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The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Hello readers! As summer is drawing to a close, I wanted to share with you what may end up being my last completed book on my summer reading list – The Happiness Project. As many of you know, positive psychology has been a long-term interest of mine – I studied it in college, and wrote a master’s thesis on how to incorporate it into a classroom. That said, I don’t always use it in my own life as much as I would like to. And while the big thinkers (Seligman, Lyubomirsky, and the Dalai Lama) behind the happiness movement are brilliant… their prose often leaves a bit to be desired in a die-hard fiction fan such as myself.

Which is where The Happiness Project went so so right. The author, Gretchen Rubin, studied the scientific literature in depth, broke it down in an interesting, very read-able manner, and then shared her experiences applying the principles of happiness research to her own life. She focuses on three main questions: “What makes me feel good?” “What makes me feel bad?” and “What makes me feel right?” and uses them to make a list of concrete, attainable resolutions. Rubin then grouped the resolutions by months, and vowed to systematically make a nearly constant effort to reach them all – adding the previous months resolutions to the current one. She wrote about her journey and the thing I LOVED the most is, it was messy. She attests that she was happier in the end (and she wasn’t horrifically unhappy to begin with) but that happiness took real effort, and, as a result, wasn’t always fun. This was monumental for me, as self-improvement of any kind is rarely enjoyable, but usually (in my own experience) yields amazing results.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Reading The Happiness Project inspired me to start one of my own. I, like Gretchen Rubin, am not horrifically unhappy. However, I have struggled with depression and anxiety in the past and often feel so lucky to no longer be battling those diseases on a daily basis that I don’t work to make myself happier than my current state – I just work to make myself not sick again. Thus, there’s a lot I can do to be happier, and though Rubin’s book is more of a memoir than a game plan, her website ( provides an outline of the steps she took and makes it really easy for readers to design their own happiness project.

Though I’ll warn you – designing it is the easy part. It is also the fun part… because I love markers. But the implementation, like Rubin writes in her book, is not nearly as easy as you might think. Still, I am confident it is worth it. I wouldn’t recommend the book to you if I didn’t think so, and I definitely wouldn’t be incorporating Rubin’s methods into my own hectic life if I didn’t truly believe they had value.

Things that make me happy - a well-organized binder to keep track of my progress... and these adorable new throw pillows from Etsy!

Things that make me happy – a well-organized binder to keep track of my progress… and these adorable new throw pillows from Etsy!

Briefly, here are some of the goals my personal happiness project includes:

  • Letters of gratitude – I know how great I feel when people take the time to affirm and appreciate me. I’m excited to start telling the great people in my life how important they are (and hopefully giving them and me a happiness boost in the process)
  • Hosting more events at home – I just moved into my own place for the first time. I can’t wait to care for the people I love by cooking them an incredible meal as they grace me with their fantastic company and help me to see how amazing my life and relationships are.
  • Engaging in more cultural experiences – Santa Barbara has an events calendar that is crazy full. Time to take advantage of those experiences and play tourist in my own town.
  • Travel – As I mentioned, I’m in my own place for the first time in my life… so I can’t afford much travel. But when the opportunity arises, I want to be spontaneous enough to take it. After all, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”
  • Remember self-care – I have a real problem during the school year of forgetting to take care of myself. Sometimes I even forget meals. So I’m making a point to pay attention to my needs and then make meeting them a priority in my life. If that means I have to spend more time getting pedicures and massages… that is a sacrifice I’m willing to take!
  • Read books I never would have considered for myself – Having a wider perspective from which I view the world can only bring good things, am I right?
  • Give faith and spirituality a chance – I’m a huge cynic. Cynics generally aren’t the happiest people. So I want to get back to a place in my life where spirituality is central to my every day movements. Research shows, the happiest people are also the most spiritual.
  • Volunteer – I know, I know. I have no time. That’s what everyone says. I’ve benefited so much from the generous, loving, giving people around me. I need to give back. Selfishly – there’s also a major dopamine surge with altruism!

If you were designing your own happiness project, what would you add? Is there anything I’ve missed?

Wishing you all a happy, healthy start to the new school year (while giving The Happiness Project 3 stars ★★★),



National Book Festival 2014 (part 2)

Hello again! I got to see and do so much at the Library of Congress National Book Festival this year, that I couldn’t possibly fit it all in one post! Today I’ll write more about the authors I saw.

E. L. Doctorow

E. L. Doctorow

I started by going to see E. L. Doctorow, who won the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction for his latest novel, Andrew’s Brain.  Instead of speaking alone, he answered questions in more of an interview format.  I was interested to learn about his inspiration for his books, specifically that he often imagines an image to begin his writing process.  (Sorry for the poor picture quality, the lighting in the conference center was a challenge.)

After that, I went to see Kai Bird, whose latest book is a biography of the CIA operative Robert Ames.  He talked about how he researched the book, which I appreciated, since a lot of the nonfiction authors just summarize their books.  This way I stay interested in reading it.  Besides, writing a biography about a spy poses some research challenges, since a lot of the information might still be confidential.  It made for an interesting talk.


Sara Sue Hoklotubbe signing my copy of Sinking Suspicions

Sara Sue Hoklotubbe signing my copy of Sinking Suspicions

I headed back to the Fiction and Mystery room to see an author who was new to me, Sara Sue Hoklotubbe.  She writes a mystery series set in Cherokee country.  As soon as I heard about it, I knew I had to read it, so I bought her book and went to the signing.  (I might look for the other two books so I can read them in order though.)  Someone who got up to ask a question began with, “I haven’t read the series yet, but I like you, so I know I’m going to like your books,” and that’s exactly how I felt.  I think every year I found a great new book or series through hearing an author talk, and that’s probably one of my favorite things about going to the National Book Festival.

The last author talk I attended was by Lisa See.  I read one of her books, Peony in Love, in college.  Her new novel is set in California, and I enjoyed hearing about her family’s history and her research about the history of Chinese Americans in California.  I’d like to read one of her books set in my home state!

I started my Christmas shopping by going to two more book signings.  I got a book signed by Anne Hillerman, who is continuing her father’s mystery series.  (That was a nice surprise-we’ve got some big Tony Hillerman fans in the Of Print and Prose family.  I also went to Judith Viorst’s book signing and got two Alexander books signed, one for our nephew’s Christmas gift and an extra one to donate to our mom’s third grade class.  I was especially excited that the authors had time to personalize the books this year!  Although I didn’t see their talks, I plan on watching them on the Library of Congress website.  All the talks from the festival are posted here.

Judith Viorst signing a book for the third graders

Judith Viorst signing a book for the third graders

National Book Festival 2014 (part 1)

my program from the festival

my program from the festival

Hello everyone!  It’s Elizabeth with your annual update from the Library of Congress’s National Book Festival in Washington, DC!  If it seems a little early for that, it is!  That’s just one of the big changes at the book festival this year.  In addition to moving to Labor Day weekend, the festival also changed locations to the Washington Convention Center.  And the festival is back down to one day, instead of two, but they added some new evening programs.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about the changes.  The festival didn’t attract as many big name authors this year, and I suspect it’s because some of them didn’t want to give up their long weekend!  The Convention Center is huge, which allowed them to fit more people and have more programs happening at once, but it was hard to find my way around and took a lot longer to move between locations.  On the other hand, we didn’t have to worry about weather, which is definitely a plus.

Laura and Peter Zeranski, authors of Polish Classic Desserts

Laura and Peter Zeranski, authors of Polish Classic Desserts

There were some new categories added this year, and I got to check out two of them: Science and Culinary Arts.  I had mixed feelings about the Culinary Arts section, because I love cooking but don’t really read cookbooks.  However, all of the participants were really well-chosen.  They had a mix of author talks and demonstrations by chefs, and lots of different cuisines were represented.  I saw part of Laura and Peter Zeranski’s talk.  They write award-winning Polish cookbooks.  I’d love to try a few recipes, apparently they have a good collection of traditional holiday foods.

The science talk I saw was by Eric H. Cline, about his book 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed.  He started his talk by showing his book trailer, a great idea.  You can see the it here.  (More authors should make book trailers!)  Cline is a field archaeologist and a professor, and his book is about the end of the Bronze Age.

After complaining about the state of the book sales tent last year, I was happy to see that it is now being hosted by a local DC bookstore, Politics and Prose.  They also had a separate gift shop which sold t-shirts and other souvenirs.  I like this idea, but once again I was disappointed that only the author’s most recent book was for sale.  When I find a new author, especially one who has written a series, I want to start at the beginning!  I would be happy for more of my book money to go to a local bookstore or support the festival, but the poor selection means more than half of my booksale-related purchases will come from Amazon.

Overall, I had an excellent time at the book festival.  Although I missed being at the mall, it was great to have more space for this popular festival!  (Plus, I appreciated the air conditioning)  If you want to know more, check out Of Print and Prose’s Twitter page.  I tweeted live updates throughout the day.  I was able to see a lot of great authors this year!  I’ll write more about them tomorrow!


How to Read Literature Like A Professor by Thomas C. Foster

I start my first day back at school (with students) tomorrow.  I’m excited to get back into the routine, but also lamenting the end of vacation in a pretty major way.  To get me back into the swing of teaching, it seemed fitting to review the book on my summer reading list that got me most excited to start teaching literature again!

Here’s the thing I’ve always loved about going to an English literature class in college (and keep in mind, despite being an English teacher, I was not an English major): You’re assigned a book (probably of pretty high literary acclaim and caliber).  You read it and think, wow, that’s really good.  Then you go to class, and through the professor and your classmates’ insight, you see what’s going on below the surface level of the plot.  And, 99 times out of 100, it is SO MUCH BETTER than you thought.

Here’s the thing I loved about How To Read Literature Like A Professor: The same level of insight, at a significantly reduced price tag.  Also, through Foster’s numerous and well explained examples to illustrate each point he makes, my reading list has grown substantially.  While this confirms that I will unquestionably die before I have a chance to read every book that I really want to, I don’t think that is such a bad thing.

Foster’s book is amazing – if you’re looking to analyze your literature.  If you prefer surface level plot, don’t waste your time.  But, if you want to go deeper into what you’re reading, I highly recommend this book.  It’s engaging and easy to read, written in manageable chapter lengths if you want to go slowly, and gives numerous illustrative examples for each point – so you really understand what you’re reading and could easily apply it to any number of books you happen to have on hand.  A few of the things Foster covers: every trip is a quest (think Hero’s Journey), when in doubt as to an allusion, it’s likely from Shakespeare or the Bible, the deeper meaning of rain in most literature, commonly used literary symbols, and the importance of understanding context.  The great thing about this work is its major applicability – I picked it up to help me better analyze and explain the higher level literature that I read with my classes.  And this will help with that!  But it will also help me to better enjoy the books I read for pleasure, and will definitely come in handy during my informal book club discussions with friends.

Bottom line – sometimes it’s fun to read for plot alone, and that’s totally ok.  But when you’re ready to dig a little deeper (and you control how deep you want to go!), grab this book first.  You will be glad you did!  I give the work 4 stars and know I will be coming back to it again, and again, and again during my reading (and teaching) career. ★★★★


Mean Genes by Terry Burnham and Jay Phelan

I stumbled upon this book in a rather embarrassing way. Unlike my grandmother (I am a child of the internet, after all) I never browse in the library. I decide what I want, look it up online, write down the call number and am in and out in a matter of moments. However, I also have a horrible sense of direction. So when I marched into the Santa Barbara Public Library, list of call numbers in hand, I marched to the totally wrong section (nonfiction… eek!) I didn’t want to immediately turn back so I pretended to browse for awhile. Low and behold, the bright colors of Mean Genes grabbed my attention and in turn, I grabbed Mean Genes!

I studied psychology in college, and towards the end of my degree, starting focusing pretty heavily on evolutionary psych. It’s fascinating. As such, I’m never sure if the information in Mean Genes is common knowledge to everyone, or just me. It covers information such as why we have so much trouble saving money for a rainy day, why we can never seem to eat just one potato chip, and why despite a cultural push for monogamy, so many individuals cheat. It’s because of evolution! Our ancestors didn’t save for a rainy day, because anything of value was likely food, and it went bad if you didn’t eat it right away. The same goes for our eating habits – when you’re starving, you need fat and you need a lot of it. The problem is, we’re not starving (anymore). And monogamy, while absolutely possible today, wasn’t exactly a high priority for our ancestors.

I already knew all that. Maybe you did too. So why bother reading the book? A) Because it’s really funny and I like reading funny things. B) Because it provides engaging summary and analysis of the really interesting experiments that taught us what we know about evolutionary psychology today. And C) Because the authors will provide strategies, self-help fashion, how to use your genes for good and not for evil!

As you all know, I generally steer clear of nonfiction. This is the exception. It’s engaging, funny, and helpful. It is written in such a way that it is easy to get into, and doesn’t feel like homework. I give this book 4 stars and recommend you give it a try! If you like it… Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by my brain-crush Robert Sapolsky should be your next selection. ★★★★

– Becca

Dog Training for Dummies by Jack and Wendy Volhard

Today is the perfect day to finish up our dog days series here at Of Print and Prose.  Today, Reeses and I drove to Richmond to officially complete her adoption!  We got to see some friends from Houlagan’s Rest and hear that all of Reeses’s siblings have also found good homes!

Wallace is a well-trained dog!

Wallace is a well-trained dog!

I feel a little bad reviewing two “for Dummies” books at once, but it’s what I’ve been reading.  This one was recommended by our dad, who has already used it to train his dog Wallace.  I ordered a copy, and we’ve already started using it in training sessions with Reeses.

I really like the way the authors laid out the section on basic training.  They give multiple steps to teach each command, which I find very helpful.  Everything is very specific, with details such as how often to give rewards, how many times per training session to practice a certain command, and so on.  Then, they offer steps to help your dog learn the command with distractions.  After that, they sometimes suggest common sense ways to test your dog’s ability to perform the command, and suggest which step to return to for extra practice.

I was also intrigued by the chapters on nationwide dog training programs.  These were created by the American Kennel Club to promote responsible dog ownership, and unlike many of their competitions, any dog can participate.  The main one is the Canine Good Citizen certificate.  After training, the dog and owner participate in a test.  What I like is that the test is for very sensible skills that help a dog be a good neighbor, such as greeting a friendly stranger.

I have mixed feelings about the range of topics in the book, which didn’t always relate directly to training.  On the one hand, I appreciate the information on grooming.  I can see why this was included, since it is possible to train dogs to get used to having their ears and paws handled, so that they will behave better when they are being groomed.  On the other hand, there was tons of information about nutrition, which seemed a little excessive.  I’m not questioning the importance of good nutrition, but that’s something I would prefer to ask my vet about, as opposed to consulting a reference book.  Plus, it seems only marginally related to training.  That said, the layout of these books makes it very easy to skip past the portions you don’t find helpful and focus on the ones you do.

Some helpful tips I learned from this book are:

1. Use basic commands like “sit” and “stay” to help your dog behave politely in a wide variety of situations.  Reeses is learning to “stay” after she comes in from a walk (instead of climbing under furniture to take a nap.)  It’s a lot easier to take her leash off that way!

2. You can clean your dogs ears with a cotton ball and a mixture of apple cider vinegar and water.

3. The Volhards give specific recommendations for how to help shy dogs get used to meeting new people.  Basically, you have the new person walk by a few times, pausing to toss the dog a treat.  This way, they can gradually get closer without approaching the dog directly or bending over her, which can intimidate a shy dog.

4. Clean your shoes and your dog’s feet when you get home from the dog park.  This helps prevent your dog from catching infections, and they can still make friends.

I’d recommend this book to anyone with a dog.  It is a well-organized reference that would be helpful no matter how old your dog is.  It also has information about advanced training and competitions for those who are interested.  I give this book three and a half stars.  I will be referring to certain chapters regularly, and I definitely think it is worth buying.  ★★★1/2

Elizabeth and Reeses reading together

Elizabeth and Reeses reading together

I hope you enjoyed the Dog Days series!  Please stay tuned for a return to our regular posts!


Dog Sense by John Bradshaw

Out of the books that I read to get ready for Reeses, this book is definitely my favorite!  I found it absolutely fascinating (and I may have annoyed my husband and mother by constantly spouting facts I had just read…)  It was written by an anthrozoologist and draws on scientific research and studies from a variety of other disciplines, such as evolutionary biology and behavioral science.  The full title is Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet.  That was too long to put in the title of this post, but it definitely gives you a sense of the author’s goal.  In my opinion, this book really succeeds at helping dog lovers better understand dog behavior and also shows how we can use this understanding to benefit our pets.

The first point that Bradshaw makes is that dogs are not wolves, and studies of wolf behavior should not be used as the basis for dog training.  He summarizes new scientific evidence to show that our ideas of wolf packs as a strict hierarchy were actually misinformed.  This is important because many dog training techniques assume that dogs will try to become the dominant “alpha” member of their “pack.”  Bradshaw argues that both dogs and wolves are far more cooperative than we previously believed, so to interpret a dog’s misbehavior as an attempt to dominate its family is unfair.

Maggie was the original Of Print and Prose dog.  Sometimes she got a little tired of our reading!

Maggie was the original Of Print and Prose dog. Sometimes she got a little tired of our reading!

Here’s an example from our Of Print and Prose family.  Becca and Mom had been reading, then they got up and left their books on the floor.  Maggie (the dog we had growing up), laid on one book and covered the other with her leg.  Was she trying to assert her dominance in the pack?  Bradshaw would say that sitting on the book that Becca had been reading (instead of paying attention to her) probably seemed like a good way to get some attention.  Seems reasonable to me!

The second main argument of the book is that dogs are not as human as we like to think.  They understand time much differently than we do, and they don’t understand spoken language very well at all.  We all know that dogs can learn to recognize some words, but most humans consistently overestimate what their dog can understand.  For example, Bradshaw wrote that his dog knows the command “sit,” but will also sit if his owner says “jet” in the right tone.  The dog was mainly focused on his owner’s tone and had only learned the final “t” sound in “sit.”  This section resonated with me as I made plans to train a puppy to be a good neighbor in an apartment building.  We place such high expectations on dogs in our society-we want them to be silent, friendly, unobtrusive, etc, etc.  Sometimes we need to remember that our ancestors actually wanted their dogs to bark at strangers, chase rodents, and so on.  Training is important, but it isn’t going to completely undo hundreds of years of selective breeding and a dog’s natural instincts!

Although this book is not a manual on how to train your dog, it was extremely helpful and interesting.  Bradshaw explains the science behind his book in a way that is easy to understand and enjoyable to read.  I found his arguments very persuasive, and I think it has made me a more informed, thoughtful consumer of all the advice currently available to dog owners.  I am very glad that I read this book, and I would recommend it to anyone that is interested in dogs, whether or not they are currently training one.  It is filled with interesting facts about “man’s best friend!” ★★★★