Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life (A slightly ranty review)

I am a supporter of minimalism. I believe that having a lot of possessions isn’t the solution to live a happy life, but real and positive interactions and experiences are the most important aspects of your life. I strive to be a minimalist: it’s a long and hard journey, but I will get there. Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus are the forefront of the minimalism movement. They have their own documentary, podcast, and book talking about their beliefs and ideologies. I loved their documentary and am an advent listener to their podcast, but I can’t say I have the same fiery passion for their book. Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life talks about their journey to becoming minimalists and what got them there: detailing their journey from being part of the corporate world and achieving the happy, perfect lives they ever wanted. It all seems great, in theory. There is a nagging part of their journey and movement that bothers me. Their movement, in its core, is based on privilege and ignorance.

Let’s talk about what I liked about the book, first. I did like their overall takeaway message and the advice they gave throughout. The book, while condescending, gives sound advice on how you can improve your long-term physical and mental health. Focusing on five core tenets: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution, Joshua and Ryan give very sound advice on how to grow each tenet. Everyone is great at two or three tenets, but in order to live a meaningful life you have to try and grow all five simultaneously. This is great: in a very hectic and competitive society, we seem to have forgotten about self-care and the important people in our lives. All of this doesn’t matter when pitched with the rest of the book, which is a shame.

Ryan and Josh’s journey is based on the fact that they are able to quit their jobs and spend the rest of their lives travelling and spreading the word about their movement. It’s infuriating that, for two people who understand the struggle to make enough to support yourself, they don’t understand that it’s hard to support themselves, let alone supporting others. This is privilege at its finest. The only reason why they are able to quit is because they already made enough to get by without flexing an inch of muscle. They tell you to quit your job and pursue your passion(s) if your career isn’t fulfilling any of the five tenets. In reality, not a lot of people are able to afford their current lifestyle. They still need a source of income to pay rent and put food on their table.

It’s also frustrating to “listen” to their condescending tone over and over again. I’m sure they’re nice people, and I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt, but I can’t help and feel looked down upon. They seem to say that they’re better than everyone else because they live a minimalist lifestyle. This isn’t a good way to spread a lifestyle message. It’s also important to recognise different lifestyle choices and offer alternatives for those who don’t have the same resources as they do.

This book has so much potential to spread a good message to a large audience. Unfortunately, this message is lost in a maze of condescending words and privileged mindsets. I would love to see a book about minimalism that is doable in a 9-5 lifestyle, or even a shift-job lifestyle. I wish they, or someone, can take up that opportunity.

13 Reasons Why Sucks. Here’s why.

Trigger Warning: mentions of sexual assault, rape, and suicide.

P.S. Beware of spoilers and sensitive language

 

Netflix’s show and Jay Asher’s YA novel has gained so much traction that it’s not hard not to see it everywhere on the Internet. It spread so fast and sparked a discussion around mental health that is kinda hard to ignore. But even with the theme of suicide and depression in the show, which are topics that definitely need to be talked about, 13 Reasons Why started a discussion in all the wrong directions. In fact, the show itself failed to promote the message that they tried to spread. The show sucked. The show sucked really bad, and here’s why: 13 Reasons Why, as a book and a show, glorifies and glamorises suicide and reaffirms stereotypes of suicide that many teens and young adults have about depression, suicide, and mental health.

  1. “If I die, everyone will feel sorry and the people I hate will get what they deserved, and my wishes will be fulfilled.”

This is one of the most problematic aspects of the franchise. Hannah’s suicide was treated so lightly in both the book and the show. The act doesn’t carry any weight in the books. She gets revenge through Clay. Her parents finally notice her. She gets the boy she loves to notice her. All of this would have made for a great show if Hannah was a) still alive and b) accomplished these on her own, but to portray the affects of her death like this glamorises and glorifies of suicide by making it a justifiable action.

In reality, suicide doesn’t work that way. When someone dies, they die. Sadness and grief will follow, not revenge.

  1. The scene where Hannah kills herself is graphic.

There is a guide online made by suicide prevention experts to show how to portray suicide in the media to prevent copycat suicides. And guess what? 13 Reasons Why broke all of that. In fact, the show even changed the method Hannah used to take her life, but from my understanding the book also went into detail on how she felt after she swallowed the pills. This not only sensationalises suicide but reaffirms myths about depression and mental health.

I don’t understand why Asher and the producers of the show decided to depict suicide in such painstaking detail. Are they trying to provoke emotion out of viewers? If so, they are failing miserably. It would have been more emotionally impactful if they made Hannah’s death happen off screen and sudden even in a flashback, instead of leading up to such a graphic scene.

  1. Hannah thinks that she doesn’t have anyone to talk to/ask for help.

Hannah was, in fact, surrounded with supportive adults and friends. Her parents are wonderful people. Her counsellor actually tries to help her. In the show, he can be seen putting down the phone for her, and actually asking questions because he looks out for her. Even if Hannah wasn’t comfortable telling the adults in her life, she could still go to Clay. Clay’s a positive part of her life. I don’t understand why she couldn’t go to him if she loved him so much. This solidifies a false notion that someone has to go through depression on their own. They don’t. There is help out there.

  1. Hannah is a poorly written “heroine.”

Hannah is being portrayed as the victim here, but she kills herself and drags everyone down with her. The idea of avenging yourself after your death is unrealistic and terrible. When you die, people will move on. Sure, they will be sad for sometime. Sure, your loved ones will grieve for a while, but they will move on. Avenging yourself and making them miserable for your death isn’t going to make things better. In fact, it just makes everything worse. This isn’t the role model we want to give young adults.

  1. All the characters are quite terrible.

Are we supposed to believe that every character was as terrible as they are? It makes sense in the books, since Clay listens to the tapes all in one sitting and never really interacts with anybody else… But the producers of the show could have done better. No one, not even in high school, is that one-dimensional. No one is purely evil or purely good. Hell, the characters other than Hannah and Clay are not even two-dimensional. That’s how terribly written these characters are.

I don’t believe for one bit that this is an accurate portrayal of depression, nor is it a good illustration of suicide. Heck, this isn’t even a good depiction of mental health. Asher and the show’s producers had wonderful opportunities to start a good conversation around mental health and incite powerful action to end the stigma of mental health, but they failed. They failed to achieve the goal that they wanted to fulfill. In the end, this is all just a bad story using mental health as a marketing gimmick. Unfortunately, I will give this franchise a 0.5/5

Rainbow Rowell: It’s time you and I had a talk

I tried to love Fangirl. I loved Eleanor and Park. I really did. Your writing was excellent, and I loved your characters. Poor Eleanor is relatable, and Park is amazingly crafted. But FangirlFangirl was definitely not your best work, and I know you can do better.

Your characters are great. While many of them are sometimes really annoying to read about, those are their flaws. They are well-rounded characters who are human. Cath is relatable: every first year has experienced a period of social awkwardness for a bit. Levi is a love-smitten young adult, and quite accurately so. Cath’s dad is funny, interesting, and quirky. But even good characters can’t make up for the glaring holes and inconsistencies of your book.

First, what professor is going to let a first year student that they barely know into their higher level class? From my understanding, Cath isn’t on a scholarship, nor is she a high school scholar. She’s just an average student, and this is highly unrealistic for a novel that is based on the present. I understand that you want to make your novel interesting, but this is a terrible plot hole.

Second, Cath can be an idiot. Sure, she is socially awkward, but I’m sure her social awkward-ness won’t make her stupid enough to not know where the dining hall is. Nor would it make her stupid enough not to know to report Nick for plagiarism.

Speaking of Nick, what upper year student gets through university by plagiarising and not getting caught?

There is also a non-existent plot. You start out with Cath at university, but there is no climax. There is no conflict. There is no resolution. Heck, I’m confused on what this novel is about, besides about Cath and her life at university.

I’m so sorry to do this to you, Rainbow Rowell, but I’m rating your book a 2.5/5. 

When you die in your own filth: review of Badami’s The Hero’s Walk

Here’s the thing: home is supposed to make your insides flutter. Home is supposed to be a place of comfort, and a place of joy. Home is supposed to be filled with happy memories and warm images of your parents in the dining room. This isn’t the case for the characters in Anita Rau Badami’s The Hero’s Walk. Unlike the warm and fuzzy images that stereotypically describe a family, home is merely a safety blanket for all the main characters in the novel.

The Hero’s Walk is a novel surrounding the inhabitants of Big House, a deteriorating house on Brahmin Street. After the death of Maya, Sripathi’s eldest daughter, shakes the family, Sripathi and his family must figure out their lives as they watch tradition and history crumble away in front of their eyes. They have to choose between societal pressures and doing what is right.

Even though this was an assigned reading for class, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and its content. Badami’s writing is like poetry on its own: beautiful and compelling. The work is riddled with motifs and recurring themes, which adds to the complexity of the novel. The language is straightforward and there are many interesting subplots beneath the general story.

One of the greatest parts of The Hero’s Walk is that Badami doesn’t ignore the complexities of human nature. Each character has an arc in some form, even if its subtle. Even Ammayya has a fleshed out backstory that leads to her current state of being. Each inhabitant of Big House grows in their own way. This focus on family and characters really emphasise the importance of intimacy in the novel. Even though each character has a small story line of their own, they all come together into one overarching plot: the struggle to find themselves as a result of Maya’s death.

Be warned: the novel is not a very easy one to start. The first two chapters are extremely boring and will dump character names on you like a gushing waterfall. Badami also chooses to tell us all about the characters’ personalities rather than show her readers who they are through interactions, etc. Once you get over the first two chapters, you’ll finally learn to appreciate Badami’s artistry as the story finally gets into the nitty gritty.

For a novel heavily revolving around characters and character development, Badami seems to almost skip world building all together. While we do get the general idea of what Torturpuram and Brahmin Street look like, we don’t get anything beyond the general descriptions. I cannot for the life of me flesh out what the city is supposed to look like. The story would have made a lot more sense in the beginning if I had a good image of Torturpuram in my head.

Overall, this novel is a great read if you like contemporary fiction, and really strays from the wilderness stereotype that defines Canadian fiction. It is a bit slow to start at first, but you will warm up to it really fast as a reader. I highly recommend this book, and give this a rating of 4/5 stars.

My love-hate relationship with Memoirs of a Geisha

I admit: I was very sceptical about this book before I actually dived in. I have heard many mixed reviews about Arthur Golden’s novel, and I really think it is an you-either-love-it-or-hate-it piece of literature. I decided to pick it up at the thrift store anyway, and to read it with a critical yet open mind.

I liked the book a lot better than I expected. The writing was beautiful and poignant yet really easy to understand. Golden touches on some more adult themes, like sex, in accurate and interesting perspectives. Sayuri, the protagonist, is an interesting girl, and I eventually learned to like her. I grew with Sayuri through her years of training and her career as a professional geisha. Yet, even with its beautiful writing, I can’t dismiss the many problems I had with this book.

Keep in mind that this is a work of fiction, and in no ways is an actual memoir. Arthur Golden is, after all, a white man writing from a perspective of a Japanese woman (granted he has lived in Japan for a while). The book is at best a romanticized piece of literature that is inaccurate as a whole. According to many news articles, the book is an insult to geisha and traditional Japanese culture. Golden only shadowed one geisha throughout his research, and even the geisha in question said that the book was hugely inaccurate.

Even after a week, I still have mixed feelings about the book. I feel guilty liking a book that is highly controversial yet highly praised. I will, however, give the book a solid 4.5/5 based on the writing and plot alone.

 

I don’t give a f*ck: how I view Mark Manson’s map to happier lives

Just kidding, I do give a f*ck. In fact, I probably give too many f*cks about too many things in my life. Some of these are big f*cks. I give a f*ck about my relationships, whether platonic or romantic. I give a f*ck about my academics. I give a f*ck about my job and career path. I give a f*ck about my family. Most of the time these are small f*cks that are probably insignificant, but I worry about anyway: my appearance, my laugh, my voice, etc.

Mark Manson’s “generation-defining” (according to a summary on Goodreads) self-help book is pretty self-explanatory: don’t give a f*ck. Okay, maybe don’t take that too literally. Basically, you have to give a f*ck about your life or else you’re a psychopath, but you also have to learn what to give a f*ck about and to not try. Sounds counter-intuitive, right? Not really; read the book to understand why because it’s way too complicated for me to explain to you.

Self-help books are often a hit or miss for me. I’ve read a few, but not many of them have successfully changed my life. Only Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends & Influence People has that place in my mind and heart. I find most self-help books redundant, overly positive, and too formulaic for my tastes. It’s like the self-help publishing industry thinks we are all the same.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is by no means a life-changing book, but nonetheless a very interesting one. Mark Manson’s writing is raw and isn’t afraid to leave out what he calls hurtful truths. He doesn’t shy away from obscenities if they get his point across. He doesn’t shy away from criticising the current everyone-is-special culture in schools and workplaces. He doesn’t shy away from criticising specific people, either. I don’t think he shies away from anything, really. This kind of language excites me, because it seems personal but also sets it apart from all the other self-help books out there.

I also agree with a lot of Manson’s ideas and points. Some of them actually made me reflect on my life this past year. Some of them were things my friends have said to me as part of pep talks but I didn’t really understand until now.

Again, my biggest quirk for this book is that it isn’t life-changing. I agreed with a lot of his points and his criticisms about modern society, but there are a lot of things that I won’t start incorporating into my life. These are points that I don’t think will be relevant in the near future. He seems to have ignored the point that people change in more complicated ways than he highlights in his book, which I find a lot of self-help books kind of miss out on.

The stories that Manson chose to go with his points are also kind of weird sometimes. I found them weird because I couldn’t link them with his ideas and advice, even though he points out the link a few minutes later. Maybe I’m just not a good listener to audiobooks, or maybe I’m just stupid. Who knows?

Regardless, this was an interesting read. I didn’t find this piece extraordinary, nor did I find it terrible. I will recommend it for the sake that the writing is good, but be mindful of what advice you choose to take in or not.

Final Verdict: 3.5/5

Bookish Lenses: A look at the Dresden Files book series

What is not to love about a modern wizard who loves to throw fireballs and snarky comments around? Oh, and a talking skull that loves erotic romance novels? The Dresden Files series encompasses all of that and so much more. Think giant cats, an oddly decorated car, and Harry complaining about his bachelor life.

I was first introduced to the series by a friend of mine, and I am in love with Jim Butcher’s writing ever since. While I am only on the 9th book in the series, I am very invested in Harry’s future antics and adventures.

Jim Butcher has a knack for writing interesting and gripping plots. Each book has its own unique villain, internal conflicts, and mystery. Additionally, each book in the series contains its own twist, whether it be a larger conflict or a smaller one in Harry’s mind. A lot of chapters even end with cliff hangers. I can never leave off in the middle of a chapter or a middle of a battle; I have to see what happens in the end.

The Dresden Files series also features a lot of amazing characters. Every character is well-rounded, well-developed, and well-loved by me. Everyone is flawed. Even Harry, the main character and narrator, isn’t exempt from character arcs. He morphs and shapes himself as the series unravels itself, and I like how you also grow with him. You start to like him, his friends, and even his enemies.

One of the major gripes of the series is that every book has the same story structure, and becomes redundant after a while. Yes, the twists are interesting, but I think Butcher should experiment with the story line a little bit. Tell the story from a different perspective, or make Harry succumb to his urges and desires. The books are a bit predictable.

Another thing I don’t like about the series is how it objectifies a lot of characters, male or female. I know that the books were written with references to film noir style visuals, but it gets too much sometimes.

Overall, the series is fantastic. If you’re looking for a series that is light-hearted and super easy to get through, then the Dresden Files is for you. Bonus brownie points if you love sarcastic humour.

Book Review: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Overall rating: 4.2/5

I rarely read YA books, but I made an exception for this book because I found it in the LGBT section and I’ve heard rave reviews about it. And holy crap, it did not disappoint.

Griffin, the narrator and one of the protagonists in History is All You Left Me, is grieving the loss of  Theo and tries to figure out what life will look out without his best friend/ex-boyfriend. Theo has made a profound impact on Griffin’s life, so much that Griffin is psychologically and physically hurting from Theo’s death. The story switches between past and present to illustrate their friendship, and Griffin’s emotions about it.

What I Liked

Adam Silvera has a knack for emotional writing. The book painstakingly switches between present and past so seamlessly, and I had no trouble following Griffin’s narrative at all. The story had all kinds of twists that I was crying by the end of my reading session. Seriously, I had tears in my eyes when I reached the end.

The characters were also really great: Griffin, especially. He showed the most development out of almost everyone else in the book. Some characters I hated at first, but then I learned to love them near the end. Some I just gradually found were assholes.

I love how the book touched on more mature themes, like sex, with the awkwardness of a teenage boy. It makes the narrative much more realistic and much more likeable.

What I didn’t like

The grieving process was an important part of the book, but was extremely unrealistic. Everyone grieves in different ways, but Griffin made it seem like everyone was as psychologically damaged as he was. Sure, Theo must have been a great guy, but that doesn’t mean everybody liked him.

Griffin’s parents were incredibly chill for parents, which made the setting seem off. Maybe I am just going off by my experiences, but I don’t think any parent would be really laid back seeing what Griffin was doing.

Final verdict

Overall, if you like LGBT novels and want some light reading, this book is for you. If you like good character development, this will also be up your alley. If setting and accuracy is important, then I suggest to look elsewhere.