Tag Archives: books

Want to Read Books that Show Examples of the Four Tendencies? Revealed!

Revealed! My book club recommendations for August.

Newsflash: I’ve decided to change the way I suggest books for this book club. Instead of suggesting three books each month (one about happiness and human nature; one work of children’s literature; one eccentric pick), I’m going to provide a reading list once a quarter, on a particular subject.

For instance, I’m looking forward to providing a list of some of my favorite books about color, favorite memoirs, favorite books about other people’s happiness projects…the list goes on. If you’d like to suggest a theme for a list, just email me.

For instance, I had so much fun compiling my list of my 81 favorite works of children’s and young-adult literature. These lists will be shorter than than list, however.

You can still get the book club suggestions by email, by signing up for my “book club” here.

As I may have mentioned, my book The Four Tendencies hits the shelves on September 12.

So, to get you in the mood to read about the Four Tendencies, or if you can’t wait until September to immerse yourself in the subject, here’s a list of books that illustrate the Four Tendencies.

It’s important to note that we can never judge someone’s Tendency from his or her actions; we must know the reasons behind that action. For instance, Questioner refuses to do something because “why should I?” while a Rebel refuses because “you can’t tell me what to do.”

Nevertheless, I’ve included some memoirs by people who were close to someone of a certain Tendency. Such accounts aren’t as dispositive as having an account by that person himself or herself, but I do think that sometimes, a person gets to know someone well enough over time that a portrait really does capture a Tendency.

Also, even if you’re not interested in reading about the Four Tendencies, each one of these books is outstanding. So I recommend them wholly apart from their relevance to the Four Tendencies.

Upholder

The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling — in this legendary series, Hermione Granger is such an Upholder, with the strengths and weakness of that Tendency.

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik — Will Laurence is an Upholder, and Temeraire is a Questioner. It’s interesting to see how the two Tendencies work together. Warning: it’s a book with dragons, which is either your kind of thing, or not at all your kind of thing.

Questioner

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson — a fascinating portrait of a QUESTIONER/Rebel. (As I explain in The Four Tendencies, people often “tip” in the direction of a Tendency that overlaps with their core Tendency. So while my husband is an example of a QUESTIONER/Upholder, Jobs is a QUESTIONER/Rebel.)

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronteon the very first page of this classic novel, Jane’s hateful aunt Mrs. Reed literally calls her “Questioner” to explain why she finds Jane annoying: “Jane, I don’t like cavillers or questioners.” (I had to look up “caviller”; it means “one who quibbles.”)

Obliger

Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi — a brilliant self-portrait of a textbook Obliger who is also a tennis star.

Here But Not Here: My Life with William Shawn and the New Yorker by Lillian Ross — it’s not Ross, but Shawn, who is convincingly portrayed as an Obliger.

How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn — an engaging memoir about the challenges of marriage by an Obliger married to a Questioner.

Rebel

Life with Picasso by Francoise Gilot — Gilot’s fascinating portrayal of her life with Picasso shows his Rebel Tendency. (The image above shows Gilot and Picasso at the beach.)

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen — Lady Bertram is a thorough Rebel; she’s also a good example of how Rebels may appear proper and conventional — until closer consideration reveals that they do only what they want to do.

The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton — I wrote a giant portrait of Merton as a Rebel, which got cut down to a few paragraphs in The Four Tendencies. He fascinates me. Rebel as Cistercian monk!

Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After by Heather Harpham — in this brand-new memoir, the author writes about the challenges when her daughter grows sick and needs a bone-marrow transplant. Along the way, Harpham’s thoughts and actions show her Rebel Tendency.

I’m always looking for books (and movies, television shows, street signs, anything!) that illustrate the Four Tendencies. So if you have any to suggest, please send them my way.

Happy August, and happy reading! I do love summer reading.

Revealed! The Making of a Scientist, Happy Summertime Adventures, and the Frustrations of the Push-Pull Door.

Because nothing boosts happiness more than a great book, each month, I suggest:

— one outstanding book about happiness or habits or human nature

— one outstanding work of children’s or young-adult literature–I have a crazy passion for kidlit

— one eccentric pick–a widely admired and excellent book that I love, yes, but one that may not appeal to everyone

Shop at IndieBound, BN.com, or Amazon (I’m an affiliate), or your favorite local bookstore. Or my favorite, visit the library!

For all the books I choose, I love them; I’ve read most of them at least twice if not many times; and they’re widely admired.

Now, for the three book-club choices.  (I couldn’t find my copy of the Norman book, and it was checked out of the library, so I took some liberty with the photo.)

Drumroll…


A book about happiness, good habits, or human nature:

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

I love books about people coming into their vocation, and often, scientists write the best books of this kind. Also, every once in a while, when I read a book, I conclude, “This person’s mind works in a completely different way from mine. They are making decisions, making observations, and doing things that are beyond what I could imagine.” This is one of those books. Thought-provoking and engaging.

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.


An outstanding children’s book:

Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright

Usually, I don’t recommend more than one book by an author. But I decided to break this rule, because A) I love Elizabeth Enright’s books so much and B) they do fall into two distinct sets. I’ve already recommended The Saturdays, the first book in the brilliant Melendy series, and I just can’t resist recommending Gone-Away Lake, too. Two cousins discover a lake that dried up when a new dam was built so that the old resort houses were abandoned. But two wonderful old people, a brother and sister live there, and entertain the children in all sorts of adventures. Club house, island shack, bog flowers, goats, hidden treasure, and so forth. I’ve read it a million times.

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.


An eccentric pick:

The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

This book examines — no surprise — the design of everyday things, and after I read it, I never looked at a store door the same way. Why do some doors make us want to push, and others, to pull? So much so, in fact, that the store has to put a handwritten sign on the door, telling us to do the opposite of what seems natural? Why do we sometimes put the mail in the refrigerator? Why are tea pots often so hard to use? Never fear — if you look at the Table of Contents for this book, it looks very dry and boring, but the book itself is fascinating and accessible.

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.


If you want to make sure you never miss a month’s selections, sign up here for the book club newsletter.

Remember, if you want to see what I read each week, I post a photo of my pile of completed books on my Facebook Page every Sunday night, #GretchenRubinReads.

If you have any great suggestions for summer reading, send them my way.

“It Is Not Just Okay But Necessary to Let Myself Feel Good.”

Interview: Courtney Maum.

Courtney Maum is a gifted writer, and her terrific new novel Touch just hit the shelves — so if you’re looking for a book to read this summer, here’s one for your stack.

It’s getting a tremendous amount of buzz, such as being chosen as an Editors’ Choice by the New York Times Book Review, as one of “The 6 Juiciest Summer Reads” by Glamour, and as one of “The 29 Best Books of the Summer” by the New York Post.

And while I know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, I always do, and I think that Touch has one of the best covers I’ve seen in a long time.

It’s about Sloane, a trend forecaster who goes on a quest to understand the value of “in personism,” that is, real-life human interaction. Many of the fictional trends mentioned in Touch have already proved to be eerily prescient.

In addition to writing, Courtney Maum also has a position that instantly caught my attention – she is a product namer for the cosmetics MAC cosmetics and other companies. As someone who is obsessed both with color and language, this fascinates me.

A great job for a novelist!

Gretchen: What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?

Courtney: Horseback riding. This was something I got great joy from when I was a little girl, but I stopped riding when I was ten. Thirty years later, I decided to start again. At first, I was reluctant: it felt really indulgent, it takes a lot of time and resources to ride. But it brings my mind and body such strength and honest joy. Now I feel proud that this is something I’ve decided to do for myself, on my own terms. The fact that I’ve made a habit of it reminds me to remind myself that I am worth it: that it is not just okay but necessary to let myself feel good.

What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

Do not drink three Venti servings of Starbucks coffee in one day! I ruined my young adulthood with caffeine. I became completely hooked at a young age. I’ve always been incompetent at math, and growing up, I was at the kind of school where it wasn’t kosher to underperform, so I had a math tutor. I was thirteen, and she’d show up to our sessions with the huge cups of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, which have such a specific smell. I was so entranced by her beverage, she started bringing one along for me as well. And that was it. I became addicted to caffeine.

In high school and college, I worked at Starbucks—this was back in the late 90s when Starbucks was still novel, and I got the coffee for free, so I’d just take it around everywhere with me, like a designer handbag. I got free refills. I was drinking it all the time. I was awake my entire sophomore year.

I haven’t given up “caffeine” per se—although I stopped drinking coffee about ten years ago. I’m a black tea drinker now, one cup of tea a day. I don’t get jittery and nervous and sick-feeling the way I did with coffee. If I could go back, I’d tell my younger self that caffeine addiction is not a good look for a person who already struggles with sleep issues.

Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

Insomnia. I’ve always struggled with sleep issues, even when I was a little girl. It’s never been easy for me to quiet my mind, and like many people with similar challenges, the less I sleep, the more I worry about not sleeping, and so the less I sleep.

After touring for my first book, my insomnia got so bad, that (along with some other personal issues I was dealing with) I spiraled into a depression. So over the last year, I decided to do whatever I could to tackle this unhealthy habit. I saw a therapist and a pharmacologist; I tried different medications. I went to an acupuncturist, a shaman, the works. I saw a nutritionist who put me on an herbal regimen that helped. I tried going off of stimulants, off of dark chocolate, off of white rice…I tried whatever the professionals wanted me to try, but the irony of course, is that you can’t be stressed out about adhering to the rituals that are supposed to improve your sleep, because stress just makes it worse. So what I’m focusing on mostly right now is treating the root cause—my brain. I do what I can to give myself access to real happiness and rest. There are inevitable periods when I’m overworked, but I no longer want “overworked” to be my way of life. And I don’t give myself a hard time about taking medication anymore. I used to be really dyed-in-the-wool against that: I used to think that I could treat anxiety and depression by going for a run. Now, if I need support, I take a sleeping pill, and I don’t beat myself up about it.

Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

De-connected quality time is extremely important to me. And I literally mean de-connected: time spent away from the Internet and my phone. I try to start workdays writing by hand with my phone off and my computer stored away somewhere out of sight.  When we join friends for dinner, I don’t tolerate cell phones being out. I can’t stand the sight of that frenetic slab pinging away while we’re trying to settle into a conversation. It’s tough being a parent, because ideally I really want to spend time with my daughter without my cell phone on me so that I don’t even have the option to be distracted, but this is hard to do because common sense tells you that you should always have the capability to place an emergency call. This is one of the reasons I’m tempted to get a dumb phone: a secondary cell that only calls and texts. Light Phone has a great one out right now.

Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you changed a major habit very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

Oh, yes! Earlier in my career, I gravitated toward professional opportunities that had me in close contact with a super intelligent, super creative, super passive aggressive boss. I would constantly find myself unhappy and destabilized in a job that was unpredictable and usually underpaid. And I’d drop everything for these bosses, time and time again. A single email from them would see me decimating an entire weekend of plans just so I could come through for them, be asked “what they would ever do without me?” in a thank-you text. [Courtney, I suspect that in my Four Tendencies framework, you are an Obliger.]

As creatively fulfilling as a lot of these jobs were, I often felt terrifically unhappy and unsure, and I was always nervous: I couldn’t settle into my present or enjoy a moment with friends because I was constantly expecting a missive from my high-powered boss.

The lightning bolt came in 2007 when my husband, on another day that I’d come home from work crying, told me, “You know, this job pays nothing. You went to a great college! You get that there are other jobs out there, right?” But although I quit that particular position, it took me a decade to break the bad pattern I was in. I’m mostly freelancing in the branding world now, but I now choose to collaborate with people who respect that I have a personal life, that I need private time. This has resulted in my private time feeling like a much safer space. I don’t have to worry about crazy desperate “need this ASAP” emails any more.

“I Wrote This Book on a Computer Keyboard that Used to Belong to Malcolm Gladwell.”

Interview: Daniel McGinn.

Dan McGinn is an editor at Harvard Business Review, and he’s written for publication such as Wired, Inc., the Boston Globe Magazine, and Newsweek.

He also has a book that just hit the shelves this week: Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed. This is a question that fascinates many of us — how can we “psych ourselves up” to achieve our aims better?

As Dan explains, many strategies have been proven to boost performance. Some are widely practiced, some are dismissed as superstition, some are counter-intuitive — but what really works?

This book is crammed both with research and with practical, real-life examples of how people put these principles to work. Dan gives great suggestions for many strategies that can work in our own day-to-day lives, and he explains why they’re effective.

Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded?

Dan: I’ve spent two years reporting on how people prepare to perform while writing Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed. From this work, I’ve concluded that people in many professions can benefit from having the kind of pre-game routine or habits that we usually associate with Olympic or professional athletes. This routine can include rituals or superstitious behaviors, or listening to a particular kind of music or playlist, or relying on different techniques to boost confidence and reduce anxiety. Depending on the activity, it may even include drugs like beta blockers to lessen the nervous-making effects of adrenaline. Whether your work is done in isolation (like writing or coding) or in front of other people (like making sales calls or pitching venture capitalists), my research suggests you’ll do better if you find the mix of tool that get you in the optimal mindset in the final few minutes before you perform.

What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?

I have a long commute. Listening to audio books (purchased on Audible, or from my public library on Overdrive) has turned a big annoyance into something I look forward to. This habit consistently boosts my mood, and since I’m a writer myself, listening to good writing helps prime me to do my own work.

Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

In my work as a writer, I’ve tried to increase my creativity and productivity by using a set of habits before I write. I try to spend a couple of minutes reading something I’ve written previously of which I’m especially proud; focusing on past success boosts my confidence. (After reading research on visual priming, I also keep some framed examples of my past work on my office walls to subconsciously prime me to perform.) I used to try to find the perfect music to listen to while I write, but after reading the research on music and productivity, I’ve realized that as an introvert, I work better in silence, so now I often use noise-cancelling headphones; when I want to be really productive, I write in a library. I also rely on superstition. Specifically, there’s research on “social contagion” that suggests using an implement (like a golf club) once used by someone you admire can help you perform better. I have a computer keyboard that used to belong to Malcolm Gladwell. I wrote this book on it, and while I don’t use it every day, I will use it for especially important or challenging work. It’s just one more way to feel more confident as I get to work.

Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

I’ve always been a sporadic exerciser. But in the last six months I’ve started going to spin class several times a week. I started using my gym’s app to reserve a spot in class, and then I began paying an extra $20 a month to be able to reserve classes up to 7 days in advance. (Otherwise, you can only reserve 12 hours in advance.) I do cancel sometimes, but knowing that I’ve saved a spot (potentially taking it from someone else, as the class is often full) makes it more of a commitment, and that appeals to the Obliger in me. So far, it’s making a big difference.

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

I’m an Obliger. If I make plans to go for a solo run at 6 am, odds are 50-50 it will happen. If I agree to meet you on the first tee for a 6am golf round, I’ll be there every single time. I’d never heard of the Upholder/Questioner/Rebel/Obliger framework until I read your book, and understanding this tendency has been really powerful in helping me understand why I keep some commitments more than others. For instance, at work I now realize that setting a deadline for myself isn’t nearly as effective as telling someone else about a deadline (“I’ll get this to you by the end of business on Tuesday”), even if they haven’t asked when I’ll deliver.

Revealed! Books for June: a Talented Spider, an Unusual Perspective, and Health Hijinks.

Because nothing boosts happiness more than a great book, each month, I suggest:

— one outstanding book about happiness or habits or human nature

— one outstanding work of children’s or young-adult literature–I have a crazy passion for kidlit

— one eccentric pick–a widely admired and excellent book that I love, yes, but one that may not appeal to everyone

Shop at IndieBound, BN.com, or Amazon (I’m an affiliate), or your favorite local bookstore. Or my favorite, visit the library!

For all the books I choose, I love them; I’ve read most of them at least twice if not many times; and they’re widely admired.

Now, for the three book-club choices. Drumroll…


A book about happiness, good habits, or human nature:

Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by A. J. Jacobs

This book contains a lot of very helpful information about how to be healthier — and it’s also hilarious and absurd. It’s a very fun way to learn about various ideas and trends in health. If you want to get healthier this summer, Drop Dead Healthy will inspire you. I think about this book just about every time I wash my hands or eat kale.

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.


An outstanding children’s book:

Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White

I’m staggered to realize that I haven’t yet suggested one of the towering classics of children’s literature, the immortal Charlotte’s Web. It’s an extraordinary book, from the very first, unforgettable first line: “‘Where’s Papa going with that ax?’ said Fern.” Terrific characters, like Charlotte, Fern, Wilbur, and of course Templeton the Rat. Gorgeous, profound, but be warned, it’s also sad…when this book was read to me as a child, I cried for two days. But beautiful tears.

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.


An eccentric pick:

Thinking in Pictures: and Other Reports from My Life with Autism by Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin is an eminent animal scientist, and she also lectures widely on her experience with autism. Grandin provides an absolutely fascinating look into how she sees the world differently from non-autistic people, and how grappling with those differences has influenced her work and her life.

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.


If you want to make sure you never miss a month’s selections, sign up here for the book club newsletter.

Remember, if you want to see what I read each week, I post a photo of my pile of completed books on my Facebook Page every Sunday night, #GretchenRubinReads.

If you have any great suggestions for summer reading, or books about children going off to college, send them my way.