The Happiness Project

April 28, 2011

I’ve been aware of the book (and blog) The Happiness Project for ages, and I’ve finally got around to buying the book.  I am blessed with time to read at the moment, after all!  So far I’m four chapters in, which equates to three months of Gretchen Rubin’s year-long experiment, and I’m absolutely loving it.  It helps that Rubin is a really good writer: her use of language is great and she’s so honest that it makes me feel far more inclined to reflect upon my own negative habits and how I might address them.

If you haven’t heard of The Happiness Project, start by checking out the blog.  It offers bite-sized ways to make life happier.  What could be better than that?

And on a happy note, I wanted to give you a recap of my achievements since yesterday, when I wrote:

Today’s plan: view the house at midday; drop Tristan off at his work; be brave and drive around until I find my way back to the shops at Takapuna; buy a sat nav; get a new SIM card and reactivate my iPhone.

We viewed the house and really liked it: it’s quite small (and quite expensive), but it’s nice and in a good area, and I think that it will suit us well until we’re ready to buy a house of our own.  We’ve submitted our rental application form and are just waiting for the landlord to confirm everything.

I did drop Tristan off at work yesterday, but the weather was filthy (so far, it rains A LOT in Auckland), so I didn’t explore.  However, I’ve got the car to myself today and tomorrow because Tristan’s in Christchurch for meetings, so I drove to Takapuna and back this morning, and I didn’t get lost or have any motor disasters.  I really don’t understand why I’m a fairly nervous driver: I’ve been driving for six years and have never had a moment of drama.  It’s stupid to be worried.  I should just drive more.  And I did buy a sat nav today, so I will be able to explore with no hassles.  Hurrah!

And I spent half an hour in the Telecom shop and have got a new SIM card and account for my phone, so I will unlock my iPhone later today and get it all organised.  And that will make me happier.

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Revealing notes

January 9, 2011

A while ago I read a Canadian book called The Fabulous Girl’s Guide to Life, which was just your typical ‘this is how to be confident and sensational’ kind of thing aimed at women in their 20s (so I really can’t explain why I got it out of the library, but that’s a topic for another time).

When I came to the chapter regarding romantic relationships, something stood out for me:

It seems that a previous reader was working through some issues…


Modifications

January 6, 2011

I’ve been tinkering with my blog and have added two new pages: films, to list what I’ve watched (because I really do seem to watch a lot of films, as you will discover); and craft, to post photos of the stuff that I make throughout the year.

And I’ve started listing my recent reading material on the books page once again.  I’ve added the no-brainer stuff I read at the end of 2010 – the first three Diana Gabaldon novels (the most fantastic trashy historical stuff – highly recommended), and Jump! – the latest from Jilly Cooper.

Now, I’ve written before about my love of Jilly Cooper, but I’m sad to say that I think she’s finally passed her best-by date and it’s time that she was put out to pasture.  Jump! was pretty ordinary and parts of it were terrible.  This was my favourite sentence from the entire book:

“Sheep-coloured hills were covered in sheep.”

I can almost forgive the author for writing something like that (almost – she is getting on a bit, after all), but how did the typist fail to notice it?  And how did it survive the editing process? Astonishing.


Little House on the Prairie

November 29, 2010

I really enjoyed this article in The Guardian.  I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books when I was younger and I’ve found them very interesting to re-read as an adult; as a young reader, I didn’t fully grasp quite how close the Ingalls family came to starving to death during The Long Winter, for example.

I hadn’t really picked up on Pa Ingalls’s general hopelessness, though, so this was quite fascinating:

Her novels – progressively darker and more ambivalent – revealed a woman with a robust hatred of debt and credit, and a deep suspicion that only the government and rich financiers back east made any money out of the great land-rush dream. She married in her black cashmere dress to save the trouble and expense of an elaborate wedding, and refused to say “I obey” in her marriage vows, defying social convention. She wrote, “I could not obey anybody against my better judgment” – a view possibly forged by watching her mother suffer from her father’s disastrous financial decisions.

While she often writes of her desire to be “free like the Indians”, riding bareback, Little House on the Prairie is built illegally on occupied Osage Indian land and the family live in fear of a massacre. Her father’s bad judgment forces him to abandon it before they are evicted by federal troops. He buys a Minnesota farm, apparently oblivious to the regular plagues of grasshoppers that, combined with prairie fires and duststorms, drive the Ingalls into crushing debt.

I do remember the novels getting more and more serious – The First Four Years is very sombre in tone.  And no wonder:

She then documents heartrending hardship in The First Four Years, which dealt with her early married life and was published posthumously in 1971. The couple are burdened by a massive mortgage; drought, hailstorms and fires destroy their farmhouse and then Almanzo is crippled at 31 by diphtheria. The book tells of the secret sorrows of women. In one incident Wilder recounts her horror as their desperate childless neighbours the Boasts offer her their best horse in return for her baby daughter, Rose. Wilder herself lost her only son in infancy.

There’s only one thing for it: I’m going to have to track down this set of novels and read them again.


Playing with the Grown-ups

September 22, 2010

Last week I read Sophie Dahl’s first novel Playing with the Grown-ups.  I was genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed it.  I didn’t really have any firm positive or negative expectations and had expected it to probably be OK, but it was more than that: some of the writing was absolutely beautiful and I think her use of language and, in particular, the creative and charming way that she described some things put her on a par with authors far more experienced than her.

My one criticism would be that she perhaps took the famed writing adage ‘show, don’t tell’ a little too seriously: I was left wanting more details about the characters.  As far as flaws go this is a reasonably minor one, I admit, but I felt like the book ended a little too soon.  This could have been addressed by pruning some of the first half, but on the whole she did really well.

I know that her career as a TV chef was short-lived (I didn’t watch her show), so I hope that she will continue to write instead.  She’s really pretty good.


Degrees for Everyone

September 21, 2010

Last week I finished the novel Degrees for Everyone: the second time I’ve read it in recent years.  It’s a satricial look at the modernising agenda in many universities and, in particular, the way in which universities have been forced to become money-making institutions by people who, perhaps, fail to appreciate the value of academia.

The story is fairly funny, but the quality of the writing is a little suspect.  I lost count of the number of times that the evil Chancellor’s face ‘darkened’ as he became angry: at one stage I think it happened twice on the same page.  I don’t tend to blame the authors for this kind of laziness or indulgence (although the buck obviously does stop with them) – I blame poor editing.  Surely the editor’s job is avoid this kind of thing by reading the manuscript with clear eyes?

Sir Robert ‘Bob’ Jones is a bit of a legend, though.  If you aren’t a New Zealander you won’t have heard of him, but in the mid 1980s he used his self-earned property fortune to play the role of political maverick, setting up a political party called the New Zealand Party in response to then prime minister Rob Muldoon’s call for a snap election.  Although Jones’s party didn’t win any seats, it is often credited with the demise of Muldoon’s government because it split the vote fairly successfully.  This was obviously Jones’s intention: he disbanded the party soon after the 1984 election.

When I was a kid my mother had a couple of Jones’s books of letters.  They were comedy gold.  It seemed that he was the original smart-arse, always ready to write a good letter to a newspaper editor.  His wealth meant that he was the unwilling target of a lot of begging letters and in his books he would publish both the request and his (often incredibly rude by totally hilarious) replies.  Often, this would spark a furious response from the beggar and a long chain of correspondence would ensue.  Jones always got the last word, though.

Anyway, this novel was a very good idea and entertaining, but he could have done it better, I think.


Books page

September 4, 2010

I’ve started a new page to list the books I’ve read.  I’ll update it on a regular basis (you’ll see that I read quite a lot).  I’ve scored the books out of 20 and have written very brief comments.  I’ve also linked to the books on sale at amazon.co.uk and, in some cases, to the relevant author’s website or blog.  And if I mention a book in more detail in a blog entry I will link to from the books page list as well.

And I finally joined the library today!  It’s splendid: I’ve borrowed four books already.