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I’d been waiting for a couple of months for Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, so when it came in for me at the library on Friday, I resolved to read it this weekend and return it, because it’s in high demand.

It’s a very eye-opening read, and when I poked around a bit online I found some videos of Kondo speaking and consulting in someone’s home, folding socks and underwear, and — this one strikes fear in my heart — organizing a book collection. There are also many fan videos done by people applying the KonMari method of tidying.

Kondo’s KonMari tidying requires going through all of your belongings, systematically and deliberately, choosing what to keep, and designating a place for everything. This small book is packed with detailed examples to help you get started. What do I make of this phenomenon? When I finished the book I wanted very much to tidy. Kondo notes, “In essence tidying ought to be the act of restoring the balance among people, their possessions, and the house they live in.” The Computer Scientist and I have been striving for that for years.

In our early 30’s we read Your Money or Your Life, and decided to be more conscious of how we wanted to spend our life energy. Eventually that meant selling everything that didn’t fit in a 26 foot U-Haul and choosing meaningful work that also allowed for more family time. Today our lives are a little busier, and we’re not always as focused as we’d like on where our life energy goes, but we live in a smaller house than we have previously. Still like everyone else, we sometimes feel overwhelmed by stuff accumulating, and end up going through the garage, or a closet, or some cabinets, just about annually. We always wonder how that happens.

Kondo says that if you apply the KonMari method thoroughly, you’ll change the way you relate to things altogether, and will learn to “see quite clearly what you need in life, and what you don’t. . . .” First of all she says you shouldn’t just do a closet or even a room at a time. Also, she suggests tidying things most of us would never think of getting rid of — documents, for example, and mementos, which she says most people never look at.

She describes how freeing it is to have only what’s important to you, all kept in its place. For example, living this way means never getting stressed out looking for the thing you need — which happened to us a couple of years ago, when we were trying to track down some financial information dating back a number of years among boxes of “important” paperwork. And she notes that her clients find, “Life becomes far easier once you know that things will still work out even if you are lacking something.”

Which sounds like a “first world problem,” and it is. But she’s hit a real nerve, as the popularity of her book (which is a bestseller in several countries) and her YouTube videos can attest. A mind-shift like Kondo describes is very appealing, “If we acknowledge our attachment to the past and our fears for the future by honestly looking at our possessions, we will be able to see what is really important to us.” That’s a kind of “mindfulness of stuff,” that seems very healthy. The Computer Scientist and I are intrigued to say the least, although her “ikki ni” or “in one go” house-wide approach sounds like it would require us to take vacation time to manage it.

 

 

In this edition of The Mindful Reader I review Vermonter Barry Estabrook‘s Pig Tales: an Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat and Maine author Jessica Peill-Meininghaus‘s The Gnome Project: One Woman’s Wild and Woolly Adventure. Here’s a bit of the beginning of the column:

Vermonter Barry Estabrook isn’t a vegetarian, but his new book “Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat” might put readers off pork.

From Iowa to the Ozarks, Colorado to North Carolina, upstate New York to Denmark, Estabrook visits pig farms. He interviews slaughterhouse workers, farm hands and USDA inspectors, people living near industrial hog farms, lawyers, academics, and writers, including New Hampshire’s own Sy Montgomery. What he learns will astonish and possibly disgust readers.

You can read the rest here.

two cats   I was working at the circulation desk and saw this book come back. I decided it was a must read. It’s very short and small (only a little bigger than a 4×6 notecard), and the illustrations of the cats are wonderful. Each little chapter is a story about Patti Davis‘s cats, Aretha and Skeeter, followed by a “life lesson.” For example, Skeeter attracts the attentions of an cat named Lucas who shows his affections by spraying in Davis’s apartment, so as she notes, “Skeeter’s romance became a very smelly affair.” The life lesson for that chapter is “We can’t choose our family members’ friends. Sometimes we don’t understand those relationships, but tolerance is important.” The text and art are perfectly complementary — I love the patterns in the fabrics Ward Schumaker includes, the bright colors and bold lines. A thoughtful little book.

I was having one of those evenings when everything I picked up to read felt wrong. I’m not usually a fan of e-books but I turned to downloading a library book because it seemed like a decent way to browse a greater selection than my “to read” pile on short notice.

The book I ended up with was Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. It happens to be the second British novel I’ve read in the last couple of years that addresses euthanasia, the other being The Universe Versus Alex Woods, by Gavin Extence, which I loved. And I loved this one, too. Not necessarily because of the topic (in either case) but because of the terrific characters and excellent storytelling (in both). Both books give props to the characters’ local library, which is always nice.

Me Before You is about Will Traynor, a successful, wealthy man whose was paralyzed in an accident, and Louisa Clark, a woman whose life experience has been limited in part because she’s never been led to believe it could be anything else. The cafe where she works closes, and after a few week’s searching, Lou finds herself working as Will’s carer even though she has no experience. She’s afraid of Will’s imposing mother, a magistrate, and of Will himself, both because of his disability, which she knows nothing about, and his attitude, which is scornful. But she and her family really need her salary, and her other options are grim — the job center offered chicken processing or exotic dancing — so she is determined to figure it out.

It turns out Will’s got plenty of medical care, and that his mother hired Lou despite her inexperience because she hopes Lou can get through to her son, who can’t see any hope as a quadriplegic and doesn’t want to live. Lou says what’s on her mind, and can’t hide her emotions. She works hard to figure out how to get along with Will, who is at turns sarcastic and withdrawn.

At 27, Louisa has never left home, hasn’t traveled much, but has a lot going on in her life. Her boyfriend has become obsessed with running, her mother stays home to care for her grandfather who’s had a stroke, her father is constantly worried about being “made redundant” (laid off) and her younger sister Trina always outshines Lou, even in messing up her life. Lou’s whole family make trenchant remarks about her limitations, but they need her pay.

Will has been everywhere, accomplished everything, experienced more than Lou can even dream of. And now he can’t go anywhere without people staring, pitying, and patronizing him. Lou learns the hard way that even the well-intentioned make assumptions about what Will wants. It’s eye opening for her: “The thing about being catapulted into a whole new life—or at least, shoved up so hard against someone else’s life that you might as well have your face pressed against their window—is that it forces you to rethink your idea of who you are.”

You can guess, somewhat, where this is leading. The unlikely pair, thrown together by life’s circumstances, cue surging violin music. But Moyes makes it much more interesting than that. I especially love the way she writes about her characters. They’re real, messy, complicated people, and Moyes makes it clear that both the Traynors and the Clarks, who live on opposite sides of the town’s castle, have their ups and downs and difficult family dynamics. Moyes keeps the story fresh and right up to the end I wasn’t positive what would happen. And, I was actually weeping — not just tearing up a bit — but I didn’t feel manipulated. Me Before You isn’t a sob story. It’s just a beautiful book about people who are wholly human, who have to figure out how to do the best they can.

In today’s New Hampshire Sunday News I review two New Hampshire authors — both prolific, both excellent in their genres — Jeremy Robinson, who writes what I think of as sci-fi thrillers with a dash of political intrigue, and Margaret Porter, whose historical novels are richly detailed.

Their new books are MirrorWorld, a thought provoking page turner set right here in New Hampshire and A Pledge of Better Times, about real members of the British royal court in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s, a real treat for Masterpiece fans and history buffs. Here’s the beginning of the column:

NH writers spin altered reality of two sorts

Jeremy Robinson’s new thriller “MirrorWorld,” which comes out this week, is set mostly in New Hampshire, but not necessarily the one we know.

Josef Shiloh, former special forces soldier and CIA assassin, knows himself only as Crazy. He can’t remember anything about his life or identity and he is quite literally fearless; it’s an emotion as unknown to him as his past.

A woman appears at the mental hospital where he lives, offers him a chance to leave and takes him to a mysterious company called Neuro.

He finds out that Neuro exists to counter a race of mythical creatures called the Dread that have co-existed with humans since the dawn of time and are the source of terror and violence in the world.

– See more at: http://www.unionleader.com/article/20150426/OPINION02/150429344/0/SEARCH#sthash.JPLUvhU4.dpuf

 

Sometimes we read to enter into another life, an experience utterly unlike our own. I enjoyed Nick Hornby’s novels About a Boy and How to Be Good, so I decided to give High Fidelity a try, and it was just that sort of psychic field trip. Clearly, I will never know what it is like to be a thirty-something man who owns a record shop in London like Rob, the protagonist of High Fidelity. Yet Hornby’s gift is that for a few evenings while I read his book, I knew.

Rob’s recently split with his girlfriend Laura and he’s beginning to wonder if he’ll ever get over his earlier relationships and really be happy. His shop is struggling. His parents don’t seem to realize he’s grown up. He’s drifted away from many of his friends.

Rob narrates the book and we learn his thoughts on mix tapes, top five lists (episodes of TV shows, movies, songs, etc.), and all kinds of relationship theories and worries. If you’ve ever thought men aren’t as insecure about relationships or as worried about how they appear to others as women, this book should be illuminating. Rob is quirky but kind, and you can’t help rooting for him.

And Hornby has a real knack for packing emotional punch in Rob’s reflections. In a scene where Laura wants to be with Rob again after a brief stint with another man, Rob asks her about whether they had safe sex, and she cries, because “You were my partner just a few weeks ago. And now you’re worried I might kill you, and you’re entitled to worry.” In the next paragraph Rob speculates that it is unlikely Laura’s interim-lover put Laura or him at risk for AIDS, but notices, “. . . in truth it was the symbolism that interested me more than the fear. I wanted to hurt her, on this day of all days, just because it’s the first time since she left that I’ve been able to.” Just a few sentences, but they sum up all the tumult Rob and Laura are experiencing.

Still, I’ve enjoyed Hornby’s other books more. I especially recall loving How to Be Good. High Fidelity was enjoyable but not overly so. I’m curious about the movie now that I’ve read it though.

I’ve written before here at bookconscious about my longtime effort to practice mindfulness and my frustrations therein. Over the years I’ve realized I am mindful in my everyday life in many ways. I’m much better at being in the present moment, and at recognizing that emotions, both good and bad, will pass. I’m still not very good about meditating regularly and I’m really bad at being mindful in the face of strong emotions or stress. Which I guess isn’t so unusual, but that doesn’t make it any less aggravating.

Recently I wanted to try to reintroduce the idea of meditating to Teen the Younger (I’ve tried to interest both her and her older brother several times), and get myself back into a regular practice. I found Sit Like A Buddha: a Pocket Guide to Meditation by Lodro Rinzler very helpful. It’s a compact book, easy to slip into a purse or pocket, but it’s packed with helpful information. I’ve read a number of meditation and mindfulness books, many of which are long and go into a great deal of explanation. That’s fine and even interesting, but for someone starting or re-starting a meditation practice, basic may be better.

Sit Like a Buddha is pleasantly brief and straightforward. Rinzler covers the why and how of meditation as well as the obstacles and benefits in short chapters outlining what he identifies as ten steps to becoming a regular meditation practitioner. The steps are sensible, from figuring out why you want to do this (intention) to relaxing. The instruction is light rather than pedantic, and sets achievable goals for readers.

Rinzler is in his early 30’s, lives in New York, wears bow ties and stylish glasses, and includes situations like going to bars and fantasizing about attractive people in his writing about Buddhism and mindfulness. He also doesn’t try to separate meditation and mindfulness from Buddhist teachings, as some writers do. So I got what he was saying but as a middle-aged non-Buddhist some of the book felt like it wasn’t addressed to me.

However, near the end of Sit Like a Buddha Rinzler notes, “When I ask you to relax with who you already are, I am asking you to be you. . . . That is the point here. Meditation is just a tool to let you be you: to bring a sense that you are actually good enough, worthy enough, and kind, strong, and smart enough to handle whatever arises.” Which anyone of any age or background could benefit from. I am hopeful that this book will help me make meditation a more established habit and that it will appeal to my family.

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