Finding happiness

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Title: The Happiness Project

Date Completed: 4/22/2011

Author(s): Gretchen Rubin

Copyright: 2009, HarperCollins

# pages: 292

Genre: Self Improvement

ISBN: 978-06-158325-4

 A lot of books where the author undertakes a year to find themselves involves moving to the other side of the earth or giving up all of their earthly goods.  For most of us, it isn’t an option because we don’t have the book advance from the publisher to live on while we are ‘finding ourselves.’  Gretchen Rubin didn’t undertake radical changes.  She didn’t move, she didn’t sell everything, and she didn’t become a vegetarian.  She just focused on the little things that she could do every day to make herself happier.  Most importantly, she was happy before she started the project.  It turns out that you don’t have to be in the middle of a crisis in order to look for happiness. 

 For me, this book falls into the ‘I’ll just read one more chapter, and then I’ll go to bed’ category.  Partly because it is a good book, but also because I’m pretty sure Gretchen and I are kindred spirits.  First of all, she is from Kansas City, and we all have a tendency to like famous, successful people from our own town.  But, also for less superficial reasons. We have a lot in common.  She does things that I do that I didn’t think anyone else on earth did.  When you find out that there is someone else in the world with the same idiosyncrasy as you, I think it is natural to feel an instant connection with them.  One of those idiosyncrasy was a major factor in me starting Building a Bookshelf.   Rubin is a voracious reader and takes notes on the books she reads, sometimes for no real reason.  I do the same thing.  I take notes, and I write book reviews.  Why?  Up until starting BaB, just because I liked to do it.  Of course, now, it is an avenue for raising money through our ongoing Read-a-Thon.  I’ve got notebooks full of obscure details from books I’ve read going back probably about 10 years. 

 One thing that I really like about this book is that it really motivates you to feel like you can make a difference in your level of happiness by making small changes.  Rubin makes happiness obtainable.   She also makes it ok for people who are already pretty happy with their lives to become more happy.  That, in my opinion, is what really sets this book apart.  You don’t have to be in a bad place in order for this book to help you become happier.  There is something for everyone in here.

Give it a Try

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Title: Poke the Box

Date Completed: 4/13/2011

Author(s): Seth Godin

Copyright: 2011, Do You Zoom, Inc.

# pages: 84

Genre: Self Improvement

ISBN: 978-1-936719-00-6

 This book is a quick little read that will inspire you to get off the couch and do something.  The main focus of the book is that you need to try different things and be willing to fail at them in order to make any meaningful progress in your life.

 If you’ve been following my book reviews, you know that this is a philosophy that I strongly believe in.  I’m a serial starter.  I fail all the time, but I’m the kind of person that gets a wild hair and gives something a go – not worried about what it will look like if I ‘fail.’  Ok, not worried all the time about what it will look like.  We all have our moments.

The overall gist of the book is that if you don’t try, you’ll never know.  It is better to try and fail than not try at all.  This is really the attitude that I had to have in order to start Building a Bookshelf.  Once I got over the worry that I might not be able to give away a huge number of books, it was much easier to start.  I went into it with the attitude that if I gave 20 kids books (which, of course, I could do on my own without starting a charity!), I would have made a difference.  And, what has happened?  We’ve given away almost 1,700 books in just under a year!

Science at the Kitchen Table

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Title: Biopunk: DIY Scientists Hack the Software of Life
Date Completed: 4/9/2011
Author(s): Marcus Wohlsen
Copyright: 2011, Penguin Group USA
# pages: 209
Genre: Science
ISBN: 978-1617230028
I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of this book before it hits the shelves (althought it was released April 15th). Those of you who read my book summaries on a regular basis will know that I flirt with science quite a bit. I guess part of being a life-long learner is that you get involved with a lot of topics that have nothing to do with your day-to-day life. This is one of them.

This is a book about a trend that is sweeping the nation – DIY science. The easiest way to explain it is to use a very familiar example: technology. In the last five years, it has become common-place for people to start technology companies out of their garage. They figure out how to build an app that integrates with Facebook and they are suddenly running a big business. Facebook didn’t give them permission or have anything to do with it. It’s what open source coding is all about. Put the code out there so that anyone can improve upon it.

DIY science is the same. There is a story about a woman who developed a test for a genetic disease in her kitchen using household appliances. Her family has the disease, and the test is very expensive, so she decided she’d create one for less. For someone like me, who didn’t even take biology in school, this seems like something that could only be done by possibly the most intelligent people on earth. I’m dumbfounded by the thought that someone could, in the comfort of their own home, invent a test that involves DNA.

I mean, it seems like DNA is such a complex piece of engineering that it must be dealt with in sterile, white labs with men and women who wear long lab coats. Not a girl in her pajamas at her kitchen table. But, that is where technology has gotten us. It is just absolutely amazing.

The book really opened up my eyes to the possibilities that are out there. If you think about where we were with internet technology 10 years ago (can you say dial-up?), and think about where we are now, apply that same leap of sea-change to science and imagine what we could accomplish.

DIY science is a reaction to the institutionalized science that is being slowed down by corporate bureaucracy. As Wohlsen points out (page 4) “…life sciences as practiced by academics, corporations, and the government are hamstrung by politics and bureaucracy in ways that make cumbersome the beneficial applications of the latest life-science discoveries. They also believe that computers, genetics, and engineering are fast converging toward a single point where tinkerers and hobbyists without advanced degrees will soon be able to perform sophisticated feats of genetic engineering at home.”

This is a great book for anyone who has an interest in science, or wants to see advances in medicine at greater rates that we’ve seen them so far. You don’t have to know science to read this book. It is written so that people with no scientific background can understand the science. If you’ve got a teenager with an interest in science, you should have them read this book. It will inspire them to broaden their horizons beyond the typical research lab.

Girl Power!

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Title: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
Date Completed: 3/24/2011
Author(s): E. Lockhart
Copyright: 2008, Hyperion Teens
# pages: 342
Genre: YA Fiction
ISBN: 978-0-7868-3818-9

This is the second Young Adult (YA) book that I’m reading to support FirstBook’s Blogger Book Club. First Book is an organization that provides books to children in need through programs like ours. Many of the books that Building a Bookshelf has given away have come from First Book.

Frankie Landau-Banks is a girl who sees clearly into the murky waters that define life in high school. I loved this book on a couple of different levels. But, before I get ahead of myself, let me give you a teaser of the plotline for the book.

Frankie is an invisible Freshman, who becomes the very visible girlfriend of the senior ‘man on campus,’ before ultimately becoming invisible again. This all happens in the backdrop of an elite private boarding school where Frankie’s dad was a member of the secret all-male Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds society.

One of the first reasons I loved this book is because it doesn’t follow the typical ‘girl pines over the popular boy, girl gets the popular boy, girl gets jilted by the popular boy’ format. Don’t get me wrong. That is exactly what happens. But the refreshing part of the story is that Frankie never loses herself in her boyfriend. She starts to on several occasions, but she always reminds herself that she is not defined by her beau. I think this quote from the book (page 103) does a perfect job of summarizing: ‘They [girls] are so focused on their boyfriends that they don’t remember they had a life at all before their romances, so they don’t become upset that the boyfriend isn’t interested.’

I think this book is a great way for girls to learn that they should not lose themselves in the boys that they will inevitably have crushes on. Frankie gets the guy and still has her own life. Refreshing.

Second, I like this book from an adult professional woman perspective. After nearly 20 years in the corporate world, I am constantly struggling with the ‘good old boys club’ that is pervasive in our culture. There are many, many times that I’m the only woman in the conference room. On a day-to-day basis, this doesn’t bother me. But there are times when I know that there is something more under the surface that I’m not privy to because I’m not part of the club. This is the exact situation that Frankie finds herself in. Her boyfriend and all of his pals are part of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds. They think that Frankie doesn’t know about it. They may be clever, but not that clever.

As I read the book, I just kept thinking that what Frankie encounters with the Basset Hounds is what she will encounter the rest of her life as she gets out into the professional world. However, she will have a leg-up because she has already learned a way [not to] push back against the good old boy network. I’m cheering for Frankie – I see great things in her future!

Stay True To Yourself

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Title: The Witch of Portobello
Date Completed: 3/18/2011
Author(s): Paulo Coelho
Copyright: 2007, Harper Perennial
# pages: 268
Genre: Fiction
ISBN: 978-0-06-133881-6

This book caught my eye because I’d read another of his books a few years back. This is an interesting book because the main character is presented to us through the eyes of people in her life. We never hear from the main character directly.

This is an interesting concept to me because I’ve always thought about the fact that we all see people from our own perspective, and by default, our impression of every person we come into contact with is actually a reflection on ourselves.

I frequently think about people I work with whom I don’t particularly like. Maybe this guy talks to much, or that woman is always finding someone else to blame her underperformance on. But, I have thought on many occations about the people that these coworkers are married to. I think about their parents, their children, and the people they go out to dinner with on Saturday nights. Any person in my life who I don’t particularly like has multiple people in their lives who love them and want to spend time with them.

So, what does that say about the world we live in? I think it says that we each bring our own version of the truth to light when we understand that our version isn’t the only one.

The Witch of Portobello is a woman who stays true to herself, even when it others don’t understand her. She doesn’t follow conventions of any sort, but holds steadfast to her path in life. In the end, the hardships of being a little different are outweighed by her knowledge that she has always been exactly who she is supposed to be.