Guides for Better Living From Around the World

Nishant Choksi

Right now, I’m a bit embarrassed to be an American. Not usually. But now. If I see a tourist on the street looking lost, it’s all I can do not to blurt, “I’m sorry about what our president said today and will say tomorrow,” along with directions to the No. 6 train.

I must have a lot of company. How else to explain the staggering pile of self-help books where Americans are offered the path to a better life via the rituals and outlook of other countries? Last year there were lessons in happiness and well-being, via hygge from Denmark. And this year? Japan is teaching us to seize the day (humbly). Sweden is showing us how to find balance and simplify our lives. And France is showing us, well, everything else. Naturellement. Just because they invented Camembert and guilt-free sex, they think they’re soooo perfect.

A FRENCHWOMAN’S GUIDE TO SEX AFTER SIXTY, by the psychotherapist Marie de Hennezel, immediately catches your attention because the cover shows a woman of a certain age glancing coquettishly over the bedsheets. But that age isn’t 40. It’s perhaps 75. So this isn’t the American version of old; it’s the French version, which is to say: old. And that’s what makes this volume uniquely French: It’s deeply un-American in its realism. Aches and pains, medications that reduce libido, a diminution of hormones that mean friction is tougher on our naughty bits and of course the occasional urge to cover all the mirrors in the house: Aging ain’t pretty, Hennezel admits. Yet for many of us, Eros lives, and Eros wants its due. What’s called for, then, is a revolution in the way we look at sexuality: a de-emphasis on orgasms in favor of kissing and caressing, more solo play to connect with our erotic selves and “making affection” as an alternative to making love. Feeling good through exercise and a healthy diet is paramount; looking younger through plastic surgery is mentioned not at all. Reading the stories of septuagenarians and octogenarians who are finding love or intimacy or sometimes just sex, one is reminded that the very French concept of joie de vivre — a sense of joy that comes from curiosity and playfulness, from looking outward instead of inward — is its own form of Botox.

This joie is very much at the heart of Jamie Cat Callan’s lively PARISIAN CHARM SCHOOL: French Secrets for Cultivating Love, Joy and That Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi. Maybe “Parisian Charm School” seems so thorough because Callan, who has written several previous books on various aspects of French life, is an American; she approaches her subject with anthropological rigor. Here that subject is French charm, which is some combination of intellectual curiosity, spontaneity, style and a soupçon of reserve. Charm, she points out, can’t be Googled; it must be cultivated. Yet, at its heart, it’s a tangle of contradictions. As a fashion consultant Callan interviewed put it, “Never be too feminine, too girlie. Never be too complicated. Too obvious. Never look like you’re trying. But you must try!” Being French seems kind of exhausting. Still, we clumsy Americans can worship at this shrine and maybe pick up a few tricks. Who, after all, doesn’t want to be like the woman in this line Callan quotes from Colette: “When she raises her eyelids, it’s as if she were taking off all her clothes.”

Perhaps Sweden was a little jealous of all the lifestyle-giving attention its Danish neighbor received, so this year brings us Linnea Dunne’s LAGOM: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living. Loosely translated, lagom means “not too little, not too much, but just enough,” making Sweden the Goldilocks of nations, one that earned an article on the website of the World Economic Forum called “Why Sweden Beats Other Countries at Just About Everything.” The reason, it seems, is that Sweden makes the concept of “the greater good” practically into a religion. You start with free education and universal health care and end with great pastry (and the regular coffee breaks — fika — to enjoy it). Fairness and moderation are basic cultural values: “Lagom is accepting an invitation to spend the weekend at a friend’s house, but bringing your own bedsheets because it’s fair to share the burden of laundry. … It’s wearing bright-red lipstick, but leaving the rest of your makeup perfectly understated.” There’s a reason Gianni Versace founded his luxury fashion empire in Italy and H & M was born in Sweden: “There’s this inherent celebrating of frugality in Sweden. We like affordable clothes because it’s a bit vulgar to splash out.”

If anything sums up the gestalt of this book — and Sweden — it’s this: Swedes are rated among the world’s top 10 happiest people, but not the happiest. That would be excessive. The aim isn’t ecstasy but “sustainable happiness,” the sort of equilibrium that’s achieved through small moments of calm and bliss in your everyday routine. So, to live the lagom way, invite your friends round for fika, spend time in nature, give away items that don’t add to your pleasure in life — and, most important, help a neighbor.

The primacy of the common good extends to everything in Sweden, including shuffling off this mortal coil. Reading THE GENTLE ART OF SWEDISH DEATH CLEANING: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter, I couldn’t help thinking of my own parents, who were mild hoarders. When they were in their 80s and I meekly suggested that maybe they should get their home in order, my father’s response was: “Why? Soon it’ll be your problem.”

Margareta Magnusson is writing for people with families like mine — and maybe yours. Americans are just too much, she gently suggests. Swedes embrace consideration and minimalism, and the practice of “death cleaning” (which can start in your 30s — why wait?) embodies those values. “Let me help make your loved ones’ memories of you nice — instead of awful,” she says, and proceeds to do just that in this short, practical guide to getting rid of stuff. You categorize, normally going from large objects to small; you give things away or sell them, particularly if you have a family you know is going to bicker. And you never, ever start with photos or other items of great sentiment because you’re likely to get stuck. And oh, how right Magnusson is. After my parents passed away, my own death cleaning consisted of looking at old photos, then immediately giving up — taking everything they owned and putting it into a massive storage unit that has sucked up money for seven years. I may have to reread her book.

In Japanese, iki means “to live” and gai means “reason” — in other words, the reason to live and how you define it. Ken Mogi begins AWAKENING YOUR IKIGAI: How the Japanese Wake Up to Joy and Purpose Every Day with a story meant to illustrate the importance of this concept to the Japanese. He describes a famed sushi chef whose Tokyo restaurant is visited by President Barack Obama during a state visit and who is told by the president that his sushi was the best he had ever eaten. No big deal. “Ikigai resides in the realm of small things,” Mogi explains. “The morning air, the cup of coffee, the ray of sunshine, the massaging of octopus meat and the American president’s praise are on equal footing.”

Not really! Can I skip No. 4?

Mogi, a celebrity neuroscientist and broadcaster who has written more than 100 books, describes the five pillars of the ikigai way of life: “starting small,” “releasing yourself,” “harmony and sustainability,” “the joy of small things” and “being in the here and now” (what we might call “mindfulness”). And he demonstrates how some of the rituals most important to Japanese culture, from the tea ceremony to sumo wrestling, are based on these tenets. I admit that certain principles he espouses utterly baffled this Westerner, particularly the notion that in Japan finding purpose and joy in work, even work that requires great individuality and creativity, comes from a sublimation of the ego. He cites the example of the great anime artist Hayao Miyazaki, whose work is so repetitive and painstaking. Wait, if we all know who he is, how is he subsuming his ego? In work, Mochi explains, you have to be like a child, because “a child has no definite idea of the past or the future.” Seriously? Tell that to a 5-year-old screaming, “When will we get there?” in the back seat of a car because “there” involves ice cream.

I’m not sure if I could live in Japan for more than a week, what with all the appreciating of teeny porcelain objects and self-abnegation, but “Awakening Your Ikigai” is really quite a delightful look at sometimes mystifying Japanese traditions. (Spoiler alert: There’s a lot more to sumo wrestling than chubby dudes with man buns and diapers.) I can’t resist noting that in 2009, Mogi was charged with violation of Japanese tax laws for failing to report several million dollars in income. See? I guess America does have something to teach the citizens of other nations.

By Judith Newman, Jan. 23, 2018, first appearing in NYT > Books

Editor’s Note:

Judith Newman’s “To Siri With Love: A Mother, Her Autistic Son and the Kindness of Machines” was published in August. Her column appears every eight weeks.

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All Good Magazines Go to Heaven

The Hyman Archive in London, the world’s largest private magazine collection according to Guinness, contains more than 120,000 titles. Its founder, James Hyman, began collecting magazines as a teenager. Credit:Lauren Fleishman for The New York Times

LONDON — When James Hyman was a scriptwriter at MTV Europe, in the 1990s, before the rise of the internet, there was a practical — as well as compulsive — reason he amassed an enormous collection of magazines. “If you’re interviewing David Bowie, you don’t want to be like, ‘O.K., mate, what’s your favorite color?’,” he said. “You want to go through all the magazines and be able to say, ‘Talk about when you did the Nazi salute at Paddington Station in 1976.’ You want to be like a lawyer when he preps his case.”

Whenever possible, Mr. Hyman tried to keep two copies of each magazine he acquired. One pristine copy was for his nascent magazine collection and another was for general circulation among his colleagues, marked with his name to ensure it found its way back to him. The magazines he used to research features on musicians and bands formed the early core of what became the Hyman Archive, which now contains approximately 160,000 magazines, most of which are not digitally archived or anywhere on the internet.

It was frigid inside the archive during a recent visit — a good 10 degrees colder than the chilly air outside — and the staff were bundled up. Space heaters illuminated a nest that Tory Turk (the creative lead), Alexia Marmara (the editorial lead) and Mr. Hyman had made for themselves amid boxes of donations to the collection. It lines more than 3,000 feet of shelving in a former cannon foundry in the 18th-century Royal Arsenal complex in Woolwich, a suburban neighborhood abutting the Thames in southeast London.

The Hyman Archive was confirmed as the largest collection of magazines in 2012 by Guinness World Records; then, it had just 50,953 magazines, 2,312 of them unique titles. Now, a year and a half after Mr. Hyman was interviewed by BBC Radio 4, donations are pouring in, and amid them Mr. Hyman and his staff have carved out space for an armchair and a snack-laden desk. (The rest of the foundry is a storage facility used mostly by media companies to house their film archives and the obsolete technology with which they were made.)

Stacks of British Vogue in the archive. Credit:Lauren Fleishman for The New York Times

At a moment when the old titans like Condé Nast and Time Inc. are contracting, shape-shifting and anxiously hashtagging, herein lies a museum of real magazine making, testament to the old glossy solidity. The price of admission, however, is stiff: visitors can do research with a staffer’s aid for 75 pounds per hour (about $100), with negotiable day rates (and a student discount of 20 percent), or gingerly borrow a magazine for three working days for £50.

“I always knew it was a cultural resource and that there was value in it,” Mr. Hyman said of the archive. But having the collection verified by Guinness was about validation, he said, “because then people might take it more seriously than just thinking: ‘Some lunatic’s got a warehouse full of magazines.’”

Ms. Turk has a knack for repackaging Mr. Hyman’s animated monologues into what in the trade are called sound bites. “I maintain that James always had the foresight that this was going to be something else, more than just a sort of collector’s dream,” she said. “The archive is all about preserving and documenting the history of print.”

Go here for the rest of the article…

By David Shaftel, Jan. 24, 2018, first appearing in NYT > Books

Best Sellers: June Update – DELUXE SUMMER READING EDITION

The New York Times Best Sellers List

Combined Print & E-Book Fiction

  1. THE OUTSIDER by Stephen King (NEW)

36000789An eleven-year-old boy is found in a town park, hideously assaulted and murdered. The fingerprints (and later DNA) are unmistakably those of the town’s most popular baseball coach, Terry Maitland, a man of impeccable reputation, with a wife and two daughters. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland coached, orders an immediate and public arrest. Maitland is taken to jail, his claim to innocence scorned. Maitland has a foolproof alibi, with footage to prove that he was in another city when the crime was committed. But that doesn’t save him either.

  1. THE 17TH SUSPECT by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

The latest installment in the Women’s Murder Club series. Detective Lindsay Boxer searches for a killer in San Francisco.

  1. THE FALLEN by David Baldacci

Amos Decker, known as the Memory Man, puts his talents toward solving a string of murders in a Rust Belt town.

  1. BEACH HOUSE REUNION by Mary Alice Monroe (NEW)

Three generations of a family gather one summer in South Carolina.

  1. THE CAST by Danielle Steel

A magazine columnist meets an array of Hollywood professionals when a producer turns a story about her grandmother into a TV series.

  1. REBEL HEART by Penelope Ward and Vi Keeland (NEW)

A sequel to “Rebel Heir.” The summer fling between Rush and Gia continues.

  1. THE MIDNIGHT LINE by Lee Child

Jack Reacher tracks down the owner of a pawned West Point class ring and stumbles upon a large criminal enterprise.

  1. LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng

An artist upends a quiet town outside Cleveland.

  1. ROGUE ROYALTY by Meghan March (NEW)

The final book in the Savage trilogy.

  1. BEFORE WE WERE YOURS by Lisa Wingate

A South Carolina lawyer learns about the questionable practices of a Tennessee orphanage.

  1. TWISTED PREY by John Sandford

The 28th book in the Prey series. A federal marshal looks into the actions of a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

  1. THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR by Shari Lapena

A couple’s secrets emerge after their baby disappears.

  1. THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin Hannah

A former prisoner of war returns from Vietnam and moves his family to Alaska, where they face tough conditions.

  1. BY INVITATION ONLY by Dorothea Benton Frank

Two families are brought together when the daughter of a Chicago power broker and the son of a Southern peach farmer decide to wed.

  1. THE HIGH TIDE CLUB by Mary Kay Andrews

An eccentric millionaire enlists the attorney Brooke Trappnell to fix old wrongs, which sets up a potential scandal and murder.

 

Combined Print & E-Book Nonfiction

  1. THE RESTLESS WAVE by John McCain and Mark Salter (NEW)

36254351“I don’t know how much longer I’ll be here. Maybe I’ll have another five years. Maybe, with the advances in oncology, they’ll find new treatments for my cancer that will extend my life. Maybe I’ll be gone before you read this. My predicament is, well, rather unpredictable. But I’m prepared for either contingency, or at least I’m getting prepared. I have some things I’d like to take care of first, some work that needs finishing, and some people I need to see. And I want to talk to my fellow Americans a little more if I may.” So writes John McCain in this inspiring, moving, frank, and deeply personal memoir. 

  1. FACTS AND FEARS by James R. Clapper with Trey Brown (NEW)

The former director of national intelligence describes events that challenged the intelligence community and considers some ethical questions around its efforts.

  1. THE SOUL OF AMERICA by Jon Meacham

The Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer contextualizes the present political climate through the lens of difficult moments in American history.

  1. HOW TO CHANGE YOUR MIND by Michael Pollan

A personal account of how psychedelics might help the mentally ill and people dealing with everyday challenges.

  1. BARRACOON by Zora Neale Hurston

A previously unpublished, first-person account of Cudjo Lewis, a man who was transported and enslaved 50 years after the slave trade was banned.

  1. BAD BLOOD by John Carreyrou (NEW)

The rise and fall of Theranos, the biotech startup that failed to deliver on its promise to make blood testing more efficient.

  1. A HIGHER LOYALTY by James Comey

The former F.B.I. director recounts cases and personal events that shaped his outlook on justice, and analyzes the leadership styles of three presidents.

  1. KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON by David Grann

The story of a murder spree in 1920s Oklahoma that targeted Osage Indians, whose lands contained oil.

  1. SAPIENS by Yuval Noah Harari

How Homo sapiens became Earth’s dominant species.

  1. EDUCATED by Tara Westover

The daughter of survivalists, who is kept out of school, educates herself enough to leave home for university.

  1. HILLBILLY ELEGY by J.D. Vance

A Yale Law School graduate looks at the struggles of the white working class through the story of his own childhood.

  1. I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK by Michelle McNamara

The late true-crime journalist’s search for the serial murderer and rapist known as “the Golden State Killer.”

  1. THREE DAYS IN MOSCOW by Bret Baier and Catherine Whitney

The Fox News anchor describes Ronald Reagan’s 1988 visit to the Soviet capital.

  1. FACTFULNESS by Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund

A look at our biases and the argument for why the world is in a better state than we might think.

  1. ROBIN by Dave Itzkoff

A New York Times journalist details the career and struggles of the actor and comedian Robin Williams.

Best Sellers: May Update

NYT Combined Print & E-Book Fiction

  1. THE FALLEN by David Baldacci (NEW)

Amos Decker and his journalist friend Alex Jamison are visiting the home of Alex’s sister in Barronville, a small town in western Pennsylvania that has been hit hard economically. When Decker is out on the rear deck of the house talking with Alex’s niece, a precocious eight-year-old, he notices flickering lights and then a spark of flame in the window of the house across the way. When he goes to investigate he finds two dead bodies inside and it’s not clear how either man died. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s something going on in Barronville that might be the canary in the coal mine for the rest of the country.

  1. READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline
  2. AFTER ANNA by Lisa Scottoline
  3. CAMINO ISLAND by John Grisham
  4. THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin Hannah
  5. THE FAMILY GATHERING by Robyn Carr (NEW)

Having left the military, Dakota Jones is at a crossroads in his life. But, like every visitor to Sullivan’s Crossing, he’s immediately drawn to the down-to-earth people and the seemingly simple way of life. Dakota is unprepared for how quickly things get complicated. As a newcomer, he is on everyone’s radar—especially the single women in town. While he enjoys the attention at first, he’s really only attracted to the one woman who isn’t interested. And spending quality time with his siblings is eye-opening. As he gets to know them, he also gets to know himself and what he truly wants.

  1. LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng
  2. BEFORE WE WERE YOURS by Lisa Wingate
  3. I’VE GOT MY EYES ON YOU by Mary Higgins Clark
  4. NOIR by Christopher Moore (NEW)

It’s not every afternoon that an enigmatic, comely blonde named Stilton (like the cheese) walks into the scruffy gin joint where Sammy “Two Toes” Tiffin tends bar. It’s love at first sight, but before Sammy can make his move, an Air Force general named Remy arrives with some urgent business. ’Cause when you need something done, Sammy is the guy to go to; he’s got the connections on the street. But, when one of Sammy’s schemes go south and the Cheese mysteriously vanishes, Sammy is forced to contend with his own dark secrets—and more than a few strange goings on—if he wants to find his girl.

Whenever, Wherever

Can’t find time to read? Some illustrated solutions.

Grant Snider is a cartoonist and illustrator, and the author, most recently, of “The Shape of Ideas.”

Bar Americans From Man Booker Prize, Fed-Up British Authors Urge

George Saunders, who won the 2017 Man Booker Prize for “Lincoln in the Bardo,” was the second consecutive American to receive the award. The eligibility rules were changed in 2014. Credit: Chris Jackson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

LONDON — The Man Booker Prize is Britain’s most prestigious literary award. But for the past two years, American writers have dominated the competition — and authors from Britain and the Commonwealth countries are none too pleased.

The crescendo of frustration may have reached a peak. A group that counts the literary heavyweights Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan and Zadie Smith among its members has fired a shot across the bow, demanding that the Man Booker Foundation reverse a 2014 decision making any novel written in English and published in Britain eligible for the prize.

Leading authors and critics from the group, the Rathbones Folio Academy, bashed the Booker’s policy anew this week, arguing that changing the rules had taken away the distinctiveness of the prize, which was previously limited to writers from Britain, Ireland, Zimbabwe and the Commonwealth.

They also criticized the way in which the Man Booker, begun in 1969, had highlighted less well known and prominent literature.

“The Man Booker used to provide a point of focus each year for British and Commonwealth fiction, a sense that this had some identity-in-difference, and that British and Commonwealth novels were in some sense ‘talking to one another’ — as distinct from any conversation going on in U.S. fiction,” Tessa Hadley, a British author and member of the Folio Academy, said by email. “Now, it’s as though we’re perceived, and perceive ourselves, as only a subset of U.S. fiction, lost in its margins and eventually, this dilution of the community of writers plays out in the writing,” she added.

Read the rest of the article here…

April Best Sellers

NYT Combined Print & E-Books FICTION Best Sellers

  1. ACCIDENTAL HEROES by Danielle Steel (NEW)

35518466A decorated former Air Force pilot. A pregnant flight attendant. A dedicated TSA agent. The fates of these three, and many others, converge in Danielle Steel’s gripping new novel—a heart-stopping thriller that engages ordinary men and women in the fight of their lives during a flight from New York to San Francisco.

  1. THE PUNISHMENT SHE DESERVES by Elizabeth George (NEW)
  2. CAMINO ISLAND by John Grisham
  3. READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline
  4. THE BISHOP’S PAWN by Steve Berry (NEW)
  5. THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin Hannah
  6. COVERT GAME by Christine Feehan (NEW)
  7. LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng
  8. THE RISING SEA by Clive Cussler and Graham Brown
  9. THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW by A.J. Finn

And, for those that enjoy a bit more reality (or reality adjacent “alternative facts”) in their reading:

NYT Combined Print & E-Books NON-FICTION Best Sellers