Monday, February 23, 2015

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

I don't make new year's resolutions anymore, but I have noticed one tradition that feels like it might be exactly that in disguise: Every year, right around New Year's, I read a book about organizing. Many years were brought in with books on Feng Shui, some with books on organizational strategies, this year, a couple of days after Christmas, Marie Kondo's book jumped out at me at my local Barnes & Noble. The title alone, held promises that no book before had done - it is called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing.

Tidying Up?!

Without even reading the back cover, I knew this book was coming home with me.

I have read it through twice so far and plan to go through it once more.

This is not to imply that the book is complicated, or that this art of decluttering and organizing is a complex one that requires some intricate mastery. It is because I can hardly believe its simplicity.

In this book Marie Kondo lays out her "KonMari" method of tidying up. It entails one no-holds barred attack on all of your things and, Kondo ensures her readers - BAM! - your life will be changed. She claims that after going through the intense process of truly deciding what you want to surround yourself with in your home, you will never turn back to your disorganized ways. While I have read this claim before, I must admit there are some things about this technique that ring true to me.
1. The time and dedication you must devote to this process.

Let me begin with the intensity of Kondo's technique. She says, done correctly, this method usually takes approximately six months. How could this be? I wondered, until I had a full grasp of what I would be undertaking with the KonMari method. In this method you must literally hold every piece of clothing, every single thing you own, in your hands and ask, "Does this bring me joy?" Just imagine for a moment how long that will take. If I were dedicated enough to devote all of this time to making this happen, I can be pretty sure I'd have to be crazy to turn my back on it in the end.

2. The focus on joy.

Did that question - "Does this bring me joy?" - strike you as odd? Probably not. It seems simple enough, but how often, when organizing, do we focus on what we should keep? I know, for me, whenever I get into one of my moods it is all about how much I can get rid of. The KonMarie Method takes the complete opposite approach, and this is one of the reasons I have been rereading this book - this is a complete paradigm shift for me! Imagine for a moment if you only kept things around you that truly brought you joy - not things that are convenient, or there to please someone else - just the stuff that makes you happy. I think once you got to that point, you'd never clutter up your space with things that bring you down again!

3. The order.

Marie Kondo has a specific order that she instructs us to approach our tidying:
"Start with clothes, then move on to books, papers, kimono (miscellany), and finally things with sentimental value." (Mondo, p.65)
As I'm sure you can tell, the order is to approach our things in an order which increases in difficulty. The hardest stuff to get rid of is at the end so that we have perfected our technique for deciding what brings us true joy, so we are already seeing an impact when it comes time to tackle that stuff that almost always leads to giving up. It's one of those things that feels like common sense the second you get to the end of the sentence, but - if you are being honest with yourself - you never thought of doing before.

My Review
So - yeah - I'm excited about this book. It is an easy read that makes you feel confident in your ability to change your life with its proposed "magic." Does it work? I can't say for sure yet, I have only just begun, but I do find myself looking at my things very differently now that I have begun to search for the joy-givers. There is no guilt about donating, selling, or even just throwing away things that do not serve me well anymore. For me that's a huge step in the right direction!

If you are fascinated with various organizational techniques, or are looking for this kind of life-changing magic, then I invite you to join me on this adventure. Get a copy of this book and let me know what you think. If you've already begun (or finished!) going through the KonMarie method, let us know how it went for you!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Writing Group Rules
Sometime in the past year, after my son was born, I went from being a member and co-organizer of my local writing group to being the organizer of it. It isn't a huge shift in responsibilities, but when it comes to making any "big" decisions I guess I get the last say. Earlier this month, the service we use to host our group, changed its pay scale and, as a part of that change, is now charging more for groups with 50 or more members. Although our meetings never exceed eight members, we had 82 members on file. I decided it was time to make our membership reflective of our participation. In order to do so fairly I created a set of rules for the group to follow in order to determine who was serious about maintaining their membership. Here's what I came up with:
Staten Island Writers Rules and Regulations

1. You will RSVP either yes or no to announced meetups. Evidence of your lack of participation on this level will result in removal from the group.

2. You will change your RSVP to no if you are unable to attend. More than two unexplained no shows will result in dismissal from the group.

3. You will be an active participant in the activity at the meetups. In other words, you will write something for the writing prompts during writing meetings and you will come prepared with comments during critique meetings. More than two incidents of lack of participation will result in removal from the group.

4. You will be a patron of the venue hosting our meetings while we enjoy their space. Keep in mind when we spend hours in these places for our own personal growth and enjoyment, we are taking valuable space away from paying customers. A slight nod of gratitude with even the smallest of purchases is little to ask for what they provide us.

5. Finally, it is imperative that we all remember the purpose of this group - to support each other in the incredibly personal and, oftentimes, vulnerable act of writing. For this reason there must be some mention of comfort level and personal feelings. If any of the organizers have been informed of any discomfort as a result of one of the members of the group, a private discussion will be held in order to see if a solution can be found. Our goal is that all members feel safe and confident in sharing their writing with a group of peers who are supportive of their growth in their art.
I kept it short (in Education the rule of thumb is 3-5 rules for a class, anyway). The response has been good so far and, in at least one case, these rules have been enough to light fire in the belly of one "shy" member who showed up this Sunday and seemed super cool.

I now need to create a "how to" message concerning our critique meetings. I have been getting a nice response to our writing prompt meetings, but not so much for the critiques. I feel that this is in large part due to the fact that many of the members do not have a full understanding of what is required of them when it comes to critiquing.

What do you think of these rules? Would they intimidate you, or would they encourage you to participate in the group?

Does your writing group have a set of rules in place? If so, what are they?

And - I need your help! - what are some of the essential elements of critiquing that you needed to learn about before becoming comfortable with helping your fellow writers?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Audiobook Review: The Swap by Megan Shull

I have one question: where was Megan Shull's The Swap when I was in middle school, or even high school?!

I know the old adage says not to judge a book by its cover, but it really hasn't steered me wrong yet. In another desperate quest to occupy my brain with something other than the piled up dishes and baby bottles my hands were getting prune-y washing (my dishwasher has been broken since this last holiday season), I scrolled through my library's available digital downloads and came across a book cover with a pair of Converse sneakers on them. That's all I needed. I had no idea what The Swap was even about when I started listening. However, the moment one of the main characters began to talk about the unexplained crumbling of the the relationship between her and her best friend, and the way this supposed friend was treating her, it was as if each scene started picking at old scabs I had long thought healed.

Here's the premise - a 7th grade girl, Elie, and an 8th grade boy, Jack, mystically switch bodies on the first day of school after a chance encounter in the office of the school nurse. The girl is being raised by her mother alone, due to a divorce, and currently dealing with some girl drama at the hands of her aforementioned "best friend." The boy is being raised by his retired-military father along with all of his brothers, due to the death of their mother. He is dealing with the pressures of growing up in a masculine and rigid home environment without the balancing energy of his mother.

What I Love About This Book

For its targeted audience - middle grade/high school students - this book does something I can't remember seeing before: it shows the challenges each of the sexes have in growing up, through the perspectives of the other. While girls often think, "it is so much easier to be a boy," this story demonstrates what types of difficulties boys run into while growing up in their own "boy culture." On the other hand, seeing the mean girls through the eyes of a male character, gave a perspective and balance to them and how to deal with them that I believe few girls have when living through the drama. It was definitely a fun read and, I believe it would have been a huge help to me personally as I was growing up.

What Messed With My Head With This Audiobook

Both narrators (there was a male and female narrator) were perfect for this book and truly helped keep me in the right frame of mind while the characters were in each other's bodies.  I wonder if this would have been a little bit more difficult for me to imagine had I read the print version of the book. The only issue I had was that the male narrator was Percy Jackson. What I mean is that Jesse Bernstein has been the narrator for all of Rick Riordan's books about the Olympians and Percy Jackson, so, for about one hour of "reading" I couldn't help but picturing Percy Jackson in this story. I kept waiting for some sort of mythological character to hop out and take credit for the body switch. It was an interesting dilemma, and possibly a first for me, because I can't think of any other narrator that I am so familiar with.   

The Recommendation

If you have a middle grade girl in your life who seems to be feeling the pains of the social scene they find themselves a part of, or a middle grade boy who may be getting overwhelmed by all the pressures to "be a man," I think this is a great book to send their way. I am curious as to whether or not the print version will be as powerful, but I don't know if kids these days have embraced the audiobook scene. I also think many high school students would enjoy and benefit from this book, but I wonder if they would feel insulted that you are recommended a "kid's book" for them to read. Know your readers, ladies and gentlemen, and recommend accordingly!

A question for you to answer in the comments section:
Is there a book - or group of books - that you have come across as an adult that you simply wished were available to you at another point in your life?

Monday, February 9, 2015

400 Words Per Day: Advice From Terry Pratchet

400 words per day does not sound like a lot, but it adds up quickly. Just do the math:
  • in one week you'll have 2,800 words,
  • in thirty days you'll have 12,000 words,
  • in half a year you'll have 72,000 words, and
  • at the end of 365 days you'll have written 146,000 words (that's the equivalent of about two novels!).
According to an excerpt from Terry Pratchett's nonfiction collection A Slip of the Keyboard, this was his rule - no matter what else was going on in his life, he wrote 400 words per day. This is an author so prolific, at one point he could be relied upon to release, without fail, two books per year. 

I have never read a Terry Pratchett book before, though he's been recommended to me a number of times, so to heed his advice before deciding whether or not I am a fan of his craftsmanship may seem ill-advised to some. However, I feel that whether or not I actually enjoy his special brand of wacky scifi/fantasy, I must respect his writing routine. It is simple, non-overwhelming, and yet, extremely productive. Rather than racing to the finish of a book with the fervor of a nanowrimo-type writing sprint, or working at the life-consuming rate of another writing giant, Stephen King, Pratchett takes on the slow and steady consistency of writing just a little bit every day (I'm getting the impression that I may always lean toward some turtle-like discussion when referring to Pratchett...). It is the type of routine I can embrace.

In the midst of a "where can I find the time for writing?" discussion, I shared Pratchett's advice with my writing group today. It was agreed that 400 words was a "doable" amount of writing regardless of our schedules. It almost seemed too small to make any kind of difference. But it was doing that math that really brought the impact home.We, who say that there is no time to write, could feasibly have two novels worth of words written by this time next year, simply by writing 400 words per day. It was uplifting to think about. It was exciting to share. It is now time to implement.

Fellow Writers:
Do you have a regular writing routine?
Have you ever found yourself saying "I have no time to write?"

Pratchett Fans:
It is likely that I am going to delve into Pratchett's fiction very soon - where do you think I should begin my journey? 

Update: I found this chart for reading the Discworld series (from What is your opinion on the suggested reading order?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Crying Tears of Book Joy

I don't know if it is mommyhood, or too many episodes of Parenthood, but I have become a crier. My twelve year old self would be so ashamed. She deserves it, of course, for all of the times she made fun of her own mom for crying at the drop of a sappy commercial. This week I have found myself utterly overwhelmed by the world of books.


While I have always known about the awards for children's books such as the Caldecott and the Newbery, I never realized that there was actually an award event or that, in this day and age, it has become available to view via livestream. Monday morning I stumbled upon this wonderful bit of information thanks to some wonderful person I follow on Twitter.

When I started watching, the show had already been running for an hour and they were in the middle of describing an award I had never heard of. I watched the slides slip by and then, when the first honored book was named, the tears started flowing. My reason was simple - the crowd had erupted in cheers. A large group of people were celebrating books in an incredibly exciting way.

As a stay at home mom (and - before that - a stay at home sick person) my exposure to what gets society excited is limited. I had begun to believe that only boy bands, reality TV stars and sports stars were the only things that really got people cheering these days. I began to worry about the world I was raising my son in. Would I and my husband be the only ones celebrating literature - I mean truly celebrating it? The fantastic answer to that question is no.

That was day one of my crying tears of book joy.

It didn't end there.

Tuesday was another thing entirely.

Go Set A Watchman

I was alone in the house. The baby had been shipped off to grandma's because I had an appointment with one of my specialists (an appointment that could take upwards of five hours). I decided to take a quiet moment to scroll through my Facebook feed before really getting up for the day. I came across a story from Book Riot that jolted me upright: Second Harper Lee Novel Coming in July.


I read. I scrolled. I shared the link. I read the original article from the Associated Press. I hopped around the Internet. The tears - again - came. Not only was there going to be another book from Harper Lee, but this book would have Scout and Atticus in it as well.
  In that moment and for a number of hours after I lived in a world of sheer book joy. July 14th could not come fast enough for me.

However, a shadow hangs over this announcement as the people of the Internet started putting some facts together that I did not. Most notably, how this is all happening after the death of Harper's sister and protector, Alice. From Jezebel's article on the controversy:
In the past, Lee affectionately referred to her sister Alice as "Atticus in a skirt." Not just because she was an amazing lawyer, but because she was the protector who shielded Harper Lee from the publishing world and press attention that she was so adamantly repelled by.
Alice is gone and a secret book is "found." Perhaps Harper wanted it to stay hidden. One hates to be so skeptical in the light of such good news, but I fear the worst is true here and it hurts my soul to think that Harper Lee might be taken advantage of again.

I will read Go Set a Watchman, but I would like to know where my money is going before I actually buy it. I need Harper Lee to know I appreciate her, her writing, and not the suspicious characters around her.

This news does not take away the book joy I feel for the possibility of more of Harper Lee's words in my life. I just hope she gets to feel at least a fraction of the joy she is spreading around the world with them.