Wednesday, November 30, 2011

the art & science of happiness

Just a few housekeeping items before we get down to business. Our next meeting will be Tuesday evening December 27 at 6:30pm. The Library will be on Holiday Hours and closes at 6pm but I will be here to let GRG’ers in the building, so come on down. December is our biannual Salon Discussion so read ANY book(s) you’d like to share with the group as there will be no assigned topic. We’ll also be voting on the next six months of genres at this meeting so if you have any topics you’d like to see on the ballot please do let me know.

This was another exceptional, WOW-factor meeting! Who knew there was so much to discuss about happiness, but I don’t believe we had a lag in conversation the entire evening. What is happiness? How can it be (or can it be at all) codified? Who studies it and how? Should we all be students of it? How do you find it and, more importantly, keep it? Is there a happiness “status quo?” All of this and more was on the discussion table last night.

The Happiness Project; Or, Why I spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. "The days are long, but the years are short," she realized. "Time is passing, and I'm not focusing enough on the things that really matter." In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project.

In this lively and compelling account, Rubin chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. Among other things, she found that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that money can help buy happiness, when spent wisely; that outer order contributes to inner calm; and that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference.

(Gretchin Rubin’s blog, also called The Happiness Project, is online at You can sign up for the Moment of Happiness Daily Quotation email by CLICKING HERE.)

The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-Being by Derek Bok

During the past forty years, thousands of studies have been carried out on the subject of happiness. Some have explored the levels of happiness or dissatisfaction associated with typical daily activities, such as working, seeing friends, or doing household chores. Others have tried to determine the extent to which income, family, religion, and other factors are associated with the satisfaction people feel about their lives. The Gallup organization has begun conducting global surveys of happiness, and several countries are considering publishing periodic reports on the growth or decline of happiness among their people. One nation, tiny Bhutan, has actually made "Gross National Happiness" the central aim of its domestic policy. How might happiness research affect government policy in the United States--and beyond? In The Politics of Happiness, former Harvard president Derek Bok examines how governments could use the rapidly growing research data on what makes people happy--in a variety of policy areas to increase well-being and improve the quality of life for all their citizens.

Bok first describes the principal findings of happiness researchers. He considers how reliable the results appear to be and whether they deserve to be taken into account in devising government policies. Recognizing both the strengths and weaknesses of happiness research, Bok looks at the policy implications for economic growth, equality, retirement, unemployment, health care, mental health, family programs, education, and government quality, among other subjects.

Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth by Ed Diener

Is being happy beneficial to your health, wealth, and social relationships? Is there an optimal level of happiness for obtaining your goals? Is there a happiness set-point, and can it change? Do you know your level of psychological wealth?

Utilizing his groundbreaking development of the field of subjective well-being, Dr. Ed Diener, ¬recognized as the world's leading expert on happiness, challenges our modern assumptions about the causes and consequences of happiness. Ed and his son Robert Biswas-Diener share the results of three decades of research on happiness to help unlock the mysteries of this elusive Holy Grail. In Happinessthe father and son team presents scientific evidence revealing that happiness is not overrated, and is good for people’s health, social relationships, job success, longevity, and altruism. They also show why "super-happiness" is not a worthy goal.

Happy for No Reason: Seven Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out by Marci Shimoff and Carol Kline

From the bestselling coauthor of Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul and a leading contributor to The Secret, comes a fresh, new, practical program for finding and maintaining the happiness we all seek.

(This was a great meeting for quotes and my favorite the reader of this book shared was, “Genuinely happy people are happy for no reason. They bring happiness to their experiences rather than expecting their experiences to bring them happiness.”)

Out of the Blue: Delight Comes into Our Lives by Mark Victor Hansen and Barbara Nichols

In Out of the Blue, Mark Victor Hansen, coauthor of the phenomenal New York Times bestsellers Chicken Soup for the Soul, A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul and A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul, and Barbara Nichols show how the experience of delight opens us to compassion and spiritual awareness, and includes 52 "Delight Igniters" -- ways to create happiness and share it with others.

Out of the Blue includes stories by James Michener, Deepak Chopra, Brian Boitano, Wayne Dyer, Cathy Lee Crosby, Victoria Jackson, Wally Amos and other well-known celebrities who have brought delight to the world. It also features stories by ordinary people who found delight in their everyday lives. Their personal stories demonstrate how we can contribute to the creation of a most desirable and entirely possible time -- the Age of Delight.

(My favorite quote from this book is attributed to Abraham Lincoln, “…if at the end…I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside of me.”)

How to Eat a Small Country: A Family’s Pursuit of Happiness, One Meal at a Time by Amy Finley

A professionally trained cook turned stay-at-home mom, Amy Finley decided on a whim to send in an audition tape for season three of The Next Food Network Star, and the impossible happened: she won. So why did she walk away from it all? A triumphant and endearing tale of family, food, and France, Amy’s story is an inspiring read for women everywhere.

While Amy was hoping to bring American families together with her simple Gourmet Next Doorrecipes, she ended up separating from her French husband, Greg, who didn’t want to be married to a celebrity. Amy felt betrayed. She was living a dream—or was she? She was becoming famous, cooking for people out there in TV land, in thirty minutes, on a kitchen set . . . instead of cooking and eating with her own family at home.

In a desperate effort to work things out, Amy makes the controversial decision to leave her budding television career behind and move her family to France, where she and Greg lived after they first met and fell in love. How to Eat a Small Country is Amy’s personal story of her rewarding struggle to reunite through the simple, everyday act of cooking and eating together. Meals play a central role in Amy’s new life, from meeting the bunny destined to become their classic Burgundian dinner oflapin à la moutarde to dealing with the aftermath of a bouillabaisse binge. And as she, Greg, and their two young children wend their way through rural France, they gradually reweave the fabric of their family.

At times humorous and heart-wrenching, and always captivating and delicious, How to Eat a Small Country chronicles the food-filled journey that one couple takes to stay together.

(I compared this book with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love at the meeting and was delighted to find this review, "How to Eat a Small Country shares a few key traits with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love in particular an infectiously likeable narrator and mouthwatering descriptions of European food. But Finley’s memoir is less precious, more honest, and ultimately more rewarding." -- Boston Globe)

My Year with Eleanor: A Memoir by Noelle Hancock

After losing her high-octane job as an entertainment blogger, Noelle Hancock was lost. About to turn twenty-nine, she'd spent her career writing about celebrities' lives and had forgotten how to live her own. Unemployed and full of self-doubt, she had no idea what she wanted out of life. She feared change—in fact, she feared almost everything. Once confident and ambitious, she had become crippled by anxiety, lacking the courage required even to attend a dinner party—until inspiration struck one day in the form of a quote on a chalkboard in a coffee shop:

"Do one thing every day that scares you."
—Eleanor Roosevelt

Painfully timid as a child, Eleanor Roosevelt dedicated herself to facing her fears, a commitment that shaped the rest of her life. With Eleanor as her guide, Noelle spends the months leading up to her thirtieth birthday pursuing a "Year of Fear." From shark diving to fighter pilot lessons, from tap dancing and stand-up comedy to confronting old boyfriends, her hilarious and harrowing adventures teach her about who she is, and what she can become—lessons she makes vital for all of us.

(Outside of the “Do one thing…” quote, which I have on my car in the form of a bumper sticker, my favorite Eleanor Roosevelt quote from this book is “My life can be so arranged that I can live on whatever I have. If I cannot live as I have lived in the past, I shall live differently, and living differently does not mean living with less attention to the things that make life gracious and pleasant or with less enjoyment of things of the mind.”)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Holiday ereader shopping info (just in time for Black Friday)

Are you interested in getting an ereader as a holiday gift? Lots of people are, so I’ve put together a few thoughts about the ereaders I have used to help you as a shopping guide. Of course, these are just my opinions; I could be wrong. Also, I’m not telling you which ereader to buy. That’s your decision. I’m just offering my experience and opinion to help you with your decision.

I’m not going to focus on the technical details, because honestly most people just don’t care about the operating system or platform or resolution or any of those technical details. If you do, then this isn’t the guide for you. Most people want to know, in plain English, how they can use it, if they can borrow library books on it, and if it is going to be easy to use.

Here at Emmet O’Neal Library, we’ve had a fair amount of experience helping people use ereaders to borrow ebooks from our collection. It’s not as simple as purchasing ebooks, but the price is right (free).

Nook, by Barnes & Noble
You can borrow ebooks from the library to read on all the Nooks, but you will have a few extra steps to go through to make that happen. It will involve downloading a program called Adobe Digital Editions onto your computer and setting up an account with Adobe. This is because Adobe manages the “digital rights” to the ebooks you borrow from our library. You will also need to hook your Nook up to your computer to transfer your ebook to your Nook.

Nook Simple Touch ($99) ereader (on sale at Barnes & Noble on Black Friday for $79)
This is a solid ereader that lets you buy books from Barnes & Noble very easily as long as you are connected to a wifi network (which just happens to be a free service at our library). You can read it outside at the pool or the beach. However, you will need some light source for reading in bed (unlike the tablets that are also ereaders). The battery should last a couple of months, which is a pretty nice feature.

Color Nook ($199) ereader/small tablet computer
This is a small tablet about half the size of an iPad. It is easy to use for buying ebooks just like the Simple Touch. It’s not great for reading outside because it doesn’t use eink. It will overheat in the sun, too. The battery life is about 12 hours or so, so you’ll need to charge it every day or so.
It has a Web browser and a few apps, but I thought the screen was too small to really enjoy the the tablet functionality.

Nook Tablet ($249) ereader/small tablet computer
I haven’t played with one of these, but by all accounts it should be just like the Color Nook, with a nicer screen.

Kindle, by Amazon
You can borrow ebooks from the library now to read on all the Kindles. On any of the ones that are available for purchase now, the process is fairly easy and does not require additional software – you just need an Amazon account and a valid library card. The Kindle Fire allows you to borrow without even needing a separate computer. If you get a Kindle with 3G access, though, you can’t check out public library ebooks on the 3G network – you have to use wifi for that (did I mention we have free wifi at the library?)

However, Penguin recently quit allowing its ebooks to be lent on Kindles through library ebook systems. We don’t know yet what impact that will have. Amazon also has its own lending library through its Amazon Prime Membership. That’s got nothing to do with our library, though.

Kindle ($79 or $109, depending on if you allow ads or not)
The Kindle is the latest generation of the original Amazon ereader. You can read it outside easily, but in bed you’re going to need some light to read it. The battery life is supposed to last up to two months.

Kindle Touch ($99 to $189, depending on if you allow ads and/or want 3G access)
This ereader is comparable to the Nook Simple Touch. You can read it outside easily, but in bed you’re going to need some light to read it. The battery life is supposed to last up to two months. You can get a cheaper version if you’re okay with advertisements being displayed on the screen when you’re not reading.

Kindle Fire ($199) ereader/small tablet computer
The Kindle Fire is a small tablet that is primarily designed to deliver any content available through Amazon (ebooks, movies, music, etc.). Of the various ereaders I’ve examined over the past two or three years, it is the easiest to use right out of the box. Amazon sends it to you, you take it out of the box, it knows who you are and sets itself up with your Amazon account all by itself. You can pretty much start reading right away.
However, it does not have 3G capabilities, so you can’t download new content unless you are in range of a wifi network (which, by the way, we have for free at the library).

Apple iPad2 ($499 and up) tablet
The iPad2 is a full-sized tablet (about twice the screen size of the Kindle Fire and the Color Nook) that has several ereading apps available for free (Nook, Kindle, iBooks, and the Overdrive app that is our library’s -book collection uses). The setup for the iPad is relatively simple, but you will need iTunes installed on a computer plus an iTunes account to get it set up right out of the box. You will then need to download the ereader apps before you can use it as an ereader. On the other hand, you can also use it for email, Web surfing, writing (especially if you get an external keyboard for it), taking pictures, making videos, etc. If you don’t want to be tied to a wifi network to make purchases or use interactive content, you’ll need a 3G model, those are about $650.
For borrowing library ebooks, using the iPad is pretty seamless. You don’t have to use a separate computer or be tethered to a computer.

Please note that the prices above were accurate when I wrote this blog entry - they can change at the discretion of the sellers.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

GRG Recap - Alabama Authors

There’s nothing like local authors to get a spirited discussion going! In anticipation of an author luncheon hosted by Southern Magic, the Birmingham chapter of Romance Writers of America, many of our GRGers read titles from authors scheduled to attend the event, but any book by an Alabama author was eligible for discussion.

On November 29th at 6:30pm, we’ll be discussing books on the art and science of happiness. This should be a very interesting discussion, so don’t miss out! Have company in town for the Thanksgiving holiday? Bring them with you, we all love to see new faces!

On to the list:

When Light Breaks by Patti Callahan Henry
Garnering comparisons to Anne Rivers Siddons and Pat Conroy, Patti Callahan Henry has woven her lyrical Southern voice throughout the Lowcountry landscape. Now, as two women from opposite sides of the same sea meet, a tale unfolds that will draw readers into the heart's remembrances-and the tender awakenings of first love.

Though bogged down in the stress of planning her elaborate wedding to a professional golfer, twenty-seven-year-old Kara Larson still makes time to visit ninety-six-year-old Maeve Mahoney at her nursing home. And as Maeve recounts the rambling story of her first love back in Ireland, Kara is driven to remember her own first love: childhood neighbor Jack Sullivan.

GENERAL DISCUSSION: P.C. Henry’s novel features the popular story-within-a-story plot device and we came up with the following favorites that also feature it.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flag
It’s the story of two women in the 1980s, of gray-headed Mrs. Threadgoode telling her life story to Evelyn, who is in the sad slump of middle age. The tale she tells is also of two women, of the irrepressibly daredevilish tomboy Idgie and her friend Ruth, who back in the thirties ran a little place in Whistle Stop, Alabama, a Southern kind of Cafe Wobegon offering good barbecue and good coffee and all kinds of love and laughter, even an occasional murder. And as the past unfolds, the present, for Evelyn and for us, will never quite be the same.  Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is folksy and fresh, endearing and affecting, with humor and drama, and with an ending that would fill with smiling tears the Whistle Stop Lake...if they only had a lake....

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, drifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her.

The movie, Titanic
Nothing on Earth can rival the epic spectacle and breathtaking grandeur of Titanic the sweeping love story that sailed into the hearts of moviegoers around the world ultimately emerging as the most popular motion picture of all time.Leonardo DiCaprio and Oscar-nominee Kate Winslet light up the screen as Jack and Rose the young lovers who find one another on the maiden voyage of the "unsinkable" R.M.S. Titanic. But when the doomed luxury liner collides with an iceberg in the frigid North Atlantic their passionate love affair becomes a thrilling race for survival.

Keeping the Faith: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives, a Memoir by Wayne Flynt
This historical memoir by the widely recognized scholar, Wayne Flynt, chronicles the inner workings of his academic career at Samford and Auburn Universities, as well as his many contributions to the general history of Alabama. Flynt has traveled the state and the South lecturing and teaching both lay and academic groups, calling on his detailed knowledge of both the history and power structures in Alabama to reveal uncomfortable truths wherever he finds them, whether in academic institutions that fall short of their stated missions, in government and industry leaders who seek and hold power by playing to the fears and prejudices of the public, or in religious groups who abandon their original missions and instead seek financial and emotional comfort in lip service only.

Children’s author Hoyt Wilson
Hoyt Wilson, author, educator and film producer has earned 16 national media awards including four national film awards for a biographical film series from the International Film Festival of New York, National Educational Film Festival, The Independent Film Producers Of America and the US Indusrtrial Film Festival. All his work is of a biographical nature. (

Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis by Howell Raines, who had a brief tenure as editor of the New York Times
Just as Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance used motorcycle repair as a metaphor for the examination of self, Howell Raines uses his lifelong experiences as a fly fisherman to explore his life, politics, gender, roles as a son, husband, father, and journalist, and his attitudes toward aging and mortality. A man who has fished with presidents and Southern friends as well as with his own two sons, Raines chronicles his progress from "the Redneck way of fishing" for quantity and food to the catch-and-release way of his friend and mentor Dick Blalock. Blalock taught Raines that fly fishing is about attitude and friendship, not about catching fish. Raines imparts tips on casting and stream beds gracefully, along with his love for what he calls "waters that move" as he explores the deep funk he fell into at midlife, complete with a divorce, a seven-year feud with his father and brother, and the all-consuming animosity he allowed himself to develop toward his boss at work. By casting into the waters of his own life -- and ultimately reconciling with middle age -- Howell Raines has written a literate, contemplative celebration of life and friendship.

Odd Egg Editor by Kathryn Tucker Windham
Remembering the sting of male discrimination she repeatedly endured during her career as a newspaper-woman, the author wistfully recalls the hurt of being overlooked, snubbed, and ribbed by her male colleagues.

GENERAL DISCUSSION: The Library carries an outstanding documentary film about Windham called “Kathryn: The Story of a Teller.”

Staked by J.F. Lewis
With his Denis Leary–esque wit and misanthropic outlook on (un)life, Eric is a vampire with issues. Take his memory problems, for example. He not only can’t remember who he ate for dinner yesterday, he doesn’t even remember how he became a vampire in the first place. Then his girlfriend, Tabitha, finally convinces him to turn her into a vampire—and when he does, his desire for her fades. And her younger sister Rachel sure is cute...but when Eric kills a werewolf in self-defense, things really get out of hand. Now a pack of born-again lycanthropes is out for holy retribution, while Tabitha and Rachel each have their own agendas...which may or may not include helping Eric stay in one piece. All Eric wants to do is run his strip club, drink a little blood, and be left alone. Instead, he must survive car crashes, sunlight, sex magic, and werewolves on ice—not to mention his own nasty temper and forgetfulness.

Reading a story set in a place with which the reader is familiar always sets people off, either in good ways, bad ways, or both. Diane McWhorter’s expose on civil rights in Birmingham, Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama and the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution, sparked some local controversy when it was published. Linda Howard writes romantic suspense and set one of her thrilling novels, Dying to Please, right here in Mountain Brook. Anne George is a perennial favorite with her Southern Sisters cozy mysteries, beginning with Murder on a Girls’ Night Out, which are set all around our great state from Birmingham to Gulf Shores as well as other Alabama locales.