Tuesday, August 16, 2022

All the *Chef's Kiss* Books I've Read So Far

"Good morning starshine! The Earth says HELLO!" - me to my blog, as I blow off the metaphorical dust that has been piling up these past few months. 

I finally decided to sit down and put together a coherent string of words about what I've been reading this year, at a point where this year is more than halfway done. Soo, I'm just on time? Also, can someone please remind me in a few months' time that the actual writing part is fun, and not a chore as I always (falsely) lead myself to believe? Thanks. 

Instead of going through all of the books I've tacked so far and starting neverending tangents on why I think some of them just weren't it for me, I decided to keep things positive and give you my best of the best: all the *Chef's kiss* books I read in 2022 that I think everyone should read. And if you'd like to see what didn't make the final cut, head over to my Goodreads profile

"Achilles, "the best of all the Greeks," son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful, irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods' wrath. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows."

This book had been on my TBR list for literally two years, and sitting on my bookshelf for half a year. And the reason is that I was very aware of the fact that it's a much-loved book, which comes with its own territory of doubt: what if I don't like it? What if it doesn't live up to my expectations? I absolutely loved Circe by Madeline Miller and as a self-proclaimed aficionado of greek mythology, the stakes were high for this one. 

Finally, I decided to give it a go and I can gladly say that it did not disappoint. Personally, it’s not just the way Madeline Miller handled the original myth and breathed new life into it, but her poetic way with words that left me totally speechless. She would throw these deep and meaningful one-liners in places where you wouldn’t expect them, and as I’m reading this I have to pause and reread because it's just too good. And these were not even thoughts related to Achilles and Patroclus themselves, but to side stories and plots that develop alongside the central love story. I would say this book is a medium-burn story, the pace isn't fast and as eventful as Circe, but from the very first chapter, I felt like I was at home: the mythology, the way the words flow, the storytelling - everything just felt right. I think I’ll forever be in love with everything this woman writes.

"Zachary Ezra Rawlins discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Zachary uncovers a series of clues that lead him through a doorway to an ancient library hidden far below the surface of the earth. What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians—it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead."

I picked this book up from the library after months of eyeing it and then deciding to put it back simply because of the length. Coming in at almost 500 pages in the paperback format, I decided to dive into The Starless Sea (pun intended) with little to no knowledge of what the book was actually about. And I think that's how everyone should approach this one. The only thing you should know is that this is a book about the power of books, and the magical portals they open (in this case, quite literally). 

The prose was simply magical, with the right amount of whimsy mixed with the occasional reality check. If you pick this up and feel a bit confused with all of the intertwining stories, just know that it all makes sense in the end, and the payoff is amazing. 

"This is the story of what it's like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie's letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas, and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is the perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite."

I would’ve started this review by saying something like “how have I not read this when I was younger” but honestly I’m glad I read it in my current headspace because I can fully appreciate its beauty. I watched the film years ago, so I knew the plot, and if you did too, then you know what you're in for. But reading Charlie’s letters just felt so intimate and innocent (yes, it's an epistolary novel - my favorite!) that it added new dimensions to the movie itself, not to mention the complexity of his character. I enjoyed the writing style a lot because I think that it makes our speaker (Charlie) feel real, especially since we're basically reading his private letters - no flourished nor embellished language, no extended metaphors, no beating around the bush - just a confused 15-year-old kid who's trying to navigate high school, friendships, trauma, and everything in between. 

Everyone should read this book at least once in their lifetime because I think it’s a timeless work of art.

"In the Dream House is Carmen Maria Machado’s engrossing and wildly innovative account of a relationship gone bad, and a bold dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse. Tracing the full arc of a harrowing relationship with a charismatic but volatile woman, Machado struggles to make sense of how what happened to her shaped the person she was becoming."

Machado's work has been on my to-read list since the beginning of my reading kick back in 2020, and not just on my "oh I'd really love to read this one day" list, but on the "I NEED TO KNOW" list, which is extremely selective. I finally bit the bullet this year and picked up In the Dream House, her memoir of the years spent in an abusive same-sex relationship, which ended up exceeding my expectations.
I had a vague idea of how the format of the book would be, but nothing truly prepared me for *that* choose-your-own-adventure chapter (IYKYK). To say her narrative style is genius would be an understatement, and as a person who's never read a book in 2nd person singular (you form), I didn't even give it much thought because the words flowed so naturally. It almost felt too intrusive to read this, as if I’m in the writer’s head. Machado weaves such honest and beautiful metaphors that anything below 5 stars feels criminal.

"When it comes to the trials and triumphs of becoming an adult, journalist and former Sunday Times columnist Dolly Alderton has seen and tried it all. In her memoir, she vividly recounts falling in love, finding a job, getting drunk, getting dumped, realizing that Ivan from the corner shop might just be the only reliable man in her life, and that absolutely no one can ever compare to her best girlfriends. Everything I Know About Love is about bad dates, good friends, and—above all else— realizing that you are enough."

Brutally honest, funny, and touching, Dolly Alderton’s whimsical essays on her relationships with friends, partners and herself sound (and are) exactly like talking with a friend over drinks. We get to travel back in time to the MSN days when Dolly (and basically everyone) found out how to send subliminal messages to our crushes, then hang around her first home in London together with her best friends/roommates, and crash every party Dolly has managed to drag herself to on that specific night. Oh, and lots of juicy date stories. Some passages spoke to my soul (like the contemplations on death, being present in the moment, and appreciating friendships like they're holy), while others made me wheeze (hello there French roommate with a weird kink).

Either way, I had a blast. I really recommend reading it with the accompanying audiobook read by the author herself. And if you'd really like to immerse yourself in the Alderton-verse, then I recommend watching the TV adaptation of this book as well. It's a bit different from the book, but still a fun and quick watch. 

"Welcome to Niveus Private Academy, where money paves the hallways, and the students are never less than perfect. Until now. Because anonymous texter, Aces, is bringing two students' dark secrets to light. Talented musician Devon buries himself in rehearsals, but he can't escape the spotlight when his private photos go public. Head girl Chiamaka isn't afraid to get what she wants, but soon everyone will know the price she has paid for power."

I know that this book went Tik Tok famous for a moment, so I definitely have to give credit where credit is due. Following our protagonists, Devon and Chiamaka in this Gossip Girl type of world is a thrill, and every page uncovers a new secret. Although this is heavily fictionalized, it still draws inspiration from real-life accounts of extreme racism, which in itself provides multiple layers of interpretation and contemplation. Plot-wise, I loved how it all wrapped up, definitely a page-turner.

"It all begins with a fugitive billionaire and the promise of a cash reward. Turtles All the Way Down is about lifelong friendship, the intimacy of an unexpected reunion, Star Wars fan fiction, and tuatara. But at its heart is Aza Holmes, a young woman navigating daily existence within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts."

Reading John Green again made me feel like I’m back in 2014, but dare I say, I loved this? Picked it up from the library on a whim, just because I was in the mood for something that I can fly through without exercising too much brain power. And I think I hit the nail on the head with this one. The story was easy to follow, gripping enough to keep me entertained the whole way through, and sweet enough to make me feel for all the characters and their teenager-ish innocence.

"My Body is a profoundly personal exploration of feminism, sexuality, and power, of men's treatment of women, and women's rationalizations for accepting that treatment. These essays chronicle moments from Ratajkowski’s life while investigating the culture’s fetishization of girls and female beauty, its obsession with and contempt for women’s sexuality, the perverse dynamics of the fashion and film industries, and the gray area between consent and abuse."

I’ve always found celebrity culture to be quite fascinating (probably due to the fact that I spent my formative teenage years glued to the E! Channel) but never fascinating enough for me to willingly pick up an autobiography book. They’ve never appealed to me - why would I want to read about a rich person’s life that will ultimately make me feel like I’m a failure for not getting my big break at 15 or not inventing the internet?

I am not someone who follows Emily Ratajkowski’s life/career. In fact, I mostly know of her from the hate she gets from other women on the internet. So, why I was so curious to read her collection of essays is beyond me. Yes, a part of me wanted to know what goes on beyond the scenes, or how it feels to be widely recognized for your beauty and sex appeal. But I also wanted to know how she navigated that world, and just simply what goes on inside a person’s head when their whole worth is practically dictated by their exterior.

By sharing essays comprised of fragments from her life, featuring men and women who shaped how she looked at herself and her self-worth, Emily has painted a vivid image of what her life has looked like from her own POV. Her pondering on self-image, comparison, beauty standards, power dynamics, and the modeling world made me feel both intrigued and disgusted. Now, even though I still don’t know much about Emily, I feel proud of her for writing these brutally honest essays and pushing past the self-doubt. Every woman deserves to guide her own narrative, or, as Emily puts it, to “buy herself back”.
Thursday, March 10, 2022

I followed a "Break Up With Your Phone" Challenge and here's how it went (Final Week & Book Review)

And just like that, I've arrived in my last week (ish) of the challenge. I'm kind of scared about the "after" when this whole thing ends, ngl. If there's one thing I've been able to conclude by now is that I know exactly when my triggers act up, i.e. what situations I reach for my phone in the most. 

Day 22: Trial Separation Recap 

The first Monday after the trial separation weekend is reserved for reflections. Price asks a series of questions to dive deeper into the trial separation challenge, and see how it affected you. I actually did an exercise similar to this on Sunday, so I'm definitely familiar with my feelings regarding the separation. 

Day 23: Phast 

The point today is to make it a habit to implement the idea of trial separation day during our everyday life - so turning off our phone for certain periods of the day. I don't believe I will physically turn off my phone before bed for example, or for two hours in the morning, but I will definitely implement the 24-hour phone detox at least on a monthly basis - it was very refreshing. 

Day 24: Manage your invitations

Similar to one of the prompts during the first week of the challenge, today is all about acknowledging the urges your brain creates that make you pick up your phone, and making a conscious decision to resist that urge. Honestly, I think Price is running out of prompts at this point and kinda recycling theories that we've already practiced, but I guess it's good to use this opportunity to remind us of the WWW (Why now, What For, What else) exercise. 

Day 25: Clean up the rest of your digital life

As the prompt title suggests, today is about organizing our digital space. I am a constant victim of digital clutter, and always have to remember to delete what needs to be deleted, and organize what needs organizing. Thankfully, I got a head start to my inbox a few weeks ago, but the rest of my laptop and phone definitely need some TLC. 

Day 26: Check your checking

Price again reiterates the importance of managing urges to pick up your phone, this time by imposing the question: "What's the best thing that could happen as a result of your checking?". This is very similar to day 24 and carries the same notion that we need to be in charge and set boundaries with ourselves when we're reaching for our phones.  In practice, I do check myself from time to time, but I definitely don't remember to do it every single time I pick up my phone. 

Day 27: Digital Sabbath life hacks 

As the prompt title entails, Price gives us a few hacks if we want to practice another full day of phone separation. I think it's good to give us examples, but some of them did seem a bit overkill (for e.g. buying separate devices for all needs: a separate alarm clock, a landline phone, an iPod, or other music listening devices). When I decide to do another phone separation day I'll just stick to the practices I did the first time around which are letting people know that I'll be unavailable for the day, and planning ahead. 

Day 28: The seven phone habits of highly effective people 

Today Price lines out the seven phone habits we should aim to implement in the post-challenge period in order to maximize the outcome and really make progress in our phone break-up journey. Some of the habits are setting healthy phone routines, exercising our attention, and practicing pausing, as well as giving ourselves some time to just indulge in our phones without it leading us down a rabbit hole. I guess this is a nice reminder just before the challenge wrap-up that we need to keep in mind some of the challenges that were set in the past 30 days. 

Day 29: Keep yourself on track

With the challenge being almost over, Price has given a few writing prompts that make us reflect on the month and inspire us to move forward, such as how do I want to change my relationship with my phone, what are some of my goals etc.

I think these will make for great reminders when I'm journaling, perhaps like a once-a-month kind of thing. 

Day 30: Congratulations! 

And just like that, 30 days have passed and the challenge is over! Or should I say, the challenge is only beginning, as I will be left to my own devices from now on? Yikes. Price suggests a few more writing prompts that make us reflect on the month and how our relationship with our phones has changed.

Final thoughts & book review: 

I think this was a much-needed experiment that challenged my own willpower when it comes to using my phone. I think the 30-day challenge was the real highlight of the book, as it makes you take proactive steps towards improving your relationship (or should I say addiction). What most stood out to me was the Trial Separation exercise because it challenged me in a way that surprised me. Spending 24 hours without using a phone is like a breath of fresh air, and quite fun in a way.  However, towards the end, it just seemed like Price ran out of things we could do and just repeated previously stated exercises. This ultimately made me fall back a bit more into my old habits as I wasn't pushed to implement new things. 

Overall, I definitely noticed changes in my behavior. I am MUCH more aware of how much I use my phone, and try to keep it to a certain limit (as opposed to my previous delirious and unmanaged use). I really appreciate that Price doesn't paint out phones as these horrible, joy-sucking machines that have to be completely removed from your life, but rather that we must control our usage in a more optimal way. However, I'm not sure that everyone would have the same outcome as I did when it comes to this particular book. If you're looking for a phone break-up book that will freak you out with hard facts, statistics, and theories, this is probably not for you.

Monday, February 28, 2022

I followed a "Break Up With Your Phone" Challenge and here's how it went (Week 3)

eek three from this little four-week challenge is upon us.  

This week is all about "reclaiming your brain" i.e giving your brain a chill pill. I like that Price included this aspect to the challenge, as I think just shutting off your phone for three hours isn't going to do much good if we don't know what to do with our brain during those three hours.

Day 15: Stop, Breathe, and Be 

The first challenge this week is called Stop, Breathe and Be, and it's exactly that - noticing a moment when we want to reach for our phone, taking a big breath, and just being present for a few moments. I think this can be also implemented in all kinds of situations: when you're feeling overwhelmed, anxious, overexcited, etc. I did this a couple of times during the day and I really like it as a small brain reset. 

Day 16: Practice pausing 

Tuesday is about practicing stillness and basking in our boredom - love that. Price wants us to target the moments in our day when we reach for our phones the most (for me, that would be while commuting to and from work), and to restrain ourselves from our phones as a fun distraction. In such situations, she just wants us to be present, look around and really take in our environment. Sounds simple, but it's definitely not (especially when you've been trained to automatically reach for your phone within a split second of being left alone with your thoughts). 

Day 17: Exercise your attention span 

Ah, attention. Something that needs serious re-working. I'm sure we've all discovered throughout the years that we become less and less able to focus on one thing at a time, and this is a big problem. Price suggests we start practicing focusing by...focusing. Groundbreaking, I know. She suggests we set little attention-building exercises and add on more each day, such as reading without our phone nearby, washing the dishes in silence, or even getting a "music bath" where all we do is listen to music and focus on specific aspects of the songs. 

I get in these focused states usually when I do yoga, or when I read, so I will try my best to add another activity that requires pure focus today and see where that takes me. 

Day 18: Meditate

Today, Price puts the focus (pun intended) on meditating as a form of attention training. I can totally see how this would be a good tip for people looking to rewire their brains, as meditation can have multiple benefits for one's wellbeing. I love to meditate (when I actually get myself to do it) and it truly gives my overworked brain a break from all the buzzing around. Today, I will set aside time to meditate and not (!!) forget to actually do it. 

Update: I did it before bed and damn it felt nice. 

Day 19: Prepare for your Trial Separation 

At the start of the challenge, Price said to put down a date when we would feel most comfortable doing a "trial separation" i.e. 24 hours without using your phone. When I read this I was like "Oh okay, so I'll just pick a weekend and plan a whole day to myself (so I don't feel the need to text or call my friends for something), and it will be this magical, freeing experience". BUT, of course, the date that I had put down for my trial separation (tomorrow, Saturday) turned out to be a very hectic and busy one. 

As you might have gathered by now, I'm not one to back down from a challenge, so I will be proceeding with my initial plans and going about my day tomorrow sans phone. I will theatrically shut it off and place it in a box so it's out of sight out of mind (or at least, I hope). But that's a problem for tomorrow, and today is about preparation. 

Price suggests the following: 

- Try not to use any other internet-enabled screens. I will try my hardest, but cannot make promises.

- Tell your friends, family, and anyone who might try and reach you of your plans. This is, especially in my case, essential. 

- Get others on board. Yeah, I don't think this will be happening. 

- Make plans. Oh, and did I. It will be interesting navigating the day without my phone, and I'm sure it will be interesting to my friends too (i.e. frustrating).

- Use hard copy instructions for everything. If I need directions to something, I'll just print them out. Like the good old days.

- Get a pad or notebook. I think this will be an amusing experience to jot down, so I'll have my notebooks on standby. 

- Set a voicemail. This I won't be doing, I think it's unnecessary. 

- Set a physical contact list. I can't believe it, but the day I finally say "Wow, mom and dad, I'm so glad we still have a landline" has come. 

- There are a bunch of other suggestions, but I will not be implementing them, so I'll spare you the reading time. 

Day 20-21: Trial Separation Day

As I'm writing this it's Sunday and I've spent 24 hours without using my phone at all. And honestly, I had a very normal day. I played it out in my head that I would be tossing and turning, wondering if someone is trying to reach me, or that I'd find some tasks harder without it. Turns out, going about your day without a phone is exactly like going about your day, just without a phone. It definitely helped that I told my friends and parents I would be MIA for a day because it meant I got everything sorted the day before. 

That day I had a whole lot to get done, and I don't think I would've gotten it all done if I wasn't doing this challenge. I know for a fact that my phone would've posed a distraction and I would've ended up rushing everything last minute. I even managed to go outside during the day and get some chores in. This wasn't necessary, but I wanted to see how I would feel walking around town without a phone. And again, as I previously said, everything felt pretty normal. I used my laptop only for music, and I went on Facebook one or two times just to check if my evening plans were happening as discussed. And yep, that was it. 

Now, Sunday, I turned on my phone, sat on Instagram for a lot more than necessary, and it's not even 2 PM and I feel drained. The same goes for any type of social media account I logged onto. So much information, so much sadness, so much heaviness. I know that just shutting your phone off isn't the right answer, but time and time again I'm proven that we, as humans, are not programmed to take in THAT much information at a time. And the sheer array of things we consume, from someone's morning breakfast to the latest fashion show to wars and thousands of people living in actual hell, it's just all so much to take in, let alone process. 

In hopes of not straying too far away from the main purpose of this blog post, I'll end that conversation there. 

One week left of this challenge, and I'm looking forward to what else is there to try out. So far, I'm liking how things are progressing, and I'm hopeful that it will stay like this after the challenge is done. 
Monday, February 21, 2022

I followed a "Break Up With Your Phone" Challenge and here's how it went (Week 2)

Another week, another post in what has now turned into a series of me live-broadcasting my ups and downs while I try and "break up with my phone". If you haven't read Week 1 where I start following the challenge set by Catherine Price in her book "How To Break Up With Your Phone", then be sure to do so before jumping into this past week's happenings. Spoiler alert: it did not go as expected. 

Day 8: Say "No" to notifications 

Today is all about turning notifications off. Lucky for me, I've implemented this strategy quite a while ago, so it wasn't a big shock to the system. The only notification I have on is for my Email, and although I wasn't expecting it, Price strictly emphasizes that the Email notifications MUST be turned off. 

At first, I thought it was strange, why are email notifications put on blast like this? But thinking about it, I guess I can see how people would feel trapped by their email notifications, always feeling like they need to get back to someone even at 9PM. So, I did as suggested and turned off all notifications from my phone (except What'sApp and Viber, which are strictly for work). 

Day 9: The life-changing magic of tidying apps 

Up next is app categorization. Price recommends placing the most useful tool apps such as camera, photos, banking apps on the homepage, and leaving all other junk apps and slot-machine apps (social media, games, shopping apps) in folders. Truth be told, I will be reorganizing my apps and folders, but I won't be participating in today's challenge as much as Price would like me to because I don't have that many apps on my phone (thank limited phone storage for that). 

Day 10: Change where you charge it 

I knew this day would eventually come, and I guess I need to tackle it head-on. As I said in the first post in this series, my phone is the last thing I see when I go to bed, and the first thing I see when I wake up. Of course, this comes with its own set of habits that are now a regular part of my nighttime and morning routine: I cannot fall asleep unless I'm listening to a podcast, or a Youtube video is playing in the background. I find that I easier fall asleep to sounds as opposed to dead silence. Same with waking up, I need a sudden blast of information (mostly from Instagram) to jolt me up from bed. So, if I'm changing up my charging spot, as Price suggests, I guess that makes these activities a thing of the past. 

I'll report back tomorrow with my thoughts after my first phone-free night in a while. 

Day 11: Set yourself up for success

So, about last night. It was very strange to charge my phone across the room and I was at first scared that I would not hear my alarm (irrational fears thanks to addiction working overtime here). All in all, it was definitely a change, and even though I was tired, I still was tossing and turning for a good half an hour because I am not used to slee
ping in total silence. I did get a nice full 8-hour sleep though, so that was great. 

In regards to today's prompt, I totally failed. I usually read the prompts first thing in the morning, but today I was literally running all over the place from morning until evening and had no time (nor did I remember) to check the challenge for today. And not only that, but when I returned home, I completely fell off the bandwagon and spent the entirety of my evening on my phone. So, yeah, today was a bust. 

The prompt is all about setting yourself up for success i.e. filling your environment with positive triggers that inspire you to do something else rather than reaching for your phone. 

Day 12: Download an app-blocker 

Okay, things are getting a bit more extreme now. Price recommends downloading an app blocker (which up until this point, I didn't even know was a thing) to set up times when you want to physically block access to specific apps. So, for me, I know that I reach for my phone right before bed and when I wake up. So, I will be activating this blocker thingy to "turn off" apps such as Instagram, Youtube, What'sApp, and Viber an hour before I go to bed, and for half an hour when I wake up. 

Day 13: Set boundaries 

Today I am asked to set boundaries with my phone, and the way of doing that is by creating "no-phone zones". So, for example, a no-phone zone would be the dining table, where some people (aka, me) might tend to use their phones. So, I guess that's what I'll be setting today: a bunch of no-phone zones such as the dining table and my work desk. At the moment, these are the only two options I can think of that can do better without my phone being involved. I would love to come out more mindful and focused at the end of this experiment, so I think this will do me well in the long run. 

Day 14: Stop phubbing 

Phubbing (phone snubbing, i.e. redirecting your attention from other people in a social setting to your phone) is something I've always detested. So, today's prompt basically reinforced my efforts to not let my phone get in the way of actual conversations with actual people. Phubbing is something a lot of people do unintentionally as a reflex, but I've always tried to stay clear of doing that as I find it really impolite. 

Second Week Wrap Up: 

Honestly, I wouldn't say the practices implemented this week were ones that really stuck. I think that's partly due to the fact that some of the challenges were things I'm already doing (tidying apps, turning off notifications, not phubbing, etc), but also due to the fact that things such as putting my phone in a different room during the evening are a radical change I'm not really willing to make at the moment. So, I'd say this week was half successful, as I've really tried my best to minimize the time spent on my phone, but I haven't really taken in the challenges properly. Hopefully, this next week will make me more excited to try new approaches when it comes to my phone usage. 

Let's see what next week brings us, shall we?
Monday, February 14, 2022

I followed a "Break Up With Your Phone" challenge and here's how it went (Week 1)

Hi, my name is Elena and I am a phone addict. 

Whew, that felt strangely...normal to say? Here is problem no.1, I've become so desensitized from the fact that being a phone addict is not something out of the ordinary that I feel comfortable admitting it. Just like any addiction, you'd think that there would be some hesitation before acknowledging the fact that, yes, we are in fact addicted, but with phones, at least in my case, it comes as second nature. 

Here's a little (completely honest) brief history of my phone and I's relationship: Got my first smartphone when I was around 13ish, and we've been inseparable since. I got onto the social media bandwagon around that age as well and set up my Instagram account in 2012. Since then it's been hours upon hours spent dwelling on this app, curating the perfect feed, and portraying an image of myself in my best light. Instagram philosophy aside, I use my phone for practically everything: conversations with friends and family, work, downtime, planning, orientation, listening to music and podcasts, watching anything and everything. It's basically the last thing I see when I go to bed and the first thing I see when I wake up. 

I've always known spending so much time on my phone is bad, and one of the most frequent things I write in my journal is "I want to spend less time on my phone". Yet, I still fall into its "trap", or should I say the trap I've spent years meticulously personalizing. 

However, I believe the Universe brings things into our lives for a reason, so when I got a book called "How to break up with your phone" by Catherine Price as a present in December, I knew it was about time I took things seriously. And here is my attempt, honest and transparent, for anyone to see. 

The book itself is divided into two parts: The Wake-Up & The Break-Up. The first part dwells on all the things that happen in the brain when we use our phones, as a sort of "wake-up call", whereas the second part consists of a detailed 30-day challenge aimed to get you to "break up with your phone". These blog posts will be a real-time testament to me trying out this challenge and sharing my thoughts and progress throughout. 

*I was planning on making this post be about the whole 30 days, but when I saw how much I had to say in the first week alone, I knew a post with 30 days worth of thoughts and musings would be the equivalent of my graduation paper, so we're splitting things up, baby!* 

Day 1: Download a tracking app

I have a confession to make. You know that little feature on the iPhone that says "Screen Time"? Yeah, I've never turned that on because I'm too scared of the outcome. So, I guess the day has finally come to push that button to show green and agonize over my potential screentime now that I'm aware it's being tracked. The prompt says not to limit yourself in your phone usage and go about your life like you always do, but it sure makes me a bit more wary about how much I reach for my phone. 

Q: How many times a day do you think you pick up your phone?

A: I can't give a number off the top of my head, but let's just say that it's definitely more than it should be. At this point, picking up my phone to simply look at the lock screen has become a reflex. 

Q: How much time do you estimate you spend on your phone a day?

A: To my embarrassment, if I had to be completely honest and ball-park a number according to my tendencies, I'd guess around 6-ish hours a day spent on my phone scrolling, listening, watching, and typing. 

Day 2: Assess your current relationship 

Today is all about, as Kylie Jenner would say, realizing things. The following prompts are given for me to answer, so here I am, on a Tuesday night, sitting down and answering them:

Q: What do you love about your phone?

A: Hmmm, I love how everything is more convenient when I have my phone with me. I love that I can immediately look up something that piques my interest, that I can easily move around the world with it, and of course, that I can distract myself with things like music and social media when things get boring.

Q: What don't you love about your phone?

A: Going hand in hand with the convenience aspect, I dislike how co-dependent I have become to my phone. I never really realized how much I am attached to it until the day when I physically couldn't use even the simplest things as the Alarm Clock or Google Maps. 

Q: What changes do you notice when you spend a lot of time on your phone?

A: Every time I put down my phone I see that time had become irrelevant when I was on it. I had spent 15 minutes on Instagram just looking at Stories, and now that I'm back in the real world, I realize that those are 15 minutes I am never going to get back. And that makes me sad, not because I torture myself over not doing something "productive", but because I know I could've spent that time doing other things I love that will not leave me with a throbbing headache at the end of the day. 

Day 3: Start paying attention

So, today's prompt is all about practicing mindfulness when using your phone. This includes being aware of the reasons why you feel inclined to reach for your phone and assessing whether this reason is good enough for you to go through with your actions. Another thing that Price wants us to pay attention to is the feelings before and after using our phones. 

So, to give my side of the story, I'd say that today was an interesting day - phone-wise. I had a wonderful phone-free morning and was quite chuffed with myself when I saw that I'd spent only 20-ish minutes on Instagram by 12 PM (truly unheard of!). As the day went on, I had to reach for my phone more and more due to work. Now, I do understand that this is excluded from the whole "breaking up with your phone" challenge because it's something that is influenced by outside factors. But, I still felt this punch in my gut every time I picked it up, knowing that I was using it and that it's very easy to just slip into my old habits of checking up on social media just because. Either way, as the day went on and I was done with work, I continued to catch myself when I felt inclined to fill a boring moment with a bright screen. So, I think today was as successful as it could have been, given the circumstances. 

Day 4: Take stock and take action

Okay, today I get to check the data gathered from my Screen Time. Not really the way I wanted to start my Thursday but let's go I guess. Drum roll, please... Okay, so my daily average currently is 3h 37 minutes, which is not as bad as I thought. But, I know this number would have been way different I was not aware that my phone usage was being tracked. I mean, I guess there are some advantages to it because I did successfully restrain myself from using it unnecessarily (half of the time). 

In general, I'd say that before I reach for my phone I feel a slight tinge of hope as if something potentially exciting is waiting for me in the virtual world. After using it, I feel okay, but I do find it a bit more difficult to focus on the thing I am supposed to be doing. This lasts for a short period, but it still does make me feel as if I'm "lagging" throughout the day. 

With that being said, the prompt says to notice a pattern of phone usage, and mine goes as follows: I reach for it when I either feel like I deserve some sort of "reward" after completing a task or when I'm bored (most commonly when waiting for the bus, while on the bus, waiting for someone, etc). After I pick up my phone, I quickly realize that I'm spending unnecessary time on it, and I put it down and try to readjust to my current reality. But then, I feel bored again, and the circle continues. 

Lastly, as instructed by Price, I will be putting letters WWW as my lock screen (stands for What For, Why Now, What Else) to see if that creates a "mental speed bump" every time I feel the need to check my phone. 

Day 5: Delete all social media apps

Yep, I knew this would eventually be one of the prompts, and I was honestly dreading it. First, let's do a little social media app tour: the app I use most frequently is Instagram. The second would be Youtube, but I don't count it as a social media app since I do not interact with it the way I do with other apps such as Instagram or Facebook. And, honestly, I think that would be it. I have TikTok but I don't really use it, same with VSCO and other random apps. I deleted the Facebook App a long time ago so I guess that's already covered. So, that leaves Instagram, VSCO, and TikTok as my "social media apps". 

Now, I hate to be THAT person, but, I do need Instagram and TikTok for my job so that categorically draws out the option of deleting the apps from my phone. So, I will be creatively intervening in the prompt and customizing it as followed: All apps will be placed in a separate folder meant for work purposes (and a sliver of posting on my personal accounts here and there). I will set a limit time of 30 minutes per day on the apps, and try as hard as I can to stick to it. The original prompt says we can log into our accounts from a web browser, as it is less convenient to open, which is what I will do to check messages, occasional posts, etc. 

According to Price, the main idea is to lower our consumption of social media by creating the above-mentioned "speed bumps" i.e. not being able to simply tap on an app and be sucked into Instagram or any other social media. This does not mean we have to completely shut off from social media as a whole, rather see if we can live without constantly checking them, which I appreciate. 

Day 6: Come back to (real) life

It's the weekend and I feel like the real challenge is just beginning. During the workweek, I have a clear structure to my days: I spend the biggest bulk of the day at work, I come home, eat food, read a book, watch a movie or a TV show and go to bed. So, it's easy to lessen the need of checking your phone when you've got a routine set in place. But, now that it's the weekend and I've got a much larger chunk of time to myself, I feel like it's easier to fall into the trap of spending hours just scrolling.
Today's prompt slightly touches on that and acknowledges the fact that now that we're trying to stay away from our phones, we will have significantly more time to just be present, which for some can be daunting. So, Price has given a few questions to answer such as making lists of things you've always wanted to do and people you want to spend more time with. For these questions, I am going to be answering them in my journal as opposed to here as I feel it can be a very nice and meditative moment. (Plus, it might make this blogpost twice as long, and nobody wants that :D ) 

Day 7: Get Physical 

Today is all about getting movement in, which I like. The point is to do something enjoyable that will bring you back to your body, and Price suggests activities such as going for a walk (sans phone), doing yoga, going to a park, doing standard exercising, etc. 

I've decided to do some yoga and stretching, which is (not as often as I'd like to) one of my go-to activities when I feel stuck inside my head (and body). I think my back and neck are going to thank me for this haha. 

First week wrap up:

I am a person that loves being able to tick things off her to-do list (ask my Notion and physical planner, they'll both agree). So, by making this challenge something that is tick-off-able I feel this strong urge to actually follow the rules as best as I can. With that being said, I'd say that this first week was challenging, but I was surprised at myself by how easily I accepted it. Minimal time on social media? Sure. Mindful reaching for your phone? You got it, boss. Of course, I wasn't perfect all the time. I still spent time on my phone when I was bored, but I am quite chuffed with myself with my new screen time. 

I feel like things are going to get much harder from here, so I guess it's time to see where this week takes me (and my phone). 

Sunday, January 23, 2022

How to Read More: A Guide from a Phone-Addicted Reader

Let's set the scene: It's the end of January, you've set yourself up with the intention of reading more in 2022, but find it hard to keep your focus (and interest level) on reading. You keep saying "I don't have the time today" three days in a row, which then turns into weeks, and eventually months. This is exactly the position I was in a few years ago until I discovered reading books can actually be fun. Gasp! 

Realizing that reading isn't something to check off a to-do list, but an activity that is supposed to bring joy and knowledge (of the world and of self) was probably the biggest game-changer when it came to reading for me. Of course, this didn't come to me in the form of an epiphany, but by inserting myself in situations that inspired me to read more, and more importantly, to read smarter. 

So, if you're finding yourself in a similar situation, where you like the idea of reading, but the execution itself is a bit hard, this is the blog post for you! I've compiled a list of 7 tips taken from my own first-hand experience over the last two years, where I went from reading 1-2 books a year to reading 25+ books each year. I hope at least one of these tips and tricks resonates with you and gets you back on track in your exciting reading journey!

1. Reframe the “I don’t have time” mindset 

When it comes to reading or any type of habit you're trying to implement, it's important to reframe your mindset. More specifically, the "I don't have time" mindset. The truth of the matter is, we'll never have time to do the things we want to do unless we take inspired action to make time

It all comes down to how much time you are willing to dedicate out of your day to this specific habit. I understand that we're all busy, and it's not so simple to just push reading into one's schedule, but that is when personal prioritizing comes into play. For me, book reading is a form of self-care, a way to relax the mind and let it sink into a new set of information that isn't all about me. That is why I prioritize it, and always find the time to get a bit of reading done at least every other day. 

No matter if it's 10 minutes per day or an hour per day, making time to read contributes to building the habit of reading, which only increases over time. Making the time each day, or every other day, can lead to a sense of accomplishment and encourage you to keep reading. Of course, if the book you're reading is interesting, it won't be such a struggle to keep up. 

2. Let’s play a game

A hack that might be just what some people need to get out of a reading rut is to gamify the whole reading process. And what does that mean in this context? Well, the best way to make reading a game is to set yourself challenges and rewards. For me, what has worked the most is setting up a reading goal in the long term and then tracking whether I'm behind, on time, or ahead of my personal challenge. 

A great way to do this is to set up a Goodreads Reading Challenge (mine is set to 30 books for this year) and then track each book you read in the year on the app. An alternative to Goodreads is Storygraph, where they have three different sets of challenges that you can join, with reading prompts that you can tick off in order to complete the challenge. 

Another way to really challenge yourself is to join reading marathons, or as they're called, readathons: a short set period of time in which you try to complete as many reading prompts as possible. I personally have not joined one yet, but I can see how this could get people out of a reading rut. Here is one example by With Cindy on Youtube, and her Yearly Asian Readathon

P.S. A little disclaimer here that this can easily discourage some readers, especially reading challenges. It's important to set achievable goals for this, as otherwise, it might lead to disappointment when you're constantly behind on your book count. So, for example, if currently, one book takes you around a month to finish, set your reading goal to 10-12 books so it feels achievable from the get-go. Ultimately, it's about challenging yourself, not making yourself feel miserable. 

3. Get Inspired 

When I first got back into reading, my Youtube algorithm started showing me Book-tubers, which was a Youtube niche unbeknownst to me up until that point. From book hauls to reading vlogs and monthly wrap-ups, I felt like I've entered a whole new world of content that makes me feel calm and inspired to read more, as well as find what might work for me and what might not. 

A friend once asked me how I choose the books that I do, and how I'm reading these authors she's never heard of. And the truth is, it's all the accumulative knowledge I gain through Youtube. I have my set selection of people I like watching, and feel like they relate to my personal reading preferences, so when they say that they love a certain author or a book, I put it on my TBR for future reference. Some of the people I like watching are: With Cindy, Emmie, The Book Leo, Jack Edwards, Noelle Gallagher, and UnCarley.

Another source of inspiration is, of course, Instagram - or better called, Bookstagram. These niche names are so funny to me, I can't even take them seriously haha. Anyhow, I personally enjoy Bookstagram for the aesthetics, which I believe is a big part of the reading experience. Of course, it's more than just pretty pictures: these accounts give recommendations, reviews, update their thoughts and reading progress via Stories, etc. Some of the accounts I like to follow are: @bookmateriality, @writingboutthebookiread, @literaryoverflow, @lydiathevirgo, @thelostlibrary 

And last but not least, friends. Nobody knows you like your friends, so if you've got a bookish person in your life, reach out and ask for a recommendation. I'd even add that you don't even necessarily have to really know the person in order for them to recommend you something. I've had girls message me via Instagram for book recommendations, and I wholeheartedly give them my honest opinions. Book reading shouldn't be a solitary hobby, in fact, I'd say the best part about reading is sharing opinions with others and building your own little community. 

4. It’s all about the mood 

For me, reading isn't something that can just be inserted into every part of my day. I've tried reading on the go and my mind always wanders, meaning it's useless to continue reading if nothing sticks. I've come to realize that I do my best reading when I'm in the mood to read - a shocking concept, I know. 

(P.S. If reading while riding on the bus/in a car sounds like something that would be the perfect setting for you, go for it!) 

The infamous mood depends on a person's preferences. I usually tend to reach for books when I feel like my eyes deserve some rest from the screens, or as a reward after a long day. For me, setting the mood to read means making a cup of tea, lighting a candle, playing a cute reading playlist, and curling up on my couch. This became a routine after a few months, and what I love about it isn't the routine itself, but the fact that my brain connects reading to such a cozy atmosphere that gets me excited to actually read. 

Another way to set a mood is to insert yourself in situations that feel perfect for book reading. IDK about you, but I've always found people who read (and work) at coffee shops super cool, so that's basically what I started doing. Plus, it's so much fun to find new spots that fit the pro-reading criteria which make you look at coffee shops in a totally different way. Another perfect setting for me is the park: whether sitting on the ground, on a bench, or on a hammock, you name it - I've tried it. And they're all main-character approved reading spots. 

Ultimately, it's all about what situations would inspire you to read. For some, it's right before bed, for others, it's a part of their morning routine. There's no wrong time and place, it's just about finding what works best for you. 

5. Slow and steady wins the race

I don't think I can stress this enough: It's not about the number of books you read! If you are trying to read for pleasure, it should be just for that. There's no one pointing a gun at your head to read one book per week, there are no deadlines, no assignments, no essays waiting to be written and marked.

Some books dictate the pace you read at. For example, non-fiction and literary fiction books tend to be more medium-paced or slow-paced, while fantasy or romance books tend to be more fast-paced. Another aspect that can affect how fast or slow you read a book is the page count as well, as naturally, we tend to finish shorter books faster than, let's say, a 700-page book. 

What I'm trying to get at is that it's never about if you're a fast or slow reader - it's about enjoying yourself and not putting pressure on an activity that's supposed to bring a new type of entertainment. 

6. You can’t enter a battle without a strategy

As with anything in life, you should always have a strategy in mind. I believe that reading only one genre/topic of research back to back can cause a bit of reading fatigue. The same goes for long books back to back, or books dealing with similar/same topics. That's why it's smart to disperse books of different lengths and different genres/topics of research, and always keep the brain feeling fresh when starting a new book. This can possibly boost your will to continue reading. I try to keep my genres pretty diverse, so if I'm reading a non-fiction book, I'll want to switch it up for my next read and perhaps read a short romance, or literary fiction. 

I also apply this to books that I can read with and without an accompanying audiobook. Over trial and error, I've come to the conclusion that listening to audiobooks on their own doesn't keep my attention. That is why I like to pair audiobooks with physical books (or e-books) because it makes reading an easier feat for the brain. It's like someone else is reading the book for you, so even though you're paying attention, you can let yourself have the luxury of looking around your room or closing your eyes for some rest, while your brain is still tuned into the story. 

Disclaimer: not everyone likes being read to, for example, some of my friends have said that it distracts them. So, take this audiobook tip with a grain of salt that it might not work for you. 

7. It’s not you, it’s the book

Sometimes, a book just doesn't vibe with your current headspace. I truly do believe that some books require you to be in a certain mindset in order for you to enjoy them. But, there's no way to really know that, and I'm sure we've all been in those frustrating situations where we pick up a book, the book starts feeling like a bore and a chore (nice rhyme Elena), and now you've found yourself reading a book you're not really enjoying and it's putting a damper on your reading mood.

If you're struggling to pick up a book, it might be because you've got that token energy-sucking book sitting there, waiting for you. So, in these situations it's not you, it's the book. When in these predicaments, I immediately pick up another book and put that one on the back-burner. Personally, I don't like to DNF books (book jargon for mark as did-not-finish) and will eventually finish them, but I don't give them a priority, and just continue with whatever else I like reading more at the time. 

In conclusion

Reading is never just about the act of reading words on a page. It's about fully immersing yourself in a different world and letting your mind roam free. It's about building habits that will last you a lifetime. It's about broadening your horizons. It's about learning, growing, and feeling. So, next time you think about picking up a book, remember that it's not just about reading a book, but an act of self-love. 
Monday, January 3, 2022

End of the Year Book Wrap Up

Happy New Year! Wishing nothing but the best for everyone reading this, including myself. I just read an Instagram post saying "In 2022 I just want to read lots of books and be hot" which doesn't sound like such a bad resolution to have. But, before we start planning our TBRs, I thought it'd be best to recap some of the books I read in the second half of 2021 in hopes of giving you an idea of what might be your next favorite read. 

My personal reading list consisted of a lot of borrowed books, both from friends and the library, as well as a rekindled love for reading after a summer-long slump. Overall, I'd say 2021 was a great year of reading - I found new favorites, a few not-so-favorites, and got to read books that I've had on my TBR for ages. As for 2022, let's just say I've got my eyes set on specific authors as opposed to stand-alone books, which is my personal challenge for the year. More on that in some other post (book-related, or not). Anyhow, here are some of the books that left an impression strong enough for me to write a whole blogpost on. 

Malibu 1983. Four famous siblings throw an epic party to celebrate the end of the summer. But over the course of one night, each of their lives will be changed forever.

This is my first TJR book (shocker that I didn't start with The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo or Daisy Jones and the Six, I know), and I am well aware of the hype her stories always gather. This book wasn't one that I was intentionally on the lookout for, but when I saw it just sitting pretty in the library, I knew I had to give it a go. Overall, I really enjoyed my time reading this book. It's full of intrigue, fast-paced storytelling, and interesting characters. If I had to describe it in one sentence, I would say that reading this book feels like watching a soap opera unfold in written form. This was a relatively quick read and a nice refresher after weeks of struggle-bus reading slumps. 

Abandoned by her family at the tender age of six, Kya is forced to fend for herself from her home in the unforgiving setting of the North Carolina marshes. Ostracised from the surrounding community, she’s lived alone in her shack for years on end until suddenly, she finds herself the sole suspect in a local murder case. 

I've had my eye on this book for the whole 2021 ever since the friend I borrowed it from said she really liked it and couldn't stop reading. Naturally, I was intrigued and decided to finally give it a go. The first half was definitely a bit slower, and I didn't really feel connected to the characters. As the chapters progressed, the characters began to take full shape, and I was really invested in the story - especially the last 100 pages. I also heard the book is adapted into a movie, which is something I will definitely be watching once it comes out! 

Linus Baker is a by-the-book caseworker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He's tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world. Arthur Parnassus is the master of the orphanage. He would do anything to keep the children safe, even if it means the world will burn. And his secrets will come to light.

Oh my! This book grabbed me from the very first chapter and I never wanted it to end. Innocent, sweet, funny, natural, wholesome, and magical are just some of the adjectives I would use to describe it. The dialogues here felt so effortless that I completely forgot I was reading a book and not watching a cute Ghibli film. If you're looking for a comfort read that will make you feel all warm and snuggly, I would highly recommend checking this one out! 

Hailsham is a school that has, for many years, kept a secret within its walls. Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy are just three of its very special pupils. We travel with them through their school lives to adulthood as the reason for their existence is gradually revealed. 

When I say I had BIG hopes for this book. I've heard nothing but praise and it has been on my TBR ever since I got back into reading a few years ago. This is why I was so desperate to like this book, it was like a nod to the days when reading felt all new and shiny to me. Ultimately, I think what made me feel disconnected from the plotline and characters was the slow-paced storytelling. This is a completely personal preference as I know readers that love this type of pace, but sadly, I am not one of them. Even though I think the plot itself is intriguing and promising, I ended up feeling like I was never given what I was promised. I also watched the movie afterward and felt the same bored/always-waiting-for-something-to-happen-but-then-it-doesn't-really-happen feeling I felt while reading the book. 

The work, a thinly veiled autobiography, chronicles a young woman’s mental breakdown and eventual recovery, while also exploring societal expectations of women in the 1950s.

I feel stupid for not having read this book earlier, but HERE I AM! I absolutely breathed in The Bell Jar and Miss Plath's brilliant mind. This book felt like I was reading journal entries from a friend, which ultimately led me to the conclusion that Sylvia and I would have been very good friends. I loved how messy-structured the book was, with run-on sentences galore that somehow explain the very core of how the main protagonist was feeling without it reading like a hot mess train of thought writing. Complex and beautiful, there are no other words to describe it. 

Here we meet a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who is on the run, and Nakata, an aging simpleton who is drawn to Kafka for reasons that he cannot fathom. As their paths converge, Murakami enfolds readers in a world where cats talk, fish fall from the sky, and spirits slip out of their bodies to make love or commit murder.

This book felt like a fever dream but the good kind? Each chapter was like a puzzle piece, but somehow all the puzzle pieces have different edges and none of them fit, but in the end, you have a vague idea of what the final image of this puzzle is supposed to look like. Kind of like that meme of the horse puzzle (iykyk). Anyhow, I found all the characters gripping and totally unique to themselves. I had a soft spot for Mr. Nakata, and quite liked the whole idea of not having to know what you’re supposed to do next, but just going by your gut feeling and simply accepting the fact that you’re not supposed to know. I spent a while after finishing it on some due diligence to try and work out what I missed and how everything is connected, I was definitely not disappointed. I still have more research to do, but even the little I already know is enough for me to give this one a high rating. 

Nikolai Lantsov has always had a gift for the impossible. No one knows what he endured in his country’s bloody civil war—and he intends to keep it that way. Now, as enemies gather at his weakened borders, the young king must find a way to refill Ravka’s coffers, forge new alliances, and stop a rising threat to the once-great Grisha Army.

Let me mash the two books (King of Scars & Rule of Wolves) into one short and sweet review because the books themselves were neither short nor sweet. I don't know if it's because I'm not really as attached to the whole Nikolai storyline or simply due to the fact that there was just so much happening, that I ended up feeling quite neutral about the whole duology. Just... too many characters, too much fan service, and too much battle scenes for my liking. There were parts that I liked and disliked in both books, so I can't really say that one left a better impression on me than the other. If you're a fan of the Grishaverse, I'd say to read this duology if you were a previous fan of Nikolai and Zoya's characters. 

Spanning the 1950s to the 1990s and from the Deep South to California, Bennett’s stunning novel follows the journeys of two estranged twin sisters leading very different lives – to the extent of adopting different racial identities.

Another book that I've had on my TBR thanks to the overall hype I've heard in the book community. I didn't really know what to expect going into it, and even though the first third felt a bit underwhelming, I really enjoyed the turn it took when it did. I enjoy stories framed by multiple perspectives, which is the case here as well, and ultimately I think it added a lot more depth to the story and made the whole reading experience more suspenseful. The only remark I have is that none of the characters left a big impression on me, which made me feel somewhat alienated from the story as a whole. 

And that wraps up my 2021! If you haven't seen the first edition of the 2021 book reviews, click HERE and get double the book recommendations. Fun, I know!