Tiny Beautiful Things

Tiny Beautiful ThingsTiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
Publisher: Vintage
Number of pages: 304
My copy: Kindle edition

Life can be hard: your lover cheats on you; you lose a family member; you can’t pay the bills—and it can be great: you’ve had the hottest sex of your life; you get that plum job; you muster the courage to write your novel. Sugar—the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus, now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild—is the person thousands turn to for advice.

Tiny Beautiful Things brings the best of Dear Sugar in one place and includes never-before-published columns and a new introduction by Steve Almond.  Rich with humor, insight, compassion—and absolute honesty—this bookis a balm for everything life throws our way.

* * *

I first heard of Sugar through Hilary, one of my favorite bloggers. She often mentioned stuff she wrote on her posts, and for a moment, I thought that “Sugar” was someone she knew personally, because she often referred to her like she knew her from real life. Then I wandered over to The Rumpus, and found that Sugar was actually an advice columnist. Now I have read several advice columns before – in magazines, while having my hair done in salons, most of the time. I read them, but they’re not really my cup of tea, you know? Not that the people don’t offer sound advice, but I would rather talk to people I know for advice because they know me better.

But Sugar seems like a different story. I mean, read this:

You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. No one will ever give you love because you want him or her to give it. Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else.

How beautiful is that? I meant to read more of her posts, but then I got a copy of her Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of the Dear Sugar columns. Some of my Goodreads friends gave a really high rating for it, so I scanned the first few pages and before I knew it, I couldn’t stop reading. Because this book is possibly one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in the longest time.

The thing about Tiny Beautiful Things is that it is filled with tiny, beautiful things. Cheryl Strayed writes with the right mix of brutal honesty and gentleness in an answer to the people who wrote to her, asking for advice. And these people who wrote these letters are everyday people with everyday problems. Or, some of them may not be everyday problems, but they’re situations that we, perfectly imperfect humans, get into. And I know it’s impossible for one person to truly experience every single thing that these people wrote about, and Sugar doesn’t pretend to do that. What she did instead is meet their problems with her own vulnerability and offer what she has, in hopes of the words finding the their home in the hearts of the people who sought her.

And I think it worked, because I could only count with one hand the letters that were close enough to what happened in my life, and yet Sugar’s answers hit me, resonated in me “like a clanging bell.” The truth that she wrote were truths that I could also use in my own life — and I think other readers could use it, too. Her words on courage and love and compassion were a balm to the soul, and even if she delivers them sometimes with an edge, her love shines through, warm and inviting and healing. No judgments whatsoever. Just the loving truth. And that’s what makes it beautiful.

Tiny Beautiful Things is the kind of book where I wished I had some kind of photographic memory, or at least I could remember each quote with clarity so when I need words for trying times, I know what words to pull to keep me afloat. This is the kind of book that I would reread from the first page to the last, the kind of book I will pick up and flip through randomly and still find something to feed my soul. I loved everything about Tiny Beautiful Things, and I hope in my heart that this book finds its way to the people who need it.

Number of dog-eared pages: 125

Favorite dog-eared quotes (among others, because there’s just. too. many.):

Don’t be strategic or coy. Strategic and coy are for jackasses. Be brave. Be authentic. Practice saying the word “love” to the people you love so when it matters the most to say it, you will.

Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams that was built by your own desire to heal.

There is a middle path, but it goes only one direction: towards the light. Your light. The one that goes blink, blink, blink inside your chest when you know what you’re doing is right. Listen to it. Trust it. Let it make you stronger than you are.

Trusting yourself means living out what you already know to be true.

We get the work done on the ground level. And the kindest thing I can do for you is to tell you to get your ass on the floor. I know it’s hard to write, darling. But it’s harder not to. The only way you’ll find out if you “have it in you” is to get to work and see if you do. The only way to override your “limitations, insecurities, jealousies, and ineptitude” is to produce.

The story of human intimacy is one of constantly allowing ourselves to see those we love most deeply in a new, more fractured light. Look hard. Risk that.

What’s important is that you make the leap. Jump high and hard with intention and heart.

You will learn a lot about yourself if you stretch in the direction of goodness, of bigness, of kindness, of forgiveness, of emotional bravery. Be a warrior for love.

We have to be as fearless about our bellies as we are with our hearts.

When you set new boundaries there is often strife and sorrow, but your life will be changed for the better.

Forgiveness doesn’t sit there like a pretty boy in a bar. Forgiveness is the old fat guy you have to haul up the hill. You have to say I am forgiven again and again until it becomes the story you believe about yourself.

Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.

Rating:

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Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
Publisher: Three Rivers Press
Number of pages: 242
My copy: Kindle edition

Comedy’s fastest-rising star takes to the page in a book of essays, personal anecdotes, and impassioned pleas.

Multi-hyphenate Mindy Kaling is an Emmy-nominated writer, the actress famous for playing the beloved Kelly Kapoor on The Office, and the author of one of Twitter’s most popular and quoted feeds.  She is a keen and witty observer of life, romance, and pop culture, whom the New York Times recently called “an entirely original and of-the-moment” performer and Entertainment Weekly deemed “one of the ten funniest actresses in Hollywood.”

In Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy shares her observations, fears, and opinions about a wide-ranging list of the topics she thinks about the most: from her favorite types of guys (including Sherlock Holmes, NBA players, Aaron Sorkin characters, and 19th-century fictional hunks) to life in the Office writers’ room to her leisure pursuit of dieting (“I don’t travel, speak other languages, do crafts, or enjoy sports, but I love reading about new diets”) and how much she loves romantic comedies.  Loaded with personal stories and laugh-out-loud philosophies, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is a must-read by one of the most original comedic voices working today.

* * *

I’ve seen Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling on blogs since last year, I think, but I didn’t pick it up because I wasn’t a huge fan of memoirs. Plus, I didn’t really know who Mindy Kaling was. I only watched a few episodes of The Office, and not enough about her, and there was only one episode of The Mindy Project that I watched for #romanceclass. For some reason, I started reading more non-fiction books and memoirs this year, and after reading a comment from a friend on Facebook about this book, I finally decided to pick it up. I wasn’t planning to read it immediately, but then I decided to scan through the first pages…then I started laughing. And I was hooked.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? talks about Mindy’s experiences and observations about life — and by that, I meant she talked about a lot of things: from friendships to her parents, to her ethnicity, school, fashion, weight, and her work as a writer. There’s also a bit about romance, Irish exits (so that’s what this means!), and comedies. Not knowing much about Mindy, I thought I’d get bored with it, but I wasn’t even halfway through the book and I couldn’t stop laughing. Her observations and comments were spot-on, and I found myself relating to some of it. Cliche as this may be, reading this book felt like I was just hanging out with Mindy somewhere and I was listening to all her stories about her life so far. Also, laughing very hard, because I imagine she’s a great storyteller and she’d definitely hold the room’s attention. :D

There were just some chapters in the book that I kind of spaced out on, particularly the parts about comedies because I’m not a huge fan of those. But I really liked reading her behind the scenes commentaries on The Office, particularly the bit about Steve Carell. Who would’ve thought? It made me kind of want to watch a bit of The Office, as well as The Mindy Project, if only to get more quotable quotes from her.

And this is me being silly, but a teeny part of me feels ashamed that I didn’t read her books within two days (because she said “This book will take you two days to read. Did you even see the cover? It’s mostly pink.”)…but she would understand, right? Heh. :D Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is a funny and refreshing read, a good in-between books for when you read too much fiction or when you have too much drama in your life, or when you just want to laugh, period. Definitely keeping this on my shelf. :)

Number of dog-eared pages: 37

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

For instance, they say the best revenge is living well. I say it’s acid in the face — who will love them now?

But writing about my struggles was actually really fun. Besides, who wants to read about success, anyway? Successful serial murderers, maybe.

Haley and I would talk for hours about which member of ‘N Sync we’d want to marry. After long deliberation, the answer was always J.C. Chasez. Joey Fatone’s last name was going to be “Fat One” no matter how great he was, and even though they didn’t know at their age that Lance Bass was gay outright, they sensed he’d make a better good friend and confidante. As for Justin Timberlake, well, JT was the coolest and hottest, but too flashy, so we couldn’t trust him to be faithful. J.C. Chasez was the smart compromise.

If you’re going to punch someone in the face, your best bet is to punch your best friend.

I simply regard romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi, in which the world created therein has different rules than my regular human world.

When you think a girl looks pretty, say it.

…We are magic to you: you have no idea how we got to look as good as we do.

I think when men hear that women want a commitment, they think it means commitment to a romantic relationship, but that’s not it. It’s a commitment to not floating around anymore. I want a guy who is entrenched in his own life. Entrenched is awesome.

In real life, shouldn’t a wedding be an awesome party you throw with your great pal, in the presence of a bunch of your other friends? A great day, sure, but not the beginning and certainly not the end of your friendship with a person you can’t wait to talk about gardening with for the next forty years.

Rating:

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In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Publisher: Vintage Books
Number of pages:  343
My copy: ebook

On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.

Five years, four months and twenty-nine days later, on April 14, 1965, Richard Eugene Hickock, aged thirty-three, and Perry Edward Smith, aged thirty-six, were hanged from the crime on a gallows in a warehouse in the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing, Kansa.

In Cold Blood is the story of the lives and deaths of these six people. It has already been hailed as a masterpiece.

* * *

I love watching crime shows, but I only really like watching fictional ones. Any crime show or documentary that is “based on a true story” automatically creeps me out. I can do a marathon of CSI all day, but when someone tells me that someone near us was robbed or a friend of a friend of a friend is killed, I automatically shut my ears because I don’t want to imagine it happening to the people I care for. Case in point: there was a time when I learned that our neighbor was robbed, and for the next week, I slept with a scissor beside my bed (not a wise thing, actually) because I was afraid that someone would get in our house and do the same thing to us. I figure the scissor is a good enough weapon, right?

So I’m not really sure why I voted for In Cold Blood by Truman Capote when we had our poll for our September 2012 book. I guess I was swayed by the good reviews on the book, plus it seemed the most interesting among the choices. I guess I also totally forgot about that certain part of my paranoid childhood until I started reading the book.

In Cold Blood is Truman Capote’s account of the murder of the Clutter family in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas by Richard Hickock and Perry Smith. It’s not really a simple account of the murder told in a boring old non-fiction narrative. This is classified ascreative nonfiction so it read like a novel, and instead of just focusing on the murders, we are given a peek into the lives of the accused, their trial, up until their execution five years later.

Here’s the thing with In Cold Blood: it reads like any other crime novel until you do a little research and realize/remember that the characters in this book were actually real people. I was really just enjoying Capote’s writing while I was reading the first part, until someone from the book club posted photos of the Clutter family on our thread and I got major creeps because I remembered that the story was real. I’m not as paranoid worried now as I was when I was a kid, but realizing the truth in this story made my skin crawl. I can’t imagine the horror of that night.

But again, the story didn’t really focus much on the victims but on the killers. It’s an interesting angle that actually made me feel sorry for them despite the grievous sin they committed. I’m not saying that what they did was excusable — it’s just that seeing their side of the story, or at least, their background, made me just a little bit sympathetic to them. They could have been better people, I thought. There could have been something that could have changed their past so they won’t have to do what they did. And end up that way.

In Cold Blood could spark discussions on numerous topics, especially on the death penalty and justice, and that was exactly what happened during our face to face discussion. Interestingly, I got one of the hard ones again, something about justice and it started a pretty long debate/discussion on what justice really meant for everyone of us. I admit that it’s one of the things that I need time to really understand, and that right now I just really, really pray hard that nothing like this ever happens to anyone I care for.

In Cold Blood reminded me of the time when I did a Criminal Minds marathon a few years back. I really enjoyed it, but I didn’t really go out of my way to watch it again. Once is enough, I guess (unless it’s for research or something). Likewise, I liked In Cold Blood, but I don’t think I have the heart to read something like this again.

Rating:

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Astigirl: A Grown Girl Living on Her Own Terms

Astigirl: A Grown Girl Living on Her Own TermsAstigirl: A Grown Girl Living On Her Own Terms by Tweet Sering
Publisher: Flipside Publishing
Number of pages: 156
My copy: ebook, review copy from publisher. Thank you! :)

Far from the grownup she thought she would be, Tweet Sering, 30-plus and tormented by a raging discontent with stale notions of how one must live, strips herself of the trappings of adulthood—no job, no savings, no insurance, and not even a credit card—and resolves to begin growing up again.

In this memoir that is by turns sharply funny, intelligent, outspoken, but also pained and bewildered, Tweet shows her readers how being astray can turn into being astig (tough). Her essays remind us of long, late-night chats with our favorite friend, so that the substance of the go-for-broke account of her journey is not muddled by easy sentiment, but shines with a desire to cheer us on into our own journeys of being a tough girl. An Astigirl.

* * *

When the new year rolled around, I was more than ready to start a new book, eager to start filling my 2012 shelf. However, it felt like the books I was starting weren’t really making the cut. I couldn’t really get into it. It may have been just some kind of New Year blues or something — I don’t know. I received Astigirl as a review copy from Flipside on the first day of work and was all set to read it later in the month. Until decided to take a peek at it after work…and I could not put it down.

Astigirl: A Grown Girl Living On Her Own Terms is Tweet Sering’s account of how she turned into her own kind of tough girl. Tweet talks about a range of things: from a fan letter to Angelina Jolie, to a family discussion on whether Manny Pacquiao’s politics, to how she let go of her finances, to how she decided to drop everything to follow her dream. She talks about serious things about a man she loves and her art, and how she was asked to write her grandmother’s biography to seemingly not-so-serious things such as how she wants to strangle Bella and kick Edward as she read New Moon. With a warm, personal tone akin to a friend sharing her experiences to another, Tweet Sering makes her readers feel that if she can do it, then we can, too.

Ah. That almost slump I had was instantly gone after I read the first entry in this book. Astigirl is the perfect book to read for the new year. It’s got all this freshness and honesty that no other fiction book can offer. I thought it would be all about the kind of toughness that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate or relate to, but I was wrong. Think of this as sort of a Filipino version of Eat Pray Love, but less of the annoying over-privileged “I have money to travel all over the world” feel. In fact, Tweet talked about how she didn’t really feel a strong attachment to money, something I know I had to learn.

I was kind of glad I read this on my Kindle because it makes it easy to highlight quotes. Believe me, when I got to the middle, I realized I was highlighting almost every other page. Maybe it was because of the new year, or maybe it was because Tweet Sering talks about things that every young Filipino woman is thinking but is too confused or too afraid to set out for: to do something meaningful. I would share with you my favorite quotes but they’re too many of them, so you’ll just have to read it for yourself. :)

Being nonfiction meant not everyone will agree with this, but it also means that it can be read again and deliver a different message altogether. Astigirl is a great book to start the year with, and I think it would also make the perfect gift for girlfriends and girl friends. I don’t necessarily agree with everything and I thought some of the entries were a bit long, but I really enjoyed the book and I would definitely browse through it again.

So, if you’re a Filipino woman in your 20’s or 30’s and if you’re feeling a little beat from life or you need a little inspiration, get Astigirl by Tweet Sering. It will do you a lot of good, and hopefully, it will also give you that push you need to go after what you need to do to be your own Astigirl.

Rating:

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