When Less Becomes More : Making Space for Slow, Simple and Good by Emily Ley

Among the numerous books recently published on decluttering, minimalism and general advice on simpler living, When Less Becomes More is the latest entry in a long list of books with techniques and tips to make our lives more meaningful and simple.  I always seem to gravitate toward checking out these types of books, which all have practical information coupled with inspirational advice.  Emily Ley, who began creating planners and has expanded to books, has many helpful stories and antidotes that she has learned throughout her life and now is sharing with her readers.  She divides the book into multiple chapters each dealing with a certain issue and how to take small steps to enjoy things in moderation but without having them first and foremost in your life.  Below I’ve highlighted a few sections of the book and these include Ley’s personal stories peppered in between her advice.  She gleans a lot from her own life and how she built her business and other stories, which is helpful and makes her more relateable to her audience.  My only criticism of the book is that it would be more effective if she included more concrete tips of how to achieve these ideas / themes, no matter your personal situation.

Rush – With all the commitments that women have these days, Ley suggests saying a polite but firm, “no,” to things you are not passionate about and to question where you put your energy and priorities.

Technology  – Ley asks if there is beauty in a more analog existence and provides examples of times you may be able to turn off technology and do more connecting to the world and people around you.

Noise – Not only physical noise, but the noise you create with a busy life.

Wellness – Taking cues from your surroundings and yourself, focusing on what is best for you, both inside and out.

Chasing – Finding contentment with what is already around you and knowing when enough is enough.

As with many of these types of books, some of the suggestions and examples are clearly not for everyone.  In my opinion, these are good ideas but not everyone’s road to a simpler, more meaningful life will be the same.  Some of these tips are not feasible for everyone and some are easier to implement in your life.  When Less Becomes More has some good takeaways, similarly to other books in the genre, and are clearly the author’s take on this timely subject.  Even if you do not choose to do make every lifestyle change, this book is a good introduction to leading a not so hectic life.  If you are interested in jumping on board or if you are already familiar with the concept, When Less Becomes More is more reinforcement!

 

 

Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

Recently I’ve been reading books about sisters and how their relationships change over many years. Jennifer Weiner is one of my go-to authors for when I ‘m looking for books about sisters. Her newest book, Mrs. Everything, takes the idea of nature vs nurture and expands upon this to how the world changes us or if we change irrelevant of our surroundings.

Mrs. Everything  by Jennifer Weiner discusses the lives of two sisters, Jo and Bethie Kaufman. Jo and Bethie grew up in 1950s Detroit in a house with both parents. Their perfect house and family has very defined roles for everyone living in it. While the two girls may seem to fall into cookie-cutter expected roles, to limit them to those expectations is to further restrain their future possibilities. Jo is a tomboy who loves books and chooses to rebel in ways that make their mother increasingly worried. Bethie is a pretty, beautiful, and feminine good girl, the utter opposite of Jo. She wants to live a traditional life, like their mother, and takes pleasure in the power that her beauty gives her over others. The girls couldn’t be more opposite, but they both have ideas of what they want to do with their lives. Their parents treat both girls differently which results in them building barriers between the two and not having as deep relationships as they could have had.

Once they leave home and start trying to figure out what they want out of life, Bethie and Jo begin to change. This book has strong themes revolving around abandonments, rape, betrayal, same sex marriage, sisterhood, emotions, history, heartbreak, drama. It’s hard to water this book down into one short blurb, since it covers such a long period of time navigating changes throughout both sisters’ lives (and the people they choose to surround themselves with). This book may seem like it has too much going on at once, but stepping back and realizing that multiple themes happen throughout regular lives anyway, this book becomes easier to read. Mrs. Everything is a feminist manifesto, a family saga, a piece of women’s fiction full of drama and woman power as these two sisters struggle to be everything to everyone as they try to figure out who they are to themselves on the inside.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check-In

Hello Fellow Readers!

How is your month of reading going? Have you found an especially good “Friends and Family” related book? Of course, this is a crazy busy month so maybe a movie would be a better choice. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started.

Ordinary People describes a youth’s breakdown and recovery and how it affects his family.

The Royal Tenenbaums. A once prominent New York lawyer pretends to have a terminal illness in order to try to reunite with his family of former childhood prodigies.

The Glass Castle chronicling the adventures of an eccentric, resilient and tight-knit family.

The Family Man. Jack Campbell, a workaholic Wall Street exec, gets to see what his life might have been like if he’d stayed with his former sweetheart, Kate.

The Impossible. Based on a true story of a family caught, with tens of thousands of strangers, in the mayhem of one of the worst natural catastrophes of our time.

Kramer vs Kramer. When his wife walks out, Ted Kramer and his six-year-old son have a chance to really get to know each other.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. A story about a special summer in the lives of four lifelong friends who are separated for the first time.

Bridesmaids. Annie’s life is a mess. But when she finds out her lifetime best friend is engaged, she simply must serve as Lillian’s maid of honor.

Stand By Me.  Four boys set out on a two-day search for a missing teenager’s body, a search that turns into an odyssey of self-discovery.

 

Pit Bull: the Battle Over an American Icon by Bronwen Dickey

In November of 2017, my girlfriend and I adopted a 4-month-old puppy. The reason she was up for adoption was a common refrain, here in the Quad Cities and throughout America. Her previous owners had to move, and the landlord of their new place didn’t allow “ferocious breeds.” Although neither Davenport nor Scott County have any breed-specific legislation (BSL) on the books – which is surprising given that Iowa in general is rather dog-unfriendly, having 91 towns and cities with BSL, by far the most of any state in America – that doesn’t prevent landlords or rental companies from having their own discriminatory dog policies.

I’m sure some of you balked at me referring to BSL as discrimination. If you did (and even if you didn’t!), I implore you to read Bronwen Dickey’s Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon. This thoroughly researched book had a lot to teach me, and I’ve been an animal lover and advocate my entire life. But Dickey is not a pit bull partisan interested solely in proselytizing. Her work is backed up with data and interviews, and she makes sure to provide plenty of perspectives. Most importantly, she is deeply humanistic, never losing sight of how people affect and are affected by their canine companions.

While BSL can impact several different breeds, such as Rottweilers and Dobermans, pit bulls are by far the primary target (all 91 instances of BSL in Iowa target pit bulls; only 15 mention other breeds). Dickey manages to problematize this with one simple fact: “pit bull” isn’t actually a breed! It’s actually a dog type consisting of (depending on who you ask) four to five breeds: American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, American Bully, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and American Bulldog. Furthermore, mixed-breed dogs and dogs of unknown pedigree that happen to share any similarities with these breeds – head size, body shape, short coat, etc. – get labeled as pit bulls by shelters and veterinarians. However, looks can be deceiving, and this is especially true when it comes to dogs. Dickey illustrates, with photographs and scientific research, how mixed breed dogs of known parentage often look nothing like either of their parents.

It comes as no surprise, then, when Dickey shows us that even people who work with dogs for a living have a less than stellar accuracy rate when it comes to identifying breeds. Dickey reports on numerous studies in the book. “After collecting cheek swabs from twenty mixed-breed dogs at four California shelters, [the authors of the study] asked a number of shelter workers to look at each dog and guess its breed(s). The shelter workers’ visual guesses – that is, the breeds they would have written on the dogs’ kennel cards and medical paperwork – did not match the animals DNA results 87.5 percent of the time” (pgs. 57-58, emphasis mine). In a follow-up study, the scientists showed video clips of twenty mixed-breed dogs to 900 subjects who worked in dog-related jobs – such as vets, trainers, groomers, shelter works, and animal control officers – and asked the subjects to identify which breeds were present in the dogs. The results were less than inspiring (pg. 58):

For only seven of the twenty dogs did more than half of the respondents agree on the most prominent breed. Interestingly, the predominant breed they chose did not show up at all in the DNA of three of those seven animals. Subsequent research confirmed this pattern. After looking at photographs of 120 mixed-breed dogs, shelter workers mislabeled 55 as being “pit bull mixes,” while missing 5 that actually were.

The troubling aspect is not that humans, even experts, are fallible – we don’t need a scientific study to tell us that – but rather that legislation that profoundly impacts peoples’ lives is being passed and enforced based solely on unscientific and unreliable methodology.

As such, it’s not just dogs that are discriminated against by BSL. Dickey traces how pit bulls, once beloved American icons who lived in the White House and starred in The Little Rascals, have come to be viewed as “lower class” dogs that are strongly associated with people of color. In light of this fact, it’s easy to see how BSL is just another aspect of systemic, institutional racism. It may be illegal to deny someone housing for being black or Latino, but not for being a pit bull owner – many of whom are, in fact, black or Latino. The predominance of pit bull prejudice is problematic because it becomes self-perpetuating. When enough legislation is passed, it becomes hegemonic, taken as a matter of fact. As Dickey masterfully shows in her book, however, the facts are a lot less clear than the talking heads would have you believe. It’s a deeply political issue, and as such should be approached rationally. Right now, the matter is murky with myth and prejudice; Pit Bull book goes a long way to dispelling the fog of superstition with its clear-headed, materialist, evidence-based approach.

Anecdotally, our puppy – Doobie, the first pit bull either of us had ever taken care of – has grown into such a gentle, loving dog that when we saw another pit bull puppy at the humane society, we couldn’t help but adopt her, too (despite having no plans for a second dog). Doobie’s younger sister, Sigourney, despite being even bigger than Doob, is somehow even less deserving of her “ferocious” appellation. In fact, she’s an awkward, gangly, 60 pound canine that thinks she’s a lapdog. The only thing these girls do aggressively is love, play, and goof off (although they have taken over our futon).

 

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

This memoir is not one for the faint of heart. It deals with graphic descriptions of rape and sexual assault and can be triggering to readers. This book also talks about how rape is handled in universities and colleges, as well as how victims are treated within the criminal justice system, by the courts and police, and by the public who, not even knowing the victim’s name, still passed judgements on her actions. I highly recommend you give it a read (or a listen) and let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller tells the story of Emily Doe. Emily became known to the world when her victim impact statement went viral during the sentencing stage of Brock Turner’s trial. Brock had just been sentenced to only six months in county jail after he was found by two bicyclists in the midst of sexually assaulting Emily on Stanford’s campus. Millions read her statement and it was translated into many different languages as the world finally heard from the woman at the center of the case.

After years of being known as Emily Doe, Chanel Miller decided it was time to take control of her story and her name.  She began writing Know My Name as a way to tell the story of her trauma and how she is working to rise above and change the world. Chanel thought that her case was perfect and there was no way her rapist would not be sentenced for a long time. Turner ran away from the crime, there were multiple eyewitnesses, and physical evidence was collected and immediately secured from both her body and the scene.

The aftermath of her rape and the resulting trial threw Chanel down a spiral of isolation and shame. When she realized the oppression and negativity that victims face all the way from the worst to the best cases, Chanel realized that these reactions only make victims coming forward less likely. Throughout this novel, Chanel discusses how this culture is set up to fail and let down victims, but protect the perpetrators. With her family, friends, and attorneys backing her up, Chanel works hard to find herself again and to work through the suffering and intense trauma that are omnipresent.

The Davenport Public Library owns a copy of this book as an audiobook available through OverDrive or through our Libby App. I listened to this book and encourage you readers to seek out an audiobook version as Chanel is the narrator. Hearing her break down while reading certain parts of this book brought me back to when this story was all over the news and shed new light onto what Chanel was actually going through.


This book is also available in the following format:

The Outer Worlds Video Game

guest post by Wesley B

2019 has been a good year for AA developers – studios that fall somewhere between small indie teams and big corporate juggernauts in terms of budget and labor power. In September, Spiders released Greedfall, a better BioWare game than BioWare itself has released lately. Now, Obsidian has done something similar with The Outer Worlds – a better Fallout game than Bethesda’s own Fallout 76 (and, for that matter, some might say, better than Fallout 4). Of course, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s followed Obsidian’s output over the years. The studio is responsible for some of my favorite games of all time: Knights of the Old Republic II, Alpha Protocol, the Pillars of Eternity series, Neverwinter Nights 2, Tyranny. Most relevantly to The Outer Worlds, they made Fallout: New Vegas for Bethesda, a game that remains many fans’ favorite entry in the Fallout franchise.

Critics, however, were less kind to New Vegas. While there was a strong favorable consensus around the narrative (particularly the level of freedom and player choice), the gameplay was more hit or miss, and the experience was riddled with bugs on release. These technical issues stemmed mainly from the fact that New Vegas was made using Bethesda’s rickety Gamebryo engine, on a tight Bethesda-imposed deadline (the game was made in 18 months; for perspective, Fallout 3 took four years to develop). It seems a tad unfair, then, that Bethesda tied Obsidian’s bonus to the game’s Metacritic score – a benchmark they fell short of by a single point. In light of this history, it’s easy to view The Outer Worlds as Obsidian thumbing their nose at Bethesda. And as I said above, the game does fill the Fallout-shaped void present in gaming since 76 bombed. The Outer Worlds is its own beast, though, not just a reskinned Fallout game, and deserves to be judged on its own merits.

To begin with, let’s get the similarities out of the way. Like the modern Fallout games, The Outer Worlds is a first-person shooter/role-playing game hybrid with an emphasis on exploration and dialogue. As you reconnoiter the world and chat with its inhabitants you’ll quickly find your journal filling up with side quests. You can talk your way out of conflict, sneak around to avoid it, or confront it head-on with ranged or melee weapons. There are locks to pick and computers to hack in order to gain experience, loot, side quests, and lore. When you level up, you’ll be given skill points and perks to distribute as you see fit. You’ll be presented with morally ambiguous decisions to make that will affect the world and how the people in it treat you.

Some people point to the Tactical Time Dilation (TTD) as a similarity, even going so far as to call it knock-off VATS. In my experience, though, the similarities between the two are strictly superficial. VATS in Fallout stops time (halting you and your companions and opponents in your tracks) and allows you to flick between targets, and fire as many shots as you have action points for. TTD, on the other hand, doesn’t stop time, but simply slows it down significantly, allowing you to aim and move freely until the TTD meter depletes. TTD also allows you to analyze your enemies and target different locations to proc various status effects, like knockdown, stagger, blind, and so on. As someone who relies on VATS to get myself through Fallout, I actually prefer TTD – it feels much more fluid.

The most obvious difference is to be found in the setting. Both games take place in the distant future, but Fallout explores a post-nuclear apocalypse America, while The Outer Worlds takes us to a whole new solar system, the Halcyon Colony. Halcyon is under the complete control of the Board, a holding company comprised of executives from the colony’s various founding companies. While both franchises use their settings to critique the structural shortcomings and moral failures of late stage capitalism, the extraterrestrial setting of The Outer Worlds allows for a much greater variety in flora, fauna, terrain, technology, and – perhaps most importantly to those of you who are aesthetically inclined like I am – color palette (I adore the Fallout games but sometimes it’s nice to see colors other than dull browns and greys).

The fact that you traverse an entire solar system means that The Outer Worlds has you visiting, unlike Fallout’s expansive open world (on a single, interconnected map), a variety of separate, enclosed, discrete locations. It’s also a much shorter game than the typical Fallout experience, though of course the actual length varies greatly depending on how much side content you do, how thoroughly you explore, and so on. These changes might be negative for some people, but I actually appreciated them. Obsidian, lacking the overhead of Bethesda, knew they couldn’t match the scope of a Fallout game, so chose instead to opt for quality over quantity. The smaller maps sacrifice breadth for depth, and are filled to the brim with content and details, making them feel incredibly vibrant. The shorter storyline meant the writing was focused and well-paced, holding my interest throughout. Most importantly, it left me wanting more – I can’t wait to make a new character with different skills, experiment with new playstyles, and see how the game responds to different choices.

The Outer Worlds is available at the Davenport Library on the PlayStation 4 and XBox One platforms.

Moonlighter Video Game

guest post by Wesley B

When I first launched Moonlighter, I was immediately struck by its art style. True, an indie game with retro-styled pixel graphics isn’t exactly a rare find these days, but Moonlighter manages to stand out from the crowd with its refreshingly bright and varied palette. Even more impressive are the animations, which are painstakingly detailed and impart a remarkable amount of character to the simplistic sprites. My favorite example is the shop assistant you can hire after expanding your shop enough. They have a distinctive coif of thick hair that they always take a moment to tie back when you open your shop for the day.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. At the beginning of the game, your shop (named, surprisingly enough, the Moonlighter), far from being successful enough to require an assistant, is struggling to stay open. In fact, the whole town of Rynoka is depressed, both economically and emotionally – a far cry from its heyday as a bustling hub for both heroes and merchants. This prosperity stemmed from the nearby Dungeons – four mysterious caverns that appeared out of nowhere one day, attracting adventurers of all sorts seeking fame and fortune within. Of course, there’s neither glory nor riches without risk, and as the death toll mounted, all but the least dangerous of the Dungeons were boarded up. Rynoka’s (and by extension the Moonlighter’s) salad days ended soon after.

Enter Will, the player character. Although a merchant by trade, he moonlights (get it?) as a hero by night, venturing into the sole open Dungeon for loot to sell at the shop by day. This is the conceit by which developers Digital Sun integrate two disparate (but similarly addictive) genres of gameplay – roguelite dungeon crawler and shop simulator – into one brilliant, engaging gameplay loop. The money you make selling your loot in the shop can go to upgrading your shop or resuscitating Rynoka by investing in new businesses. The most important of these businesses is the blacksmith, who takes money and materials and crafts armor and weapons for you. These in turn allow you to delve deeper into more difficult dungeons, making more money to further expand your shop and upgrade your gear, allowing you to make it even further into the Dungeons, and so on. It’s the type of game that will have you saying “just one more day” over and over until the sun rises – in the real world this time.

North Korea Journal by Michael Palin

Michael Palin has taken us on his travels over the years.  We’ve gone with him as he’s circumnavigated the globe in 80 days, gone pole-to-pole, and explored the Himalayas.  This time he’s off to the DPRK, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, for a 15-day adventure with a small film crew and some preconceived notions of what he’ll find.

This small book is presented in journal form, his day-by-day activities documented and presented with a copious number of photographs.  Day 3:  Arrive at Pyongyang station.  Day 8:  A journey to the Demilitarized Zone.

On his travels he notes the ever-present images of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, painted in pictures or molded in bronze, always equal in size.  He hears music played in loud speakers sounding throughout a city, the soundtrack of their lives.  He sees Senior Citizen ladies in traditional dress dance “formally and carefully, as if in slow motion.”

But the places he goes are not the main message of North Korea Journal.  Palin strives to give us sense of the people he encounters along the way.  Their hesitance to engage with outsiders.  Their love for their Great Leaders.  He asks probing questions, and only sometimes embarrasses his hosts.

Online Reading Challenge – December

Here we go Challenge Readers! It’s the final month of the 2019 Online Reading Challenge! Are you ready for a strong finish to the year?

I think this month will be fun. And kind of a free-for-all because the topic is Friends and Family and well, that means the number of books that would qualify is nearly unlimited. Whether you define family as blood relations, step-, blended or the family you choose, these people are important and influence your life past, present and future. Here are a few titles to get you started thinking about what to read.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng – A placid, planned neighborhood in suburban Cleveland is disrupted and changed forever when an enigmatic single mother and her daughter move in, drawing the other families to them and sparking controversy and conflict.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah – A Vietnam War vet moves his family to Alaska where he hopes the wide open spaces will calm his increasingly erratic behavior. Woefully unprepared for an Alaskan winter, the family soon learns that the real danger is from within.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman – Falling under the category of “the family you choose” this lovely book shows how an oddball collection of neighbors from wildly varying backgrounds come together to support and celebrate each other through the multiple milestones of life. Highly recommended.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese – Twin brothers who are orphaned at birth when their mother dies and their father abandons them, Marion and Shiva share a love of medicine but their love for the same woman tears them apart. When the past threatens Marion, he must turn to the father who abandoned him and the brother who betrayed him.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – be sure to check the displays at each of the Davenport Library locations for lots more choices!

I’m planning on reading The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher. This is an older book that is listed as a favorite by many (I know someone who re-reads it every year!) Set in Cornwall, England, it is described as “a sweeping family drama” that centers around the fate of a beloved painting. I hope it lives up to all the great reviews!

Now it’s your turn – what will you be reading this month?

 

Online Reading Challenge – November Wrap-Up

Hello Readers!

How did your November reading go? Did you find a great book to read or movie to watch?

I struggled a bit this month. “Education” turned out to be a tougher subject to find interesting books than I had expected. That’s not to say there aren’t any books worth reading, just that I had trouble finding one that I wanted to read. I ended up choosing Looking for Alaska by John Green and, what can I say, I had some issues with it.

Looking for Alaska takes place in an exclusive boarding school in Alabama. Miles has never quite fit in at public school back home in Florida (his favorite hobby is collecting the last words of famous people), so he transfers to Culver Creek to seek “the great perhaps”. What he finds there is a collection of eccentric and independent thinkers that push his boundaries and sometimes endanger his life. Alaska Young – brilliant, beautiful, free-spirited, troubled – becomes the center of his world and her moods and flights of fancy dictate how Miles and the circle of friends around Alaska will experience each day. When tragedy strikes the consequences are far reaching and long lasting.

I think I may be too old and too cynical to have really enjoyed this book. It reminds me a bit of the experience of reading Catcher in the Rye; if you read it at the right point in your life, it’s mind blowing. If you read it too late, it seems self-indulgent and shallow. I wouldn’t call Looking for Alaska either self-indulgent or shallow (it deals with serious issues teens face today), but I had a hard time relating to the teens. Of course, I was never part of a “cool crowd” (more the “super-quiet-book-nerd never-do-anything-against-the-rules” crowd!) I found much of their behavior to be dangerous and was disturbed by their disregard for the privileges they had access to. Of course, there were several serious, underlying issues that at least in part explained their behavior but mostly I wanted to shake them and tell them to stop making stupid choices. (It’s tough to get old!!)

The writing, as to be expected from John Green, was beautiful and kept me reading when I might have given up. He can turn a phrase or describe an emotion with such care and skill with no extraneous clutter that it’s breathtaking. I found myself skimming chunks of the book but also repeatedly diving into passages that I would re-read again and again. My recommendation is to go read The Fault in Our Stars, also by John Green, and pass on Looking for Alaska, but your mileage my vary.

What about you? What was your November reading experience like?

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