Book Review, Discovery

Busy, Stressed and Food Obsessed! by Lisa Lewtan (Part 1)

I am a work in progress and I know I’m not perfect. But I’m OK with that.

My blog post today falls somewhere between a book review and a diary entry.

I have just started reading Busy, Stressed and Food Obsessed! by Lisa Lewtan and am working my way through the “assignments” at the end of most chapters. Rather than review the book as I usually would I thought I would share my progress as I work through the book.

Chapter III: What is my story?

I grew up in a family where we were told to “eat everything on our plate” and to “not waste food”. Growing up in a family of five siblings with not a lot of money or opportunities to eat out our main meal was the basic meat and three vegetables. Treats really were sometimes foods. And if you had something delicious (bacon, chocolate or lollies) you ate it quickly so no-one could steal it.

Fast-forward to now; I can eat what I want, when I want. The trouble is I want to eat everything all the time. I think about food often. What am I going to eat next? When am I going to eat next? I eat when I am bored, stressed, sad, happy, relaxed. I eat to reward myself. Hunger is rarely in the equation but when it is, the feeling is magnified 100 times. If you look up the word HANGRY in the dictionary there is a picture of me.

Many of us get caught in the pattern of over-scheduling our families and ourselves. Your to-do list is your map. Your cell phone is your compass. We say we hate it yet we just keep doing it. We rarely give ourselves permission to sit down and reflect, think abut our choices and our true desires and schedule our lives with our dreams and long-term goals in mind…. So we just keep going and going, getting more stressed along the way. Rather than slowing down, we turn to prescription drugs, wine and food.

Chapter IV: What is keeping me busy in my life? Is it satisfying or draining?

  • Work, which comprises roughly 35% of my waking hours = Mostly unsatisfying (sorry boss)
  • Household administrivia (cooking, shopping, tidying, helping my son with his homework) = Mostly unsatisfying
  • Exercise and meditation = Satisfying (but only 1.5% of my waking hours)
  • Obsessing over what are we / what am I going to do next = DRAINING
  • Socialising with friends and family = Very satisfying (but this often revolves around food!)

Just like watching porn works to excite its viewers to want more sex, food porn excites its viewers to want more food! As a result, we are thinking, planning, and dreaming about food all day long. Is it any wonder we are all food obsessed?

Chapter V: Start paying attention. Start noticing conversations about food, pictures sent to you, billboards and commercials, and how often you find yourself thinking about food.

A snapshot of my day

Wake up: flick through social media posts from friends about meals they ate last night and recipes for cakes and chocolate. I’m thinking what am I going to eat for breakfast. Do I need to put something out to defrost for dinner tonight?

Busy stressed

On the way to work: I’m tired. I need caffeine, I need a cup of tea.

Mid morning: Hmmm I need a break from work. Maybe a snack. No I’ll resist and have another cup of tea.

Late morning: Lunch is coming soon. I’m getting hungry. I need to make healthy choices.

Lunch time: (in the cafeteria, lots to choose from) There’s the healthy choice, a salad. Oooh no, there’s dumplings for lunch. Yum I love that. I’ll have that. Scroll through social media and see what my friends are having to eat (see below).

Screen Shot 2

Mid afternoon: Hmmm I need a break from work. Maybe a snack. No I had too much for lunch. I’ll resist and have another cup of tea.

Home from work: Arrgh! I’m exhausted. But I have to start making dinner. I’ll just have a snack while I’m getting dinner ready. I’ll make it a healthy choice. Fruit! Yeah, fruit is good.

10 minutes later: I need to taste what I am making. Yum, not bad if I do say so myself. I need another taste (repeat, repeat, repeat).

After dinner: I’ve had a hard day. Scroll through social media (see below). I deserve a treat. Chocolate and a glass of wine. Some more chocolate. It’s almost all gone, I better finish it off…..



Busy, Stressed and Food Obsessed!: Calm Down, Ditch Your Inner-Critic Bitch, and Finally Figure Out What Your Body Needs to Thrive, Lisa Lewtan, Healthy, Happy, and Hip, 2015,  ISBN: 978-0-692-50051-4

Book Review

Book Review: Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales

We are each as vulnerable as the next person on the planet, and that was both a terrifying and enlightening fact.

Having recently read and reviewed Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, I was looking for a new book to review for my next blog post. As I searched for options I kept being drawn to Any Ordinary Day: Blindsides, Resilience and What Happens After the Worst Day Of Your Life by Leigh Sales; a book that was very similar to Option B that I disregarded it. In the end I realised that there must a reason why I kept coming back to this book, so I should just go ahead and read it.

And I am glad I did. To some extent it is very similar story; a high profile woman blindsided by events beyond their control, reflecting on what happens after the worst day of their life and how we can all build resilience to work through life-changing events.

However, while there are many similarities and take-aways both give different perspectives. As an Australian Leigh’s examples, the Lindt Cafe siege, Stuart Diver and Thredbo landslide, the Port Arthur massacre, all resonate with an Australian reader and may not have as much meaning to those who have not lived in Australia in recent decades.

Leigh is also a journalist and gives her perspective on the media’s role in a victim or surviour’s journey. (Something I would have been interested in hearing from Sheryl given her position at Facebook.)

This was probably the part I read with most interest, as I believe that often the 24 hour media news cycle can make things worse for someone who has just experienced the worst day of their life.

Maximum public curiosity and therefore maximum media harassment coincide with the peak vulnerability of the people involved.

It was interesting to read how Leigh justified her role in this by it being “in the public interest” and if she didn’t do it someone else would.

Journalism has a culture that values and rewards breaking news, fresh angles that keep stories on the front page and juicy details that make people talk. From day one in journalism school, you’re taught that while you must behave ethically towards the people on whom you report, ultimately you serve the public above all else.

Coincidentally, I studied journalism at the same time as Leigh but moved away from it as a career pathway as I felt uncomfortable with the process. I feel that it is unethical to turn people’s suffering into “news” for public consumption and make money for the media owners and advertisers.

Another factor I found interesting was how many people she interviewed believed that faith helped them through.

This was something that also surprised Leigh.

Louisa’s positive attitude, born of her conviction that God has a plan for her, is admirable but I still have a hard time thinking the way she does.

This lead her to speak with a priest about his role in supporting people as they work though their experience.

Religion is an extraordinarily helpful tool at times of grief and loss because it offers both an explanation for the inexplicable and a supportive community.

Ultimately, whether it is a religious community, family and friends, people where you live or even people who live on the other side of the world, community is important.

Like Dunblane in Scotland and Port Arthur in Tasmania. Walter Mikac, who lost his family in the Port Arthur massacre, found support by connecting with a network of fathers who had lost children in the Dunblane school massacre.

Prior to that, I was thinking, There’s nobody in the world who really knows how I feel. Being in their company was a really healing thing.

Like Sheryl, Leigh also focuses on how friends and colleagues react to survivours and victims and how important it is to let go of our own concerns and insecurities to be there to support the person.

The fear is you’re going to do something that makes it worse. But I know now that the worst thing you can do is ignore it or pretend it’s not happening and not be there for them.

This reinforced to me how important it is to confront my fears and insecurities and to genuinely be there to support my family and friends during difficult times.

I completely understand that compulsion to look away, and so it seemed strange to me, as I embarked on this book, that I was choosing to do the opposite, to walk towards the pain and suffering, particularly when there had been a modest measure of it in my own life. Now that I know more about how our brains work, I think perhaps it was an effort to impose control. If I could understand the things that rattled me, perhaps I could harness my own rampaging fear.

Hmmm, perhaps this is why I was drawn to this book……

And the quote which resonated with me most?

All that I can tell you is that life is richer, kinder and safer than the news would have you believe. People are more decent. The things you think you wouldn’t be able to survive, you probably can. You will be okay. There’s really only one lesson to take from all of this and that is to be grateful for the ordinary days and to savour every last moment of them. They’re not so ordinary, really. Hindsight makes them quite magical.


Any Ordinary Day: Blindsides, Resilience and What Happens After the Worst Day Of Your Life, Leigh Sales, Penguin Random House Australia, 2018, ISBN 978-1-760-14417-3


Book Review

Book Review: Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant

I searched for ways to end the sorrow, put it in a box, and throw it away. For the first weeks and months, I failed. The anguish won every time. Even when I looked calm and collected, the pain was always present. I was physically sitting in a meeting or reading to my kids, but my heart was on that gym floor.

In Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy Sheryl Sandberg opens up about the grief she felt following the sudden death of her husband, her concerns about how their children will grow up without a father and her relationships with family, friends and colleagues.

However, this book is more than Sheryl’s story of the aftermath of her husband’s death. It is combined with research on finding strength in the face of adversity, building resilience and overcoming hardship.

Co-authored by Adam Grant, a psychologist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Option B offers advice on how you can build resilience in yourself and help others experiencing similar crises.

While I have never faced the devastating shock that Sheryl Sandberg experienced, I believe it is important to build resilience in order to tackle everyday challenges.

You don’t have to experience tragedy to build your resilience for whatever lies ahead.

I was also interested to read how this experience impacted Sheryl’s beliefs given her views expressed in her previous book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.

I found much of the advice she and Adam gave to be helpful and thought provoking.

… psychologist Martin Seligman found three P’s that can stunt recovery: (1) personalisation – the belief that we are at fault; (2) pervasiveness – the belief that an event will affect all areas of our life; and (3) permanence – the belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever.

It also made me honestly reflect on how I have supported (or not supported) friends and family going through hardships. And acknowledge that I really must do better.

For friends who turn away in times of difficulty, putting distance between themselves and emotional pain feels like self-preservation. … Others get overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness … Simply showing up for a friend can make a huge difference.

What I liked about the book was that it not only focused on steps in which an individual can build resilience but also how to raise resilient kids, build strength in communities to overcome obstacles and prevent adversity and create a workplace culture of embracing and learning from failure.

What I found frustrating was that the book didn’t seem to adequately achieve being either a memoir or a self-help book. It just seemed to be, well, kind of half way. And it left me somewhat disappointed. Luckily through reading the previous chapters I had built some resilience!

Resilience in love means finding strength from within that you can share with others. Finding a way to make love last through the highs and lows. Finding your own way to love when life does not work out as planned. Finding the hope to love and laugh again when love is cruelly taken from you. And finding a way to hang on to love even when the person you love is gone.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg, Adam Grant, London, WH Allen, 2017, Epub ISBN 9780753548301











Book Review, Discovery

An insight into my strengths

With my sabbatical nearing the end I am reflecting what I really want to do in terms of work. When I was younger, work was a central part of my life. It was essential to who I was. Now work is less important, other things define who I am and what I do with my life. I do not live to work.

However, I do want my work to be engaging, my strengths best utilized, and fit with my values. I don’t want to waste my time doing something that I don’t enjoy and doesn’t take advantage of my strengths.

So what are my strengths?

I had a reasonable idea but wanted something more objective. In my search I was recommended CliftonStrengths.

Don Clifton’s StrengthsFinder is based on 40 years of research. Millions of people have used CliftonStrengths to discover and describe their talents.

I have found that personal and professional development often focusses on improving your weaknesses. As a child you are told you can be anything you want to be as long as you work hard. But the reality is if you have always struggled with maths you are unlikely to be a great accountant. Tom Rath, author of StrengthsFinder 2.0, recommends putting our energy into developing our natural talents.

You cannot be anything you want to be – but you can be a lot more of who you already are.

According to research by Gallup (the company behind CliftonStrengths), having the opportunity to develop our strengths is more important to our success at work than our role, title or even our pay.

In the workplace, you are six times less likely to be engaged in your job, when you’re not able to use your strengths in your job.

Consider this; when you’re unhappy at work you are more likely to:

  • dread going to work,
  • have more negative than positive interactions with your colleagues,
  • treat your customers (clients, students, patients) poorly,
  • tell your friends what a miserable company you work for,
  • achieve less on a daily basis.

CliftonStrengths identifies 34 themes of talent, or core personality traits. Through an assessment where you have just 20 seconds to answer each question (top of mind responses being more revealing than if you have time to think about it) your top five strengths are determined and all 34 are ranked.

So what are my top five?

  1. DisciplinePeople who are especially talented in the Discipline theme enjoy routine and structure. Their world is best described by the order they create. Initially I thought Discipline was about self-control (definitely NOT one of my strengths) but I am all about routines, structure, and being organised.
  2. InputPeople who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information. I really do find so many things interesting. I love to read just about anything. I love to travel because each new location offers a new experience.
  3. CommunicationPeople who are especially talented in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters. This is what I am all about. I love to write (hey, blogger!). I love to talk. I love to bring ideas to life, to energize people and to inspire them to act.
  4. HarmonyPeople who are especially talented in the Harmony theme look for consensus. They don’t enjoy conflict; rather, they seek areas of agreement. Of my five top strengths Harmony is the the one that that is least descriptive of me. I do like to argue and put my opinion forward. However, I do believe that while people’s opinions matter and people should speak up, we should be working towards agreement and consensus. We do need to find common ground.
  5. RelatorPeople who are especially talented in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal. I don’t always feel comfortable meeting new people or confident striking up a conversation with an acquaintance,  but I do gain strength from being around close friends and believe that so much more can be achieved by being friends with my colleagues.

Now I have an insight into my strengths it doesn’t end there. CliftonStrengths offers advice on how to develop your strengths and on managing areas of less strength (e.g by seeking others with talents in those areas). They also help you to be aware of blind spots caused by your strengths.

I am working on an action plan for improving and applying my strengths into the future.

To start with, each week I plan to select a different strength in my top five and ask myself, “How can I use this strength today?” and at the end of each day, reflect on how I intentionally used this strength and think of the impact it had for me.

Secondly, I plan to ask those who know me, especially my former colleagues, three questions relating to my top five strengths.

  1. What was your initial reaction to my report?
  2. Which strength or strengths do you see most in me? Can you give me an example?
  3. What do you see as my greatest strengths?

I hope that by focusing on my strengths, rather than my weaknesses, I will gain a clearer picture of how best to use my time and how I can best can contribute to my community.

(Photo by Alex wong on Unsplash)
Strengths Finder 2.0, Tom Rath, New York, Gallup Press, 2007, ISBN 9780-1-59562-015-6


Book Review

Book Review: The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape

If you want financial freedom, you need to take charge.

For a supposedly intelligent person I’m really not that smart when it comes to money. I have been lucky enough to have good jobs, am always cautious not to spend more than I have and avoid debt as much as possible. However, over time I have had that niggling feeling that I should be doing more with my finances.

Truthfully, I never had enough mental energy to think about it, let alone learn and understand all the financial terminology. Add that to a lot of negative media about unscrupulous financial advisers and knowing more than one friend who had lost a significant amount of money taking their advice. It was all too hard and overwhelming.

You can live the rest of your life with excuses about your lot – most people do – but they sure as hell won’t protect you from the financial fire that’s eventually going to work its way to you.

One of the goals I set myself at the start of my sabbatical was to gain a better understanding of financial matters and sort out our financial life. I spent a few months procrastinating, doing a few internet searches, reading a few articles but not really achieving much.

Then while browsing in an airport bookstore I came across The Barefoot Investor: The Only Money Guide You’ll Ever Need by Scott Pape.

This book – and the solid-as-a-rock steps it gives you – is built on values that have stood the test of time.

And that is what hooked me. No promises of get rich quick schemes. No give up a coffee a day and you’ll become financially secure. Just honest, down to earth common sense.

I don’t want to get carried away but this book changed my life. The Barefoot Investor is easy to read and more importantly the author clearly explains how to put his advice into action. The Barefoot Steps start with scheduling monthly date nights. (Scott even suggests a glass of wine or two!) Now this is a financial advisor who gets me!

The Barefoot Investor starts with a section called Plant where you build your financial infrastructure. Scott recommends setting up a number of bank accounts, or buckets, and give them memorable names like Spend, Splurge, and Smile. He outlines options for superannuation and insurance and how to cut your debt.

The second section, Grow, discusses buying your own home, investing and providing a bucket (called Fire Extinguisher) for emergencies.

In the third section, Harvest, he talks about how you can pay off your mortgage, have enough for retirement and even leave a legacy for your children.

I am working my way through Scott’s recommended steps. I’m not finished yet but when it comes to financial matters I expect that I will never finish. (More date nights! More wine!) And be warned, not everything applies to every reader. This is a book written for an Australian audience, some information such as the superannuation advice may not apply. However, the core ideas are sound and could be adapted for most people’s situations.

Also reading the book won’t solve all your financial problems. You have to do the hard work. The tips on where to look for more information and scripts to help when you call your bank and insurance company give you the confidence to do what you need to do.

I have joined the Barefoot Investor cult!

From this point on, no matter what you face in the future, you can look yourself in the eye and confidently say to yourself… I’ve got this.

The Barefoot Investor: The Only Money Guide You’ll Ever Need, Scott Pape, John Wiley & Sons Australia, June 2017, ISBN 9780730324218

Book Review

Book Review: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

Our culture today is obsessively focused on unrealistically positive expectations: Be happier. Be healthier. Be the best, better than the rest. Be smarter, richer, sexier, more popular, more productive, more envied, and more admired.

Ironically, this fixation on the positive – on what’s better, what’s superior – only serves to remind us over and over again of what we are not, of what we lack, of what we should have been but failed to be.

I am not a self-help book kind of person. I find them full of glaringly obvious advice, pointless and often counterproductive. I usually get bored before I have read more than a quarter of the book and lose interest.

I am quite comfortable saying that what first drew my attention to The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck was the obvious swear word in the title. However, once I read what it was about I quickly dismissed it as another one of “those” self-help books. But then over the following months the book kept appearing in my life; as a recommended book on my Kindle, a book review by a blogger I follow, then a former colleague posted on Good Reads that he had read it. Clearly something was telling me to read the book.

It did take me a while to read, I kept getting distracted by more interesting books, but I finished it! And I’m reviewing it. So it passed “Is it worth reading?” test.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson basically tells you to suck it up and get on with your life. It doesn’t pussy foot around telling you that your life will be a bed of roses as long as you follow some amazing formula for life that the author miraculously discovered.

The problem is that giving too many fucks is bad for your mental health. It causes you to become overly attached to the superficial and fake, to dedicate your life to chasing a mirage of happiness and satisfaction. The key to a good life is not giving a fuck about more; it’s giving a fuck about less, giving a fuck about only what is true and immediate and important.

Yep, the f-word is used a lot. If that upsets you, don’t read the book. But know that by Chapter 2 the f-word is used less and less.

Mark basically says that we are hard-wired to be unhappy. That it is dissatisfaction that keeps us striving, building, evolving – to make things better.

Whatever makes us happy today will no longer make us happy tomorrow, because our biology always needs something more. A fixation on happiness inevitably amounts to a never ending pursuit of “something else” – a new house, a new relationship, another child, another pay rise. And after all our sweat and strain, we end up feeling eerily similar to how we started: inadequate.

Mark tells us some hard truths …. that nothing worthwhile is worth it without working hard, that you are not special or different from anyone else, that you and everyone else suffers, that you will make mistakes … and then you die.

The challenge is to know what to give a f*ck about and focus on that.

The only way to be comfortable with death is to understand and see yourself as something bigger than yourself; to chose values that stretch beyond serving yourself, that are simple and immediate and controllable and tolerant of the chaotic world around you.

Mark believes that “Values underlie everything we are and we do.” And that choosing good values are crucial.

Some examples of good, healthy values: honesty, innovation, vulnerability, standing up for oneself, standing up for others, self-respect, curiosity, charity, humility, creativity.

You’ll notice that good, healthy values are achieved internally. Something like creativity or humility can be experienced right now. You simply have to orient your mind in a certain way to experience it. These values are immediate and controllable and engage you with the world as it is rather than how you wish it were.

Overall I’d say that this book gave me a lot to reflect on as I continue my sabbatical into the second year. (A blog post for another time.)

And the quote which resonated with me most?

In the long run, completing a marathon makes us happier that eating chocolate cake.


The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, Mark Manson, Sydney, Macmillan, 2016, EPUB format 9781925483857


Book Review

Book review: Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8 by Naoki Higashida

A worthwhile existence lies in playing whatever cards life has dealt you as skillfully as you can.

This book, more than any other in a long time, has made a huge impact on me. I read it a few weeks ago and I still regularly pause to consider the messages I have taken from it.

In Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8: A young man’s voice from the silence of autism, Naoki Higashida shares his thoughts and experiences as a young man living with autism.

Naoki, born in Kimitsu Japan, was diagnosed with severe autism when he was five. Through the support of his mother he learned to communicate using a handmade alphabet grid. He went on to write The Reason I Jump at age 13 and has since published several books, essays and poems.


Photo: © Miki Higashida

I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that until I read this book I truly had not given much thought to the lives of people with autism and similar conditions. Naoiki’s story opened my eyes to the experiences, and more importantly, thoughts of people with autism.

Back in the days when I had no way to communicate at all … I was extremely lonely. People who have never experienced this will go through life never knowing how soul-crushing the condition of wordlessness is.

I know that if I was wordless, if I could not speak or write, I would be extremely frustrated. I would want to stomp, scream, hit out and make any noise I could. And when someone asked what was wrong, how could I explain to them the agony of not being able to tell them how I feel?

Through his reflections on life Naoki shares some excellent advice on how to interact with people with disabilities.

One of the lessons I’m grateful to have learned as an adult is that life serves up hard times to everyone, not just me. …. Many people with disabilities are, I think, kept isolated and insulated from society. Please give those of us with special needs opportunities to learn what’s happening in the wider world without deciding on our behalves – by assuming ‘They won’t understand anything’, or ‘Well, they don’t look interested’. On the surface, a sheltered life spent on your favourite activities might look like paradise, but I believe that unless you come into contact with some of the hardships other people endure, your own personal development will be impaired.

Naoki’s words certainly have caused me to reflect on my own preconceptions and attitudes. Perhaps, the focus should change from asking How can people with special needs fit into our society? to How can we embrace our differences and create a society where everyone benefits from these differences?

The value of a person shouldn’t be fixed solely by his or her skills and talents – or lack of them. It’s how you strive to live well that allows others to understand your awesomeness as a human being.


Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8: A young man’s voice from the silence of autism, Naoki Higashida, translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell, New York, Random House, 2017, First edition, ISBN 9780812997392





Book Review

Book Review: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

One of his last acts was to take a picture of himself, standing near the bus under the high Alaskan sky, one hand holding his final note toward the camera lens, the other raised in a brave beatific farewell. His face is horribly emaciated, almost skeletal. But if he pitied himself in those last difficult hours – because he was so young, because he was alone, because his body had betrayed him and his will had let him down – it’s not apparent from the photograph. He is smiling in the picture, an there is no mistaking the look in his eyes: Chris McCandless was at peace, serene as a monk gone to God.

Having recently read and reviewed books about solo journeys into the wilderness, I thought I would explore a similar story that did not end so well.

Into the Wild tells the story of Chris McCandless who disappeared into the Alaskan wilderness, four months later his emaciated body was found by hunters. The author, Jon Krakauer, pieces together the years leading to Chris’s death and explores why Chris and many people like him feel compelled to leave civilization behind and to push themselves to extremes.

Understanding Chris’ motivations is much more difficult as he never clearly articulated them (and obviously he’s not around to ask). Jon delves into his reasons by speaking with family, friends, and people Chris met on the two year journey leading to his final trip to Alaska.

I’ve decided that I’m going to live this life for sometime to come. The freedom and simple beauty is too good to pass up. (Written by Chris on a postcard sent to a friend.)

To gain an insight into Chris’ mind Jon explores the experiences and stories of other  adventurers, himself included. He explains why people feel compelled to push themselves to the outer limits and how even the best prepared can find themselves in danger.

It is easy, when you are young, to believe that what you desire is no less than what you deserve, to assume that if you want something badly enough, it is your God-given right to have it. When I decided to go to Alaska that April, like Chris McCandless, I was a raw youth who mistook passion for insight and acted according to an obscure, gap-ridden logic. I thought climbing the Devils Thumb would fix all that was wrong with my life. In the end, of course, it changed almost nothing. But I came to appreciate that mountains make poor receptacles for dreams. And I lived to tell my tale.

These people journey into the wild alone because they are adventurers, physical extremists, escapees from society, romantics. They all have similarities, they are all different. They all have their reasons, sometimes knows to themselves and others, sometimes, I suspect, they don’t even know themselves.

Notably many are male, often young but not always. We know women do this too, Cheryl Strayed and Robyn Davidson for example, but they are in the minority.

What did I take from this book? Adventuring alone in the wilderness is not romantic, things can and do go wrong.  Solo journeys don’t always solve the issues you want them to. And tell someone where you are going!

I found Into the Wild an interesting read. Not just learning about Chris McCandless’ journey but also the authors, as he recognizes and accepts his own failings as an adventurer and as a writer.

“HAPPINESS IS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.” It is tempting to regard this latter notation as further evidence that McCandless’s long, lonely sabbatical had changed him in some significant way. It can be interpreted to mean that he was ready, perhaps, to shed a little of the armor he wore around his heart, that upon returning to civilization, he intended to abandon the life of a solitary vagabond, stop running so hard from intimacy, and become a member of the human community. But we will never know, because Doctor Zhivago was the last book Chris McCandless would ever read.

Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer, London, Pan Books, 2011, ISBN 978-0-3330-46998-2 EPUB

(Photo by Carine McCandless)


Book Review, Discovery

Book Review: Books I haven’t read

Most people would expect the usual practice is to review books I have read. This time I thought I’d write about a few books I haven’t read. Or to be more specific, books I’ve started reading and just haven’t been able to finish.

Being an avid reader I am quite proud of the range of books I have read. I really enjoy reading and have at times read some very unusual genres (for me); biographies of footballers (I am NOT a football fan of any code), farming manuals (thanks Dad), and Mills and Boon romances. I usually don’t give up on a book. I believe that every book has some merit and will do what I can to find it. I once decided to read Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I really struggled at the start and almost gave up, then I realised that I found the War parts boring. I decided to simply skip the battles and ended up quite enjoying the book.

At the start of this sabbatical I was searching for inspiration for my own blog and started reading a few different book review blogs. In the introduction of one such blog, Life of Chaz, Chaz said that he rates the books he reviews highly because he only reviews books he finishes and he doesn’t finish books that he doesn’t like.

We all do not have the time left in our lives to finish our “To Read” pile.

This was a new concept for me but one that I have embraced during my sabbatical. There are so many options, things to do in the world. Why waste my time doing something I don’t enjoy?

So, what books haven’t I read?

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M Pirsig. It was the title that piqued my interest. It reminded me of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka, a book I quite enjoyed. A quick read of the blurb on the back hooked me in.

… and unforgettable narration of a summer motorcycle trip across America’s Northwest, undertaken by a father and his young son. A story of love and fear – of growth, discovery and acceptance ….

I’ve read seven chapters (about one quarter of the book) and haven’t picked it up since. Five months ago! Some parts are quite good but then the author goes off on a tangent, I’m sure to illustrate a point he is making or to prepare us for the next part. Anyway he went off on a tangent and I put down Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Another book is The World’s Religions by Huston Smith. One of the goals of my sabbatical is to explore spirituality and gain a better understanding of what is out there. To this end I thought I’d learn about the different religions. This book was recommended by a few people online and the clincher was discovering that the author was born almost 100 years ago in the city where I now live!

I started reading with great enthusiasm. I quickly read the chapter on Hinduism. I worked my way through Buddhism. I then started reading about Confucianism, a religion I was quite interested to learn more about given I am living in China. I struggled. Honestly, it really felt like I was reading a text book and had to finish it because I was studying comparative religion at university. I reflected on this feeling and my new mantra, “Why waste my time doing something I don’t enjoy?” I haven’t read any more. To be fair, this book is used as a text book at university and maybe it is pitched at a level way beyond my ability.

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson. OK, I honestly chose this book because the author and I have the same surname. I started reading, I got to the fourth chapter. I really wasn’t connecting with the characters. Life is too short and there are too many books to read to waste my time reading one I’m not connecting with. I started reading something else.

Today’s life lesson is to do what you enjoy doing, to value your time and make choices that reflect this goal, even when it comes to reading books!

Finally, I’d love to hear from anyone who has read, finished and enjoyed these books. What did you discover that I didn’t?

(Photo by mvp on Unsplash)
Book Review

Book Review: Journeys into the wilderness

I had diverged, digressed, wandered, and become wild. Cheryl Strayed

Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Tracks by Robyn Davidson on the face of it are two quite similar books. The story of a woman leaving her old life behind to travel alone in the wilderness. However, both are also quite different which is what makes them such good reads.

Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found tells the story of Cheryl Strayed hiking 1,100 miles alone along the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California, Oregon and into Washington state.

Tracks is the story of Robyn Davidson’s journey across 1,700 miles of Australian desert with four camels and a dog.

Probably not the most rational thing to do, but I think you have to be a little bit crazy to actually go out on your own and do this. Both had similar reasons for their journeys. Cheryl was quite forthright about her reasoning.

That in truth my hike on the Pacific Crest Trail hadn’t begun when I made the snap decision to do it. It had begun before I even imagined it, precisely four years, seven months and three days before when I’d stood in a little room at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and learned that my mother was going to die. Cheryl Strayed

For Robyn you need to read more deeply to get a sense of why she was compelled to do this.

What I wanted to do, which was to be alone, to test, to push, to unclog my brain of all its extraneous debris, not to be protected, to be stripped of all social crutches, not to be hampered by any outside interference whatsoever, well meant or not. Robyn Davidson

Interestingly Robyn’s mother had also died and, while she didn’t elaborate on her death, you got the sense that her mother’s passing had impacted her and her family as much as it had Cheryl’s.

The trip reinstated a faith in myself and what I was doing. I felt calm and positive and strong, and now, instead of the trip appearing out of character, instead of worrying about whether or not it was a pointless thing to do, I could see more clearly the reasons and the needs behind it. Robyn Davidson

Unsurprisingly there were quite a few similarities in both stories. Both women were escaping society to find themselves, they encountered danger along the way, had periods of madness and times when they were perfectly happy in their aloneness. And both realized they couldn’t escape society forever.

I was beginning to understand that being alone got awfully boring sometimes, and that I needed people, wanted them. Robyn Davidson

There were also differences. Much of this was due to the location of the journey, Australia and the US, and the women’s physical distance from civilization. And the timing. Cheryl’s journey took place in the 1990’s, Robyn’s in the 1970’s. While only 20 years apart much had changed in society. Technology and the perception of women in the community both made a difference to their stories.

As an Australian, I found Robyn’s interest in and connection with indigenous Australians fascinating.

I was caught between two versions of the truth. I liked station people and know that they did not consider themselves racist. When they look at the sordid camps around town, they see only violence and dirt and the incomprehensible lack of protestant work ethic. While they usually have a patronizing respect for the older Aboriginal people, they are unable to see beyond the immediate and beyond their own values, to understand why the demise occurred and what their part in it is, either traditionally or at present. Robyn Davidson

There was very little in Wild about native Americans.

Robyn was much more prepared for her journey having spent a significant amount of time in Alice Springs, mainly learning about camels and how to handle them. Given the isolation of where she was going and how she was traveling this was unsurprisingly essential to her survival.

Cheryl had just her backpack. Robyn had four camels, and the support of National Geographic and a photographer visiting her a number of times on the way.

My hands moved to it on instinct, seeming to bypass my brain. Monster was my world, my inanimate extra limb. Through its weight and size still confounded me, I’d come come to accept that it was my burden to bear. Cheryl Strayed


I enjoyed reading both books, in fact I have read them twice in the past 12 months and watched the movie version of Wild (and would like to see Tracks too).

At times while reading, I was frustrated by their decisions and wanted to tell them to be more logical and less impulsive. However, on reflection this is probably the reason why I would never seriously contemplate doing this myself. (Although, secretly I’d love to give it a go!)

Thank you, I thought over and over again. Thank you. Not just for the long walk, but for everything I could feel finally gathered up inside of me; for everything the trail had taught me and everything I couldn’t yet know, though I felt is somehow already contained within me. Cheryl Strayed

The two important things that I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavour is taking the first step, making the decision. Robyn Davidson

Photo credits: Robyn Davidson – Rick Smolan, Cheryl Strayed –

Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found, Cheryl Strayed, Atlantic Books, 2012,  E-book ISBN: 9780857897770

Tracks, Robyn Davidson, London, Bloomsbury, 2012, eISBN: 9781408834879