Book review: Beatless

Preamble:

Confession time: I have literally dozens of books on my Kindle that I downloaded on a whim because they seemed kind of interesting and were really cheap or in some cases even free. I’m honestly a little overwhelmed with the sheer volume of books available for Kindle. It’s a good thing, but it also makes it hard to parse all the information and find something that’s exactly what you’re looking for.

I often find with these free or cheap Kindle books that they end up being disappointing in one way or another. Mostly they seem to be badly edited, sometimes the writing is poor, and sometimes it’s just plain not a very good story. I keep buying them though, for the rare gem I find amongst them once in a while. Few things delight me more than discovering a great book I would normally not have come across.

Anyway, I’ve told myself that I’m not allowed to buy any more books until I’ve read at least a few of the ones I downloaded over the last year or so. Beatless was one of those.

***

4/5 stars

This is a story about a teenage girl who is afraid to live her life, and then begins to. Nothing remarkable in that, perhaps, but it’s a well written story with plenty of warmth and humour. The story of being young and insecure, of being afraid to stand out and afraid to not stand out, feeling like an outsider, feeling like nobody cares, is probably recognisable to most.

I loved seeing Mallory develop and gain confidence and friends – take charge of her life. Both she and Tucker are properly fleshed out characters that I started to care about.

It’s easy to read and easy to get into – I was so absorbed that I almost missed my train stop.

I like the way music is woven throughout the story, and is something that helps Mallory both literally and figuratively find her voice. I feel like the writer has some music knowledge or at least a passion for music.

But, there were some bits that didn’t quite work for me…

I would have loved some more background story. Why were her parents shitty? Had they always been like that? Why was she so afraid and why did she not have any real friends (I mean I had my share – and then some – of teenage angst, but I still had friends)?

The secondary characters seem to only be there for filler. I remember that Berkley is a girl because it sounds like a boy’s name to me, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you anything about her. This was also the case for Mal’s parents – I mean I understand that part of the theme is being left behind by absent parents, but they could still have been given some identity, maybe by her thoughts or memories.

The secondary character problem is even the case to some extent for aunt Sam. When she came on the scene she was full of love, warmth and humour – encouraging Mal to go out and do stuff – she was basically the adult presence that Mal so sorely needed. Someone who saw her and cared about her. But quite quickly she melted into the background and became just an element in the plot. Again from the perspective of the story I understand why she lost her vibrancy etc., but it’s still unsatisfying as you don’t get a proper feel for the character.

The letters… Just didn’t work IMO. They were awkwardly placed at the end of each chapter, I guess as a way to still show some of Sam’s charater, but it honestly didn’t really. They seemed rushed, and filled with “generic life wisdom” from someone who is older and philosophises about these darn youngsters with their internets and their instagrams.

All that being said, I still really enjoyed this book and the writing. It feels like a very real portrait of being a teenager – where you’re angsty and self-absorbed but underneath all that actually a good person.

On a side-note: I find it really impressive that the author apparently has a full-time job, is a mother and still manages to write a damn book! I work part time, have no kids and can barely get it together enough to write a review of a book.. šŸ˜‰

 

 

Book review: Hyperbole and a half

5/5 stars

I re-read this book to see if it would be a good gift for aĀ  friend of mine. And I had only just sat down and opened the book when I found myself half way through (or so it felt), and wondering why I do not read this book every week.

I must touch on the comics about depressionĀ  especially. I’ve never known anyone to write so poignantly about something so serious and heart-breaking (except maybe Sarah Kane) – which may surprise you if you look at the cover of the book. But you know what they say about that… And in this case it’s infinitely true.

If anyone ever asks me what it’s like to be depressed I’d refer to this. And if you’ve never been depressed, it probably seems completely absurd that you’d not return a video for 35 days, or that you’d be overcome by apathy on your way to the washing machine and end up sitting on a pile of dirty laundry for weeks. But to someone who has suffered from depression it is absurdly relatable. Towards the end of my relationship with my ex, 12 odd years ago, there was a layer of crap (dirty laundry, books, CDs, swords, plates and cups you name it) about half a metre deep across our entire bedroom floor. I find this extremely shameful to relate and crazy to think about, but it happened. And at the time I didn’t even really have the impulse to do something about it. I would just wade through it to get to my closet, like that was a totally normal thing to do. I don’t know if my ex was also depressed or if he was just too far gone from me, from us, to even notice.

When we finally managed to break up and I moved out, I made the decision to NOT leave half a metre of clothes, books, CDsĀ  and plates and cups (the swords naturally belonged to my ex) on the floor of my new flat. It was however one of the very few decisions I was capable of making for a long time.

I remember all too well feeling nothing, and I remember all too well feeling absolutely everything atĀ  the same time – a relentless tide of feelings. I am still searching for that happy middle.

I am extremely grateful to Allie Brosh for being able to write so openly and honestly about depression, and when I read these comics I am overwhelmed with feelings of love and tenderness for this stranger who seems so much like a friend, like a kindred spirit. Which seems a little invasive to her privacy. But I don’t care: I LOVE YOU ALLIE BROSH!

Even if you don’t give two figs about depression you should still read this book. Even if you don’t care about dogs, or cake, and even if you love spiders or geese, you should read this book. It’s absurdly hilarious from the first page to the last, and between the deceptively simplistic drawings there is a wealth of compassion, humour and perceptive observations about life.

The only small criticism I have is that she does tend to go on a bit. Especially the last two comics about identity could have probably been cut in half and been equally funny and gotten the point across equally well or perhaps better.

I was alot excitedĀ (yes that was intentional) when browsing Amazon to buy this book for everyone I didn’t already give it to, to see that there will be a new Allie Brosh book coming out this September, and you can bet your sweet behind that I already pre-ordered it. All hail Allie!

Book review: Pride and Prejudice

5/5 stars.

Clearly this book is so well known as to not require further reviews, but it’s one of my favourites so I’d still like to say a few words about it.

To my mind, this is one of the greatest love stories ever told. It’s a slow burn. It’s not ridiculously unbelievable head-over-heels crazy romance. The careful development of plot and feelings makes sense. Darcy’s initial unflattering proposal and his later change in demeanour, Lizzy’s vehement dislike that grows to love as she starts to see the real Darcy and understands all that he has done and is willing to do for the people close to him – it makes total sense. And yet it’s sweet, romantic – and let’s not forget really funny, and brings tears to my eyes.

It’s solid. The dialogue driven plot is carefully puzzled together, without much extraneous detail or information. It’s self-contained and seems from all accounts to give a good (albeit idealised in the sense that most of the characters get a happy ending) representation of a certain historical time and class of society.

It’s full of humour and sarcastic wit. Austen is a shrewd observer of human nature, and the writing flourishes in her descriptions of our dramatis personae and their interactions with each other.

She also seems to realise one truth: that people do not change much, in essence. The changes in the characters of Lizzy and Darcy are mainly due to them being misrepresented in the first place or the characters themselves gaining new information. They remain in essentials the same. Wickham and Lydia do not learn anything from their scandalous adventure, because they are in essence frivolous and self-absorbed people, and remain so. Mr. Bennet has a temporary period of serious regret and self-reproof after the Lydia and Wickham debacle, but soon returns to his old self.

It is no little compliment to the text that the acclaimed 1995 BBC miniseries adaptation keeps the story and indeed the dialogue almost completely unchanged. Which of course I know because I am obsessed with the BBC miniseries and remember it almost verbatim, andĀ  – yes – am now watching it again. There, I said it. And perhaps it is indeed so well loved not only due to the impeccable acting by all, but because it is such a faithful representation of the original text.

It stands the test of time. It remains not only a favourite of mine, but of millions of other readers as well as critics and literary scholars both.

And now if you’ll excuse me I have some more swooning over Colin Firth to do. Important business such as this can no longer be postponed.

The loud shall inherit the earth

It seems to me that our society is getting increasingly louder. It probably depends on where you live, but in any city or residential area I believe this to be the case.

For me, as an HSP, noise is probably my biggest “trigger”. I’m not sure what it is about noise that makes me particularly uneasy, but I guess it’s more invasive than a lot of other sensory stimuli. For instance I’ll usually have to move a lot further away to not hear a noise than I’ll have to do to not smell something. It carries farther. And I can’t just “not hear it”, like I could look away if someone was wearing particularly loud colours/patterns.

Noise also carries with it a certain sense of foreboding. There’s a noise because something is happening. Therefore for me the worst kind of noise is the one I do not know the cause of. If I know what it is, it’s easier to tell myself “oh, it’s just a lawn mower, it’s OK, it’ll be over soon”. There are some notable exceptions of course, like when there’s a police helicopter flying over the neighbourhood. I know what it is, but it doesn’t make me any less uneasy – rather the contrary, as my lively imagination will start to concoct a story where the police are chasing a deranged psychopathic killer, escaped from a mental hospital through our neighbourhood. Naturally he will choose our fence to climb over and come crashing through the glass door to hold us hostage. But, enough about that. šŸ˜‰

I’m afraid that most people don’t care about noise pollution. It doesn’t seem to bother 80% or so of the population. The kind of things I’m talking about here are:

  • People listening to music extremely loudly on public transport (with headphones)
  • People listening to music/playing off videos or playing one of those insidious mobile games on public transport without headphones (since when did this become acceptable??)
  • People playing loud music in their gardens and what have you for the whole neighbourhood to hear (and I don’t include the occasional birthday party etc in this category). I actually had this conversation with one of my neighbours down the street some time last year, when he’d parked his car right across theĀ  street from us and decided to work on it while playing really loud music: Me: Hey, listen, I can hear your music really well inside our house… Him: Oh, nice! Me: No, not nice.. I have to work, and I’d prefer to choose myself when I want to listen to music and what kind. Him: Oh, so what kind of music do you like?… As if the problem was simply his choice of music.
  • People answering their phones and/or talking loudly in the cinema
  • Open plan offices and the people who choose to shout loudly across them rather than physically walk over to the person they’re trying to reach and talk at a normal volume (what I like to refer to as using your indoor voice)
  • Randomly shooting up fireworks (this happens a lot in the Netherlands leading up to New Year’s, but this year also happened quite far out into January, and just last night it happened again)

I was also upset the other day when I was on my way to work in the train and feeling particularly frazzled, and a group of screaming school children came pouring in; it literally felt as if I was being assaulted by the noise. But I realise that kids must be allowed to go on school trips, that I don’t own the train,Ā  and that keeping 20-odd kids quiet is nearly impossible (especially when they’re probably excited to be going on a trip).

So the kind of things I’m mainly talking about here are the instances where I feel like others are being rude and inconsiderate. And it’s not just my imagination; it has gotten worse. Of course some of this is made possible by that good old buddy of ours – technology. When I was young, portable music players were a lot less common and smartphones and Bluetooth speakers were non-existent. But, even back then nobody talked in the cinema.

The question is: are people becoming ruder, or are they so used to the constant noise and stimulation of modern society that they genuinely don’t realise they’re doing something that could upset others?

I think it’s probably a little of both. Which makes it harder to actually go up to a stranger and ask them if they could maybe wear their headphones. If they’re just being rude they’re likely to be even ruder to you, but if they’re unaware, they may genuinely feel sorry that they bothered you and indeed put on those headphones. My problem is that I’m incredibly confrontation shy and it’ll take a whole lot for me to go over to someone and risk option 1 (rudeness), so in 99% of the cases I’ll shake my head, put on my noise-cancelling headphones (which would by the way be better named “noise-reducing”) and hope that it’ll be over soon. It took me years of being annoyed with aforementioned neighbour before I actually said something to him, and I was shaking forĀ  at least an hour afterwards. I still get uncomfortable thinking about it.

I discussed my noisy neighbour with another neighbour – he’s a no nonsense kind of guy, straight forward, working man, and he said “Oh, it doesn’t bother me, I hadn’t noticed. But if it DID bother me I’d go over there and give him what for!”.

So the situation is that the kind of people who’d be likely to confront noise polluters are the kind of people who aren’t bothered by said noise in the first place and therefore do nothing. The kind of people who are bothered by the noise are likely to be too timid to confront noise polluters and therefore do nothing.

Thus, nothing gets done, and the world gets ever louder. We HSPs and quiet folk will slowly dwindle into oblivion. Survival of the loudest.

Book review: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Preamble: I’ve been gone a while…

I’ve not finished a book in a while and I’ve not felt inspired to write in a while. I’ve been low on energy after a busy period and I’ve been flirting with depression. I had a week off now and haven’t done all that much. I’ve also made myself a cosy little reading corner in our bedroom. So I’m hoping I’ll be refreshed and motivated both to read and write more going forward.

***

5/5 stars

Warning: unapologetically sentimental review incoming…

Cheryl’s journey and her struggles resonated deeply with me – perhaps because I recently lost a parent. I’m older than Cheryl was, and I was not as close to my father as she was to her mother or I am to mine, yet the loss was big and overwhelming.

I see a lot of criticism of Cheryl for 1) going on a 3 month hike pretty much unprepared and 2) being whiny and self-indulgent.

To address the second point first: it’s her story so she gets to tell it how she wants to – if it’s not your cup of tea, fair enough. I do think a lot of people don’t really realise the impact that a loss of a parent you are so close to, and at a relatively young age still, has. Cheryl’s life basically disintegrates when her mother dies and her family falls apart. And I get it. Yes, she definitely made mistakes and definitely could have handled things better, but she’s human. She’s flawed. She was grieving. Which brings me back round to point 1 again: I agree 100% that she had no idea what she was getting into and that she was completely unprepared. But that’s part of what makes it an interesting story. If this had been the story of someone emotionally well balanced who had planned every detail of their trip it would probably have gone something like this: “I went on a long hike. My feet got sore. I saw some nature and some animals and met a few people. Some days it rained. The end.”

Instead we get to travel both with and inside Cheryl as she thinks about her past and tries to come to terms with it and with the loss of her mother, and we have our hearts in our throats when she runs out of water or traverses treacherous snow, and breathe a sigh of relief when she makes it safely to her next checkpoint.

I am not a free spirit. I am way too afraid to do something like this hike, even if I prepared it properly. I get scared when I go for a morning run by myself. I need safety and guarantees, even though I know in the back of my head that there really are none. Cheryl and I are very different people. I could only wish I had the strength and bravery to do something like this – though perhaps I am strong in other ways. I admire and respect her journey. And I truly believe in it’s healing power.

I also think the story is beautifully told. Sometimes heartbreaking (and there’s a part about her mother’s horse that I barely managed to get through), often suspenseful and also funny and insightful.

I am no big lover of poetry, but it just so happens that one of my all time favourite lines of poetry is quoted in this book – from Mary Oliver’s The Summer Day:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

This is basically my mantra. This is what I tell myself, what I ask myself when I get too bogged down in routine, when I feel like I’m losing my way. It’s a reminder to me that life is a precious gift, and in a very real way it’s up to me what I make of it. Cheryl did something beautiful and courageous with her one wild and precious life, and I hope to do so too.

Thank you for sharing your story with me Cheryl, and for letting me walk alongside you for a while.

Side note: I do wish I hadn’t had the Oprah’s book club edition of this, with her personal notes. I’m sure Oprah is a lovely lady, but I frankly don’t care two figs about her thoughts on life, love or literature. And I kept accidentally clicking the little icon and going to the “footnotes”. Ah well.

Reading in public and other HSP problems

One quality of being an HSP that I really appreciate most of the time, but that can also be quite stressful is that of immersion/empathy/vivid imagination. In Norwegian we have a word thatĀ  embodies this better: innlevelse. It literally means your ability to put yourself (live in) a new/imagined/foreign situation. So yes, empathy, but somehow more so.

It pretty much affects every area of my life. If I read a news article about Donald Trump refusing to accept refugees/reneging on climate deals/building his wall etc., not only do I feel very strongly for the people (or animals in the case of climate change) directly affected by this, it just makes me incredibly sad. Something in me kind of breaks a little, because I don’t accept that people are this way, that they behave this way, and yet they do. I feel depressed and despondent.

If a friend tells me they have family trouble, I feel so bad for them it’s almost as if it’s happening to me. I want to fix it, but I can’t. I know, logically, that it’s probably helpful that I’m there for them and that I listen and give what support I can, but I feel acutely like it’s just not enough.

So why do I appreciate feeling like this? Well, it certainly is stressful and almost impossible at times. But I love the strong connections I have to my loved ones, my family, my dearest friends. I love having good conversations with people, being able to talk about things great and small, and making people feel heard and understood and feeling heard and understood in return. I love being able to tell people how much I care about them, genuinely, and not feel awkward or embarrassed. I love the genuine responses I get in return.

And I love that every movie or show I see, every book I read is another little life lived. I’m not a huge fan of George R.R. Martin, but I do love this quote:

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Boyfriend seems to be constantly surprised or perplexed at my (seemingly unavoidable) ability to empathise with fictional characters, even after 10+ years together.

We’ll be watching a movie and something horrible happens (it’s particularly bad if it happens to someone innocent/defenceless like animals, children or people who are old and frail), he’ll turn to me and I’ll be bawling my eyes out, gasping for air. He keeps telling me it didn’t really happen, that the characters are fictional, as if that matters.

It is exhausting to live all these lives. You lose dear friends and see hardships perpetrated on them. But you also laugh with them, see them succeed, find love, happiness, friendship. You explore new worlds, get new insights and ideas. It is rewarding beyond measure. It is the reason I love to read. It’s the reason I go back to movies and books I loved over and over. It’s like visiting with old friends. I’m sure I wouldn’t want to live without this wealth.

I also love this quote from Blanche inĀ  A Streetcar Named Desire:

Strange that I should be called a destitute woman when I have all these treasures locked in my heart.

***

Today at work I was reading Wild during lunch. And there’s a particularly heart-wrenching scene involving her mother’s horse (see before re. children and animals) – I won’t go into the details of the scene because spoilers, but… I felt my whole body go rigid. I gripped the cover/sides of my Kindle for dear life. I almost held my breath and tried really really hard not to start crying in the kitchen, but if anyone looked at my face they must have thought I just got news regarding a loved one’s death or something. I decided (sort of, I’m not sure I made a concious decision) to power through that section, to get it over with. But I was really shaken up when I got back to my desk and strongly considered going into the loo and having a good cry.

I was affected for hours after I read this, and when I came home and recounted it to Boyfriend I flat out started crying.

And yes, it’s frustrating and sometimes embarrassing to get so emotional about stuff, and to get so upset about fictional characters. But you know what?

I wouldn’t want it any other way.

 

My life – as an HSP (part 2 – being social)

Being around people, particularly in crowds and/or in the middle of the city is always a challenge. The past week presented quite a few such challenges for me.

I try to balance having a social life and going to work with needing down time and quiet as well as I can. For a while that meant I’d say no to pretty much any social gathering with 5+ people in any sort of public place. But that’s not really a good way to go through life, and I discovered that on the rare occasion I did say yes, I did often end up having a good time though I’d be exhausted afterwards.

So I’ve concluded that I should say yes to things more often, because I do enjoy spending time with friends and colleagues, but I need to prepare a little. Some things I find useful:

  • Arranging it so that I can leave when I feel like it. As I don’t have a driver’s license this is not always possible, though in the Netherlands you can fortunately rely on public transport and/or your bike in most cases. If I know that I can leave when I’ve had enough social interaction I end up enjoying it more and worrying less about it beforehand.
  • Less often possible/acceptable: having something or somewhere to withdraw to. For instance a book or a garden. Now, at most parties it’s not really socially acceptable to pull out a book, but maybe there’s a slightly quieter room where you can withdraw for a little bit, or even somewhere you can go outside if it’s not too cold.
  • Creating a smaller group at big gatherings. This is pretty common and accepted already, so it’s usually pretty easy to group up with one or two others and have a slightly quieter chat somewhere than be in the middle of the throng. It usually also means more meaningful and rewarding conversation.
  • Knowing what the food situation will be like. There are multiple reasons why this is very helpful to me. I’m a former anorexic and former fat girl, who’s at a healthy weight for the first time quite a few years. I also try to eat vegetarian most of the time, though I do eat fish and will very occasionally eat other meat. So for instance if I’m going to a party and I know there’s only going to be some fried snacks, I’ll try to have something healthy to eat before I go, or plan to have something healthy afterwards. I’ll probably still sample the party food but I’ll not be “at the mercy of it”.
  • This one’s not so healthy, but: alcohol. It helps me to relax and often helps filter out the noise of both people and things around me for a bit. I do try to moderate my intake though, and it’s not like I can’t enjoy a social gathering without booze. That being said I did have a very tough time at a good friend’s wedding a few years back where I knew no one, there was no alcohol AND I was dependent on a ride back from another party guest.
  • Planning for quiet time after social engagements. I learned this the hard way. Last year my sister and her boyfriend came to visit. They stayed from I think Wednesday to Sunday evening. Now, they’re fantastic people whom I love and they’re very easy-going, but nevertheless having them over meant I pretty much had no alone time for 4,5 days straight. And then on Monday I went in to work… I was so extremely grumpy and fed up and just hated everyone – like, on sight. Just because they existed near me.So, I’ve learned that if I have an intense social situation for a few days I should probably plan time off. Which is actually why I have a day off from work today.

In the past week I’ve had 3 social engagements, which is quite a bit above average for me. It was even supposed to be 4, but I was sort of relieved that one of my friends was sick (sorry!) so she had to cancel and I got a bit of a breather.

On Wednesday after work we had leaving drinks for a colleague of mine who I care a lot about, so I really wanted to be there. It was just 6 of us at a pub near the office, and these people are some of my favourite current and former colleagues whom I also consider friends. Since it was a smallish group and I knew everyone, I had a really fun time, and the pub didn’t get too crowded or loud either. I had some nice chats with people and way too many beers… It was just one of those rare nights where the beers just sort of kept coming and I didn’t really think about it because I was too busy having fun. I only got home at 00:30, could barely walk straight and had to work the next day. So, not ideal. But even though I was incredibly hung over on Thursday I still think it was worth it. My colleague is moving home to Oz for personal reasons and I don’t know when I’ll get to see him again, so it was worth giving him a proper send-off. And I went home early and to bed early on Thursday, and woke up on Friday feeling fabulous.

Friday night was a work party, which I would normally have skipped, but said colleague had his last day and I thought it would be nice to join for a bit. With Wednesday’s hangover fresh in mind, I had a moderate amount of wine (even though the drinks were free) and made sure to drink water with it. I stood in a group with 2-3 others and just had a nice chat, and I left early.

Since my Saturday plans fell through I was able to have a quiet day at home, which sadly didn’t leave me much more well rested for Sunday’s high tea with the in-laws. I kept waking up and dreaming about being there and about trains getting delayed etc. I woke up early and grumpy. But, it was the last item on the agenda.. This one entailed travelling for hours by train to a noisy hotel to have a mediocre high tea with 11 in-laws. I would have skipped it if I could have, but.. well, for more on this see my review of The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k. :-p It ended up being OK as all our 7 (!) trains were on time, and the event itself lasted about 3 hours. After we finished our food and were sitting around chatting, I pulled out my crocheting. Which thankfully the in-laws seemed to deem eccentric and slightly fascinating rather than rude or anti-social. It’s not like I didn’t still participate in the conversation. But it helped ground and relax me with the constant buzz of people around me.

After we came home we had a very quick bite to eat and then headed out to the movies. I only managed that one as I knew I’d have a day off today, AND we’ve been wanting to see Passengers for a long time and it’s probably the last week it’s playing. Since it’s been on for a while the theatre was pretty quiet and the movie was quite enjoyable and not very taxing.

I went to bed relatively early last night as well, completely knackered, and I slept in this morning. Today I’m only doing good for me stuff: getting enough sleep, exercising, eating healthy, catching up on blogging, reading, and limiting social interaction to a minimum. I should be ready to face the world again tomorrow. šŸ˜‰

In short, I feel like the most important parts to being an HSP and still having a social life are planning, balance and prioritising.