Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

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Book: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
Series: –
Author: Marie Kondo
Genres: Non-fiction, self-help, organization

Synopsis (from Amazon book page):

“This #1 New York Times best-selling guide to decluttering your home from Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes readers step-by-step through her revolutionary KonMari Method for simplifying, organizing, and storing. Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles? Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list). With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international bestseller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home—and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.”

Notes of Interest:

A non-fiction book, for once! I mostly read and review very imaginative fiction like fantasy and sci-fi, so this is a departure from my norm (these days). It was recommended to me by my cousin, who found it useful before her move. And since I face a big move in the upcoming future, she thought I might find it useful, too. Have I tested the KonMari method? Not fully — not yet. I have dabbled. And I think most people who read this will dabble, which is precisely what she advises against. But for some of us, life does not have a pause button to make time to do things like this. Perhaps I will be more fortunate in the future to afford the spare time to get better organized. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn a thing or two that I could use right now.

What could have made it better for me:

I have no critique on how this book could have been better. It’s well-organized. (And I chuckle as if I just stated a pun.) It has a good flow for comprehension and future reference as a handbook, of sorts. It’s not boring. It’s actually kind of quaint. But I suppose that’s getting into what I liked about it. So …

What I liked about it:

This book had some special attractions for me as to why I enjoyed it. For one thing, I do love to be organized. And for the most part I have always been a tidy person. But I do feel like I’m falling behind these days because I have to devote 120% to finishing one stage of life before I can cope with starting another. That has lent itself to stacked dirty dishes, missed laundry days, towering magazines I have yet to read, and things in the fridge that have more hair than I do. In the next couple of years or so, I will need to move from a large, three-bedroom house to a small apartment. Just thinking of it makes me feel like puking some days. And I fear it will take me at least a year just to sort through everything and get rid of most of it. Hence, the recommendation and reading of a book on minimization and organization.

For another thing, this book’s author and business are Japanese. I used to live in Japan. Out of twenty-two addresses over the course of my life, Japan was my most favourite place in the world to live. So, many of the things mentioned in this book felt familiar, gave me a chuckle, or made me feel warm and cozy all over with good vibes. Japanese minimization is different from Western cultures. It is an art form. Western decluttering seems to clear away some stuff not being used, so that you have more space for new or other stuff. But Japanese decluttering focuses on what is beautiful, necessary, and uplifting … or what sparks joy. I love that most of all about this book, I think. This is where the “quaint” feeling comes from. It’s as if the author is a good friend helping you sort through your accumulations and helping you select what warms your heart the most, as opposed to most organization methods that feel sterile and impersonal. And yet her organization suggestions are rather stringent.

But even if I wasn’t moving, or hadn’t lived in Japan, I would consider this book a lovely addition to my home because it is practical. And that is its most important feature. Her ideas are doable, include a hint of feng shui, and yet they are unique. She claims it is doable for everyone, and perhaps it is. But I think it would be difficult for someone to stick to it without some deviation. For one thing, she insists that you do everything at once for each category of items being sorted. This is non-negotiable if you wish to break bad habits. But, as I said, I don’t have time to not do other things in my life that are on deadlines right now, so that I can give organization my undivided attention. And it’s not really my habits that worry me; it’s my circumstances. So, I tested the water by trying out her ideas for sorting clothing … just a little. I love the results, so I might be willing to dive in completely when my circumstances are different. I reorganized my closet and drawers about two months ago, and they are still the way I organized them. I have been able to more easily let go of excess that does not bring me joy. And I’ve found it easier to shop when I do need something new. I can take one look at my closet now and see I have nothing yellow, except two shirts that don’t fit very well. So, I know those two shirts have to go as soon as I can replace them with a new yellow shirt that fits better. They’re good shirts, but if they don’t fit well, I never wear them anyway. And every time I open my closet this is reinforced with a one-second glance because I no longer have to search for anything.

The book claims that using the Konmari method of organizing teaches you to trust your ability to make good decisions. I would agree with that. I have noticed I have an easier time questioning why I hold onto things. And it’s easier to let them go.

My only word of caution about this book has to do with “minimalist lifestyle” changes in general. Simply put, I am a tree-hugger at heart, so the consequences of consumerism is something I consider with every purchase and every release. I also grew up in poverty, so I will never be able to brag about how many trash bags of stuff I threw out because throwing anything out that might be helpful to someone else feels like a waste. If you are at a place in life where you are ready to purge your belongings, put on your “good steward” cap and try to think of better ways to get rid of your stuff than sending bags and bags of trash to the landfills. Our planet and the lives of people who live near these ever-growing mountains of trash are affected by them. Most items can be recycled or reused via donations to shelters, thrift stores, or other forms of second-hand sales. Just remember there is no such place called Away. When you throw something it always goes Somewhere. And since nobody wants to live in trash or have their drinking water polluted with it, dumping your trash in someone else’s river or backyard isn’t a wise or compassionate solution. Landfills should be last resorts when deciding what to do with things we get rid of. (Okay, hopping off my little soap box now.) 🙂

Recommendation:

I really appreciate this book. I had fun reading it. I had fun attempting to put some of the principles into action. I did learn new behavior and get a neater closet and drawers out of it, and so far those changes are holding strong. I’m looking forward to using it as a handbook in the future when that big, inevitable move comes. Fitting an entire house and lifetime of memories into a studio won’t be easy, so I’m glad I will have at least one helpful resource to survive it. If you are already a tidy person, this book will enhance your appreciation of your possessions and organized spaces. If you are not a tidy person, this might inspire you to roll up your sleeves and get down to the business of learning about who you are and why you possess the items that you do. The “spark joy” concept may seem flaky to some, but it’s a principle that every aspect of our lives could benefit from. Who are we and why do we hang onto old, tired things, jobs, relationships, dreams, etc. that no longer serve us or help others? Sometimes we have to endure things that don’t bring us joy. That’s just life. But if we do have a choice, why not truly let go of what clutters our breathing space so that we can better appreciate that which we truly love?

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Landscape Lexicons

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Image Source: “Purple Forest”, copyright Melody Daggerhart. A forest seen through Trizryn’s dark elf night vision, perhaps?

I stated in a previous post that I had been reviewing my older books in the Elf Gate series to refresh my memory for plot consistency. One difference I noticed with my early writing compared to my writing now is a shift in the poetic nature of the landscape. Not that my writing has ever been overly poetic, but I do have bursts of inspiration here and there. And I feel I had more bursts of inspiration in the first book than in the fifth. It was a lamentable discovery because I realized I had more fun describing my world in the first book than I’ve had in subsequent ones.

This is ironic because the editor of my first book had to pull those landscapes out of me. She told me to “spend some time in your world” so that I could get to know it better and therefore transport readers. The fantasy genre is expected to offer different places or times. I know it’s one of the features I enjoy most about that genre — getting to see new, imaginative realms. Allowances for word count even take this into consideration. It’s why fantasy and science fiction novels are often 150-180K (or more!) compared to their smaller cousins from other genres, which are anywhere from 50-100K for current world settings and about 100-150K for historic settings. The more familiar readers already are with the setting, the fewer words are needed to describe the setting. The farther removed the reader is … the higher the word count needed to introduce a completely different world.

So, what changed between my first and the fifth books?

I think plot is to blame. Poetic descriptions beautify writing, but without a plot the novel is worthless. So, word count must be prioritized on plot. My first book was an introduction to the series, so it really had only one plot: get the characters to work together toward a common goal. That’s it. Simple. The following books, however, delve deeper into the subplots that were hinted at in the first book. So, a morning in the first book might be all purple and orange stripes in a sherbet-morning sky, when I see a 200+K word count on the third draft of book five, I’m more likely to whack that poetic description to sunrise.

This morning I read a rather lengthy, but very good and interesting article about landscape words in The Guardian from Robert Macfarlane. (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/feb/27/robert-macfarlane-word-hoard-rewilding-landscape) It’s a great article for linguistic nerds like myself in terms of rediscovering old words, inventing new words, and realizing how little we pay attention to words that describe our environment. It made me reflect on my own landscapes in my world building, and it rekindled the flame of wanting to spend time in my imagined realms. Perhaps a handful of unusual words could add texture without being wordy, such as “sherbet-skein sky” to describe that purple-and-orange-streaked sunrise. One of my favourite such words is mizzling. It perfectly describes a misty drizzle that can’t decide whether it wants to rain or not. And I’m always enchanted with hoar frost, so I had to add that to my winter landscapes in the series, too. But there are so many particular marvels in real environments that could be used to verbally paint our worlds, it really does strike me as sad that we no longer notice and are losing those words from our vocabularies.

Something for me to consider as I continue to revise the fifth book in the series and begin the sixth book in the series … in spite of word count. Time to revisit the forests, caverns, and floating islands of my imagined worlds and pay attention to their landscape lexicons.

Book Review: Dragonvein, Book 2

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Book: Dragonvein
Series: Book 2
Author: Brian D. Anderson
Genres: Fantasy, Adventure

Synopsis (from Amazon book page):

“With new friends and allies fighting by his side, Ethan Dragonvein must find a way to overcome the might of the Eternal Emperor Shinzan. As the voices of the dragon’s call to him, he is driven to seek them out in the faint hope that they can help him fulfill his destiny and save the people of Lumnia. But he must hurry. Shinzan has not been idle and moves swiftly to crush this fledgling mage before he can become a challenge to his power.”

Notes of Interest:

This is a follow-up purchase, so I will be referencing my review of the first book in this series for comparison.

What could have made it better for me:

This book makes use of the time travel portal again, but very briefly to the 1980’s. So, I’ve decided to knock the “historic” genre from my description. This is a fantasy book with adventures that include time travel, but time travel is not core to the plot objectives. Perhaps that changes in later books, but in the first two time travel is not what’s important.

There were a few minor technical errors that got missed in editing.

The antagonist, Shinzan, still didn’t catch my interest as a character with personality and depth. He strikes me as an immortal, all-powerful Sauron-type ruler that you know must be defeated in the end or he will destroy the world (more so than he already has). But even after knowing a little about his background, he remains the Big Bad off in the distance. Again, maybe that will change over the series. I understand the need to build up to these things if the story takes place over several volumes as an arc. But as of book 2, he still strikes me as one-dimensional.

The only other thing that distracted me was the predictable love triangle between the two women and leading the man. The way Book 1 ended regarding two female characters, I knew they would be one of the plots in Book 2. And that assumption was helped by the presence of a female mage on the cover. The girl that was too young becomes an adult, and the girl who was frozen becomes thawed. Both want the last remaining mage in their kingdom. It’s not that this subplot was poorly done, it just played out exactly the way I thought it would. And as a woman, I admit I tend to dislike “catty” behavior among female characters because it often replays female stereotypes. It tends to be a division between the doting, “I will love you forever no matter what because I love you!” playful kitten and the “I want you in my bed” manipulative slut. And whether it’s two women jealous over one man, or two men jealous over one woman, at some point those kinds of plots end up feeling childish and cliché because the character being fought over becomes a static trophy, rather than a genuine person in a genuine relationship. Same goes for the two who are fighting. They become static stereotypes and stop growing as individuals. … Jealousy and love triangles do realistically happen. It’s why they’re classic tropes that we keep coming back to again and again. But the more low-key the better, in terms of telling a unique story … in my opinion.

On a related note, this book had some graphic sex in it. Graphic sex in fantasy novels doesn’t bother me, as long as it’s necessary to the plot or handled in a way that doesn’t distract from it. I think in this case the approach was necessary to the plot, but the language felt out of place within the overall tone of the book. It felt like something unexpectedly switched in the writing style, but it was brief and limited to one scene, so it didn’t affect the overall content.

What I liked about it:

This volume in the series is primarily about the “mage training” that Ethan goes through after discovering he is the only remaining mage in the kingdom. Or, at least he is the only mage powerful enough to defeat the emperor. And this is a land where magic is suppressed except for the emperor’s use of it, so even if someone of lower class can do magic, their lives are forfeit if they are caught. So between his training and his quest to find the dragons, that is what carries the meat of the plot. The dragons are the highlight of the book, probably because they are rare in this setting, and they are handled in an unusual manner. They are on the verge of extinction, so they are both accessible, yet not accessible, to aid in the coming battle. Ethan learns the truth about the emperor’s nature. And he is shown enigmatic secrets that are full of plot potential, from dwarves as well as mages and the dragons themselves, for the upcoming quest to defeat the bad guy.

His relationships with the two women do not overtake the main plot, and the triangle does eventually work itself out, which I appreciated. To be able to end a love triangle in a manner where all parties win is good (and different, because usually there is a sore loser).
The most interesting part of this book, to me, did not get enough “air time”. It’s the relationship between Ethan and his best friend, Markus. Markus is a deeply conflicted character, and that makes him more multi-dimensional. The ugly tasks of the plot get dumped on him, but he shoulders the burden assuming this is simply his task because it’s the kind of person he has become. So, his struggles between being a good guy and a bad guy who happens to be helping the good guys was interesting.

In spite of what I said earlier about the antagonist being a bit flat, I did appreciate seeing his capacity for evil exposed. He is spoken about by other characters as a cruel, selfish tyrant. And he is shown more in this book than the first, which is why I give the benefit of the doubt to deeper development in the future. It’s hard to create evil characters who truly do repulse the reader … because killing someone isn’t enough to earn that badge. Maybe it’s because we expect deaths in action/ adventure/ fantasy type stories. So, the evil that defines an effective villain is conveyed more in the “how” and “why” that death and suffering take place. I am now convinced that Shinzan truly is a cruel and corrupt villain, rather than having to accept rumors. The question now is whether there is any possibility for conflict within himself regarding his own behavior.

And I still appreciate the author’s portrayal of the dwarven race, pushing them beyond the most common tropes into being credible characters with depth and imaginative attributes. A great quote to share from Dwarven king Ganix: “War is a wicked thing. It can make monsters of all of us.”

Recommendation:

I liked the book overall, but I think I liked the first book better. This one felt slower and a bit more off-topic. As of this writing, I’m undecided whether to buy the third book. The book was good, but I can tell the interest has dipped enough that I need to reach for something different for now. Book 3 will probably go back in my TBR list for later.