Home & Garden · Nonfiction

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – Marie Kondo

Two stars

I am so disappointed in this book. I really wanted to like it. I watched Marie Kondo’s Netflix show last year and was inspired to declutter my own home using some of the tips and approaches she talks about. I wanted to go a little deeper, so I checked her book out from the library. It’s a slim volume, and written in an approachable voice.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up might very well transform your life if you have the privilege of lots of vacation time, a family that buys into the concept and possibly the most important one – no mental illness that affects executive function.

Now, you might say to me, executive function disorders, those sound serious and rare! Wrong, my friend, wrong! Mental illness affecting executive function is one of the more common reasons people live with a messy house. Depression, Anxiety, ADD, ADHD (which is grossly underdiagnosed in women, especially adult women, who are often the homemakers…) and a slew of other mental illnesses come with a side of executive dysfunction that makes it very challenging to tackle basic things sometimes.

Okay, but what does that have to do with Marie Kondo’s book? Well reader, the most frustrating thing about her book is that in all however many pages the book has, she doesn’t acknowledge the existence of mental illness as a factor even once. Not a single mention in the entire book. It’s such a gross omission.

Her book reeks of privilege in other ways too. She insists that the only way to properly implement her method is to do your entire home all at once. That will take the average person DAYS if not WEEKS of time. The average American doesn’t have that much vacation time and for those who do, they’ll generally want to spend it traveling or doing something outside of the home.

Kondo also insists that if you throw something away and later regret it, just buy a new one. Because people are made of money, right? And can afford to just buy two of things, nevermind that many things are limited edition or otherwise rare and hard to replace.

I understand what she’s trying to do, but she leaves little room for utility and leaves no room for one to be a collector or hobbyist. She gleefully recounts her own experiences of throwing out her own collections. As both a collector and a hobbyist, her approach is nightmarish. How dare I want to store the materials for my crafts. How dare I want to keep collections of silly things. Oh but you’ll say, if those things spark joy, you will keep them. And while that is somewhat true, she makes it clear through her writing that she looks down upon those decisions.

Finally, her approach will simply not work unless the entire family buys into the process. Try telling a 16 year old she must go through all of her belongings and get rid of things. And then she has to keep her space tidy forever again. Teenagers are fickle. She hates the shirt today and will love it next week only to hate it again next week. If one person in an adult relationship does this and the other doesn’t buy into it, it will never stick.

Aside from those issues, Kondo has a charming worldview where objects have feelings and it is important to thank them for what they do for you and have given you. I don’t think she’s off the mark here entirely. While I don’t believe my shoes have feelings, I feel that her suggestion to thank the items in your life can be transformed into the idea that one should spend more time considering the objects in their life and their utility. Are these shoes appropriate? Do they accomplish the job I need them to. If not, get them out the door and find more appropriate shoes. If so, I should take care of them so they last as long as possible. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to encourage people to care for their belongings and to also work toward having belongings that accomplish what they’re needed for, rather than being worked around. Your belongings should enable your lifestyle not impede it.

All of this is to say, I was very disappointed in the book. No organizational method will work for everyone (though she certainly claims hers will), but this was a huge letdown from her positive attitude in her show.

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Essay Collection · Nonfiction

Virtue Signaling and Other Heresies – John Scalzi

4.5 stars

In a departure from what I generally review here at Alex Can Read, I had the opportunity to review Virtue Signaling and Other Heresies, a collection of essays from John Scalzi’s Whatever blog. It is political, thoughtful, funny and searing. Scalzi impresses me with his introspection and self-awareness.

“‘Virtue signaling’ is a phrase the dim and bigoted use when they want to discount 41828591.jpgother people expressing the idea that it would be nice if we could all be essentially and fundamentally decent to each other.” — John Scalzi

For twenty years now—yes, twenty—John Scalzi has been writing on his blog Whatever, writing about, well, whatever: Politics, writing, cats, the internet and the great social and cultural events of our times. In that time he’s gone from being just another crank online to being a bestselling, award-winning crank, i.e., the very best kind of crank there is.

With Virtue Signaling and Other Heresies, Scalzi looks back on the years 2013 through 2018. In this volume, Scalzi delves through the final term of Obama and the ushering in of the Trump years, surveys the increasingly-hostile online landscape, goes to the movies, and talks on subject ranging from #MeToo to the teachers who shaped him growing up. Through it all, Scalzi’s distinct voice—funny, sarcastic, passionate, sometimes angry, and honed by two decades of daily writing served up to hundreds of thousands of readers monthly—is on full display.

Virtue Signaling: A chronicle of a turbulent, momentous moment in time, from one of the most acclaimed science fiction authors of his time.

Limited: 1000 signed numbered hardcover copies

If you’re like me, and find reflecting on the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath painful, you’ll also find that parts of Virtue Signaling are very painful to read. There are essays from before the election where Scalzi exclaims that a Donald Trump presidency Cannot and Will Not be. There are essays ranking the Republican nominees and essays making the case for Hillary Clinton. How wrong he was, and how painful it is to revisit that hope.

That being said, there are really thoughtful and provocative essays about male privilege, sexism, allyship and being a good parent and partner. Scalzi recognizes that he’s been dealt a really great hand in life and that he played his cards well. He also acknowledges that his understanding of the world and his privilege is imperfect and that he has room to improve. These essays are where the gold of this collection are mined.

It’s absolutely worth your time to read this collection of essays.

Virtue Signaling and Other Heresies is sold-out in hardback, but the ebook is available now from Subterranean Press.

Thank you to Subterranean Press for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review. 

Nonfiction

Ask A Manager – Alison Green

5 stars

I have been a long-time fan of Alison Green’s Ask A Manager blog, where she dishes out practical advice for workplace questions all week long. The letters she answers range from the mundane to the absolutely absurd and hard-to-believe. I am so excited about her new book, where she distills years worth of advice into a handy workplace manual that will be useful for new grads and seasoned professionals alike.

 

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Cover from Goodreads

 

The great thing about Alison’s advice is that she empowers readers by giving them scripts, and suggestions on how to approach scary conversations about raises, promotions and asking your manager to step in when your coworker is cutting you out of important conversations.

The scenarios Alison addresses in her book are real scenarios, sent in by letter writers asking for advice on how to handle specific challenges they are facing in the workplace. Dedicated readers of the blog might recognize a story or two, and a lot of the advice will feel familiar, but many of the letters included are new content, never seen on the AAM blog. Alison has distilled years of her best advice into an easy to access guide.

I can personally attest to drawing confidence from Alison’s posts on how to ask for a promotion. Her scripts and framing were so crucial to my approach, which was successful.

Alison’s advice is useful for anyone with a reasonable boss. As Alison herself notes – an unreasonable person won’t be reasoned with. The scripts and advice Alison shared aren’t magic bullets, but they are wonderful tools for anyone in a workplace to have at hand.

Ask A Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses and the Rest of Your Life at Work is on sale tomorrow, May 1! You can be sure I am purchasing a copy to gift to my about-to-graduate-from-college little sister.

I received an eARC from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Cookbook · Nonfiction

The One Bottle Cocktail – Maggie Hoffman

2 stars

My best friend had her housewarming party this weekend. We were talking about the drinks she’d have on hand, and that she wanted to offer gin and whisky, but maybe do something a little more than a gin and tonic and a whisky with ginger beer. I mentioned that I had a copy of this neat-sounding cocktail book and that I’d peruse the pages for ideas.

 

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Cover from Goodreads

 

Here’s the description from the publisher:

A collection of 80 wonderfully creative, fresh, and delicious cocktails that only require a bottle of your favorite spirit, plus fresh ingredients you can easily find at the market.

In The One-Bottle Cocktail, Maggie Hoffman brings fancy drinking to the masses by making cocktails approachable enough for those with a tiny home bar. Conversational and authoritative, this book puts simple, delicious, and inventive drinks into your hands wherever you are, with ingredients you can easily source and no more than one spirit. Organized by spirit–vodka, gin, agave, rum, brandy, and whiskey–each chapter offers fresh, eye-opening cocktails like the Garden Gnome (vodka, green tomato, basil, and lime), Night of the Hunter (gin, figs, thyme, and grapefruit soda), and the Bluest Chai (rye whiskey, chai tea, and balsamic vinegar). These recipes won’t break the bank, won’t require an emergency run to the liquor store, and (best of all!) will delight cocktail lovers of all stripes.

Unfortunately for me, this book is a flop. While each of the drinks does only require a single spirit, many of the other ingredients are things I’m even less likely to have on hand. The recipes are pretty complex and many have odd things in them. Every single one of them would have required a special trip to the store. None of these are spur of the moment drinks. This book might work for those with a tiny home bar, but you’d need to have a robust fridge with many funky ingredients (who just keeps green tomato on hand?). You would want to make these drinks only when you’ve got friends over, and there’s a lot of effort put forth per drink.

I wouldn’t say this is a beginner friendly cocktail book. Definitely more for an experienced yet adventurous home mixologist who wants to make a specialty cocktail or two for a special event. These are definitely not “Tuesday night after work” drinks.

My friend stuck with her original plan for the party since neither of us wanted to be stuck playing bartender all evening.

I received an eARC from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

 

Home & Garden · Nonfiction

Our Native Bees – Paige Embry

5 stars

There’s so much more to the story than honey bees. In the last few years, at least for me, bees have been in the news more and more frequently. Bees dying! We’re all going to starve! No one knows how to stop colony collapse! Mites, fungus, and disease – oh my! And then, on the edges, I started hearing about mason bees. And then leafcutter bees. And then suddenly I owned a house, and keeping bees was suddenly something I could explore for more than just curiosity’s sake.

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Cover image from Goodreads

Our Native Bees by Paige Embry is a thoughtful introduction to some of the 4,000 bees native to the United States. Embry’s wry sense of humor and storytelling keeps this book from being a dry textbook recounting of bee facts and instead is an engaging book that will endear our tiny neighbors to anyone with a passing interest in our most efficient pollinators.

Embry’s book is full of anecdotes of bee hunting adventures and stunning photographs. From likely-extinct Franklin’s bumblebee to blue orchard bees, and even the ubiquitous European honey bee, Embry profiles the different species in such a way that I can’t help but want to install a mason bee house in my backyard as soon as the weather is appropriate.

In a wondrous turn of luck, Embry lives in Seattle, where I also live, so her personal beekeeping anecdotes are applicable directly to me, and where I live. In her section about blue orchard bees (also called mason bees), Embry references Crown Bees, a company based in Woodinville Washington, just across Lake Washington from Seattle, and a company I’m already familiar with. Crown Bees is the company that kicked off my interest in mason and leafcutter bees, and where I intend to purchase my cocoons and supplies from this spring.

Along with profiling the different bees, Embry also outlines the many challenges facing our bees – natural and manmade.

A fascinating read for gardeners and bee enthusiasts alike, Our Native Bees is on sale February 7 from Timber Press.

I received an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Nonfiction

Distillery Cats – Brad Thomas Parsons

5 Stars

I received an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Distillery Cats is a charming book full of lovely little profiles of the cats that live and work in distilleries and breweries throughout the United States. The profiles are accompanied by cocktail recipes from the respective distilleries, many of which are named after or inspired by the featured feline. In addition to the drink recipes, the profiles include illustrations of the cats in their element.

As a cat-lover (I have three) and spirited-liquor lover myself (currently sipping on a gin and tonic), Distillery Cats appealed to me on both fronts. Not only do I now have about 20 new Instagram accounts to follow (never too many cat pictures!) but I have been introduced to new distilleries and breweries to seek out. A few are even local to me in the Seattle area! (Field trip!)

I particularly loved the profiles of Pizza and of General Patton. Their stories put a smile on my face.

Distillery Cats is a quick, fun read and would make the perfect gift for any cat-loving drinker you know. It hits shelves on September 19, 2017.