Wednesday Book Review: Conversations By Catherine Cobbins

This book review is going to be a little different than I normally do them because this isn’t a book I found by wandering around the library. In fact, I didn’t even find it at a book store.

Many years ago, when I first started looking into healing myself, I started taking trips to the River Market every Saturday morning. The River Market is a cute indoor/outdoor market place along the Arkansas River in Downtown Little Rock. During some parts of the year the outside area will house a farmers market every Saturday morning, and I never missed it.

Often the market stalls would fill up quickly, so smaller sellers would have to line their stands up outside of the market place and even sometimes never the park that was below. I would often walk these trails, listening to podcasts, and eating small fruits I had picked out from one of the larger stands. On one of these walks, I met a woman named Catherine Cobbins. She was selling her first-ever poetry book Conversations: A Coffee Table Book. I’ve always had a weak spot for self-publishers and poets, which meant that no matter what I was going home with a copy of her story.

Mrs. Cobbins was a joyful woman, her greeting and smile as I walked up to her stand warmed my heart. I spoke to her of my own dreams of becoming an author and she enthusiastically encouraged me to keep practicing. After I bought her book she hand wrote a note for me stating “May my words push you forward.” And oh how they did.

Now you might be wondering, why would I review a book that no one can buy? Because luckily for us, she’s still writing. So please don’t be discouraged when I tell you that you can’t currently buy it. A little bird told me that Mrs. Cobbins has more wonderful words in the works and I’m excited to see what she does in the future! Until then, you can check out her podcast, blog, or Instagram so that maybe she can move you like she does me.

This book, Conversations is one that’s been on my bookcase for some time. I have often looked at her words for inspiration when writers’ block hit. While she is a very religious author, and I’m not, I still find her message and story very comforting. This book is clearly the first print. Some of the pages are off-center, some typos remain, and some of the pictures are not clear. However, it’s that kind of charm that made me buy the book to begin with. Perfection is overrated and sometimes the best works can be overlooked due to small things like that.

This collection of 31 poems speaks of many hard topics. She speaks of God, sex, love, heartbreak, addiction, and self love. She speaks of freedom, and what the means from the eyes of a black woman. She talks of marriage, faith, and everything in between. My favorite poem in this collection speaks of a false king who mistaken answered to a call that wasn’t meant for him.

Oh, I’m sorry I thought you were the King. Because when I called you answered. I was confused. I was thrown off by your bright colored clothes and your stature.

-Queen’s Call: Catherine Cobbins

If you have some free time I highly recommend checking Catherine Cobbins out. She is a very passionate woman with an amazing heart. I am so glad that I found her in that Farmer’s Market all those years ago.

Wednesday Book Review: Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Trigger Warnings: Mentions rape once, give no details.

Regardless of how you feel about J.K. Rowling, which in my case varies daily, sometimes you can find nuggets of gold in her writing. While I don’t agree with her on a fundamental level, I will tend to still read her books if I can find them used or at the library. My thoughts are, she’s already made enough money to never need again, so if I can find something of use in her words I will. So when I found this short book at my local library I decided to go ahead and give it a shot. I am so glad that I did.

Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling is another short read I’ve decided to review for you guys. (For those of who have ADHD short reads are sometimes the best.) This book is a speech Rowling delivered to a Harvard Graduating class, which was then published to help raise money for her charity Lumos. I love reading inspiring speeches and this one touched on a few amazing topics that I think everyone should hear.

First J.K. Rowling talks about the lesson of failure and how it can teach you about yourself. Seven years after her own graduation she was a jobless, single mother, doing the best she could to keep from being homeless. Her marriage had exploded and she was living a life of poverty that she had never understood before. 

“I was the biggest failure I knew.”

But from this failure, she found hope in herself. She realized just how strong-willed she was and how many friends she actually had. During this time, she also decided that she would finally become the famous author we know today.

The next lesson she teaches us is the importance of imagination. Not in the sense of creating a world of wizards, but of imagination that comes in the form of empathy. Before Harry Potter, she worked for a company called Amnesty International.

“Amnesty mobilizes thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have.”

During her time with Amnesty, she witnessed hundreds of cases of torture, kidnapping, and rape. She saw the darkest part of humanity, but she also saw the brightest. She realized that humans have this amazing gift, this power to imagine someone else’s pain, even though they had never been through the same pain themselves.

I love the passion in her speech and the power behind her words. I’m so glad that they decided to publish this and that I got the chance to read it! I found this book inspiring and plan to read it again the next time I feel like a failure.

Wednesday Book Review: In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It by Lauren Graham

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Book Triggers: None

In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It is a cute little read, and I mean little. This book is only 45 pages long, but that doesn’t mean it’s not holding a powerful message. This isn’t your normal self-help book. She’s not trying to teach you a million ways to make your life better or to tell you that you’re not trying hard enough. She’s just a woman who’s sharing her story in the hope that it makes yours just a little bit easier.

Lauren Graham, the actress from Gilmore Girls, shares with us a small bit of her life story to help us see that worrying about it doesn’t help anything. Lauren started her acting career in High School, getting a few minor roles, as well as the lead role in their performance of Hello, Dolly!. However, in her Senior year the worry monster took over and she started to lose her spark.

She became so worried about what role she had and what the crowd saw that she forgot to get lost in her acting and to enjoy the job she was doing. This monster followed her all the way onto Broadway, where she was played Miss Adelaide (my favorite character) in Guys and Dolls. Even here, living her dream, she felt out of place.

Because of this, her acting suffered. She wasn’t doing a bad job, but she wasn’t giving it her all either. She was so worried about every little detail that she wasn’t truly playing her role. Then one day she decided not to care anymore.

“Once I stopped worrying so much about pleasing others, once I decided to let myself off the hook, I realized I could fly.”

Her story continues on, but the message stays the same. If you’re to busy worrying about how you’re living your life, you won’t actually get to live it! And I love how openly and honestly she talks about her journey to this nugget of truth.

The only problem I had with this book was that her writing style and humor confused me a little. There were a few times where I didn’t quite understand what she was trying to say and I had to reread it. This didn’t take away from the story at all, just made it a little harder for me to read.

Regardless, I loved this book! Lauren writes with an upbeat, whimsical tone that truly sends the message home. I recommend this book for anyone who worries just a little too much.

Wednesday Book Review: Unfu*k Yourself By Gary John Bishop

Hey guys, I’m back with Wednesday Book Reviews! I took a little bit of time off because I was still getting used to this new medication and I wanted to give myself some time to adjust. I’m finally stable enough that I can actually get some writing done and I’m so excited! So here we go, my review of Unfu*k Yourself by Gary John Bishop.

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Book Triggers: None

Unfu*k Yourself is a self-help book that is made to help you “Get out of your head and into your life.” Warning, this book is not for every. Gary himself even warns that “If you’re easily offended, stop reading now”. He very brutally and honestly tells you to accept the fact that you are not a victim of circumstance, but your mindset. As much as my past wants me to argue with this, he may be right. My sister and I had the same childhood, deal with some same issues, and have the same problems with our parents. I can’t talk to my mom without having a breakdown and she calls her almost weekly. The only difference between us is the mindset we had growing up.

My first impression of this book was that I wasn’t going to like it. That it was going to sound like everyone else in my life that doesn’t understand mental illness. That he was gonna say “Just be happy” and move on. I was wrong. While this book is about getting over yourself Gary knows that it’s not always the easiest thing to do. He often says that sometimes his advice is easier said than done and that you have to start small at first. “try breaking the task down into smaller declarations of willingness to ‘stand up,’ ‘get out of bed,’ ‘open my email,’ etc.” 

The first question Gary asks you is, are you willing? Are you willing to change your life? Are you willing to be stuck at this same dead-end job? Are you willing to be in this toxic relationship? According to this book, our life is the way it is because we are willing to live with it, and that’s okay. I love that while he’s trying to push you to change, he also understands that sometimes you just aren’t willing to. He knows that our mental illness and outside influences get in the way of us living the life we want. All he expects of you in this book is to admit what control of your life you do have and do your best to grab the wheel.

Next, he reminds us that our life is the way it is because of our mindset. We are made to win, but we don’t always win the prize we want. If we think we are bad at relationships and we are unworthy of love, our mind will cause us to act in ways to prove that to be true. The same can be said for our careers, our finances, our health, etc. We can change the prize by changing the way we think.

Unf*ck Yourself has to be one of the most honest self-help books I’ve read in a long time. It made me uncomfortable, angry and motivated all at once. Many times throughout this book I wanted to argue with him. I wanted to tell him he was wrong and I can’t help the way that I am, but I realized he was right. “By defending your circumstances as they are right now, you are actually making a case for being where you are. Give it up.”

Gary doesn’t expect you to get past your issues overnight. He just tells you that if you don’t try it will never change, and he’s not wrong. The progress I’ve made in my healing is purely because I decided I didn’t like the way I was acting, where my life was, and who I was around. The only way you can get better is by deciding you’re ready to take the steps to get better. This book is a brutal reminder of that.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is in the middle of their healing journey. This is not a book for those who are still in denial or just not really ready for change. This book is not about being positive every day, it’s about accepting that life sucks and doing what you need to do regardless. So buy this book, read it until you throw it across the room, then pick it up and read it again.

Wednesday Book Review On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt

On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt

My Rating: 5/5 stars

Book Triggers: None

Honestly, this is not the type of book I ever planned on reviewing for this blog, but it was too amazing to pass up. I picked up this book, On Bullshit, while looking through one of the self-help sections in the library near my house. I thought it was funny that someone wrote a book that was just about the word bullshit. I figured it would be a short read that would tickle my odd sense of humor and I was right, what I did not expect was to actually learn a lot about myself from this book.

On Bullshit was an essay written by Hank G. Frankfurt in 1986, which was later published as a book in 2005. Frankfurt’s goal was to define what bullshit actually was and why it seemed like there was more of it going on in 1986 than in the past. This essay holds up well today, where it feels like everyone is always trying to sell us something we may or may not want.

The first thing I learned in this book was that the word humbug is an actual word and has nothing to do with Christmas. I always thought it was just something Scrooge said, as a child, I never actually wondered what the meaning was. According to the Oxford dictionary, it means “deceptive or false talk or behavior.” Who knew?

Anyway, Frankfurt goes on to recant Max Black’s essay, The Prevalence of Humbug. In this essay Black describes“a Fourth of July orator, who goes on bombastically about ‘our great and blessed country, whose Founding Fathers under divine guidance created a new beginning for mankind.’ This is surely humbug.” I don’t know why, but the thought of someone calling this humbug made me laugh so hard. He explains that it is only humbug because the man does not care rather or not what he says is true, just that you think this is his core belief. Frankfurt goes on to explain that while humbug and bullshit are similar, they are not the same thing.

There are more examples like this throughout this book that just tickle me to the bone. He goes on to explain the meanings of bull, bull session, and even excrement it’s self. There is a very serious part where he compares excrement to speaking hot air” and I almost died. This book is not meant to be funny in any way and is very educational, but I can not get over the fact that someone wrote a whole essay on the meaning of bullshit.

What really made me want to review this book is how he explains the difference between an honest person, a liar, and a bullshitter. “It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth.” An honest person knows the truth and speaks it, a liar knows the truth and tries to make you believe something else. While a bullshitter does not care if what they say is true or not, just how they are perceived. He goes way deeper in the book, but reading his comparisons made me think about how many times I’ve bullshitted my way through things that I didn’t have to. I do it as a defense mechanism, to protect myself from judgment. But is that something I really have to do?

Frankfurt goes on to explain why it feels like there is so much bullshit in the world today. While this was written in 1986 it still holds true for one very important reason. “Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about.” He goes on to say that we live in a world where you are expected to have an opinion on everything, even more so with politics. There may also be times in your career and life where you may be expected to speak on things you know nothing about, so you have to bullshit your way through it.

Overall, this is a very dry read. It was an essay written for Princeton University, after all. With that being said, it’s a great little book. It may seem odd to look for answers about yourself in a book that’s only exists to define the word bullshit, but we have to remember that anything can spark a moment of self-reflection. I highly recommend this book, not just for the educational bits, but also for the philosophy behind it. Who knows, maybe you’ll realize you’ve been a bullshitter all along. 

Wednesday Book Review Unworthy By Anneli Rufus

Unworthy: How to stop hating yourself by Anneli Rufus

My rating: 2.5/5 stars

Book trigger warnings:

There are mentions of rape, child molestation, abuse, and suicide. They never go into detail but they are there.

Unworthy is marketed as a self help book that will teach you how to stop hating yourself. Here the author Anneli Rufus takes us through her life of self hate and shows us how to dig out of this hole and how to stop being so hard on ourselves. Or at least, that’s what the goal of this book was. There are some really good parts to this book, but overall I was not impressed.

The first thing I noticed was how deeply I related to her when she spoke about her mother. It was like reading the pages from my own story, but from the mindset of an only child. Early in to the book I learned that she suspects her mother of having BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder), which my Mother was diagnosed with before I was even born. I loved that she shared this part of herself with me because it really opened up a new outlook for my past that I had never thought of before. She speaks of her Mother with love and understanding, even though Anneli knows that she was the cause for her self esteem issues. She forgives her mother and loves her anyways, which is a skill I am consistently trying to learn.

The next thing I noticed was that Anneli was openly writing from a place of self hate. While I loved this approach as first, finding comfort in the relatability of the text, it lost it’s appeal the deeper I got. It went from “we’re in this together” to “look at how miserable I am.” The second and third chapters, personality flaws and self-esteem booby traps, are full of great advice, if you can weed through the endless amount of quotes and self hate. It’s wouldn’t be that big of a deal, if they didn’t take up the bulk of the book.

At the beginning of this story I felt like I had my own personal self-esteem warrior, clad in armor and ready to fight by my side as she lead me into the world of not hating myself. But towards the end it’s felt like the blind leading the blind. Like I was stuck in an endless Facebook feed of #selfcare quotes and tumbler screen shots. Every once in a while you’ll find some jewels, but most of it’s just negative garbage.

The other issue I have is that she refers to auto-phobia as the fear of one’s self. While that is the literal translation, it is more commonly known as the fear of being alone. If anyone reading her book tried to look up auto-phobia for more information they would find a different problem, though I feel both of these fears work together at times. I wish she had a short sentence starting “also known as” just to help clear up some information for her everyday readers.

Chapter 4 is where she loses me completely. In this chapter, The Upside to Low Self-Esteem, Anneli takes a positive twist to her narrative. She talks about all the good that comes from having low self-esteem and the lessons that we can learn from it. While I do agree with this, her approach angers me. She starts off the chapter by judging a woman on the bus with her, stating “The strappy skintight top and short shorts she’s wearing do not flatter her. I think she does not realize this.” She talks about how this woman is entitled and clearly thinks she’s better than everyone else on the bus. It does not occur to her at maybe this woman is overcompensating, having a bad day, or has a mental illness that she’s not being treated for. No, the only thing she sees is a woman talking loudly on the phone, dressed in slutty clothes.

She keeps with this holier than thou attitude through the rest of the chapter as she goes on to talk about how entitled Millennials are. How this high self-esteem kick has lead us to be more selfish, help other’s less, and generally not care about “social problems, current events, or energy conservation.” Honestly, I am very biased and completely disagree with her.However, even if this was the case I do not like the fact that she is putting down other people to prove a point. If this is the bright side to low self-esteem I’ve been doing things wrong my whole life.

However, my favorite chapter is the last. Here she goes back to the same tone she used in the first chapter, but instead of your defender she’s that friend you go to after a hard break up. She’s sitting there with ice cream and rum telling you “It’s okay to hurt and it will be get better with time.” If you read no other chapter in this book I do encourage you to read the last, just as a simple reminder that it’s okay to not be okay. That there is no rush to getting better, no rush to stop hating yourself. That baby steps are the way to go and that some day, you’ll be okay.

There is some really good information in this book and it helped me get a better understanding of myself along the way. I do like how honest Anneli was about her own mental health problems and I feel like parts of this book would be great for a blog or a memoir. Sadly, this falls flat as a self help book. There are some useful tips and advice scattered through out, but you could easily find this same information in a less judgmental way. If you are great at reading between the lines, or just like this style of writing, feel free… but I highly recommending skipping chapter 4 completely.