Be More Chill

When I decided to write a book review for each book I read during the 2018 Challenge, I didn’t exactly think through the fact that I’ll be reading 50 books this year! Needless to say, between packing for a move and actually reading the books, I’ve gotten a bit behind. Nonetheless, I’ve promised book reviews, so book reviews you shall receive!

After reading Kondo’s book and being forced to reckon with the sheer quantity of things I own, I wanted something a little less… personal. So, I moved on to Ned Vizzini’s Be More Chill, which filled the category of “a book that is also a stage play or musical.” It also filled my own personal category of a book my boyfriend has been asking me to read for forever. He had recommended it to me months ago, telling me that it was a YA novel about a teen dealing with high school. Those of you who have read this book are probably laughing now. I had no idea what I was in for.

I’ll provide a small synopsis here, but know that if you haven’t read it and want to experience the same shock I did, stop reading this now and go read that instead. It’s truly fantastic.

Be More Chill follows Jeremy, a high school student dealing with the same thing most high school students deal with: the desire to be cooler. He wants to get through high school unscathed and, perhaps, get the cute girl he likes while he’s at it. After a rocky beginning full of more second-hand embarrassment than I knew what to do with, Jeremy learns about something called a “squip.” It’s basically a pill that you take that activates a computerized voice in your head, which then tells you what to do and say in order to, well, be more chill. The novel is great about explaining the mechanics of this, from the inner-workings of the squip itself to the way that it interacts with the brain. I, however, am not great about understanding them, so if that’s your thing you will have to read it yourself. I could go on and on about all of the interesting things that follow the moment Jeremy gets a squip, but I sincerely do not want to ruin what is an intensely unique and surprising plot, so please just take my word for it, one more time, and read it yourself.

Sometimes when I read YA novels, I find myself making mental notes about how I would teach it in a classroom setting. This book was full of them, though it definitely deals with some mature content and language. It may be a tough sell to get into a classroom, but the overarching theme of a desire for acceptance is something all teenagers (and adults, really) can relate to. I mean, I would be lying if I said I didn’t wish for an instruction manual to get me through high school. 

This book is weird and wonderful, and I’d love to share more about it, but I genuinely want you all to feel the same shock and uncertainty that I did as I worked my way through the plot. If you have read this book (or even if you just want to), feel free to discuss it in the comments! I’d love to hear what you think. 

Challenge Accepted

As part of my goal to make 2018 the year of being kind to myself (because This One’s For Me, read more on that here), I decided to take on POPSUGAR’s 2018 Reading Challenge. I convinced my boyfriend to join in and help keep me inspired (though it didn’t take much convincing, he loves books as much as I do), and have roped in one or two more friends to embark upon this year of reading. For those of you who aren’t familiar, POPSUGAR releases annual challenges that help cultivate a more diverse year of reading. There are 40 basic prompts and 10 additional “advanced” prompts, bringing the possible yearly total to 50 books – a large, but definitely doable, goal. 

Spending time going through the list and assigning books is just as fun as reading them, at least it is for a huge nerd like me. I’ve already mapped out several, and am excited to start researching books in the remaining categories to finish my list. To bring a little extra adventure to the challenge (and to help with another resolution, to write every day), I’ve decided I’ll bring you all along for the ride by reviewing the books I read during the challenge. So, without further ado, I present my first book review of 2018.

I started with Mari Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a book that’s lived on my Kindle for months now, thus checking off the category “a book you meant to read in 2017 but didn’t get to.” I read it two short sessions, taking a break in between to put some of Kondo’s tips to the test. This book has been hyped up for so long, now, that I’ve been promising myself I’d read it forever. It seemed like the perfect book for the moment, though, because what better time to declutter your life than when you’re packing everything you own into boxes?

The book itself is a quick read, which made it a great jumping-off point for the year. As with many self-help and advice books, I know I won’t utilize everything she discusses, but much of what Kondo advises is a great baseline for organization. Her tips for decluttering made the biggest impact, and I’ve already begun implementing it in my closet. I removed each item of clothing from my closet (a process that took longer than I’d like to admit) and held them, making the active choice to keep or discard. Kondo says to keep what brings you joy when you hold it, so as I reviewed my wardrobe, I tried to do just that. It may seem a little hokey at first, but I can honestly say that it didn’t take long to actually work. Looking at each item of clothing I own and choosing to get rid of those that don’t make me happy was incredibly effective, and I ended up purging six garbage bags of clothes that either didn’t fit, felt uncomfortable, or just generally didn’t make me feel good when I put them on. Asking yourself what brings you joy is a great way to really honestly take stock of what you should and shouldn’t hang on to. However, I don’t know that I’ll apply the same principle to paperwork or kitchen utensils. My medical file doesn’t exactly bring me joy, but that doesn’t mean I should throw it out. 

The remainder of the book deals a lot with organizing and putting items away. This is where she started to lose me a little. Kondo advises putting everything away, all the time, no exceptions. Even down to emptying your purse or backpack at the end of each day. She also urges readers to thank your items for their service, telling your purse how hard it worked or thanking your socks for keeping your feet warm. I have a hard time seeing the practicality of this level of tidying, and I probably will not be trying it myself. As much as I loved her decluttering techniques, I just can’t bring myself to keep the shampoo I use every morning in a cabinet or to dry my kitchen sponge outside. That being said, I think the root of this advice is really fantastic. While I won’t be speaking to my clothes any time soon, I love the idea of being more intentional about feeling gratitude. I’m not going to thank my purse for working hard, but isn’t it great that I have a job that allowed me to buy a purse that makes me smile every time I see it? How wonderful is it that I live in a society that allows me to dress in clothes that bring me joy? How fantastic is it that I have a wonderful friend who so thoughtfully gave me a gorgeous ukulele? We all have so much stuff, and – for me, at least – it is so easy to lose track of how lucky we are to have so much, and to have so many opportunities to make the things we own useful, beautiful things that bring us joy. I love Kondo for the fact that I won’t have to ship half my clothes across the country when I move, but this lesson in gratitude was my favorite takeaway from her book. 

To start our challenge off right, this was also my boyfriend’s first book of 2018. I think I liked much more of the book than he did, especially in the second half, but I think he’s also excited to try out some of her suggestions.

All in all, it was a great way to start off the reading challenge. It inspired me to get a head start on my packing, helped me act on a resolution I’ve been making for years, and reminded me just how lucky I am to be surrounded by so many things (and people) that bring me joy.