Make Me Remake Me by Gillian Cott

IMG_1810“I realized that I deserved romance if I dreamt it and adventure if I desired it.”

With a desire to travel and expand beyond what is familiar, Gillian Cott embarked on an adventure by saying “Yes!” to an opportunity to live on a farm in Burgundy, France.  A decision which would lead her to Paris, Prague, Montreal, and New York, among others.  Through a combination of poetry and prose, she recounts moments, people, and locations that were significant to her experience, along with the feelings that came with those moments.

Walking on Windy Days

Embrace all colours and feelings of life
like the wet autumn leaves that stick together
crushed under boots
but still bold

At times, you still feel inexplicably alone
more like the last leaf left on a tree
begging to fall
to feel more than
just yourself
shaking against the wind.

Make Me Remake Me: Writing Myself Across Two Continents is a lovely little book that beautifully conveys the author’s feelings about the different and new places she found herself along with romantic hopes, desires, and disappointments.  The combination of prose and poetry works very well and I loved the writing style, finding myself quite often marking phrases that particularly struck me.  Mostly this is a book about self-discovery, finding your place in the world, learning to love yourself and not be defined by another.

In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri

IMG_1150“To know a new language, to immerse yourself, you have to leave the shore. Without a life vest. Without depending on solid ground.”

In Other Words is Jhumpa Lahiri’s first book written in Italian, a language she fell in love with and dedicated years to learning.  The book is uniquely done, with the original Italian text appearing on every left page and the English translation on the right.  The author shares  a very personal part of her life by not only taking us through her journey with Italian but also writing in the language as well.  The result is an honest and open piece of writing that not only captures the experience of learning a new language and the challenges that come with that, but also how it relates to identity and culture. 

“I believe that what can change our life is always outside of us.”

This is the first book I have read by Jhumpa Lahiri and can in no way compare it to her previous works, but I don’t feel it would be fair to do so in any case, as it is a completely new endeavour.  She followed her passion for a language and truly immersed herself, creating a written account of her experiences and feelings about the process.

As I have no working knowledge of Italian I could not truly appreciate the Italian text that was such a personal undertaking for the author.  However, the English translation is incredibly well done, and I feel it really captures the essence of the original writing.  I related to this book so much and found that it perfectly described the feelings, experiences, and frustrations of adopting a language.  If you have adopted new languages yourself or perhaps struggled with identifying with any one language or culture, you should definitely read this book.  I would also recommend it to anyone interested in languages as well as to fans of Jhumpa Lahiri, as it does provide a window into her life and approach to writing.

“… in the end to learn a language, to feel connected to it, you have to have a dialogue, however childlike, however imperfect.”

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

IMG_0579“There is no standard normal.  Normal is subjective.  There are seven billion versions of normal on this planet.”

In Reasons to Stay Alive, author Matt Haig recounts his experience with depression and anxiety.  It is part memoir and part self-help book, which very effectively describes what it is like to live with depression and anxiety while at the same time being informative and comforting.

Matt Haig is the author of one of my favourite books, The Humans.  When I learned that the first Canadian edition of Reasons to Stay Alive was being released, I didn’t hesitate to pick it up.  I found it to be one of the best books regarding mental health that I have come across.  It shares very personal experiences, emotions, and struggles that are described and presented in a relatable way.

“When you are depressed you feel alone, and that no one is going through quite what you are going through.  You are so scared of appearing in any way mad you internalise everything, and you are so scared that people will alienate you further you clam up and don’t speak about it, which is a shame, as speaking about it helps.”

The author breaks everything down into a simple and easy to read format, using lists along with short and concise chapters.  Reasons to Stay Alive is brave, honest, and hopeful.  I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone, whether you struggle with depression/anxiety or have a loved one who is.

“Talk.  Listen.  Encourage talking.  Encourage listening.  Keep adding to the conversation.  Stay on the lookout for those wanting to join in the conversation.  Keep reiterating, again and again, that depression is not something you ‘admit to’, it is not something you have to blush about, it is a human experience.”

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

IMG_0467“The fact is, no one-size-fits-all solution exists.  It’s easy to dream that if we copy the habits of productive, creative people, we’ll win similar success.  But we each must cultivate the habits that work for us.”

In Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin tackles the subject of habits, and how we can not only change them but understand them.  The key to change being knowing ourselves and understanding our habits.  The author presents a framework through which we can do this, starting with The Four Tendencies as described in the book:

Upholders – respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations.
Questioners – question all expectations, and will meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified.
Obligers – respond readily to outer expectations, but struggle to meet inner expectations.
Rebels – resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.

By recognizing your tendency, you learn what may or may not work for you, which allows you to develop a foundation for success.  From there the author explores a variety of tools and topics related to habits, from strategies to excuses.  Better Than Before recognizes that everyone is different and what works for others, what is successful for them, may not yield results for you.

I developed a much better understanding of my own tendencies (a total Obliger), and traps I fall into when trying to develop habits that will benefit me.  A lightbulb went off for me several times while reading this book.  I recognized the excuses, and more importantly why certain methods I was using were absolutely not working for me and what I can do that will work for me.  That is what I truly appreciated about this book.  It doesn’t sell or promote one specific idea, but instead gives you the information and the tools you need in order to learn what strategies may work for you.

The book is very well researched and the author’s passion for the topic is evident.  Her voice, humour, stories, and examples make it not only an informative but an enjoyable read as well.  I would love to see a more condensed version of this book that would act as a pocket guide or quick reference as I know I will be re-visiting its ideas often.

If you struggle with making the changes you want in your life, or find yourself stuck in any way, I absolutely recommend you check out this book.  At the end of the day, the work is yours to do, and Better Than Before is a great place to start.

“Whenever you read this, and wherever you are, you’re in the right place to begin.”

Lost in Translation by Ella Frances Sanders

IMG_0224Sometimes there is no one word that perfectly sums up an emotion, a feeling, or an experience.  At least, there may not be in your native tongue but they can be found throughout different languages.  Discovering these words is such a lovely thing.  Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World is a beautiful collection of words from a number of different cultures that don’t have an English equivalent.  It includes words in Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Inuit, and Arabic, just to name a few.  As a word nerd I was excited to go through this book and found it very enjoyable.  Especially the bookish terms:

IMG_0209

Lost in Translation is wonderfully put together and accompanied by lovely illustrations.  The only thing I wish was different would be the font used for the definitions as it’s not the easiest to read.  Overall it is a beautiful book that makes a great bookshelf addition.