The Defining Decade

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Truthfully, I haven’t read that many self-help books. There’s a whole market dedicated to them that seem to tell you the same thing: you can be healthy by doing this or that. The Defining Decade, though, is one I found different because of the fact that it is written by a licensed clinical psychologist. I first found out about it through an NPR interview the author gave.

Meg Jay, Ph.D., is a psychologist who has worked in Virginia and California. Several of her clients were twentysomethings who found themselves at a crossroads in their lives. This nonfiction book is a compilation of her experience with those clients (with name and life details changed, obviously) and how she worked with each of them through their issues. After awhile, she realized that there wasn’t a book that focused on the importance of your 20s, which, in her opinion, is when certain decisions are the most critical and can affect the rest of our lives. And so began the basis for the Defining Decade.

The book is split into three sections: love, work and the brain and the body. Each section features the various predicaments of Dr. Jay’s clients, interspersed with facts, history and stories that relate to the issue and how they can help one work through the problem. For example, in one account that describes one twentysomething having trouble finding a job, Dr. Jay talks about the importance of utilizing connections: contacting the alumni from your alma mater, or even an old high school classmate. What makes it more interesting is the psychological angle she puts on it, like why someone is likely to reach out to a person that they don’t know.

One of the major reasons I liked this book is because the accounts documented people like me: those who came from middle-class families, went to college and are trying to figure out what exactly to do with their lives. I found this a contrast from some books “written” by celebrities in which they recall their experiences and struggles, which I’ve found harder to relate to since they usually have plenty of money and no worry about paying rent.

I definitely recommend this book as a read on the reality of how our 20s can be.


Zen in the Art of Writing

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This book suggestion actually came from an author herself. Maya Van Wagenen, whose book Popular I previously reviewed, answered the letter I had sent her earlier in the year. Responding to my question on writing tips, she recommended this book to me.

Prior to reading this book, I was slightly familiar with Ray Bradbury, having read several short stories of his for my high school English class. His novel Fahrenheit 451 is also a popular choice for high school curriculum. I knew his common themes were dystopia and technology. But I wasn’t aware that he had written a book about writing.

This book is split into sections, consisting of a series of essays written over a period of several years. The topics include some of his memories, and a lot of narratives about how he got ideas for his stories. I’ve always been interested in how some authors get the concept for a book in their head.

Although some of the essays were written some years ago, a lot of his perspectives are still relevant to today.

One of the points he talks about is how one should not write just for profit, but because they want to and for their pleasure. It makes me think of how a lot of actresses, singers and other celebrities have books, although most of the time I feel like they were just in it for the money. I admit, I have read some of these books, to see how they compare to people who made their name as writers.

The oldness of the book is reflected in some of his tips. Throughout the chapters, he continually refers to someone writing on their typewriter. Since this book was released in the 1980s, it makes sense that people would still have typewriters before computers exploded in popularity. Laptops didn’t even really become popular until the 1990s, and it only became normal to own one in the last ten years or so.

I myself am writing this review on a new Dell laptop I just got about a week ago, the first completely brand new laptop I have ever owned and that I bought with my own money. But as he says, it’s necessary to have the right tools to be a writer, and having a laptop or some sort of writing device is good to have.