Book Club: A Few Thoughts on Hygge

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Several days ago I asked for my readers’ definition of hygge the Danish concept of happiness, joy and contentment. Here are my friend Tari’s thoughts.

 

“My kids, while sometimes a source of worry and frustration, make me laugh harder than anyone else in my life. I love going to the movies, usually alone so I can really lose myself in the story (except superhero movies, we all go together for those). Singalongs, quotealongs, pub trivia. The symphony makes me cry every time, but in the best of ways. Looking at art, whether in a museum, gallery, or on the street. Really good, creative food. Clean sheets. My purring cat. Meeting people I respect, both in and out of the public eye. Writing, of course – something I can’t not do. Delicious wine. Having a car – something I did NOT have for 3 years. A beautiful fragrance. A flattering outfit. Having a good hair day. When I know the answer to something nobody else does. Someone noticing when I work hard on something. When it’s 70 degrees outside. A clean kitchen. Comfy shoes and fuzzy slippers. Yoga pants. My Xmas tree that I leave up all year.”

Book Reviews: Dating Tips for the Unemployed by Iris Smyles

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I don’t know what I was looking for when I found Smyles book in the fiction section of my local library. Perhaps what I was looking for was a story about a woman’s difficulty navigating the world of love and romance while also being out of a job, something I bet a lot of us can relate to. Dating and trying to the find the “right one” or at least the “right one at this particular time because I want to get laid or at least not spend a Saturday night on the couch with a remote in one hand and a pint of store brand of mint chocolate chip mint ice cream in the other” while out of work can be quite a conundrum. It can also make for one heck of a book. Alas, not this book.

At first, Dating Tips for the Unemployed looked promising. Its book jacket provided a lot positive comments and Smyles’ author photo showed an attractive woman in a fetching retro look. And speaking of retro, throughout the book featured old school ads found in the back of magazines ages ago.

Smyles can be an entertaining writer, at times filled with wit and whimsy, and at other times, moribund and melancholic. But as Dating Tips for the Unemployed went on (and on, and on, and on), I found Smyles writing style and her story tiresome.

Dating Tips for the most part reads more like a memoir than a novel. First off, the main character is named Iris Smyles. Gee, I guess coming up with a different name was too difficult for Smyles.

For someone unemployed Iris has it pretty easy. There are no stories of trying to get unemployment, updating one’s resume, navigating the on-line obstacle courses of job searches, bad interviews, rejection letters…or worse, no feedback at all. There are no stories of trying to stretch a dollar until it screams, living on Ramen noodles, crying over wondering how you’re going to pay the rent and bills, and thinking you hit the lottery when you find a five dollar bill in a pocket of your blue jeans.

In fact, this book makes unemployment sound like a grand adventure of dating a lot of guys, travels to Greece, and fun nights on the town and goofy tales of family antics. Sure, this pretty much explains what it’s like to be out of work for most people…only not.

But apparently Iris lives in a different world than most of us. She appears to be fully supported by mommy and daddy even though she’s well into her thirties (Smyles was born in 1978). She travels to her family’s country of origin, which is Greece (gee, when I’m down on my luck I can barely afford a tasty gyro from Apollo Café on Brady Street) and men can’t help but be drawn to her. Most of Dating Tips for the Unemployed is devoted to Smyles’ endless cycle of boyfriends that for the most part are never fully fleshed out to be compelling or interesting. Even the sex is a total snooze fest. I’ve written grocery lists that were more erotic.

I think for the most part, Smyles is self-absorbed but not exactly self-aware, a trait that wears pretty thin after someone gets past the age of 25. She tries to come across as quirky and different, but is just another flavorless manic pixie dream girl like a piece of chewed Juicy Fruit gum that’s been on your bed post for a couple of days.

And no I’m not being a jealous hater. She’s very fortunate to have supportive parents and yes, she is quite attractive. I can figure out why men are drawn to her. But after a while, she’s just another boring #privilgedwhitewoman, nothing new under the sun. She’s more Elizabeth Gilbert than Dorothy Parker.

In the end, Smyles book was one I should have ignored and left on the library shelf. If I want to read about a young woman dealing with being out of work and out of money, I’ll re-read The Broke Diaries by Angela Nissel. And when it comes to a woman and her collection of paramours, you can’t go wrong with Pamela Des Barres’ I’m With the Band.

Book Marks

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Book Riot offers some tips on how to hold an old-school library soiree!

Who says indie book stores are dead? Not these former Barnes and Noble workers.

In her latest memoir What Happened, Hillary Clinton calls Trump a “creep.”

Louise “y’all just jealous” Linton’s so-called memoir is a #loadofcrap.

Crush alert!!!! The Handmaid’s tale made Joseph Fiennes a bigger feminist!

Girls Write Now share highlights from their awards show.

Got questions about race and writing? Roxane Gay has answers.

A new memoir about the late Nora Ephron? Yes, I’ll definitely have what she’s having!!!!

Another funny lady we lost too soon, Erma Bombeck, on writing humor.

Speaking of funny dead ladies, Dorothy Parker was a friend of the NAACP.

 

Book Club: What’s Your Definition of Hygge?

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As you all know I recently reviewed Meik Wiking’s Book “The Little Book of Hygge.” I really enjoyed this book and it’s really inspired me to think about what people, places and things bring me hygge (or as I called it in my review #niceties). So my lovely readers I would like to know this. What people, places and things fill you with hygge, niceties, joy, happiness, etc. You can email me at thebookself@yahoo.com. You can use your name or a pseudonym. I’ll publish your answers as I receive them

Thank you so much. I look forward to your responses.

 

 

Book Review: Little Book of Hygge-Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking

2016 was an immensely difficult year for me and so many others. And as 2017 rolls along I still feel a certain sadness personally, professionally and politically. And I’m not the only one. So it was truly a blessing to find Meik Wiking’s book The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living.

Hygge (pronounced “hue-guh”) is the concept of happiness, fulfillment, well-being, and contentment. Denmark is considered one of the happiest countries in the world, and Wiking is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen so needless to say, he knows what he is talking about.

And just what is hygge to Wiking and many of his fellow Danes? Well, a lot of it has to do with warmth and light, which is not surprising considering it can get pretty cold and dark in Denmark. Danes love their fireplaces and wearing comfy bulky sweaters. They also have a love of soft lighting from well-placed lamps and burning candles. Only the candles Danes prefer are unscented.

Danes also find hygge in togetherness, whether it’s with their families, friends or just their communities as a whole. Just connecting with a loving soul via actual human contact (not social media) can fill a Dane with contentment and joy.

One way Danes connect with through food and drink. Having tea or coffee with a cherished loved one is a great way to inspire hygge, and so is throwing a dinner party or having a potluck with friends. In The Little Book of Hygge Wiking generously shares some beloved recipes, which as a total foodie I can’t wait to try out. And I now for myself, one way I connect with others is through my love of baking (my sugar mint cookies should be declared a national treasure).

Here are few thing the Danes feel are hygge:

  • Holidays like Christmas
  • Board Games
  • Music
  • Books
  • Sundays
  • Pets
  • Television
  • Parties
  • Plants
  • Sports

I must say I agree with a lot of things on that list. I love to listen to music, and I often use it as a healing balm when I’m feeling a bit down. It’s no secret I love books (or else I wouldn’t have this blog). I love Sundays. I start off my Sundays watching one of my favorite TV programs CBS Sunday Morning, and then I head off to my church First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, where I am not only treated to a wonderful service, I also connect with a like-minded community. I adore my fur baby, Pokey Jones whose purrs and unconditional love fill me with hygge.

Other countries have their own concepts and words for hygge. Canadians call it hominess. In Norway it is called koselig. German’s call their concept of hygge (yes, Germans want to be happy, too) gemutlichkeit. What would I call hygge as an American? Well, I call it niceties.

Hygge is practiced all year around and Wiking mentions hygge for each Month. January is a great month for having movie nights. In March, you can have theme nights; my theme for the month of March? My birthday, of course! May is a great time for a week-end getaway to a cabin or maybe a lovely bed and breakfast place. Summer picnics are ideal in the month of July. Wiking inspires us to have soup cook-offs in November.

Hygge doesn’t have to be costly. Often they are free or very inexpensive. Wiking suggests making your own “Hygge Emergency Kit.” His suggestions for such a kit include candles, chocolate, your favorite tea, books, a collection of treasured hand-written letters, warm woolen sweaters, a notebook and pen, and music.

In the past few days I have been feeling sad with the state of our world and some personal issues I’m dealing with. But reading about hygge reminded me to think of good things that filled me with happiness and joy. The eclipse filled me with hygge, reminding how inspiring the galaxy can be and how one moment can fill the world with joy and wonderment. This morning I woke up to find a text and an IM from two friends, which lifted my spirits. I’m currently reading some good books. I made a fabulous meal last night. Heck, even a decent night’s sleep helped me feel hygge.

I truly loved The little Book of Hygge and am so grateful for Meik Wiking. This book and its ideas will inspire me for quite a long time. We should all feel and practice hygge.

 

 

 

Guest Review: Goodbye, Good Girl By Renee Blossom-Review by Jen Locke

I’m sure many of you are familiar with Jen Locke. She’s written guest reviews for the books The Drowning Guard earlier this year and wrote a review of A Winsome Murder back in 2013. Now she’s back with another review of Renee Blossom’s book Goodbye, Good Girl, which comes out this October.

I really wanted to like this. So many teenagers and children have absent parents. So when a young woman sets off on a quest to rescue her father from perceived life-threatening danger, it’s an incredibly promising story.

Kandace sets off after an event one afternoon when her mother, Ginger, was taken to the ER for an opiate overdose and a strange, well-armed man had entered the family home looking for her father. Kandace thinks her father is a chef who travels the world, cooking for important people. She can’t reach her father – he won’t answer the phone or text her back. After a visit with her mother, who explains there’s an address for him in her bedroom, Kandace decides it’s her responsibility to find him in California and save his life.

When she arrives in St Louis with her boyfriend, he chickens out and goes home because his mom is telling him that’s what he has to do. Kandace isn’t going home. She’s got too much at risk. So she takes off, leaving everything in his car.

She meets April at a bus stop and April recruits her to try exotic dancing – just for one night – to make enough money to get to LA.

As happens too often to young people, Kandace gets addicted to the attention and the highs, even the highs caused by ecstasy. She truly is her mother’s daughter, huh?

Here’s where things get weird. Okay, extra weird. The club in St Louis is like a magical fantasy version of the most dreamy strip club to work at. Maybe clubs like this exist somewhere. Maybe. Probably not. And if they did, they wouldn’t take a new dancer on the same day they met her. But most clubs don’t have magical church women that come with food, gift baskets, and sage advice. They don’t have a beauty, hair, makeup, whatever area. And they definitely don’t have wardrobe. They have a dressing room. With stations that girls stakeout at the beginning of their shifts. They put their belongings, unsecured usually (though there’s usually always someone around to keep everyone honest), by these stations. They bring their own clothes, do their own makeup and hair, and take care of their own personal grooming on their off time. I know, I’ve worked in one such club. And once you’ve seen one, they’re pretty much all the same – give or take a few details here and there.

Blossom takes this opportunity to try her hand at writing light erotica and it sometimes feels forced.

Kandace (aka Autumn) travels from St Louis to Las Vegas to LA, dancing with April the whole way. They became very close friends very quickly and it might be my general outlook on life, but I was waiting for a big betrayal that never happened.

When Kandace and April arrive in LA and locate Kandace’s father, it turns out that he was never in danger. The heavily-armed man who entered her home is someone he knows and is not a threat. Her father is some clandestine operative that cooks sometimes to gain access to events for his work. And by now, this part of the story feels irrelevant.

The entire way, Kandace is incredibly, unbelievably naïve. Even by the end of the book, her actions and assumptions don’t show much evidence of a maturing young woman. She seems to take time to think through her future, but she’s made her decisions long before she admits to them.

I admit it, I was hoping for some awesome story of a young lady saving her father showing ultimate girl power and bringing the family back together again. That was mostly crushed because Kandace was too impulsive. For someone taking on such an important journey, she really didn’t waste time thinking or planning. And to me, that’s a shame. But the other part that drove me insane? Her father’s reaction to the fact that Kandace is now stripping for money. He can’t allow her the space she needs to be herself, to figure herself out, or to make mistakes. He can’t respect her as a human being. He infantilizes her. It’s horrible misogyny and he angered me to no end.

The redeeming thing about the book? So many stories try to tie things up into tidy little bows and make sure that people are happy. That’s not this book. If anything, there’s a much bigger wedge between Kandace and her father. She’s uncomfortable in her hometown. And she’s moving to a city half a continent away, abandoning her mother and sisters who depend on her (truly her father’s daughter, also), to live with a girl she’s known for all of a week. That’s not a happy ending. Not a tragic ending, either. But it’s how things happen in real life. If there’s one thing the author got right, it’s the ending. It’s how things get messy and mistakes get made and sometimes we can’t take them back. And that’s a valuable thing to learn. I admire authors who can take their story to that place without polishing it up all nice and shiny. Thanks for letting us see that our lives aren’t the only crazy lives out there.

I am grateful to NetGalley and Revolve Publishing for the ARC.

Book Review: Listen Liberal-Or, Whatever Happened to the Party of the People by Thomas Frank

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Anybody familiar with my little corner of the Internet, knows I am a liberal. And I don’t feel any shame in that title. I’m very proud of it and it is one that I hold close to my heart…however…

I have been troubled by the ideas, opinions and actions by some of my fellow liberals for a few years now but never could I quite voice it in an articulate, yet simple way.

So thank goodness for Thomas Frank and his latest book, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? In Listen, Liberal, Frank pretty much sums it up in a way I couldn’t without coming across like a blithering idiot.

Perhaps, you’re not familiar with the name Thomas Frank, but undoubtedly you’ve heard of his books. He wrote the classic What’s the Matter With Kansas, a book that should be on most political-minded folks reading list no matter what your views. I can also recommend two of his other books—The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule, and Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right.

This time out, instead of focusing on conservatives and the current state of the GOP, Frank focuses on his fellow liberals and the Democratic party, and his summary is not pretty.

In my life, I’ve always felt I straddled two worlds, not feeling entirely comfortable in either one. I was raised in a middle class home by two college educated parents. I graduated from an excellent college with the highest of honors. I have worked in the professional realm of media, high tech, consulting, finance, law and various creative endeavors. I have eaten brie and drink wine. I enjoy my city’s cultural landscape whether it be our local art galleries or our wonderful film fest.

However, I also grew up in a rural area.  My family history is mostly wooden spoons, not silver spoons (my maternal grandmother never attended high school). I drove to high school in a pick-up truck where guys wore John Deere hats and spit up their chewing tobacco into the drinking fountains. As an adult I lived in roach-infested apartments in really dodgy neighborhoods. My feet have walked on factory shop floors and the floors of several retail establishments. I have worked as a temp for longer than I care to admit. I’ve been poor, really poor, so poor I’ve eaten out of garbage cans and spent sleepless nights wondering if I’m going to end up homeless.

And in both of the worlds, I’ve felt marginalized and misunderstood. I am fully liberal, but today’s flavor of liberal (which favors the first world I noted) doesn’t quite understand the life I’ve lived in the second scenario I noted. And we’re worse off for not realizing this.

For the longest time, the Democratic base included many of those who work blue collar, pink collar and other assorted non-professional, managerial type of labor. Then something happened. This base of working class Jacks and Janes were cast aside for a more elitist class, which included those with college degrees (often post-undergrad) degrees, impressive job titles and even more impressive incomes. These elites are under the illusion that many of them earned their way to the top through mostly their merits. And though many of them had, a lot of them also had supportive families, good connections, went to the best schools, and were able to grab the brass ring of internships, and later great jobs. And a lot of their good fortune is due to just plain good luck.

Now many of these elitist liberals are socially liberal (which is wonderful). But they often ignore the plight of the working and service classes, the gulf between the haves and have nots, those living in rural areas, globalization, and the stagnation of wages (while CEO pay is through the roof).

As I mentioned, a lot of elitist liberals believe their success is due to merit, their talents, smarts, skills, and education. And sadly, many of these people look down at the “others.” Clearly they don’t have what it takes to succeed. It’s total snobbery.

What these liberals (and their “liberal gilt”) need to recognize is the great unwashed, the salt of the earth must be taken seriously. This includes their ideas, concerns, opinions, fears and aspirations. All of us have a stake in our country and its future. There is strength in numbers and those Democrats in power must listen to all of us (so far only Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and not to mention pundit Robert Reich seem to be open to doing this).

Sure, meritocracy is a nice concept. But so is a sense of empathy. Listen Liberal implores liberal elites to stop being such snobs, open their minds, hearts, and souls to those they think as “lesser” to make effective change that works for all of us.