92. Make Your Bed (Admiral William H. McRaven)

Screen Shot 2017-11-19 at 10.23.26 AMA colleague lent me her copy of Make Your Bed:  Little Things that Can Change Your Life… And Maybe The World.  It is a concise, easy to read manuscript of tips that he described at a 2014 graduation address at University of Texas at Austin.  The slogan of the university is “What stars here, changes the world” which gave inspiration to his speech.  The alumnus of the University of Texas compiled 10 tips that he had learned during his gruelling Navy Seal training and subsequent career.  The recording of the speech went viral and as of this morning has had 5,588,403 views!  Here is a quick snapshot of his suggestions to the students:

  1.  Start Your Day with a Task Completed – McRaven started his speech by sharing that “if you want to change the world… start off by making your bed”.  In the military, making the bed was the first task of the day and the expectation was that it was done with precision and care starting the day with attention to detail, cleanliness and order.  It provided a sense of pride enabling the next task and reinforced the importance of the “fact that little things matter”.
  2. You Can’t Go it Alone – The importance of teamwork was described in this chapter.  As a Navy Seal “tadpole”, McRaven described how others would support the team, pick up the slack and help him get through difficult times.
  3. Only the Size of Your Heart Matters – This chapter reminded me of the Little Engine that Could, in that he shared how size and stature is not as important and determination, heart and the will to succeed!
  4. Life’s Not Fair – Drive on – In an effort to make the tadpoles strong and able to withstand adversity, they were punished by becoming “sugar cookies” for the day.  What is a sugar cookie, you might ask?  That is when, for no real reason, to demonstrate that life is not fair, the recruits would swim, roll in the sand and spend an uncomfortable day wet and covered in sand.
  5. Failure Can Make You Stronger – During training, he described how he had struggled with swimming, being last to finish and how he was “punished” by the circus (extra calisthenics and exercises).  Although the circus was punishing and he was tired out, the extra training gave him an edge and made him stronger!
  6. You Must Dare Greatly –  The last paragraph describes this chapter best:  “Life is a struggle and the potential for failure is ever present, but those who live in fear of failure, or hardship, or embarrassment will never achieve their potential without pushing your limits, without occasionally sliding down the slope headfirst, without daring greatly, you will never know what is truly possible in your life”.
  7. Stand up to Bullies – During training the tadpoles had to conquer a night swim despite the sharks that frequented the area and later, they fought Saddam Hussein. The insight in this chapter is the bullies are all the same, fighting with intimidation and fear.  the message is that “courage is within us all”.
  8. Rise to the Occasion – Being the best in dark moments is the lesson in the 8th chapter.  Despite loss, frustration and “crushed spirits” it is a time to dig deep, stay calm and be your best!
  9. Give People Hope – During “hell week” at the end of the Navy Seal training, the tadpoles had to race, neck deep in cold mud for 15 hours to see who would be the first to quit.  The group started singing, supporting each other as the group was united and dealt with adversity together.  “Hope is the most powerful force in the universe.  With hope  you can inspire nations to greatness.  with hope you an raising up the downtrodden.  With hope you can ease the pain of unbearable loss.  Sometimes all it takes is one person to make a difference”.
  10. Never, Ever Quit! is the final message in the book.  If you want to change the world, perseverance is essential and those who did quit the Navy Seals training likely regretted it for the rest of their lives.

The book is an easy to read compilation of lessons learned.  It is inspiring and whether you read one lesson a day or sit down to finish the entire book in one sitting, it gives ideas to ponder and concrete examples of the challenges and determination in both Navy Seal training and life!

“It is easy to blame  your lot in life on some outside force, to stop trying because you believe fate is against you.  It is easy to think that where you were raised, how your parents treated you , or what school you went to is all that determines your future.  Nothing is further from the truth.  the common people and the great men and women are all defined by how they deal with life’s unfairness: Helen Keller, Nelson Mandela, Stephen Hawking, Malala Yousafzai and – Moki Martin”.


Posted in Leadership, Non-Fiction, self-help | Tagged , | Leave a comment

91. Zero Waste Home (Bea Johnson)

Screen Shot 2017-11-18 at 8.24.44 AMOne of my goals, this year, was to listen to more books during my commutes.  I find that listening to non-fiction is sometimes a bit easier than complicated storylines with multiple characters.  If it is too detailed, I find it hard to listen in the car as I get distracted thinking about other things.  Zero Waste Home was an insightful book with many helpful tips for reducing the garbage that is put out to the curb.

The author has been able to reduce the waste that her family throws out to one litre!  She provides many tips and recipes for reducing, reusing, recycling and rotting (composting).  She inspires the reader to make due with less and to focus on experiences rather than stuff.  I am not sure that one litre of garbage is attainable for our house but I am working on significantly reducing our trash as we seek to simplify and adopt some practices of minimalism (NOT related to BOOKs, of course).

What have I changed?  I started by going through my closet, donating clothes that arena good shape but no longer my size and things that I just don’t wear.  Three bags later, my closet is easier to manage!  My mom shared some hankies so we are using less tissues for our hereditary drippy noses although I have to admit that I will be reverting to tissues for colds!  I am committed to reconsidering my paper towel habit after our costco size package is done.  I have stopped the junk mail from being delivered and am working towards litterless lunches… I need to break the ziplock bag habit.  We are already a composting and recycling family but I have bought some mason jars and will try and take them the bulk store, reducing the plastic bags that many items are packaged in.

We can all make a difference to our impact on this earth and I would encourage others to be inspired by this book!

Posted in Non-Fiction | Tagged , | Leave a comment

90. Bellevue Square (Michael Redhill)

Screen Shot 2017-11-18 at 8.55.29 AMAs readers of this blog know, I am very excited about the Scotiabank Giller Prize event.  As part of my preparation for attending the Between the Pages Event  (held in Toronto November 6th), I have been reading through the short-listed books.  I had been privileged to meet Michael Redhill, in September, at the Grimsby Author series (a blog post is pending but I am still a bit behind after taking a blogging break this summer).  At the time, his book had not been announced as part of the short-list and I was trying to curtail my book spending but after hearing Redhill speak, I confess, I walked away with a signed copy!

Redhill described the book as having “one foot in mystery and a couple toes in psychological terror” and his writing keeps readers turning the pages.  The book starts of slow, easing us into confusion and a whole other life that the character is leading, based in Bellevue Square, as Jean Mason searches for her doppelgänger.  The reader’s curiosity is peaked as she searches for this woman who remains elusive to her while others have seen her.  She enlists a motley group of park inhabitants to help her find her doppelgänger as she neglects her family and the bookstore she owns.

This was my first book by Redhill and it has left me a little off-balance, pondering the story, the twists and wondering about the next two instalments in the triptych that he is planning.  After finishing, I did wonder if it would have been helpful to read books by Redhill’s alter-ego, Inger Ash, who was entwined in the story?  It was an enjoyable endeavour into a unique environment and I did enjoy the Toronto references.  The Giller Prize will be announced on Monday and I am excited to hear the winner.

I have now read Outline by Rachel Cusk, Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson and I am a Truck by Michelle Williams.  I have Minds of Winter sitting beside me but am not certain that I will finish it before the Monday announcement… perhaps this is a sign as Do Not Say We have Nothing by Madeleine Thien was the only book that I did not quite get to last year and it was the big winner!!!

Posted in Canadian, Giller Prize | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Between the Pages Scotiabank Giller Prize Event

IMG_8636It was a fantastic evening with Rachel Cusk, Ed O’Loughlin, Michael Redhill, Eden Robinson and Michelle Williams at the Scotiabank Between the Pages Giller Prize event.  Koerner Hall was packed with book lovers, anxious to hear about the novels and the author’s writing experiences, on November 6th.   The Giller Prize is affectionately known as the “Oscar’s of publishing” and will be held on November 20th… I sure wish that I could score a ticket to that event!

The Toronto Between the Pages event began with a reading by each author followed by a panel discussion.  At the time of the event, I had finished 3 of 5 books so was familiar with many of the readings.  I was glad that Eden Robinson read from the latter pages of Son of a Trickster as the language at the beginning might have been a shocker for some of the crowd but I am sure many enjoyed her joyous laughter!!

Rachel Cusk – Transit 

IMG_1018 This author visited from London, England and has written 9 novels including Outline (which I had recently reviewed).  She talked of her book challenging conventional ideas and likes the “freedom to represent what is in my head”.   It was remarkable to learn that she plans out the entire book in her head as she has “to know everything in the book before writing it down” .  That is certainly a unique approach to writing!

She shared that her imagination was stoked in childhood when she and her siblings faked their own deaths and staged a burglary (complete with tying themselves to chairs), landing her a long time on the nautghty step!

Although I have read articles discussing the autobiographical nature of the books, Cusk shared that it “annoying to have people think it is an autobiography”.  Her writing is smooth and thoughtful but whether it was nerves or a discomfort with the audience, Rachel struggled to share her thoughts on stage.

Ed O’Laughlin – The Minds of Winter

IMG_0258This is a novel that I am yet to begin (perhaps this is a sign as I still have last year’s winner, Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien on my too be read shelf)!  O’Laughlin is an Irish Canadian novelist.  He read the first few pages of his book which is set in the North West Territories and took 4 years to write.

As a child, he was fascinated with explorers and devoured a picture book about the doomed Scott expedition.  He described himself as an awkward child,  “a bit of a loner”, who read a lot of books while growing up in the countryside.   He began writing as a journalist, spending 8 years in Africa having a great many adventures but as he began to burn out, secretly wanted to write a novel.  He started writing a novel but after 8-9 months realized he was “going to starve” so got another job describing news paper writing as “fish and chips” as it is gone the next day.  When asked about why he writes, he laughed that he is “not much good at anything else”.

O’Laughlin spoke about the in-depth research and how he enjoys learning about the past.  He only reviews non-fiction and shared that “I don’t necessarily like a lot of fiction” yet it is “hard to find a non-fiction so bad that you don’t learn from it”.

Michael Redhill – Bellevue Square

IMG_7555This was the second time that I have met and heard Michael Redhill speak (Grimsby Author Series).  As a novelist, poet, playwright and former publisher, he brought a sense of humour to the stage.  He shared that his book is about the “many things that challenge the sense of self and the question of who am I not”.

Michelle Williams had described that she writes with feeling of anger and he joked back at her that he writes from “pure rage” when he starts writing after becoming obsessed with an idea.  He had been inspired by sitting in Bellevue Square and watching “the passing parade” and had thought “what if my own twin walked into the park”?

He described himself as a “dangerously ugly child” with a sever overbite who would have to be careful if he sneezed hard “not to bite my own chest”.  He laughed that he had been “locked in a room with books” and that he was “shy, awkward and booky”.  He loved the fantasy of Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander and had support for his writing although he was told “it is nice you are writing poetry but get an education”.

Eden RobinsonSon of a Trickster

IMG_3186I had not forgotten Eden Robinson’s infectious laughter!  She visited Laurier University where I had first heard her speak and had my copy of Son of a Trickster signed.  Her robust laughter filled the stage as she described how the magic in her book was “supposed to be a bystander but it wanted to participate very badly” and that despite having a plan, note cards and structures in place, she “realized it was not where the book is going to end up”.

Robinson described herself growing up as “emo”, moody and the eldest of her siblings.  She noted that she spent her teen years in her bed room, with the door locked, writing “pungent poetry”.  She came from a family who loved to read and she would follow her parents around the house reading out the funniest bits of her book, laughing.  Her parents had grown up with out a lot of opportunities so were enthusiastic and embraced her goals to be a writer.

When writing, she describes the first draft as may to write but struggles with the second draft, writing scenes that she had avoided writing and often breaking down to tears.  She “just loves” writing and admitted that she would write even if she was never published.

Michelle Williams – I am a Truck

IMG_9859Michelle Williams was the lone writer who still has a day job.  She spoke of the way “some weird stimulus can bump you into action”.  As mentioned above, she writes, starting with a feeling, very often rage, writing the things that you wish you could change “since the world is hard”.  She described how frustrating it is, walking to work and seeing people already on their phones, already working and she thinks “what are you doing”?  It is just normal life which she finds outrages and “can whip myself into a frenzy”!

As a child, she says that she was defiant, and pushy, even campaigning to call her parents by their first names at the age of 6!  Four years later, she had written a story about an unintentional stabbing stating that “sometimes they just happen”.  At 20, she was writing in hopes to change gender relations and now loves the “feeling of power you get from writing” as it is a chance of “imposing my will on a world I can’t change”.  On the stage, she was confident, bold and seemed comfortable despite the audience and the excitement of being short listed for a Giller prize!

At the book signing part of the evening, I enjoyed having a chance to talk to Michelle Williams.  I was curious about the title I am a Truck and she shared that she wanted to have a vehicular and musical theme.  I am a Truck is a country song which she had heard and thought it was the perfect title.  She did not say who the artist was but I am guessing that this might the song which came up in a search.

Overall, the Between the Pages event was FANTASTIC and I would urge any book lovers to join me next year in the celebration of great Canadian authors.  Which book do you think will be this year’s winner?  will you be watching the event?  Please add your comments below.

Posted in Book signing, Canadian, Giller Prize | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

89. Caroline: Little House Revisited (Sarah Miller)

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 8.37.21 PMReading Caroline:  Little House Revisited was like a guilty pleasure.  It enabled me to revisit the lives of Charles, Caroline, Mary and Laura Ingalls as they travelled from the Little House in the Big Woods to Kansas in 1870.  As a girl, I loved reading the Little House series of books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I also enjoyed watching the Little House television series which originally aired between 1974 and 1983.  Caroline was written from the perspective of the hardy, pregnant mother as they travelled in a covered wagon across the American midwest to stake their claim on land.

As an adult, I noticed things that I may not have understood as a child.  It was difficult to hear about the treatment of the Osage indigenous peoples as they were pushed off the land to make way for pioneers.  I also reflected on how challenging it would be as a mother of young girls to pick up and leave their extended family, travel across flooded rivers and help to build a home in the prairies.

The story was based on the actual history of Laura Ingalls Wilder and was an endearing return to childhood.  For any of you who have enjoyed the books and TV shows, it is worth listening to!

Posted in Audiobook, Historical Fiction | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

88. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane (Lisa See)

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 2.36.25 PMThe Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is my December book club pick.  My hold came available very quickly, from the library,  so I “read” it early (via audio book).  It is historical fiction set in the remote village of Yunnan where the Akha villagers support unique customs and survive by  harvesting tea.

Li-Yan has grown up in the Akha tradition, as the daughter of the local midwife, helping her family with the tea harvest.  The local school master realizes that she is bright and she becomes the first educated woman in her village.  When a foreigner arrive, in search of rare tea, the lives of the villagers change as modern ways are introduced.  Li-yan bears a daughter, out of wedlock, and rather than follow village tradition, she abandons the child along with a tea cake (which is part of her heritage) at an orphanage.  These were the days when Chinese women were restricted to having only one child so many female babies were adopted to families outside of China.

The narration of the novel was well done but I did get frustrated with the subjugation of women in the village.  The author has researched adoption practices, the Akha people and the history of tea and weaved it with a fictional story which kept me occupied during my commutes.

It was interesting to learn more about the history of tea and I look forward to trying the fermented Pu’erh tea in my David’s Tea Advent Calendar this December.

Posted in Historical Fiction | Tagged | Leave a comment

87. Outline (Rachel Cusk)

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 11.56.44 AMIn preparation to read Transit (as part of my Giller short-list reading), I chose to read Outline, the the first book of what will be a trilogy.  It is a unique book, that reads like a series of linked short stories written within a few days of the main character’s life.  There is no real plot, no huge drama and the reader does not learn too much about the narrator.  The book is full of a collection of interesting conversations with characters she meets during her sojourn from London to teach a writing class.

Described by the Guardian as semi-autobiographical, Outline is a story of contrast which begins with innocent chatter en route to Greece.  The writer learns a few details about the main character including that she is a divorced mother as she engages in conversation.  As she flies, her seat mate (who she refers to throughout the book as her neighbour) divulges his version of his own life story including multiple divorces and family challenges.  She asks questions and he tells his side of the story.  She learns more about him when she meets up with him for boat rides and swimming.

She teaches an interesting group of students that each tell their own unique stories through the writing prompts she provides.  In between classes she meets with other writers, the neighbour and prior to her flight then next occupant of the rental apartment.  The next renter arrives in the middle of the night and spills her own story as she eats honey direct from a jar.

The writing is beautifully arranged, it is smooth and easy to read but packs the power of contemplation and contrast.  The reader reflects on their own stories, their own bias and the polarization of what we seek and later try to change.

I enjoyed Rachel Cusk’s writing and look forward to finishing Transit.  I am excited to hear Cusk speak at the Between the Pages, Scotiabank Giller event on Monday and hope to get my books signed!

Posted in Canadian, Fiction, Giller Prize | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

86. Smile (Roddy Doyle)

Screen Shot 2017-10-29 at 10.08.43 PMThank you to Knopf Canada for providing an advanced reader copy of Smile, through a Goodreads Giveaway.  This is an honest review.

Smile tells the story of Victor, a lonely man who spends his evenings in a local pub.  His relationship is over and he bumps into an old “friend” named Fitzpatrick, who he can’t quite remember, from their days at the Christian Brothers school.  They reminisce and Victor recalls his days as a school boy.

I have to admit that I hate coming across the “c” word in books.  It turns me right off the text and makes my skin crawl.  I can deal with swearing but that word makes me want to close the book!  Since it was a giveaway, I kept on reading although I still think this did nothing to add to the story.  It made be dislike the characters and made me strive to finish the book and move on.

The novel cleverly reveals a past history that Victor has repressed.  He slowly remembers and the reader begins to question his sanity.  Overall, the book tells a story and at the end “you will be challenged to re-evaluate everything you think you remember so clearly”.  Other than my frustration with that word, the book shared a coming of age story with Victor’s struggles to come to terms with a sentinel event at the school.  It was a creepy and unsettling story that leaves the reader thinking about what happened to Victor.

Posted in ARC, Fiction, Goodreads Giveaway | Tagged , | 2 Comments

85. Calm (Michael Acton Smith)

Screen Shot 2017-10-29 at 9.53.54 PMLife is so hectic.  Days are filled with work, carpool, errands leaving little time to relax and enjoy an evening with family.  It seems that we are constantly running and need to take time to be mindful, reflect and be still.  Calm is a book filled with beautiful pictures, quotations and helpful suggestions to take time out.

The book reinforces the importance of acknowledging what you are grateful for and suggests journalling the 3 highlights of your day.  We have a habit of talking about our 3 best things at dinner.  The kids might make a joke about it but it gives us time to connect and talk about our day as we share a meal.

The first section encourages taking time to appreciate nature by enjoying activities like walking the dog or cloud gazing.  This is followed by a section on sleep which can seem elusive when your brain refuses to turn off.  There is nothing worse than ruminating over the day’s events as you count down the hours left until the alarm goes off.  Sleep helps the body to repair and rebuild and the book offers suggestions including black out curtains, calm colours, before bed stretching and a setting a cool temperature (perhaps my dad has it right by leaving his window open a crack all winter long)!

The travel section encourages taking a walk, finding a new route home and tips if you are anxious about flight.  It is followed by a section on relationships suggesting that we turn our phones off and focus on those we care about.  Many of us may experience stress at work.  While it may be convenient to work through breaks and eat lunch at our desks, taking regular breaks improves creativity and innovation.

A couple other helpful suggestions include:

  • Take a digital detox.
  • Change your password to reflect and remind you of your intention (i.e. Re!aXt0day).
  • Try something new (i.e. calligraphy, colouring).
  • Rediscover the appeal of cooking from scratch.
  • Enjoy a cup of tea.

This is an easy read with some great tips for relaxing.  The pictures are calming and there are sections that readers can fill in with their own information.  Although I enjoyed the tips, I did feel like the book was a bit of an advertisement for their meditation app (which  comes with a monthly fee).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

84. I am a Truck (Michelle Winters)

Screen Shot 2017-10-29 at 1.37.52 PMAs we get ready to celebrate the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize winner, I am reading my way through the short-list including:  Son of a Trickster (Eden Robinson, who I had the privilege to meet at a Laurier event in February), Transit (Rachel Cusk), Bellevue Square (Michael Redhill, who I met in September and a blog post is pending), Minds of Winter (Ed O’Loughlin) and I am a Truck (Michelle Winters).

I am a Truck is a very quick read.  I would actually suggest planning your reading so that you can read it all in one sitting.  I spread my reading out and feel that the disjointed reading impacted the overall impact of the book, leaving me to feel that I should reread it to feel it’s complete impact.

As Agathe prepares a surprise to celebrate her 20th wedding anniversary to Rejean, his beloved truck is found empty, with the door open, on the side of the highway.  Rejean is missing, without a trace.  The couple had lived an insulated life, speaking in French and living off the beaten path, spending their time isolated from the English speaking community.  Rejean liked things a certain way and Agathe seemed to go along with this.

With Rejean’s disappearance, Agathe’s life opens up.  She mourns his loss by smelling his flannel shirts but meets a new friend, finds a job, learns to drive and starts to enjoy rock and roll.  She meets Martin, the salesperson who had sold Rejean the truck and through this character we learn more about Rejean who also mourns the loss of his friend.

This is a unique book, it makes the reader ponder… in fact, I am still pondering and think a second read might help.  I enjoyed the mix of English and French and needed to translate a few words as I read.  It is a book that will spur great conversations at book clubs as readers consider the oddity of each of the characters as they learn more about the disappearance of Rejean.

It is written by Michelle Winters, a writer, painter and translator.  She is originally from New Brunswick but living in Toronto.  I look forward to meeting her at the Between the Pages event at the Koerner Hall, in Toronto, November 6th.

Posted in Award, Canadian, Giller Prize | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments