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flatlay of beartown by fredrik backman - book review | book book bitch

Published by Simon & Schuster on 25 Apr 2017
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People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatised and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

I wasn't that intrigued by this book from the blurb, but this book was so hyped on bookstagram, and some people said you didn't have to like hockey to enjoy the story, so I decided to give it a shot to see if it was all that. Given the reviews, I had a feeling this would be a book about, if not hockey, then about people and relationships.

All adults have days when we feel completely drained. When we no longer know quite what we spend so much time fighting for, when reality and everyday worries overwhelm us and we wonder how much longer we're going to be able to carry on. The wonderful thing is that we can all live through far more days like that without breaking than we think. The terrible thing is that we never know exactly how many.

The blurb was pretty accurate in its description, but it missed on mentioning the part about a jock committing sexual assault. (This topic is eerily familiar, and I immediately thought of the Stanford rape case.) This didn't happen until partway through the book, but it's central to the story, so I'm risking this spoiler! Also, maybe some people will find this a helpful trigger warning.

The story arc reminded me a lot of Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng; both start out slowly, a disruptive event happens partway through (which, for the record, is mentioned in Little Fires Everywhere's blurb, so I feel like I can do the same for Beartown), and the rest of the book deals with the repercussions.

The first page of Beartown got me hooked, but then my momentum trailed off. I found the slow start to Beartown difficult to get through for two main reasons:

First, lots of characters were introduced at the get go and the narrater switched between them quickly. It took me awhile to get my bearings and I wasn't attached to any one character until much later.

Second, I didn't buy into the town's hockey culture and I rolled my eyes at how dramatic everyone was about hockey. I understand that there are sports fanatics out there and that athletes are treated like gods (just look at high school, college, and professional sports), but I didn't care for reading about the minutiae of hockey politics (for those who've read the book: Sune's resignation was really dragged out, imo...), and the egos of the hockey players were almost maddening. The locker room talk was painful to read.

That was probably the point, so perhaps I should be giving points for that instead of docking them, but at least for me, the execution was so blatant to the point of being contrived, and the subsequent events that transpired became less poignant.

Another peeve was the overuse of universal statements, which I found contrived as well. I like how this reviewer put it: "He has a large cast of rotating characters and each character has a brief mini story arc that often (too often for me) concludes with the equivalent of a Jack Handey 'Deep Thought' or a grave pronouncement that is contrived to make you nod knowingly at the author's wisdom." Some excerpts I noted were:
  • "There are two things that are particularly good at reminding us how old we are: children and sports."
  • "That's both a big and small thing. Knowing that there are people who will never abandon you."
  • "The only thing the sport gives us are moments. But what the hell is life... apart from moments?"
  • "The easiest way to unite a group isn't through love, because love is hard. It makes demands. Hate is simple."
  • "How big is the world when you're twelve years old? Both infinite and infinitesimal."
  • "Sometimes life doesn't let you choose your battles. Just the company you keep."
  • "Because in the end that's all anyone can ask of another person. That we are prepared to admit that we don't know everything."
As I got more familiar with the characters, the story got more enjoyable for me to follow. There was more focus on the characters and a little less focus on hockey. I think the beginning focused so much on hockey to show how integral hockey culture was to the town, but I got the point and didn't need it belaboured. I would have loved for the whole book to focus more on the characters, and maybe on less characters too, so that we could really explore them in depth.

Most reviews I've seen have given Beartown 5 stars, and though they agree that it's a slow burn, they sing nothing but praise. The important and relevant issue of sexual assault resonated deeply with many people. I personally enjoyed this story but found a lot of noise to sift through. If you're intrigued by this story (or the hype, like I was), I would still recommend you to try it out and see for yourself!

flatlay of the alchemist by paulo coelho - book review | book book bitch

Published by HarperCollins on 01 May 1993
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Paulo Coelho's masterpiece tells the mystical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure. His quest will lead him to riches far different—and far more satisfying—than he ever imagined. Santiago's journey teaches us about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, of recognising opportunity and learning to read the omens strewn along life's path, and, most importantly, to follow our dreams.

I heard so many people mention this book as one they kept returning to from their childhood, so I was excited to finally get around to this one. I anticipated a story full of adventure, treasure, and soul searching, but I didn't realise just how heavy on the soul searching it would be. There was adventure too, but it wasn't an action-packed sort of adventure; it was more of a long, steady journey.

I have inside me the winds, the deserts, the oceans, the stars, and everything created in the universe.

This book is all about fulfilling your Personal Legend, i.e. your goals, dreams, purpose. For Santiago, it was journeying from the Andalusian countryside, through the desert, and to the Egyptian pyramids to find his treasure. Along the way, with guidance from a wise alchemist, we learn about Personal Legends, what it takes to pursue them, the challenges we face in pursuit of them, and why and how some of us give up on or forget about them. Cue existential crisis.

I'm afraid that if my dream is realized, I'll have no reason to go on living.

This was not a fun read for me. It was heavy. It almost made me sad. Maybe closer to frustrated. But I concede that perhaps all these reactions are more a reflection of where I am in life personally than of the book.

For her, every day was the same, and when each day is the same as the next, it's because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.

What I got from the book was to follow your heart/passion/destiny, almost blindly. This is in stark contrast to the message of the previous book I read, So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport, which argued that following your passion is about the worst advice and only works as an exception, not the rule. So perhaps my read of The Alchemist was simply ill-timed.

You will never be able to escape your heart. So it's better to listen to what it has to say.

While I definitely see the value of following your heart, I don't think that it's always as simple as that. In fact, I think it's almost never as simple as that. Sure, if you know what your Personal Legend is and you're pursuing it strategically, go for it. But what if you don't know what your Personal Legend is? What if you choose a Personal Legend for the sake of having one and close your eyes to a better path or opportunity? What if you try and fail and try and fail again? Is it enough to be relentless?

We all know the answer to that last one is to try again and fail better. But the book didn't touch on even that. Even more interestingly, what if the solution is not just to find a better path to your goal, but to reconsider your goal--not to settle, but to take advantage of where you are instead of blindly striving for something you're not. With these personal considerations in mind that I've barely begun to touch on, I found that this book was too simplistic and relied too heavily on destiny for me. As another reviewer put it, I found the parable-like quality of this story almost contrived. I could see how the parable-like quality might be enriching for children or even adults, but it wasn't for me.

Maybe this story struck too close to home. Maybe I'm taking it too personally because I'm still trying to figure out what my own passion/Personal Legend is. Reading this with Sadia, we agreed that this might not be a book for someone who is still figuring stuff out. If you're susceptible to existential crises, don't rule out reading this book completely, but maybe hold off on it until you're ready for it. On the other hand, if you're confident in your Personal Legend, you might find this story uplifting. (On that note, I really like this reviewer's observation that a good parable "should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable," but this book does the opposite. Or at least, that was true for me.)

People say strange things, the boy thought. Sometimes it's better to be with the sheep, who don't say anything. And better still to be alone with one's books. They tell their incredible stories at the time when you want to hear them. But when you're talking to people, they say some things that are so strange that you don't know how to continue the conversation.

For anyone who's at all interested in this story, I would still encourage you to read it and make up your own mind, as most people I talked to really enjoyed this book, as one of their all-time favourites no less! It's a short book anyway. And despite my misgivings, I did highlight many quotes and isolated words of wisdom.

Because I don't live in either my past or my future. I'm interested only in the present. If you can concentrate always on the present, you'll be a happy man. You'll see that there is life in the desert, that there are stars in the heavens, and that tribesmen fight because they are part of the human race. Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we're living right now.


flatlay of sour heart by jenny zhang - favourite quote | book book bitch

Published by Lenny on 01 Aug 2017
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I knew in the very fuzzy part of what I paid attention to that my parents had suffered, too, they had struggled, too, and whatever happened to them in the year before I was brought to America was somehow related to their refusal to ever order beverages at restaurants because paying an extra dollar or two for something they could get in bulk for cheaper activated some kind of trauma inside them. It really did. But even more astounding was how they never stopped me or my brother from ordering those drinks.

flatlay of so good they can't ignore you by cal newport - book review | book book bitch

Published by Grand Central Publishing on 18 Sept 2012
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In an unorthodox approach, Georgetown University professor Cal Newport debunks the long-held belief that "follow your passion" is good advice, and sets out on a quest to discover the reality of how people end up loving their careers.

Not only are pre-existing passions rare and have little to do with how most people end up loving their work, but a focus on passion over skill can be dangerous, leading to anxiety and chronic job hopping. Spending time with organic farmers, venture capitalists, screenwriters, freelance computer programmers, and others who admitted to deriving great satisfaction from their work, Newport uncovers the strategies they used and the pitfalls they avoided in developing their compelling careers.

Cal reveals that matching your job to a pre-existing passion does not matter. Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before. In other words, what you do for a living is much less important than how you do it.

With a title taken from the comedian Steve Martin, who once said his advice for aspiring entertainers was to "be so good they can't ignore you," Cal Newport's clearly written manifesto is mandatory reading for anyone fretting about what to do with their life, or frustrated by their current job situation and eager to find a fresh new way to take control of their livelihood. He provides an evidence-based blueprint for creating work you love, and will change the way you think about careers, happiness, and the crafting of a remarkable life.

I recently graduated from college and am now at a time in my life where I should be starting my career. I'm privileged to be in a financial position where I don't have to worry about making a living, but can pursue whatever I find fulfilling, whatever I have passion for. But I don't know what I'm passionate about, and I feel so inadequate for it. I've become frustrated about pursuing a career starting from a place of passion. So this title introducing a different career method from a place of skill instead of a place of passion really jumped out at me.

For Newport, "follow your passion" is about the worst advice you could give. Instead, "be so good they can't ignore you." Newport believes that passion is rare, takes time, and is a side effect of mastery; people who follow their passion successfully are the exception, not the rule.

The essence of being so good they can't ignore you is to create work you love by building enough career capital--rare and valuable skills--to invest into control and your mission--two traits that define sustainable, compelling careers. This requires dedication to the strain of deliberate practice. You cannot have control or identify your mission without sufficient career capital. Career capital takes you to the cutting edge of your field, where you can discover innovation at the adjacent possible. To explore those possibilities, you need to take lots of little bets to generate feedback and transform your mission into something remarkable.

The book explains these bolded concepts in more detail with more nuance and includes summaries at the end of every chapter.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is struggling with identifying a passion or who is about to pursue an identified passion (or is even already in pursuit of it). For those like me who are struggling with identifying a passion, this book may encourage you to redirect your efforts. For those who are contemplating a leap to explore a new passion, this book may clarify and revise your decision making process and strategy.

flatlay of the distance home by paula saunders - book review | book book chick

Published by Random House on 07 Aug 2018
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This moving debut novel is a profoundly American story. Set in a circa-1960s rural South Dakota--a hardscrabble place of cattle buyers, homegrown ballet studios, casual drug abuse, and unmitigated pressure to conform, all amid the great natural beauty of the region--the book portrays a loving but struggling young family in turmoil, and two siblings, René and Leon, who opt for different but equally extreme means of escaping the burdens of home. By turns funny and tragic, lyrical and terse, Paula Saunders' debut examines the classic American questions: What is to become of the vulnerable in a culture of striving and power? And what is the effect of this striving and power on both those who dominate and those who are overrun? It is an affecting novel, in which the author's compassionate narration allows us to sympathise, in turn, with everyone involved.

This is a midwestern family saga that starts off as a regular small town story.

I was immediately taken by the oldest child Leon, a sweet spirit, and by the second child René, a wild spirit. They are very much opposites, but they have love for each other. However, their childhood is far from charmed.

What was she supposed to do? Cut her hair because theirs wasn't as long? Keep herself to a single spin on the bars because the best of them could manage only two? Misspell all the spelling words on purpose? Just how self-annihilating did she have to be to avoid crushing these delicate prairie flowers?

Their father Al, who is away more often than not, can hardly stand Leon but has a soft spot for René, whereas their mother Eve is protective over Leon and has little patience for René; Al and Eve are constantly at odds with one another.

She couldn't help but wonder where all the hurt and anger went after something like that. Did it just disappear as a person grew older, dissolving in a mist of resignation and forgetfulness? Or did it crystallize, so that you carried it with you, building layer upon layer as the years went by, each incident adding to a more solid core of pain, until you came to face the world more rock than flesh?

As we follow this family, we see how parents shape who their children become. Every once in awhile, the story flashes forward and we see how different Leon's and René's lives turn out. The contrast between present and future, particularly of Leon's present and future, kept me increasingly intrigued throughout the book, wondering what in their lives could have brought about such a change.

Just like there was a whole world from her side, there was a whole world from his side; but somehow, at the beginning and end of it all, the two of them were the same: just flesh and blood and feelings.

However, I didn't grow to understand the characters as much as I would have liked. It was as if I got the beginning and end of the lives of these characters, but not the middle part to connect the two. The anticipation of the beginning and end meeting with a rich middle kept me excited about the story. But when I got to the end, I was still waiting for that connection to happen. Without a rich middle or something deeper to define the individual stories, the paths of these characters seemed too cliche--tumultuous for sure, but cliche. Rather, the middle was seemingly filled with a repeat of the same fights in different situations with nothing new learned.

The repetition is why I knocked my rating down to 3 stars, but otherwise, I was along for the ride, rooting for Leon and René, feeling warm at the tender moments, and feeling sad when they were misunderstood. I just wished for a deeper understanding of the motivations beneath the surface-level events (for all the characters, not just Leon and René. Oh yeah, they also have a youngest sister Jayne who's as overlooked in the story as she was in this review oops).

flatlay of where'd you go, bernadette by maria semple - book review | brunch at audrey's

Published by Little, Brown and Company on 14 Aug 2012
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Bernadette Fox has vanished.

When her daughter Bee claims a family trip to Antarctica as a reward for perfect grades, Bernadette, a fiercely intelligent shut-in, throws herself into preparations for the trip. But worn down by years of trying to live the Seattle life she never wanted, Ms. Fox is on the brink of a meltdown. And after a school fundraiser goes disastrously awry at her hands, she disappears, leaving her family to pick up the pieces--which is exactly what Bee does, weaving together an elaborate web of emails, invoices, and school memos that reveals a secret past Bernadette has been hiding for decades. Where'd You Go Bernadette is an ingenious and unabashedly entertaining novel about a family coming to terms with who they are and the power of a daughter's love for her mother.

I thought that this story would begin with the disappearance of Bernadette Fox and then follow Bee as she gathered a paper trail and worked backwards to find her mother. But in fact, this book is the paper trail, and reading this book was almost like reading a primary source -- a collection of emails, invoices, and school memos, with Bee's commentary throughout bringing it all together.

People like you must create. If you don't create, Bernadette, you will become a menace to society.

As we follow the paper trail from the beginning, we learn about the cumulation of events that led up to Bernadette's eventual meltdown and disappearance. It starts with suburban drama between private school moms, but rapidly escalates and keeps you on your toes with excitement and absurdity.

That's right. You're bored. And I'm going to let you in on a little secret about life. You think it's boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. The sooner you learn it's on you to make life interesting, the better off you'll be.

I loved Bernadette. Can I just say to the judgmental private school moms, poor ol' Bernadette was just trying to mind her own business! Maybe she doesn't like people and she's a bit of a recluse, but so what? #Relatable!! Let her live!

She and Bee made a great duo. I loved how the two of them understood each other -- quirks and all, of which they both had many -- and how they always stood up for and believed in each other.

I can pinpoint that as the single happiest moment of my life, because I realized then that Mom would always have my back. It made me feel giant. I raced back down the concrete ramp, faster than I ever had before, so fast I should have fallen, but I didn't fall, because Mom was in the world.

My only qualms were a rushed ending (though the whole story was a rollercoaster so maybe a rushed ending was only consistent with the pace of the rest of the story, but even rollercoasters slow to an end), and Bernadette's husband Elgin was questionable (but in terms of his character, not in terms of how he was written).

Overall, a fun and heartwarming read with mental health themes and satirical notes on private schools and the tech industry (Elgin is a Microsoft Research Group Manager).

flatlay of the little book of sloth philosophy by jennifer mccartney - book review | book book bitch

Published by HarperCollins on 16 Oct 2018
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Relax, unwind and soak up the wisdom of the sloth with the slowest page turner you’ll ever read.

From tidying and Hygge, to living Lagom, the endless pressure to be happier, live better, sleep soundly, and eat mindfully can be exhausting. But this year’s lifestyle trend finally delivers the perfect antidote – welcome to the year of the sloth.

Sloths are mindfulness in action. Contemplative, deliberate, relaxed, and focused. They resist the rat race, the incessant pressures from society to be more productive, and they don’t care how many steps they’ve logged on their fitness tracker. Long-limbed, a little bit shaggy, and a lot wide-eyed, they’re wonderful creatures, not to mention completely adorable.

Here you can enjoy take-it-slow wisdom inspired by sloths; including advice on sleep (more restorative than a 6am run), eating and ‘exercise’ (sloths are the original pioneers of slow food and yoga after all), work (did you know that lazy people have higher IQs?), family life, and love.

Dispelling over-complicated myths about productivity, this brilliant book confirms that it really is OK to be a sloth.

Embrace the art of slow reading: ...But we're not encouraged to read slowly. We're urged to consume micro-news every other minute in order to stay informed. We learn to skim headlines, instead of reading whole articles. We're challenged to read 100 books a year and keep track of our success in this endeavour online. We're obsessed with productivity at the expense of our reading enjoyment. The careless way we read both online and off has become an epidemic, according to some worried scientists. But there is a cure: slow reading.

I received this book as a gag gift from a friend over the holidays, had a good laugh about the title, ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the cute cover, and tucked it on my windowsill to sit pretty... until I remembered earlier this week that I never actually got around to reading the book.

Upon reading the inside flap with the blurb, I realised that this book wasn't just a cutesy little thing, but was actually pretty deep if you thought about it.

The sloth philosophy is all about mindfulness and reclaiming the word "lazy."

For example, think about being "lazy" as being efficient. I have a super smart friend who never took notes in class. Some might call her lazy, but what was really going was that she was listening actively without the distraction of keeping up with note-taking, and thus retained information better than many others in class, who would have to spend extra time reviewing and making sense of their notes. I'm not saying that we should all stop taking notes in class, but I'm showing that she did what worked for her, not what worked for other people.

The sloth philosophy is about being intentional with your time, taking the time you need, and doing what works for you, even when it doesn't make sense to other people. My most important takeaway, personally, was the suggestion to ask yourself, "What's the rush?"

Sloths spend most of their time in trees. They really prefer nature to people. And that's part of the reason they're so relaxed, probably.

Now, I warn you not to take all the advice in this book at face value, but to also think about the intention behind the advice, as sometimes the intention can be hidden behind the humour. Or, just enjoy it.

While I wouldn't necessarily buy this book for myself (unless you're looking for an aesthetic millennial pink book to add to your interior), this book would make a wonderful gift, gag or otherwise.