Sometimes we all suffer from comparison fatigue. Today’s letter is a call for us to stop the keeping up with the Joneses social media madness:
Dear Book Dr.,
Can you prescribe some reading for ending that cycle of self-abasement we call social media? Specifically, that thing where you go online for half an hour and leave thinking for days about how you don’t measure up to your peers and need to be doing more of everything: rewriting your website, authoring blog posts and white papers, sharing useful articles with your 1,000 true fans, going to writers conferences, getting fellowships, making selfie-worthy moments, etc.? It’s overwhelming sometimes, the crushing weight of all the stuff I’m not doing in comparison to my peers, friends, and hundreds of total strangers.
— L. A. Technophobe
Dear L.A. Technophobe-
I feel your pain. The only thing more terrifying to me in terms of feeling like I’m way behind in my life than Facebook are my high school and college alumnae magazines. Holy sh&^t are those a blow to the ego.
Between high school friends working for the UN, or who are MD/PhDs curing cancer and the fact that I was at Kenyon with not one, but two wildly successful published authors is intense. (both of whom are actually lovely people, too so I don’t even get to have schadenfreude about their success. I just have to be happy for them. Damn.)
This kind of online evidence of fame, success, and ongoing fun can cause the feeling that others are happier, smarter, and basically further ahead. It seems to generate panic and relentless doing in order to try to catch up. Yuck.
So what’s the antidote? That’s what you wrote me for, after all.
I have the perfect book for you. The anti-productivity and success guide. I adore this book because it makes it a political act to stop frantically taking action in order to simulate that life is going well.
This book makes it a grand act to do less. In fact, I think it’s one of the most reassuring books I have read as a type-a adult.
This is what you need:
How to Be Idle, Tom Hodgkinson ( I also recommend the journal he edits, The Idler)
When I read this book, I realized how crazy it was to keep cramming every day with doing and building up a list of worthwhile accomplishments. Granted, I still do make a list on my birthday of things I want to accomplish that year, but this list is now much more about activities that will help me enjoy life more.
Granted, some of the social media competition is people trying to out-enjoy each other. “Here I am, having a lazy Sunday at the farmer’s market!” “Here I am, remotely working in a tropical location!” It is possible to compete in the area of relaxing, but reading this book will make you feel silly for doing it.
And perhaps that will make all the difference.
I may just have to read this one again. I still own a copy because I love it that much.
The Book Dr.
Please do let me know what you think!
Others, what do you read that helps you slow down and let go of the need to do do do?
Today’s letter comes from a reader who is looking for inspiration in a different genre:
Dear book dr.,
I recently went through a break up. I’m not looking for another self-help book. I’ve got plenty of those already and I can’t handle anymore [reading] about what I should be doing. What I would benefit from is a really engrossing and inspiring book. Fiction or non-fiction that will get me fired up about possibilities in life. Help me find a new sense of direction maybe? I know this is a ridiculously tall order. ‘Help me find more meaning in life.’ But that’s the perspective I’m looking for.
Do your work.
Fire Me Up
Dear Fire Me Up,
I like a tall order! I hope others will follow suit.
I understand the dilemma. When going through a break-up, which I have done many times, the last thing I want to read is another relationship book that will make me rake myself over the coals yet again so I keep evaluating what went wrong.
So- very much understood on getting away from the technical reading. I think this impulse is a very good sign! Wanting to read something engrossing that turns toward new growth and experience in life tells me that you are well on your way to recovery and new adventures.
Here are a few titles that have distracted and inspired me while in break-up recovery:
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery
I’m not sure if you have read this one yet, but if you haven’t- it’s time. The narrative plays back and forth between the concierge in a Parisian apartment building and a young girl who lives there. People are not what they appear to be, everyone’s a book lover and magic ensues.
I had to include it even though you may have read it, because I think others in this situation would benefit. A must-read.
Vagabonding, Rolf Potts
I read this book in Spain about five years ago during the biggest heartbreak of my life. It’s a simple guide to traveling as much of the time as possible on very little money.
While I am not now living a global bedouin lifestyle, something about reading a very practical outline about how I could do nothing but travel from now on for the rest of my life helped me to have a sense of hope and opened up new ideas and things I wanted out of my life.
Read this, and then let’s hear about the trips you begin to dream about afterward.
Me Before You, Jojo Moyes
Ok, to be fair I haven’t read this one yet. But people have the hair-pulling “OMG that is the best book” reaction I think that you’re looking for in a book right now.
It’s this review, in particular, that made me feel this might be your book:
“When I finished this novel, I didn’t want to review it; I wanted to reread it. Which might seem perverse if you know that for most of the last hundred pages I was dissolved in tears. … “Me Before You” is a love story and a family story, but above all it’s a story of the bravery and sustained effort needed to redirect the path of a life once it’s been pushed off course.”
I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to run home and read this book right this minute. Good thing I already own it…
So. I think these 3 should get you off to a good start. I almost hope you haven’t yet read the Hedgehog so you get to read all 3 of these right now.
Guaranteed to get you moving back in the right direction toward sunshine and languid happy days of summer on the way.
The Book Dr.
Today, a practical question from a reader doing some spring cleaning:
I have a question for the Book Dr.!!! What do you do with all the books you’ve read? I have to sort through mine & simply cannot keep all I have! I must let go… but how would YOU choose?!?! Thanks, Buried in Books
Dear Buried in Books,
I feel your pain. I have floor-to-ceiling books on numerous walls and there still isn’t enough room. Whenever I have cleaned out books, I tend to be inspired by the words of William Morris, English textile designer and pre-Raphaelite:
“If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
The way this translates into books for me is three categories of Books I Keep:
- Reference: I use a lot of books to look things up- a condensed Oxford English Dictionary, a Dictionary of Symbols, Tarot manuals or the I Ching if I’m feeling experimental and so on. Cookbooks I actually use go here.
- Books I love and read often: Any book that I will want to read more than once, or even dip into for inspiration or am always wanting to lend to someone, I keep. Poetry books like Hafiz’s The Gift is one of these. Books I just adore and sometimes want a paragraph out of also fit this type- Love in the Time of Cholera, or Letters to A Young Poet are examples of this.
- Books that are beautiful objects: Some of my books are wonderful to have because I love seeing them there. Photography books, books on design and architecture fit here.
- Books that I feel excited to read in the future: I have a book acquisition problem. I have put a moratorium on buying any new books for a while, but any book I have not yet read that makes me think “I can’t wait to dive into” stays.
These are the main categories. A book has to fit into at least one of these to stay long. Even better, there are many that fit more than one: reference books that are beautiful, or Books I feel excited about reading that are beautiful AND a good reference. And so on. The more categories it fits into, the more secure it is.
But when I do a sweep, I have to accept the fact that, as my aunt and I once decided- some books are like wine and age beautifully as you let them sit and wait for the right moment to read. But others are like fruit and go bad sitting on the shelf waiting.
When a book has gone bad, you will know. You look away from it, can’t remember where it came from or what possessed you to bring it home.
Let that one go. Let any go that feel icky or heavy or like you would be just as happy to get them from the library if you wanted to read them again.
I also like to play the game, “If I could only keep x number of books, I would keep the following.” Pick a number. If you could only keep 100- which ones would stay? What about just 10? What if you could only keep 1?
Please do share your lists if you try this. And anyone reading, please do share as well- do you ever get rid of books? How do you decide which ones to let go?
Which ones would you keep?
The Book Dr.
Today’s letter touches on the topic of passion. Our writer is balancing creative impulses in love and art. Two topics I adore!
Dear Book Doctor,
I want a book that will help me feel my power and creativity as a woman while making dating feel light and fun versus heavy and future oriented. A book that will give me insight but also make me laugh.
Perhaps this is two book requests! Was thinking about doing Artist Way again.
I will recommend more than one book for you, but not for the reason you think. It seems that the answer to your dilemma is contained in your question.
One of the things that dating can do, in my opinion, is pull us into this forward-thinking place. “What’s going to happen next?” we wonder. We want answers and certainty. But these things are never possible. I could recommend dating books, but I won’t in this case. I think the way to keep dating light and in the present is to stay in the present with your creative lady self.
Go toward the part of you that wants to be creative and make art. Being with that part of yourself is going to keep you juiced up and pliable. I don’t think you need any answers about dating. You need to set yourself free to be a wild artistic woman. If your creative self is happy, the rest of it falls into place.
These are books that I think will help:
I love this writer. I first read his work in grad school for Expressive Arts Therapy. His view is that art is medicine, and in this case, I certainly believe that is true. This book is great for anyone who feels pulled to do the Artist’s Way, but prefers something more free-form and less regimented. This should jump start your artist self for certain!
I do adore some Twyla. It doesn’t matter that she is a choreographer- this advice is wonderful for any creative endeavor. I have even found her to be an inspiration for my running.
Concise and immediately applicable, this is one for the library. I read it and felt every suggested exercise made me want to make something right then. This is the practical companion to the philosophical aspect of Shaun McNiff above.
Last but most certainly not least, this should be required reading for life. Shaun McNiff will inspire you, Twyla will show you the keys to get started, but Steven Pressfield will kick you in the pants to get started.
I remember laughing at this one when reading it. It is short little one page tidbits that bust the critic and get you moving. This could probably be read in one sitting and I am sure I will come back to it again and again.
So… there you have it, Passionista. I think sorting out how to be with dating and love has a lot to do with submerging yourself as much as possible in what you love doing as soon as possible. Once you are feeling flow, creation, and the excitement of discovery, and once you stick with your creative process through thick and thin, it will be much easier to assess how you feel in dating. I think you will be a better partner to yourself and to others if you are a happy artist.
Because if your creative heart isn’t happy, no partner will be able to fix that. And if you are creating and delighted, it won’t matter how it goes in dating- you’ll be happy no matter what.
And, paradoxically, this seems to be when things turn out the best in that department.
The Book Dr.
Here’s today’s letter from the Book Dr mailbag. I do like a challenge!
Dear book doctor,
I am a reader who likes the best of everything and is a bit of an omnivore in terms of genre. I miss the feeling of falling into a book and literally needing to finish it in two sittings. Can you give me some ideas of books that left you enthralled?
Let’s Get Lost
Dear Let’s Get Lost:
I feel a little bit naughty, because I am about to recommend a book that I am currently reading and haven’t finished yet. Gasp! So I can’t 100% promise what the outcome will be in the end. Still, in terms of getting lost, I think this one is making it happen right from the beginning:
Since I know that one of the genres this omnivorous reader likes is memoir, I think this one will be especially appealing. It is told in first person and is the first in what promises to be a trilogy about the friendship between two women who grew up together in a rough area in Naples. I started to call it a suburb, but that makes it sound far too fancy and genteel. This is a ladies-pulling-each-others-hair-for-making-eyes-at-each-other’s-men type of neighborhood, not a sixties ladies-in-white-gloves spot. How I do love hyphens today, it seems.
The first chapter promises a friendship that lasts for decades before it jumps back to the time when the girls first met in elementary school, so I am feeling very swept up for a long saga. I think this one will definitely provide an escape. I wish I had some longer sittings so I could chew this one right up. Perhaps I will do just that over the weekend…
Other books people have wanted to float away on? Please leave your favorite titles in the comments!
Happy escaping, Let’s Get Lost!
The Book Dr.