Better Than Before, by Gretchen Rubin


Gretchen Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project and she was a Mighty Summit attendee a few years back. Gretchen has a shiny brain — she’s globally curious, a voracious reader, knower of obscure and provable facts. Her most recent book on habits, Better Than Before, is the next best thing to sitting next to her at a dinner party.

The premise is that habits give you an autopilot option to help you through tough times, and preserve energy by lifting the burden of choices. The best parts of Better Than Before:

It’s helpful to begin with habits that most directly strengthen self control… We do well by tackling the habits hat help us to:
1. sleep
2. move
3 eat and drink right
4. unclutter

Counterintuitively, I often find it harder to make myself do something that I enjoy than something that I don’t enjoy… For some of us, it takes discipline to take pleasure.

Now is an unpopular time to take a first step.

The biggest waste of time is to do well something that we need not do at all.

If I give more to myself, I can ask more from myself. Self-regard isn’t selfish.

We can build our habits only on the foundation of our own nature.

inanition – lack of mental or spiritual vigor and enthusiasm

Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I read Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude also by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I enjoyed and recommend those, particularly the former. And then there’s this.

Memories of My Melancholy Whores is a book about where and with whom an old man has dampened his genitals for the last 90 years. Let me spare you the trouble of reading it: Where has his penis been? Brothels. With whom has his penis held court? Prostitutes.

The man narrates, and a virginal, adolescent female protagonist functions only as a symbol. She is literally asleep through the entire novel. Wait. My mistake, there’s one scene where she silently curls into fetal position as the nonagenarian smashes objects around her in a jealous rage. Character development.

Two things I underlined:

“…by eleven the house was left in the bristling silence that follows great catastrophes.”

“I reorganized the library according to the order in which I had read the books.”

New word:

Concupiscence – strong sexual desire; lust. (Similar origin to the word “Cupid.”)

Internet, will you please give me some recommendations on fiction works by female authors and/or books with female protagonists you’ve enjoyed? Hemingway was next in queue, but I’m not sure I can do it.

Mindy Kaling on Human Nature

This has been all over, but have you read Mindy Kaling’s article on confidence yet? I had many epiphany moments. If you haven’t read it yet, do:

Mindy Kaling’s Guide to Killer Confidence

“People’s reaction to me is sometimes “Uch, I just don’t like her. I hate how she thinks she is so great.” But it’s not that I think I’m so great. I just don’t hate myself. I do idiotic things all the time and I say crazy stuff I regret, but I don’t let everything traumatize me. And the scary thing I have noticed is that some people really feel uncomfortable around women who don’t hate themselves. So that’s why you need to be a little bit brave.”

“People get scared when you try to do something, especially when it looks like you’re succeeding. People do not get scared when you’re failing. It calms them.”

Blackout by Sarah Hepola

Sarah Hepola is a friend, one of the early writers over at The Morning News, where they just did an interview with her. I haven’t seen her in years, but I always hoped she would write a book one day. Here it is! And it just made the New York Times Bestseller List. Fucking-a-right it did. Huge Congrats, Sepola. You moved all those bricks into a very pretty pile.

The best parts of Sarah Hepola’s Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget:

…if you’re like me, you know the thunderbolt of waking up to discover a blank space where pivotal scenes should be. My evenings come with trapdoors.

“I’m not angry,” I told her.
“Then what are you?” she asked.
I thought maybe I was bad.

Even my food co-op mother bought a book listing calorie counts, and I memorized those entries like Bible passages. I couldn’t tell you much about John 3:16, but I knew Blueberry Muffin: 426.

I’m not going to say I faked orgasms. That sounds intentional. As if I knew what an orgasm felt like, and I purposefully pretended to be having one. It was more like: Orgasms happen when you’re with men. You’re with a man now. Are you having an orgasm? Probably so! I learned in to these swells of pleasure with loud gasps and moans as if, by moving my arms and legs frantically enough, I might somehow learn to surf.

I knew online dating would come for me someday. It was the fate of all single women in their late 30s to stare down a personal profile, and as far as punishments go, this was fairly benign. Once, my type faced spinsterhood and destitution. Now I had to walk into the gallows of OK Cupid and drum up a good attitude about emoticons.

“You’re a contrarian,” I told him, licking grease off my fingers.
“Is that good?” he asked. “I want to be the thing that you like.”
And it was the first time someone had said this to me, but I recognized it as my driving motto for the past 25 years. It was nice to be on the other side for a change.

I liked talking about writing much more than actually writing, which is an unspeakably boring and laborious activity, like moving a pile of bricks fro one side of the room to the other.

…a glass of champagne, throwing its confetti in the air…

What mattered was that I was doing something I wanted to do instead of merely talking about it.

I wish belief didn’t feel like a choice between blind faith and blanket disavowal. I’m a little freaked out by the certainty on either side.

The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion

I finished a grownup book! As far as new-mom milestones go, I’ve decided this is more significant than fitting into my pre-baby jeans. Also, this only took me two and a half months. I’ll get back to you on the jeans.

The best parts of Joan Didion’s The Last Thing He Wanted:

“She had set aside the seductive familiarity of the celebrity fund-raiser.
The smell of jasmine.
The pool of blue jacaranda petals on the sidewalk where she sat.
The sense that under that tent nothing bad was going to happen and its corollary, the sense that under that tent nothing at all was going to happen.”

“If you knew [its] name, you might recall the days or nights spent on this island en route to or in lieu of more desirable islands, the metallic taste of tinned juice in rum punches, the mosquitoes under the net at night, the rented villa where the septic tank backed up, the unpleasantness over the Jet Ski misunderstanding, the hours spent waiting in the jammed airport when the scheduled Windward Air or BIWI flights failed to materialize, the piece of needlepoint you meant to finish and instead spotted with coconut oil, the book you meant to read and distractedly set aside, the tedium of all forlorn tropical places.”

“‘A lot of people get some big mystical kick out of chewing over things that happened forty, forty-five years ago,'” he said then. “‘Little sad stories about being misunderstood by their mother or getting snubbed at school or whatever. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this, I’m not saying it’s self-indulgent or self-pitying or any other damn thing. I’m just saying I can’t afford it. So I don’t do it.'”


specific gravity – the ratio of the density of a substance to the density of a standard, usually water for a liquid or solid, and air for a gas.

Merck Manual – A health information reference.

proconsular – A provincial governor of consular rank in the Roman Republic and Roman Empire. 2. A high administrator in one of the modern colonial empires.

facile – appearing neat and comprehensive only by ignoring the true complexities of an issue; superficial.

Alcestis – a princess in Greek mythology, known for her love of her husband.

agitprop – political propaganda promulgated chiefly in literature, drama, music, or art

Diane von Furstenberg

Excerpts from an O Magazine interview with Diane Von Furstenberg:

On what her mother, an Auschwitz survivor, taught her: She taught me never, ever, ever think of yourself as a victim. No matter what.

I surround myself with young people, I don’t feel my age. I mean, I know I am my age, and I don’t try to hide it. But I have a lot of energy, and I’m curious about the world. And in any situation in life, I always say, “Well, how can I help?”

I don’t think it’s nice to think you’re beautiful. You end up counting too much on it. I had to count on my personality. And my legs.

-What are you proudest of?
-My children. And the great relationship I have with me. That is my biggest source of pleasure. I trust myself, I respect myself, I know I am a good girl, I know I can rely on myself. I like my own company. I am funny. I talk to myself and have a good time.

The First Bad Man by Miranda July

Oof. One of the best imaginations of our generation. Miranda July has a gift for expressing loneliness, and the desperation in searching for connection when your brain seems so singular.

Miranda July, it’s such a comfort that you make things. Thanks.

Excerpts from The First Bad Man:

She gave me a betrayed look, because she’s a working mom, feminism, etc. I gave her the same look back, because I’m a woman in a senior position, she’s taking advantage, feminism, etc. She bowed her head slightly.

Then I realized we all think we might be terrible people. But we only reveal this before we ask someone to love us. It is a kind of undressing.

He cleared his throat, then was silent. Maybe he wouldn’t say anything, which is the worst thing men do.

I flitted around the city, either turning heads or else walking by heads just as they were turning.

Sometimes I looked at her sleeping face, the living flesh of it, and was overwhelmed by how precarious it was to love a living thing. She could die simply from lack of water. It hardly seemed safer than falling in love with a plant.

It won’t make sense until you’ve read the book, but once you have, visit The First Bad Man store, with auction proceeds going to The National Partnership for Women and Families.

Also, old related post: Learning to Love You More, Assignment #9.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven is set in a post-epidemic landscape, with 99 percent of the population having been wiped out. My favorite part:

Toward the end of his second decade in the airport, Clark was thinking about how lucky he’d been. Not just the mere fact of survival, which was of course remarkable in and of itself, but to have seen one world end and another begin. And not just to have seen the remembered splendors of the former world, the space shuttles and the electrical grid and the amplified guitars, the computers that could be held in the palm of a hand and the high-speed trains between cities, but to have lived among those wonders for so long. To have dwelt in that spectacular world for fifty-one years of his life. Sometimes he lay awake in Concourse B of the Severn City Airport and thought, “I was there,” and the thought pierced him through with an admixture of sadness and exhilaration.

Reminds me of the Louis CK bit on cell phones and flying.

Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway

The best parts of Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway:

‘The people one would see if one saw whom one wished to see. You know all of those people? You must know them.’
‘Some of them,’ I said. ‘Some in Paris. Some in Berlin.’
I did not wish to destroy anything this man had, and so I did not go into those brilliant people in detail.
‘They’re marvellous,’ I said, lying.

At present we have two good writers who cannot write because they have lost confidence through reading critics. If they wrote, sometimes it would be good and sometimes not so good and sometimes it would be quite bad, but the good would get out. But they have read the critics and they must write masterpieces. The masterpieces the critics said they wrote. They weren’t masterpieces, of course. They were just quite good books. So now they cannot write at all. The critics have made them impotent.

‘And what do you want?’
‘To write as well as I can and learn as I go along. At the same time I have my life which I enjoy and which is a damned good life.’

‘Do you think your writing is worth doing — as an end in itself?’
‘Oh, yes.’
‘You are sure?’
‘Very sure.’
‘That must be very pleasant.’
‘It is,’ I said. ‘It is the one altogether pleasant thing about it.’

He moved toward his tent carrying himself with comic stiffness, walking in the dark as carefully as though he were an opened bottle.

They had that attitude that makes brothers, that unexpressed but instant and complete acceptance that you must be Masai wherever it is you come from… [It is] the thing that used to be the most clear distinction of nobility where there was nobility. It is an ignorant attitude and the people who have it do not survive, but very few pleasanter things ever happen to you than the encountering of it.

The earth gets tired of being exploited. A country wears out quickly unless man puts back in all its residue and that of all his beasts. When he quits using beasts and uses machines, the earth defeats him quickly. The machine can’t reproduce, nor does it fertilize the soil, and it eats what he cannot raise.

Citizens, I feel very well.


Tyroler Hat – The Tyrolean hat (also Bavarian hat or Alpine hat) is a type of headwear that originally came from the Tyrol in the Alps. A typical Tyrolean hat originally had a crown tapering to a point and was made of green felt with a brim roughly the width of a hand.
white hunter – professional big game hunters of European or North American backgrounds who plied their trade in Africa, especially during the first half of the 20th century
dynamo – an electrical generator that produces direct current with the use of a commutator
klaxon – a vehicle horn
shamba – A plantation or area of cultivated ground; a plot of land, a small subsistence farm for growing crops and fruit-bearing trees, often including the dwelling of the farmer
sisal – a species of Agave native to southern Mexico but widely cultivated and naturalized in many other countries. It yields a stiff fibre used in making various products.
kongoni – The hartebeest, an African species of grassland antelope
musette – a small leather or canvas bag with shoulder strap, used during hiking, marching, etc.