Book Review: Writing to Awaken: A Journey of Truth, Transformation, and Self-Discovery by Mark Matousek (2017)

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Writing Exercises for Self-Discovery

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for client case studies that sometimes include disturbing incidents, including rape.)

When I was a child and magic was afoot, the word abracadabra was synonymous with the power of manifestation. I could wave my magic wand over Doris the princess doll, or Boris the stuffed panda, and practically feel them come to life under the gravitas of the spell. Later in life, as a Harvard-trained scientist and researcher in the field of mind-body medicine, I discovered that abracadabra is more than magic-speak or a song by the Steve Miller Band. These Aramaic words mean, “I will create as I speak.”

Tell a story. Believe the story. And voila! It manifests in your cells, your brain, your heart, your behavior, and the choices you make…or don’t. We embody our stories quite literally, as these days we have the brain scans and hormonal assays to prove it. Mark Matousek, who is a writer rather than a scientist, knows this as well. He sometimes refers to us humans as Homo Narrans—the storytelling species. Stories slay and stories heal. Their transformative magic resides in our ability to identify them, learn from them, and—when necessary—change them.

– Joan Borysenko, PhD (“Foreword”)

— 3.5 stars —

I picked up a copy of Writing to Awaken about the same time as Getting Grief Right; I thought that the two books, when taken together, might provide some guidance in using journaling and storytelling to cope with the recent loss of my husband – and perhaps figure out what comes next for me.

Divided into twelve chapters and forty-eight “lessons,” Matousek challenges the reader to dive deeper; to find the truth behind your life story, which is often unreliable, watered down for mass consumption, and altered to omit certain uncomfortable truths. Though I suppose the exercises could help to overcome writer’s block, you don’t necessarily need to be a professional writer to find value here. Rather, Writing to Awaken is for anyone interested in journaling with a heavy emphasis on self-reflection and radical truth telling.

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Mini-Review: Do One Thing Every Day That Makes You Happy: A Journal by Robie Rogge & Dian G. Smith (2017)

Friday, September 15th, 2017

Well, I like the *idea* of it…

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Blogging for Books. Click on the images to embiggen.)

— 3.5 stars —

As a naturally gloomy and anxious person – one of my nicknames, and one I wear proudly, is Kelly Killjoy – a “happiness journal” seems like something I could really use in my life. I tend to only journal when things are going sideways, carrying merrily on my way when everything’s coming up roses (or Dave Kim, as it were), resulting in a record of my life that’s skewed heavily toward the negative. And that’s no fun, right?

Do One Thing Every Day That Makes You Happy: A Journal is a pretty swell idea. From its bright yellow cover, decked out in shiny silver and vibrant rainbow text, to its white and orange insides, Do One Thing Every Day That Makes You Happy more or less oozes unicorns and birthday cake and that one REM song. Each page features a happy quote or graphic, along with a writing prompt inspired by said quote. There’s a space to pencil in the date for each exercise and, with the exception of the New Year’s themed ones, you can pretty much pace yourself how you want: work through each page in chronological order; skip around to your heart’s content; or only write when you feel inspired (though skipping days kind of negates the “do one thing every day” part, don’t you think?).

The prompts run the gamut; here are just a few to give you a taste:
* Where scratching felt sweetest day.
* A pleasure of mine that no one can understand.
* My life would seem longer without.
* Why I laughed at myself today.
* A luxury I don’t need in order to be happy.

As much as I love the idea of this journal, as per usual with Clarkson Potter journals, the execution leaves something to be desired. The journal is very small – about 6″ x 4.5″ – making it somewhat difficult to write in. Additionally, many (but not all) of the quotes/graphics take up an inordinate amount of space on the page – usually somewhere around 2/3 to 4/5 of a page, leaving precious little room for your response! The lines are pretty small too, maybe college ruled at best.

I wish they’d go all out and make some oversized journals, preferably with nice, roomy lines – and lay-flat binding, too, while we’re dreaming! Until then, this one will do.

Killjoy, who me?

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Mini-Review: My Rad Life: A Journal by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl (2017)

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

This is the journal you’ve been waiting for!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Blogging for Books.)

— 4.5 stars —

I was lucky enough to snag a review copy of Rad Women Worldwide, part of Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl’s “rad women” series, which began with 2015’s Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future! From concept to execution, I adored Rad Women Worldwide, and was over the moon with excitement when I saw that they’d be releasing a journal based on the books.

My Rad Life is (almost!) everything I’d hoped for: fun, stylish, interactive, and diverse af. Miriam Klein Stahl’s artwork is bold and arresting; her simple yet elegant black and white portraits of badass women – from Gloria Steinem to Beyoncé, bell hooks to Shirley Chisholm – provide a lovely and inspirational backdrop for journaling. The art is accompanied by thought-provoking quotes, many of which are used as a jumping-off point for prompts to get the creative juices flowing.

The format is a nice mix of guided and free-form pages: some pages are completely blank; others feature funky, hand-drawn lines (way more interesting than college-ruled spacing!);

and many include a blend of portraits, quotes, and prompts, leaving enough space for scribbling, writing, or drawing.

Unlike the rad women books, My Rad Life: A Journal is softcover. Though it’s lovely, with an embossed logo and everything, I do find myself missing the hardcover from Rad Women Worldwide, which was all kinds of gorgeous (and also more durable). I’d also love it if the journal had that special “lay flat” binding, to make it easier to write in the book. My handwriting is messy enough without having to struggle against the journal. :)

This would make an excellent give for tweens and young adults, particularly those with a budding interest in feminism and women’s history (package it with Rad American Women A-Z and Rad Women Worldwide to make an awesome little gift set). That said, it’s suitable for humans of all ages and gender expressions; I’m barrelling towards forty and loved it just the same.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Getting Grief Right: Finding Your Story of Love in the Sorrow of Loss by Patrick O’Malley and Tim Madigan (2017)

Friday, July 28th, 2017

Finding Your Own Path in Grief

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

The writer Anne Lamott says it beautifully: “You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”

It’s not an exaggeration to say that, over time, the nature of “successful” grieving was redefined in my office by both my clients and me. It wasn’t getting over loss; it was learning to live with it, and to use the grief narrative as a way to preserve a bond with the one who died.

This book will not help you “get over” your grief, but will help you experience your sorrow in its most pure form.

Patrick O’Malley knows a thing or two about loss: not only is he a therapist who specializes in bereavement counseling, but he lost his first-born son, Ryan, before they’d even celebrated his first birthday. As a young husband, new father, and practicing psychotherapist, O’Malley followed the advice of his colleagues – indeed, the same advice he’d given to countless grieving patients – and tried to “get over” Ryan’s death. However, as the prescribed time frame for grieving came and went, O’Malley gradually began to question the wisdom and efficacy of stage-based models of bereavement, perhaps best exemplified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s infamous five stages of grief. (Say it with me: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.)

After much soul searching and years of experience, O’Malley embraced a much kinder and more compassionate framework: one that celebrates the patient’s unique relationship to the deceased; recognizes that we all grieve in our own way, that there is no “one size fits all” model of grief; and uses storytelling to craft a cohesive grief narrative. In this way, grief is not something you “work through” and leave behind you; rather, to love is to grieve, and grieving is one way to keep your loved one alive in your memories. Storytelling – whether through journaling, videotaped recollections, or something else – is a powerful way to do this.

Getting Grief Right consists of three key elements. First, O’Malley briefly explores the history of stage-based models of grief. He then shares the story of his own loss, and in so doing, he illustrates how profoundly his professional wisdom failed him in his greatest time of need. Using his own experiences, as well as those of his patients, as a jumping-off point, O’Malley explores this new approach to dealing with grief.

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