The Four Tendencies – Gretchen Rubin

In this groundbreaking analysis of personality type, bestselling author of Better Than Before and The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin reveals the one simple question that will transform what you do at home, at work, and in life.

During her multibook investigation into understanding human nature, Gretchen Rubin realized that by asking the seemingly dry question “How do I respond to expectations?” we gain explosive self-knowledge. She discovered that based on their answer, people fit into Four Tendencies: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Our Tendency shapes every aspect of our behavior, so using this framework allows us to make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress, and engage more effectively.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I was a non-believer of Gretchen Rubin for a long time. She became famous with her book The Happiness Project, in which she realized she was unhappy and so spent a year investigating and doing things that would make her happier. Theoretically this sounds like a nice pursuit until I learned that she basically had it all already – a beautiful family, a loving and handsome and wealthy husband, a posh home in New York City, etc. I still respected her pursuit of happiness because I wasn’t about to begrudge anyone of that, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t roll my eyes at her “woe is me” situation.

BUT. Then she wrote Better Than Before, which examines habits and sorts people into four different types of personalities, and I read an interpretation of myself that completely answered some questions that have tortured me since I was a child.

Let me back up a little here. While Better Than Before is the OG book that covers a lot of ground,The Four Tendencies is a deeper dive into just the personality types themselves: Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, and Rebel. I’m an Obliger, which means I’m primarily motivated by external accountability and do excellently in anything relating to completing requests/satisfying others, but can’t keep any promises to myself for shit. THIS WAS REVOLUTIONARY TO ME! My entire life, I’ve always hated myself for being lazy and a procrastinator, someone who can’t work up the internal motivation to learn or do anything for herself. And then this book comes along and tells me it’s ok that I’m the way I am – actually a large portion of the population is the same way, and it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me.

When I read this, I felt the same way as I did after reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts. It was like someone finally understood me and my life was validated. Which sounds dramatic, but it is what it is.

The solution to Obliger problems is to have external accountability for anything that’s important to me. For example, if I’m training for a half-marathon, tell people about it so that I can’t play off missing workouts, or join a running group. If I’m invited to movie night with friends but know I won’t want to change out of pajamas after dinner, offer to pick up a friend on the way there.

I’m still working on doing this more, but honestly this book was eye-opening to me. I don’t think everyone will benefit from it as much as I did, but if you suspect you might also be an Obliger or Rebel, it might be really helpful.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – Michael Chabon

Joe Kavalier, a young Jewish artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdini-esque escape, has just smuggled himself out of Nazi-invaded Prague and landed in New York City. His Brooklyn cousin Sammy Clay is looking for a partner to create heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit America – the comic book. Drawing on their own fears and dreams, Kavalier and Clay create the Escapist, the Monitor, and Luna Moth, inspired by the beautiful Rosa Saks, who will become linked by powerful ties to both men. With exhilarating style and grace, Michael Chabon tells an unforgettable story about American romance and possibility.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is probably one of the most underrated books I’ve ever read! I rarely hear it discussed anywhere, and think I only discovered it via NPR’s Book Concierge, which is an amazing tool and everyone should check it out (it’s also a lot of fun). The scope is enormous – from Joe’s origins in Nazi Europe to joining his cousin Sammy in New York City to create popular comic books, to their involvement in World War II, and finally ending with them as adults with families.

Most of the book centers on their creative years as comic book writers, following them from complete newbies in the comic world who got paid pennies at a time, to seasoned pros who dreamed up some of the best-selling superheroes of their day. Sammy and Joe are like day and night – Sammy is a goofy-looking quick talker with endless ideas for content (would be a great influencer in this day and age 😆), while Joe is shy and tall, a talented magician and artist both. I can’t say good enough things about both characters because they were so wonderfully developed. I liked spending time with each of them and learning their dreams and secrets and heartaches, and the sense of boyish bravado and optimism really shines through. Even the secondary characters were satisfyingly fleshed out too. It’s a pretty long book so there’s a couple of slow sections, but Chabon is such a brilliant, zany writer that I chugged through those anyway. I just had a feeling that he wouldn’t let me down with the ending, and he definitely pulled through.

If you think it’s not the book for you because you’re not into comics, don’t worry! I’m not either, and almost let that stop me from picking it up, but I’m really glad I gave it a chance. It was worth the long haul, and I wish there were more writers like Chabon.

The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway

This short novel, already a modern classic, is the superbly told, tragic story of a Cuban fisherman in the Gulf Stream and the giant Marlin he kills and loses — specifically referred to in the citation accompanying the author’s Nobel Prize for literature in 1954.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I like this book for what it is: simple and straightforward. To all the people who try to seek deeper meaning and symbolism from this story, I have only this quote from Hemingway himself to offer:

“There isn’t any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know.”

Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway, despite all his issues, just can’t be denied as a great writer – it’s evident in the sheer amount of storytelling he can do in 120 concise pages. The narrative has always been disappointing to me, but only because we all want the happy ending where he returns home with the marlin intact and is hailed as the village hero. But life is rarely that perfect, isn’t it? This ending is much more realistic, and Santiago nonetheless still gets some recognition when the other fishermen see the skeleton of the marlin on the beach. I always leave it not happy, but satisfied.

P.S. This 1-star review on Goodreads made me laugh out loud:

Worst book ever.

Just throw the fucking fish back in. Fuck.

Trick Mirror – Jia Tolentino

Jia Tolentino has become a peerless voice of her generation, tackling the conflicts, contradictions, and sea changes that define us and our time. Now, in this dazzling and entirely original collection of nine essays, written with a rare combination of give and sharpness, wit and fearlessness, she delves into the forces that warp our vision, demonstrating a stylistic potency and critical dexterity found nowhere else.

Trick Mirror is an enlightening, unforgettable trip through the river of self-delusion that surges just beneath the surface of our lives. This is a book about the incentives that shape us, and about how hard it is to see ourselves clearly in a culture that revolves around the self. In each essay, Tolentino writes about a cultural prism: the rise of the nightmare social Internet; the American scammer as millennial hero; the literary heroine’s journey from brave to blank to bitter; the mandate that everything, including our bodies, should always be getting more efficient and beautiful until we die. Gleaming with Tolentino’s sense of humor and capacity to elucidate the impossibly complex in an instant, and marked by her desire to treat the reader with profound honesty, Trick Mirror is an instant classic of the worst decade yet.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is an outstanding collection of essays examining different aspects of our society. I really enjoy Tolentino’s sharp, incisive cultural critique, even if it tends to digress into side topics and lose the original train of thought, and her writing is very distinctly hers. In particular, her writing is dense. She comes off as intimidatingly intelligent and well-spoken through these essays (and she is – she went to UVA and was accepted to Yale) – the kind of writing that makes you wonder if you’re just not smart enough to understand what she’s saying – and doesn’t shy away from tackling complicated topics with sophisticated language and strong opinions. At the same time, she’s quite graceful in admitting when her perspective is limited, whether because she’s young and attractive (not her words, she’s too diplomatic for that), or because she’s Asian and can’t speak to the white experience, etc.

This is not a book to speed through. The density alone prevents that, but even if not for her writing style, her ideas are engaging enough to make you pay attention as well. I particularly liked the essays Always Be Optimizing (The Guardian has an excellent shortened version of it) about the pursuit of perfection by today’s millennial woman, and We Come from Old Virginia about the 2014 UVA rape case and the countless other unreported rapes that occurred on the one campus alone. The book was most readable when Tolentino made it more personal – sharing her anecdotes from being on reality TV and what it was like growing up deeply religious in Houston (I’m from Houston and recognized a lot of the references!). To help on the accessibility front, I think Trick Mirror could have benefited greatly from a paring down. Simplicity is always preferred over convolution. And there’s no need to rehash stories and events that are public knowledge – I was almost annoyed to see retellings of how Facebook was founded and how the 2008 financial crisis occurred.

This is well-worth the read because her life experiences – Asian in a deeply conservative, religious part of Texas, reality TV exposure, Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan during the coup – give her unique perspectives and she channels them into this furious onslaught of words. But make sure you have the time and patience before you dive in.

P.S. Isn’t the blurb more than a little fatalist though? I mean, “Trick Mirror is an instant classic of the worst decade yet”? And this was published in 2019, before the whole pandemic!

Dear Girls – Ali Wong

Ali Wong’s heartfelt and hilarious letters to her daughters (the two she put to work while they were still in utero), covering everything they need to know in life, like the unpleasant details of dating, how to be a working mom in a male-dominated profession, and how she trapped their dad.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

OMG this book is an absolute RIOT! I can’t tell you how many times I both laughed and cringed – and often at the same time – while reading it.

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Dubliners – James Joyce

This work of art reflects life in Ireland at the turn of the last century, and by rejecting euphemism, reveals to the Irish their unromantic realities. Each of the 15 stories offers glimpses into the lives of ordinary Dubliners, and collectively they paint a portrait of a nation.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

An odd and – dare I say it? – boring little book. The book blurb – glimpses into the lives of ordinary Dubliners – is very accurate…the short stories cover the extremely mundane lives of working-class city folk, and you’d be sorely disappointed if you went in expecting any interesting action.

And yet.

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The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar. Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Well you guys, this is it – my first ever 1-star review. Words cannot describe how much I detested this book.

Continue reading “The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins”