Book Review of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

eleanorThis book wasn’t quite what I expected – although good nonetheless.

Eleanor Oliphant is conservative – both in her appearance and thinking.  She doesn’t engage well with others, and lives on her own with a plant she is reasonably fond of.  She’s also fond of vodka and Tesco’s.  She doesn’t enjoy her job.  She doesn’t have any hobbies or any family with the exception of an absent mother she speaks to weekly on the phone.  Somehow though, the new IT technician at her work – Raymond – manages to make himself a part of her life when they witness an elderly man collapse on the street one day and rush to his assistance.

From here, I was expecting a heart-warming story of a quiet, shy individual finding herself and transforming her life, learning that she can form relationships and have a pathway to  happiness.  And there is plenty of that – and plenty of moments where you marvel at how life can change dramatically in such a short period of time.

But this was actually much more serious that than, delving into the reasons for reclusive Eleanor’s quiet lifestyle and rigid thought patterns.  Eleanor has a tragic backstory that gradually unravels as the narration continues.  This is unusual in a book that has a generally light feel.

The real genius of this fairly engaging novel is not just in the careful portrayal of Eleanor’s journey, but also in the colourful characters she encounters along the way.  The minor characters are beautifully detailed and quirky.  There’s something real in the beauty of this, and in the transcendence of everyday lives.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is getting a lot of attention right now.  It’s definitely not one of the stand-outs of the year for me, but worth a look nonetheless.



Book Review of Star Wars Psychology

star-wars-psychologyOne for the fans.

This series of essays links psychology principles to the Star Wars films – well, Episodes 1 – 6 that is (imagine the field day they would have with Kylo Ren!).

Some of the essays aim to use psychology to help readers understand characters, for example many focus on Anakin Skywalker across the six films and others aim to use Star Wars to help us understand psychological principles (i.e. the reverse). Both are pretty successful.

It was recommended to me by a friend who is a psychologist who had never seen a Star Wars film until the Christmas holidays, and has now seen them all multiple times and has several of these books (even I’m only planning on reading one!).

The content varies from dealing with grief, to mindfulness, relationships, the nature of good and evil and small investigations of how we view droids, loss of limbs (which happens to both Luke and Anakin), mentoring and the portrayal of women in the series.

There were some fascinating essays but I wouldn’t recommend you read this in one sitting – it’s better spread amongst other reading.  Just pick it up and read an essay when you feel like it.

Book Review of Switch – Making Change When Change is Hard

Switch.jpgLet’s face it – change is often hard.  And it is most hard when the status quo has been working for us.  Nobody likes to give up strategies that have been working for us.  And this is the key issue for organisational change – what is good for the organisation can sometimes get in the way of what is comfortable for the individual.

Dan and Chip Heath look at this in depth in Switch.  What I liked most about this this book was the ways to create change that they broke down and classified (see in attached picture.

They begin by looking at the mental aspect of change (they call this the ‘Rider’) and how to get people to understand the need for change, and the ways that can undertake it with ease.  Then they look at emotions (the Elephant) – which let’s face it, often trump our logical responses (you know another chocolate is no good for you don’t you, but who can resist?).  Appealing to emotions can prompt that visceral need for change and can build excitement for change. Finally they look at the small things – how to create a pathway for change to make it easier.  We often under-estimate how powerful a small behavioural change can be.  If I sleep in my gym gear, it’s so much easier to get up and go to gym in the morning. There was nothing complicated about that solution – just clever.  A small change can make a big impact.

The Heath brothers suggest that often you will need to work through all three of these aspects in order to be successful.  Some challenges might only need to consider one.

As usual, there are lots of clever and entertaining examples, and further steps that I don’t have time to outline here.  But this was a pretty enjoyable non-fiction read, and certainly one I can see myself referencing over and over.

Switch 2

Impressed Book Review of The Interestings

meg-wolitzer-interestings-MFBSMeg Wolitzer is incredibly easy to read – and in fact The Interestings is responsible for so many late nights in the last week.  But don’t make the mistake of thinking that all books with pacy and punchy narration are slim on content.  The Interestings is an insightful study of a group of friends who meet at a summer camp for young artistic types – and their changing relationships over the course of their lives.

Jules is on scholarship, and feels largely like an imposter at the camp.  But when she is invited to join the cool crowd in TeePee 3, she finally finds a niche that will last a lifetime.  She begins acting in comedic roles, a passion that lasts into early adulthood.  Ash and Goodman are wealthy twins, and Ash soon becomes Jules best friend and fellow actor.  Goodman is troubled and dangerous – and ends up disappearing from their lives after crossing boundaries that should not be crossed. Jonah is the son of a legendary folk singer, hiding secret trauma.  And Ethan… awkward overweight Ethan is the most talented of them all and his adolescent animation Figland is destined to become one of the most popular television shows of all time.

Over the years they dynamic of the relationships change and grow and sometimes warp. Family and money cause fractures but also heal.  Some truths are hidden but still all are bonded by those summers, and by friendships that saw them through the most difficult of times.

A wonderful read, with no dull moments.  Just perplexing, beautiful and complex stories of love and friendship.

Book Review of Robin Sloan’s Sourdough

sourdoughI am so far behind with my reviews… which is awful as this was such a great read, one of those books with a simple beauty that affirms a lot of positives in life.

Lois works for a tech company as a programmer.  It’s an all-pervasive kind of job – she often sleeps at work and when too busy to eat, has a synthetic nutrient called Slurry.  It’s tasteless, but keeps you going,  On day, she gets a pamphlet in her letterbox for a take-away service that delivers spicy soup and sourdough.  That phone call for the first serving changes her life.  Lois quickly becomes their ‘Number 1 Eater’, and daily spicy soup reminds her of the pleasures of life.  She also comes to feel she knows the two brothers – one who cooks and one who delivers.

Then, the two brothers encounter Visa issues and leave San Francisco… but before they go, they leave Lois their sourdough starter.  It is a living, breathing thing with quirks and needs of its own. Lois learns to treat it well and soon she too is baking the delicious sourdough that made her days bearable.

Sharing the loaves introduces her to so many new people and opportunities, and soon Lois finds her whole life shaped around baking and caring for the starter.  And then the critical question – is she a programmer or a baker?  It’s one she wrestles with for a while.

There’s so much more here as Lois enters the market scene where daring new foods and new ways of cooking allow her to combine her two worlds briefly – but she soon realises she cannot sustain what she has begun.

A wonderful novel, perfect for anyone who wants life to slow down a bit.

Book Review of The Ninth Hour

title-9th-hourAlice McDermott’s The Ninth Hour is one of those soft, rewarding and well-written novels that doesn’t inspire great excitement, but is worthwhile and fulfilling. It’s real and well, good.

The Ninth Hour starts with a death – the suicide of a young husband who leaves behind a pregnant wife. In Catholic Brooklyn, the wife is left with a stigma of shame and with few supports or resources. Taken in by the nuns, the lives of Annie and her soon-to-be-born daughter are entwined with the nuns of the convent from that point on. Annie works in the laundry and Sally grows up amidst the clothes and the wise words and kind deeds of these remarkable women. She comes to see their calling as a noble one.

But not all lives are as they seem. Annie has a secret – one that will make Sally fear for her immortal soul and question what she will and won’t do when it comes to those she loves. It’s a questioning that challenges her very decision to join the good sisters.

Worth a look if you like this kind of thing. McDermott is obviously a beautiful writer.

Book Review of Goodwood

goodwoodThere has been a lot of buzz about Holly Throsby’s Goodwood (especially as Throsby herself is better known for singing words than writing them).

And the buzz is well worthwhile – Goodwood is a finely crafted read that reflects real and engaging characters living that small-town life. You know the sort – where the local fish and chip shop is the centre of society, and fishing is one of the more popular pastimes.

But this quietness is disturbed when two residents go missing within a week of each other.  One, a young woman, has vanished without a trace, but with plenty of mystery and discussion.  The second, an older man who is well-respected within the town followed after just a week.

Are the two cases connected?  Or is life just not as simple as it appears in Goodwood?

This was a really solid read that made me happy to pick up the book each night.  Definitely worth a look.  Throsby’s move into the literary world is a good one – and I daresay more novels will follow this.