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.

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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Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

‘Armageddon only happens once, you know. They don’t let you go around again until you get it right.’

People have been predicting the end of the world almost from its very beginning, so it’s only natural to be skeptical when a new date is set for Judgement Day. But what if, for once, the predictions are right, and the apocalypse really is due to arrive next Saturday, just after tea? You could spend the time left drowning your sorrows, giving away all your possessions in preparation for the rapture, or laughing it off as (hopefully) just another hoax. Or you could just try to do something about it.

It’s a predicament that Aziraphale, a somewhat fussy angel, and Crowley, a fast-living demon now finds themselves in. They’ve been living amongst Earth’s mortals since The Beginning and, truth be told, have grown rather fond of the lifestyle and, in all honesty, are not actually looking forward to the coming Apocalypse.

And then there’s the small matter that someone appears to have misplaced the Antichrist… 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What a delightful, quirky book! I watched the TV show first (which I’ll get to in a sec) and followed it up with the book, and the absurdist, clever tone in both was a perfect match for my sense of humor.

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Maybe You Should Talk to Someone – Lori Gottlieb

One day, Lori Gottlieb is a therapist who helps patients in her Los Angeles practice. The next, a crisis causes her world to come crashing down. Enter Wendell, the quirky but seasoned therapist in whose office she suddenly lands. With his balding head, cardigan, and khakis, he seems to have come straight from Therapist Central Casting. Yet he will turn out to be anything but.

As Gottlieb explores the inner chambers of her patients’ lives — a self-absorbed Hollywood producer, a young newlywed diagnosed with a terminal illness, a senior citizen threatening to end her life on her birthday if nothing gets better, and a twenty-something who can’t stop hooking up with the wrong guys — she finds that the questions they are struggling with are the very ones she is now bringing to Wendell.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What a great read! Lori Gottlieb is a columnist for the New York Times and The Atlantic (she’s the therapist in their Ask a Therapist series); I’ve been loosely following her writings there for a while and have always really appreciated her intelligence and empathy, so when she came out with a full-length book about being a therapist and going to therapy herself, I knew it had to be interesting.

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Born A Crime – Trevor Noah

The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of a young mans coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Wow, you guys. This book made my jaw drop open MULTIPLE times while reading it. I had zero idea what a loaded, difficult, and traumatic childhood Trevor Noah experienced growing up.

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There There – Tommy Orange

Rating: 4/5

What an insanely powerful book. When we think of Native Americans, we tend to think of 19th-century Cherokees on horseback and shooting arrows at bison, or perhaps something vague about moccasins and canoes and totem poles, maybe with colorful, feathered headdresses thrown in – all hopelessly dated stereotypes. Orange wrote this book to address this exact issue after noticing there’s next to nothing about modern-day Native American life in art/literature/general culture, and wanted to share what their lives really look like while putting it in the context of a novel. And the result is just devastating.

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