended up using that for #11)
  28. a book written by a comedian: Yes Please by Amy Poehler
  29. a dystopian novel: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
  30. a book with a blue coverInvincible Summer by Alice Adams
  31. a book of poetry: His Shoes Were Far Too Tight by Edward Lear
  32. the first book you see in a bookstore: Heartless by Marissa Meyer
  33. a classic from the 20th century: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  34. a book from the library: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
  35. an autobiography: Sex in the Museum by Sarah Forbes
  36. a book about a road tripGoing Bovine by Libba Bray
  37. a book about a (sub)culture you’re unfamiliar with: Blow by Heidi McLaughlin
  38. a satirical bookWhere’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
  39. a book that takes place on an island: You Make Me by Erin McCarthy
  40. a book that’s guaranteed to bring you joy: Lured In by Laura Drewry

Book review: His Shoes Were Far Too Tight by Edward Lear

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And here we have another book that I never intended to read.

My 2016 reading challenge requires me to read “a book of poetry.” I was going to read Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, but I couldn’t find a copy. Then I was going to read Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, which isn’t quite a book of poetry, but is written in verse, so I figured it would count. After weeks of waiting for my hold to come in at the library, I found that there were still three people ahead of me, so there would be no way to even receive it before the end of the year. Eventually, frustrated and nearly giving up, I filtered my library’s database by “genre: poetry” and “status: available.” There was one book. This was it.

I’m not really a poetry kind of person. I remember when we did a whole poetry unit during my sophomore year of high school. We spent every day of English class analyzing poems. “Fill the margins with your observations,” the teacher would demand. “Analyze the language. Analyze the rhyme scheme. Discuss the imagery. Why do you think the author chose to make the curtains gray? What does the fact that he references a pine tree rather than a maple tree mean?” UGH. I otherwise loved that teacher, but she absolutely killed any desire to ever read a poem again.

Can’t a poem just be a poem? Can’t we just appreciate it for the way it sounds and the feelings it evokes? So, obviously, with that said, I’m not going to be doing an in-depth analysis of these nonsense poems.

What I will say is that I can see how children would appreciate these poems. They are silly. The words don’t always make sense. They’re definitely made to be read aloud. The illustrations are cute. I probably would have enjoyed this book more as a child than I did as a twenty-six-year-old only picking it up to fulfill a checkbox on a reading challenge, but all in all, it wasn’t a bad way to spend thirty minutes on a Wednesday night.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆