The Lure of the Ring – Alan James Strachan

lure of the ring cover

“Tom Bombadil is the prevailing mystery in Tolkien’s work.”

This is an odd little book. It’s basically a treatise on spirituality, using The Lord of the Rings as an example. Not entirely what I thought I was getting, and probably not going to find a wide audience – Tolkien fans will be disappointed that it’s not really about LotR, and if you’re looking for the spiritual stuff the fantasy-source might seem flippant.

Still, I started off rather enjoying it – someone talking about LotR can’t be all bad, after all! But, after a while, the tone really started to grate on me. I would have preferred an approach of “I think”, “my translation is”, “to me, this suggests…” rather than the quasi-academic sense of certainty. Writers rarely ‘mean’ what future studies try to pin on their stories; indeed, at the end of this the author even admits that Tolkien’s letters reveal the multi-layers of allegory and meaning didn’t appear until years later.

The lecturing tone can be a little patronising, I found – or, perhaps that’s the increasing density of the subject. From easy-to-grasp concepts – what Galadriel’s refusal of the Ring says about her character, for example – by the end he’s quoting quasi-religious texts, talking about the Self that is no-Self, and at times my head was just spinning!

If this is your cup of tea, by all means give it a go. Personally, I don’t think I was fully expecting the build up to full-on ‘nondual spirituality’ and self-actualisation, and while it might have been interesting getting there I didn’t wholly appreciate the feeling of being preached at, even if the author does back away from that by the end again.

The message, though, is nice enough, and it is interesting seeing ‘just a fantasy story for kids’ (hah!) providing such rich source material.

NetGalley eARC: 87 pages / 18 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 23rd-28th September 2019

My rating: 5/10

The Art of Jin Shin – Alexis Brink

art of jin shin cover

“The book you are holding in your hands is meant to provide a basic introduction to the foundation and principles of the Art of Jin Shin.”

Subtitled, ‘The Japanese Practice of Healing with Your Fingertips’, this book gives a brief history of this ‘energy medicine’, followed by several long lists of different holds for different conditions.

The basic premise is something along the lines of: by holding two points on the body, we can ‘release’ the energy flow within ourselves (or others), thus aiding all manner of afflictions, from insomnia to headaches, stress to digestive issues.

I was very impressed with the attitude here: it’s not given as an alternative to seeing your doctor, merely an additional process that may prove helpful. And to be honest, while I’m relatively open to such ideas, my hunch is that the usefulness of Jin Shin is less about which finger you’re holding and more that the breathing and focus is actually meditation. Still, any meditation practice can benefit from a focus, and this is a pretty interesting one.

The other message that I agree with wholeheartedly is that nothing here can hurt you – well, unless you twist something trying to hold on to your ankle, of course 😉 So yes, I was more than up for giving this a go. I’m not sure any of my attempts particularly solved the issue in question, except perhaps holding the back of my neck for an ache – but, the warmth of my hand probably didn’t hurt. As I say, I think the meditation effect was beneficial. Still, I see more likelihood of finding this useful than its more famous cousin, Reiki.

My main complaint here would be that the book in e-format wasn’t the easiest to navigate. If I have a specific problem I’d like to try to address, figuring out where to go is awkward. So, if you fancy giving it a go, the physical book is probably better.

Overall: an interesting concept, and as there’s no harm in trying it out than why not? If nothing else, you’ll benefit from a quiet moment of breathing and relaxation, and a little time spent with your own body is never a bad idea.

NetGalley eARC: 240 pages
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 16th-26th June 2019

My rating: 7/10

Simplify Your Life – Sarah O’Flaherty

simplify your life cover

“Frustrated with the old processes of goal setting and outmoded self-help techniques, I’ve developed a new, simplified approach to personal development.”

There’s nothing wrong with this book, but there’s nothing new or desperately interesting about it either. And the title felt a bit misleading: there’s a lot of very generic improve-your-life stuff (mainly pretty obvious), and very little about actually simplifying through the first part.

The first two sections are ‘About You’ – self awareness, on different levels – ‘About You and Me’ – relationships and ‘tribes’. So far, fine but much as will be found in any self-help tome. The third section is about relating to the world and your environment, creativity, purpose – again, not awful, but still had me shouting “Get to the simplicity!”

Section 4 is ‘Essentials’: being present, gratitude, giving, and – FINALLY! – simplicity. Seriously, one short chapter in a book of 23 that deals with the topic I was here for?!

So yeah. Being harsh for not being what it called itself, although otherwise it’s a perfectly fine (if nothing wow) self-help 101. This ‘new, simplified approach’ really wasn’t apparent to me, just light reading on basic topics.

NetGalley eARC: 136 pages / 23 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 27th May – 4th June 2019

My rating: 5/10

The 5-Minute Recharge – Lynne Everatt, Addie Greco-Sanchez

five minute recharge cover

“It all begins with you.”

Subtitled, “31 Proven Strategies to Refresh, Reset and Become the Boss of Your Day,” The 5-Minute Recharge is a series of hints and tips for improving your mental health and overall well-being. As with any such self-help book, what you get out of it will be highly personal to you, but there is a wide range of topics presented in a straightforward, friendly manner, and I would think something to click with everyone.

The topics are arranged around the headings “Get charged up:”

  • about having enough time
  • by connecting
  • body and mind
  • by feeding the good wolf
  • by pausing to reflect

Each ‘recharge’ has a bit of info, a ‘homework’ assignment, and a list of further reading – I did skip over some of those a bit, but much better presented as they are, with a bit of blurb, than a list of references at the end which I would completely have ignored.

The first section on time probably felt most relevant to me, and while the first tip on making your bed did nothing for me at all, the rest were all thought-provoking and sensible, such as taking breaks to recharge and setting up supporting habits that improve life but don’t take up time/will-power/mental energy. Other sections covered the disconnect between mind and body, positive thinking, and the wonderfully titled “What Would George Clooney Do?” (spoiler: it’s about pretending to ask a ‘wise’ figure for advice).

Overall, it’s a decent dip into the genre, with nothing completely groundbreaking. The exercises are perhaps a bit mixed. If they were easy to do, I don’t know that they’d be of as much value, and yet they’re presented as if they’re simple 2-minute things. If I could magic up my ‘purpose’ that quickly…!! Still, I appreciated the lack of preaching in the tone, and the advice all seems very sensible and well thought-out.

“Wellbeing is, above all, a game of connections.”

NetGalley eARC: 224 pages / 5 sections
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 22nd April – 20th May 2019

My rating: 7/10

Tiny Leaps Big Changes – Gregg Clunis

tiny leaps big changes cover

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes.”

Reading this straight off the back of Burnout really flagged to me the different approaches self-help books can take. Burnout felt supportive, wanting you to have a happier life, helping you tackle some of life’s obstacles to achieve that. This, on the other hand, felt like it was castigating you for being such a lazy loser, and if you really wanted something you can have it simply by applying yourself enough.

I have serious concerns about the advice in the book. The example given is Dave, a dad who wants to make more money so that his daughter can (eventually) go to college without a big debt hanging over her. So he puts in extra hours and stresses himself out and argues with his family because he’s exhausted. But oh, he’d be a horrible person if he let himself slack – how could he look his daughter in the eye if she had to take out loans for college?

Wow. Just… no. How about enjoying life, not being a shitty parent who’s never there, or finding other ways than becoming a monster?

I think my main issue with this book is that the author is in his mid-20s. I am turning into an old grump, but quite frankly I don’t think Clunis has the life experience needed to write a book like this – at least, not for people outside his own age group. He talks dismissively of people who never take risks, are never willing to lose everything to gain something better, and uses the example of Jim Carey’s father from a talk the actor gave once. Urm, right. ‘Cos a sane, responsible parent can afford to take that kind of gamble o.O

There are snippets of good advice, but that can’t mitigate the awful, smug tone, and quite frankly dreadful suggestions at times. Avoid.

NetGalley eARC: 224 pages / 12 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 3rd-17th April 2019

My rating: 3/10

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle – Emily & Amelia Nagoski

burnout cover

“This is a book for any woman who has felt overwhelmed and exhausted by everything she had to do, and yet still worried she was not doing ‘enough’.”

I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say this book has made me a better person (maybe a bit?) but I do think it’s made me a better feminist. I am so guilty of proudly feeling that I can ‘play with the boys’ at their own game, swearing and telling bawdy jokes, that being faced with a book about stressors faced by women, and how we marginalise ourselves, was something of an eye opener.

I shouldn’t feel so happy about someone pointing out how much more stress there is in my life than I knew about, but actually, the sense of relief, the nodding along – yes! Yes, it does stress me that (insert ton of stuff here). And that it isn’t acknowledged, and that I’m ‘delusional’ or hormonal or whatever if I try to point it out. There’s a whole chapter called ‘the Game is Rigged’ which summed up so much of what I feel, but hadn’t articulated. The underlying premise that boys are taught to be human ‘beings’, and girls more often expected to be human ‘givers’ – wow.

That said, the book is not just a long rant. It points out that we’re all holding on to a lot of stress without realising it, and that’s just never going to end well.

On a practical level, the opening chapter talks us through the difference between stressors – like the jerk in the BMW on the drive home, or the late request for a report at work – and stress. Often we deal with or at least move away from the stressor but we’re not actually dealing with the stress. The authors talk about ‘completing the cycle’ – letting our primitive brain acknowledge that we’re now safe. I want to reread this part already: I’m getting ‘dance around the living room’, but think there are other subtleties to pick up on here.

The rest of the book covers a lot of familiar ground with a fresh eye. The ‘Bikini Industrial Complex’, for instance, questions why we allow ourselves to be *so* obsessed with looks (even over health). There is some interesting discussion about the falseness of the fat/unhealthy message – did you know that it’s worse for your health to be slightly underweight than quite a bit overweight? Mind blown.

The only bit I didn’t really like was the whole ‘smash the patriarchy’. Not that I disagree (especially the way it’s described here – definitely not ‘anti man’ in any way, just pointing out how, yup – the game is rigged!) but just that I felt weary even thinking about it. Is life not hard enough without me having to be so proactive on this, too?! o_O

I’m hardly scratching the surface of just how much YES there was for me in this book. I said it’s almost certainly made me a better feminist – for myself and for others. But as it points out, if I’m nodding along with this for me, it’s an excellent way to see how much more the game is rigged if you’re not just female, but of colour, or not CIS/hetero-normative, or ‘able’ in the way that’s taken for granted. I hope I’ll do better for all of these categories now, not just stand up for myself more as a woman.

All of which is fine, but am I less stressed? It did help, really. I’ve spent my life pushing back on the role society seems to want for me – and yes, in little ways that includes ‘smashing the patriarchy’ (it is not, for instance, my role in life to get out of a man’s way on a pavement. I’m not talking politeness, just standing up to that inbred sense of entitlement that no one ever seems to realise they own. I don’t automatically tidy in the office any more, either, even when it’s my default). To get a bit of a ‘yes, that’s right’ was something of a relief. The caveman brain stress stuff makes a lot of sense, too. I have a ways to go, and I do think I’ll be rereading this before too long.

Recommended for women everywhere – and any man who has the balls to accept that the playing field is not, in fact, as level as we’d all like to think.

NetGalley eARC: 304 pages / 8 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 11th-26th March 2019

My rating: 9/10

Outer Order Inner Calm – Gretchen Rubin

outer order cover

I’ve been a fan of Gretchen Rubin since The Happiness Diary, and so her take on the current mania for decluttering – something I’m in need of doing rather a lot of post-move! – was always going to intrigue me.

There’s no overt backlash against The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Marie Kondo (indeed, the book is mentioned near the end), rather this is a gentle “Some things work for some people, but what you want is what will make YOU happy.” This is unsurprising: her last book was The Four Tendencies, all about different personality types reacting to things very differently.

There is some good advice to be had in these pages, but to be honest I was a bit disappointed by the presentation. It’s not a narrative, just a collection of snippets and quotes that I felt like I’d read most of it already on her blog. And while the advice is perfectly fine, indeed very good in some instances, the brevity and style just made me feel like this was a low-effort money spinner, which was unexpected.

I’m not sure what else I wanted from the topic. It’s actually good that the subject matter isn’t drawn out just to make a bigger book. And yet… I dunno. Perhaps if anything had felt like more of a useful tip rather than a random musing on organisation?

As a collection of tips and a few motivational quotes, it’s fine. In terms of actually being inspired to go declutter – meh.

Hardback: 208 pages
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 24th-30th March 2019

My rating: 6/10