Tag Archives: reading

“My Not Procrastinating Stems from Laziness. If I Do Something Immediately, I Can Go Back to Reading.”

Interview: Pamela Paul.

I’ve known Pamela Paul for many years. When I switched from law to writing, one happiness stumbling block was that I didn’t know many other writers. Pamela was among the first writers that I got to know, and through her, I met a lot of other writers who have become my friends. So she has been a huge contributor to my personal happiness.

In her professional life, Pamela is an acclaimed journalist, editor, and author, and she’s also a passionate reader — credentials that make her perfect for her current position as the editor of The New York Times Book Review and head of all things book-related at The New York Times.

She’s also a member of one of my (three) beloved children’s literature reading groups. In fact, she wrote about the Kidlit group in her New York Times piece, “The Kids’ Books Are All Right.

I’m so excited — Pamela has written a memoir that combines her love of writing and reading (and also travel), and it just hit the shelves last week. The day it went on sale, I ran out to get my copy for my weekend reading: My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues. I loved it.

Since high school, Pamela has kept a single journal with her at all times, a book called Bob. It’s her “Book of Books” (“Bob,” get it?), and in it, she records every book that she reads.

My Life with Bob is a reflection on her relationship with the books she reads — how those books have been entwined in her experiences, her relationships, her extensive travels, her work, and her understanding of the world.

When I read it, I was thrilled to see a mention of Kidlit! And myself mentioned by name! Yes, I am a character in someone else’s memoir.

I love memoirs where people explore their passions, and I also love reading books that gives me a reading list for more books to read.

I was also fascinated by the way Pamela reflected on her life by looking at her “Bob.” It’s such an interesting angle. Like writing a one-sentence journal, or taking one photo every day, she found a quick, manageable way to record her experience in a way that allowed her to look back, reflect, and get a better glimpse of her life. So many thought-provoking, hilarious stories.

I couldn’t wait to hear what Pamela had to say about happiness and habits.

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

Pamela: When I am away from my children, I keep my phone by my side. When I am with my children, I (try very hard to) keep my phone away from my side. Obviously, work (and life) can interfere with that, but I really want to be present when I’m with them and available when I’m not. As a parent working full-time outside the home, this makes me happier.

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

I know that you can change your habits, for better and for worse. When I was younger, I thought you created habits for life. Now I realize that life can interfere with even the most ingrained habits. For example, I used to have a habit of exercising three times a week, but I’ve lost that in the last 2 years. Obviously, that falls into the “for worse” category. For better, I have found that when circumstance calls for it, I can start much better habits. When I was pregnant with each of my kids, I was able to learn to sleep on my side and my back, rather than my stomach, which I know is better for my back and overall posture.

Like a lot of people, I’m hard enough on myself as it is. Knowing that there can be a certain amount of flexibility in my habits makes me feel more aspirational and optimistic about the possibility of forming better ones, and more forgiving about falling into poor ones.

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

My most important habit is sleep. If I don’t get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep, I am generally unhappy. If I have less than 6 hours, I almost entirely useless. If I get between 6 hours and 7 hours, I complain about it all day and blame all that goes wrong in the world on my lack of sleep, and that includes everything my kids do that irritates me that day, every unpleasant news development and every personal failing. Also, I send emails I regret and blurt out things I ought never have said. Sleep makes everything better.

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)

Books keep me up later than they should that isn’t good for my most important habit, sleep. Also, really good TV shows, when I have the chance to watch them, are terrible for sleeping. The most recent one was “Stranger Things,” which I was possessed by. Now it’s “The Night Manager.” A few years ago, it was “Breaking Bad.” That show nearly destroyed me, and a few weeks after I’d finally finished binge watching it again, I started watching the first episode from the beginning and knew immediately that if I finished watching that episode, I would fall right back down the rabbit hole and not emerge again until I’d gone through every season. I had to turn it off at that very moment. It’s taken effort not to go back there.

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.?

Like most kids, I procrastinated doing everything: raking the leaves, constructing dioramas, bringing in bagels from the outside freezer. Then one day, I had a kind of epiphany though I can’t say it began with a lightning bolt. Instead, I recall it happening as I was sitting in my childhood bedroom, pushing a pencil through the grayish pink carpet while contemplating what I didn’t want to have to do that week. Here was my realization:

Say I had a homework assignment. I realized that I could either put the assignment off for a week and thereby add to the list of things I had to do, which is to say, add a week’s worth of low-level stress and then a day of high-stress when I struggled to get it done at the last minute. Or, I could simply do the homework as soon as it was assigned, and then spend a week feeling accomplished and relaxed and able to read or play games on my brother’s Apple II+ or do whatever else I wanted to do with that time. It seemed like a no-brainer to me, and it has ever since. I know it sounds show-offy to brag about it, but fundamentally, not procrastinating stems from a profound laziness. If I do something immediately, I get it out of the way and I can go back to lying around reading or watching a movie instead.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

Both.

Revealed! Three Excellent Books for April: How to Influence Others, a Romance, and an Art-Filled Memoir.

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:

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

This is an absolutely fascinating book about persuasion — how do we persuade other people, and what do they do to persuade us? It’s written in an accessible, interesting way, and is one of the rare books that truly transformed my way of seeing the world around me.

 

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.


An outstanding children’s book:

Flower by Elizabeth Craft and Shea Olsen

Of course I can’t resist recommending the excellent young-adult novel by my sister. The tag line is “She had a plan, then she met him.” There’s romance, temptation, secrets, family drama, best friends, college applications, extravagant gestures, celebrity...delicious. If you enjoy listening to Elizabeth on the Happier podcast, you might get a kick out of reading her book.

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.


An eccentric pick:

Another Part of the Wood: A Self-Portrait by Kenneth Clark

I love memoirs, and I loved reading this self-portrait of Kenneth Clark, the museum director, art historian, and presenter of the blockbuster TV series Civilisation. I especially love reading memoirs by people who describe why they love their work so much.

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.

I continue to read book after book on the subject of color — it’s odd to find myself fascinated by this highly specialized topic. It’s definitely contributing to my desire to collect giant sets of colored pens and colored markers — which I can now use in the coloring book I created! The Happiness Project Mini-Posters: A Coloring Book with 20 Hand-lettered Quotes to Pull Out and Frame hit the shelves this week. It shot to  #1 in Adult Coloring Books (a surprisingly large category) which made me very happy.

Lately I’ve been in the mood for memoirs. Any great ones to recommend? Or books about color, of course.

For Habits, “Adopting a Sabbath Pause Has Been Revelatory.”

Interview: Abigail Pogrebin.

I met Abby Pogrebin because our daughters, now seniors, have been in school together since kindergarten, and she also lives right around the corner from me.

I’m a huge fan — of the many and various things that Abby’s involved in. She wrote a fascinating book about her experience as an identical twin, and about the twin phenomenon generally, in One and the Same: My Life as an Identical Twin and What I’ve Learned About Everyone’s Struggle to Be Singular. (If you want to hear me recount what I found to be one of the most striking observations from this book, you can watch that that two-minute video here.)

She was recently featured in the fascinating documentary Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened, about the making of the Stephen Sondheim/Hal Prince musical Merrily We Roll Along, which opened with enormous fanfare in 1981 and closed after sixteen performance. The show starred teenagers and young 20-somethings, and Abby was the youngest member of that cast. Yes, she was in a Broadway musical at age 16. You can read her account of the experience in her Kindle Single, Showstopper.

And now Abby has a new fascinating, candid, funny, heavily researched book: My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew. Although she grew up with some basic holiday rituals, Abby realized that she didn’t know much about the history, purpose, or current relevance of the Jewish calendar. To reconnect with her Jewish roots and spirituality, she decided to immerse herself for a year — to research, write, and observe eighteen important holidays on the Jewish calendar.

I love this kind of year-long-experiment book — like my own book The Happiness Project (my year-long experiment in how to be happier), A. J. Jacobs’s hilarious The Year of Living Biblically, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. (Foreshadowing: I’m not sure, but it’s possible that after The Four Tendencies comes out, I’ll write another book that takes the form of year-long experiment. Stay tuned.)

Abby has so many interesting things to say — I couldn’t wait to hear her answers.

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

Abby: Having a cappuccino in bed reading the New York Times on my iPad every morning.

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

It’s very hard to do any healthy thing consistently if I didn’t get in the habit of doing it when I was in my teens or twenties. To that end, I would not, at this stage, be able to give up sugar or butter unless I absolutely had to.  But I did manage to start weekly yoga in my thirties and that added enormously to my ever-elusive sense of equilibrium, which– truthfully– remains elusive.

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

Yes. I hate my habit of being unable to get off email at night, when all I want to do is read a book.  I also hate my habit of waking up each morning thinking about the one thing I’m worried about, instead of the ten things I’m grateful for.

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

          • Having Sunday breakfast with my family – at a nearby diner or our own kitchen table.
          • Going to synagogue services every Friday night.
          • Always being in the middle of an interesting book.
          • Volunteering to serve breakfast to the homeless once every few weeks.
          • Exercising in some form five times a week.
          • Connecting with my twin sister daily.
          • Reading the New York Times daily.
          • Being mindful of my carbs.
          • Enjoying a great almond croissant when I find one.

 

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

The healthy habit I adopted is to make sure I forcibly slow down at least three times a week – whether that means doing a yoga by myself (admittedly, often in front of CNN, which quickens my pulse counter-productively), meditating for 10 minutes (the recommended 20 minutes is still too much for this rookie), or not looking at email on the Sabbath – from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.  Adopting a Sabbath pause has been revelatory.  It’s untethering and freeing.  The unhealthy habit that all of these address is my addiction to constantly crossing off the to-do list or thinking of what I’ve forgotten to accomplish – an exercise which is obviously bottomless. Maria Popova of the always-fascinating Brainpickings.com site which I read every Sunday once quoted author Jonathan Fields saying that, “busy is a decision.” I am trying to make a different decision than “busy” – at least part of every week; to decide to be unscheduled and inefficient.

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

Definitely, unequivocally, and a little pathetically, an Upholder. Everything you describe fits the bill.

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)

Calls and coffee dates.  I often look at my calendar and see that there are too many coffee dates scheduled with people and too many work calls — with little space remaining for reading, working, walking, or exercise.  I am currently President of Central Synagogue, so these coffees and calls are important – and admittedly always interesting, even enriching.  But there can be too many in a day and leave me craving the chance to shut my mouth for a couple hours.

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.?

I started slow-weight lifting for 30 minutes every week (lifting very heavy weights for very few reps, to the point of muscle failure), after taking a walk with Gretchen Rubin and hearing her report that this regimen made her feel stronger.  I’ve continued that habit for a decade now.  [Yes! I converted Abby to Inform Fitness, the gym that trains Super Slow method that I “love.”]  But I have been unsuccessful when it comes to jettisoning my daily one-Diet-Coke-at-lunchtime habit.  I stopped for a while, after a nutritionist said it was potentially bloating and dehydrating.  But then I started again because my husband likes it and he pours the soda over ice, which makes it look good.

Do you embrace habits or resist them? 

Embrace them.  I like routine because it’s reassuring and I’m not someone who feels the need to shake up – or even vary that much –my exercise, eating or sleeping habits.  Maybe that makes me dull and predictable, but there is plenty of other unpredictability in my life; habits give me a sense of stability, having a home base.

Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits? 

My identical twin sister.  When she tries something and likes it, I often follow suit.  That has happened with yoga, meditation, and eating Grape Nuts for dinner every once in a while.

Have You Ever Championed a Book That Your Book Club Disliked? I Have.

I always get a big kick out of any mention of me or my work in the press, on TV, wherever.

So it was very fun to be included in Erin Geiger Smith’s Wall Street Journal piece, “When You Bomb at the Book Club.

I’m in four book clubs (one regular, three for children’s literature), so I’ve made my share of recommendations that other people didn’t like.

The piece is behind a paywall, but I get mentioned here:

Author Gretchen Rubin is a prolific reader and a member of four New York City-based book clubs. She suggests monthly reads for 65,000 subscribers to her online “book club.” But the selection of Sylvia Engdahl’s futuristic 1970s novel “This Star Shall Abide” for her personal children’s literature book club baffled fellow members. “They didn’t like the writing, they didn’t like the twist,” Ms. Rubin says.

She also recalled a lot of pushback for Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s book “The Secret Garden,” which she calls “a towering classic of world literature.” She expected an enthusiastic discussion. Instead, multiple members expressed their opinion the first half felt disconnected from the rest, and that they just didn’t like it in general. For some, “If you don’t like their choice, it really upsets them, whereas me, I’m like, ‘If you don’t like “The Secret Garden,” there’s something wrong with you,’ ” Ms. Rubin says, somewhat jokingly.

I mean, who doesn’t love The Secret Garden? I’m still baffled by that.

Have you ever suggested a book that your book club didn’t like?

In other spottings around town, my podcast Happier gets a fleeting but definite mention in….Taxi TV!

For all of you non-New-Yorkers, New York City taxis have little screens in the back that show clips of TV shows, news updates, and ads. In an ad for New York City as a center of podcasting, Happier gets a mention. Fun!

I tried to take a photo, but I’m too slow on the draw.

Revealed! Three Great Books for March: Siblings, Great Reading, and High Fantasy (with Honey).

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

— one outstanding book about happiness or habits

— 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.

Bonus book this month: with Shea Olsen, my sister Elizabeth Craft has a new young-adult novel, Flower. The tag line? “She had a plan, then she met him.” Romance, temptation, secrets, college applications, celebrity...Check it out.

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


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

The Pecking Order: A Bold New Look at How Family and Society Determine Who We Are by Dalton Conley

This book asks a fascinating question: if we believe that adult development is largely shaped by genetics and nurture, how do we account for the wide disparities in the fates of siblings? This book tries to identify the different factors that influence how people’s lives unfold.

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.


An outstanding children’s book:

Chalice by Robin McKinley

How I love the work of Robin McKinley! I keep hoping that this book will turn out to have been the first in a trilogy. I want to read more and more about this unusual world, with its powers and offices, awakened lands, and mesmerizing characters. Plus its celebration of bees and honey; I’ve always felt great symbolic power in bees and honey.

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.


An eccentric pick:

Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby

Because you’re reading this post, you probably love to read. And if you love to read, you’ll love Ten Years in the Tub. Hornby is known as a novelist (About a Boy; High Fidelity, etc.), and he also writes very idiosyncratic short essays about books. They’re called “reviews,” but they aren’t the usual kind of review. Hilarious, thought-provoking, original — I added a lot of great books to my library list after reading this book. Absolutely charming. Note: there have been shorter collections published, such as the one pictured in the image above. The complete set has been collected in Ten Years in the Tub.

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.

I continue to read book after book on the subject of color — it’s odd to find myself fascinated by this highly specialized topic. It’s definitely contributing to my desire to buy giant sets of colored pens and colored markers — which I can now use in the coloring book I created! The Happiness Project Mini-Posters: A Coloring Book with 20 Hand-lettered Quotes to Pull Out and Frame hits the shelves in a few weeks.

What book are you most excited to read?