Better Than Before, by Gretchen Rubin

In the warm, practical style that her fans have come to expect, Gretchen Rubin explains why habits matter, and how to make them work for you, in her new book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. Rubin begins by breaking people down into four groups: upholders, obligers, questioners, and rebels, providing checklists to help you decide where you fit in. She then goes on to delve into the psychology of habit formation, peppering her personal narrative and a good dose of self-help with quotations from the likes of St. Augustine and Benjamin Franklin.

Better Than Before is light but inspiring reading for anyone who wants to adopt a few new good habits, or discard some bad ones. If you’re like me, you’ll be very glad to have Rubin’s book in your hands, and equally glad that she isn’t your neighbor or sister, and that she hasn’t set her sights on your dietary habits. While the author often comes off as judgmental or meddling, her keen awareness of these traits in herself makes her more likable than you might expect.

Despite a tendency toward repetition, Rubin’s prose strikes a nice balance between engaging, informative, personal, and practical. Readers who loved to hate the author of Happier at Home–who came off as stingy with her money and her affections (she doesn’t like buying gifts and had to make an effort to kiss her husband before he left for work)–will likely find more common ground with the voice behind Better Than Before. Here, we get a glimpse of the author as committed friend, sister, and daughter, someone so passionate about exercise that she buys her sister a treadmill desk, and so intent on the benefits of de-cluttering that she spends hours cleaning out a friend’s apartment, only to realize that clutter doesn’t really bother him much. One gets the feeling that Rubin really likes to help people, and that all that busy-bodyness comes from a genuine mix of passion and compassion.

Readers who started their own happiness projects after reading The Happiness Project are likely to enjoy Rubin’s latest effort. While there is something slightly grating about the author (she hates travel and interesting food and never misses an opportunity, in any of her books, to remind readers that she once clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor), there is something inspiring about her as well. Although it sounds like a line from a bad romcom, she really does make you want to be a better version of yourself. If it’s any indication of just how practical this book is, I’ve already started keeping track of three new habits, and I’ve even started researching DIY treadmill desks.

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Great Books for Writers – Zen in the Art of Writing

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

A wonderful glimpse inside the mind of a stunningly prolific and intensely imaginative writer. Recommended for Bradbury fans, of course, but also for anyone interested in pursuing the writing life. Great inspiration for writers at any stage in their career who are feeling unproductive or uninspired. Read with Bradbury Unbound to get a full picture of the writer’s habits and the challenges and successes of his very long writing life.

Buy from Barnes & Noble   Indiebound    Amazon

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Art Rules! (And How to Break Them) by Mel Gooding

Art Rules! And How to Break them

Art Rules! (And How to Break Them) by Mel Gooding

Reviewed by Michelle Richmond

forthcoming from Shambala Redstone Editions, October, 2014

ISBN: 9781590308400

Art Rules! (And How to Break Them) by Mel Gooding isn’t really a book. It’s a box of 42 art cards, accompanied by exercises to help bring out the artist in anyone, and a 64-page booklet, “Modern Art: Inside Out,” that provides an crash course on modern art. A terrific introduction to what makes art tick. As fun as it is informative, Art Rules! (And How to Breatk Them) reminds us that art at its best is indeed consumed by the masses. Not only does it make us think and feel; sometimes it makes us want to reach out and add a mustache. The creatively categorized cards inspire art-lovers to think in a new way about familiar images, while opening the doors of art for those who find it intimidating. An imaginative teacher could go to town with these cards, creating a learning environment as lively as the spirit of art itself. Highly recommended for art lovers, amateurs, and educators.

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Pimp your resume: The Infographic Resume

An infographic resume for Sherlock Holmes, courtesy of McGraw-Hill Professional
An infographic resume for Sherlock Holmes, courtesy of McGraw-Hill Professional

Hannah Morgan thinks resumes are rather dullish. Her solution? The Infographic Resume: How to Create a Visual Resume That Showcases Your Skills and Lands the Job. To promote the book, McGraw-Hill Professional has created an infographic resume for a man who needs no letter of recommendation, Sherlock Holmes. It’s very pretty, indeed. The timeline is especially catchy. And I like that Morgan presents a more exciting alternative to the dull bullet-point resume. However, I presume that if Holmes himself were to show up at Scotland Yard with something like this, he’d be escorted to the door.

The book, which is packed with eye candy, could prove quite helpful for a young person hoping to stand out from the crowd in the field of advertising, publicity, or graphic design. The author includes a lovely example of a one-page resume for typographic designer Kelly Weihs. A typographic designer is exactly the kind of person who can benefit from Morgan’s approach. Infographic resumes might also be a good fit for any company that uses the word “disrupt” in its mission statement. As the editor of a small press (albeit one that does not use the word “disrupt”), if I received a resume that looked like this, I would definitely be intrigued enough to follow the links.

However, the book should come with a caveat: the infographic resume isn’t right for every job search. Sometimes, the bells and whistles will only get in the way. In academia, for example, if you turn in anything other than the expected CV, your application will quickly move to the recycle bin. Finance, wherein one aims to handle large sums of other people’s money, probably isn’t a good field in which to show your flare for color.  Many fields outside of arts and entertainment, in which you want to present yourself as a person of gravitas, may have not yet caught on to the visual resume trend.

Financiers and professors aside, this book is a great tool for young people looking for their first job right out of college, as well as more experienced professionals in highly creative fields. Morgan includes good resources for where to host your resume and portfolio online, as well as basic steps to creating an alluring online presence. She offers basic advice on creating an effective pitch and getting a good headshot. There’s a decent section on common mistakes to avoid. A couple of the examples, unfortunately, such as an off-puttingly fussy resume for one graphic designer, look like they would be better placed in the don’t-do-this chapter (don’t put your own words in giant quotes at the top of the page, for example, and don’t include a photo of yourself looking coyly off-camera.)

Ultimately, visuals are only as good as the information they convey. The traditional resume works in part because an employer who is going through hundreds of resumes knows exactly where to look to quickly ascertain your education, experience, career goals, and references. Requiring a hurried employer to search an unfamiliar document in order to get the information she wants might prove off-putting.

Kyle Bahr’s resume showcasing his talents as a digital strategist and wilderness explorer combines the best of old and new: everything is where you would expect it to be, which gives the resume that ever-important quality: clarity. A few well-placed graphic elements, and a smart use of color, typography, and icons, make it a beauty to behold and guarantee that it won’t get lost in the forest. By the way, while looking for an elusive link to Bahr’s infographic, I found a traditional resume by the same Kyle Bahr, a resume so direct and yet personality-driven (after a clear list of his relevant experience, Bahr includes  “World’s Best Grandson” in the Award section) that it would be likely to stand out from the crowd on its own simple merit.

Final take: Despite a few missteps, The Infographic Resume provides a fresh take on the art of selling oneself. A helpful guide to standing out from the slush pile, as long as one keeps in mind that, sometimes, a simple “World’s Greatest Grandson” will do.

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The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber

The Book of Strange New ThingsThe Book of Strange New Things, by Michael Faber

Reviewed by Michelle Richmond

forthcoming from Crown Publishing, October, 2014.

When a missionary from England arrives in a distant galaxy as the latest employee of a corporation called USIC, he is surprised to find that the native population is far from hostile. In fact, the Oasans have been waiting for him. He soon discovers that he is not their first pastor; the previous missionary,  Kurtzburg, walked away and never returned. Gradually, Peter comes to understand the reason he was hired: USIC’s continued relations with the locals were in jeopardy.

Together, Peter and the locals build a church while he shares with them the gospel from The Book of Strange New Things. As his church rises from the ground and he becomes further and further disconnected from the USIC settlement fifty miles away, Peter’s pregnant wife Bea sends desperate missives from home. The world is falling apart–mass warfare, starvation, unprecedented natural disasters. As the distance grows between Peter and Bea, so does the distance between the pastor and his fellow workers at USIC. One wonders: will he “go native” like (Kurtz)burg?

Faber skillfully avoids the expected tropes of colonization. The corporation does not wish to obliterate or assimilate the locals, but to live peacefully alongside them. Miscommunication, however, is inevitable. Aside from Kurtzburg and a linguist who also disappeared, the employees of USIC have done little to understand the language or daily lives of the Oasans. Instead of bringing disease, USIC brings medicine, for which the locals trade food that they have painstakingly harvested and prepared. But the trade proves to be unequal: the medicine cannot save the locals from the thing that threatens them most.

Satisfyingly reminiscent of Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, with nods to The Heart of Darkness, The Book of Strange New Things is a brilliant work of hybrid fiction. Part love story, part sci-fi thriller, part cautionary tale, Faber delivers an unforgettable novel that raises important questions about faith, fear of the unknown, and our place in the universe.

Michelle Richmond, New York Times bestselling author of Golden State and The Year of Fog

A review copy of this book was provided by NetGalley.

 

 

 

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