Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe by Yumi Sakugawa – A Review

Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe Yumi Sakugawa

Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe by Yumi Sakugawa
Nonfiction | Graphic Novel | Spirituality
Published by Adams Media
Released 2013
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_3_stars

The older I get, the more interested in spirituality I become. I’ve never been much of a religious person, not enjoying the confines of organized religion. However, I have been finding some solace in quiet meditations and pondering on some of life’s big questions.

I found Yumi Sakugawa’s Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe tucked away in my library’s graphic novel section, and it stuck out to me. It’s a very short book at just 160 pages, and the art is done in a very minimalistic style.

This graphic novel is exactly what it sounds like: a cute, illustrated guide to feeling connected with the universe at large. While it definitely has some “woo-woo” moments, overall this book is meant to be a quick meditation on oneness. It won’t be for everyone. In fact, I had a hard time with it.

The art itself isn’t typically something I would enjoy, but I do feel that it worked well for what this book was. It’s all hand-drawn, black and white, simple doodles.

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The content is what I had trouble with. If I had read this book five years ago, I would have hated it. I prided myself on preferring logic and science over religion and spirituality (perhaps some Vulcan-ness rubbing off on me). As I mentioned before, however, I have been growing more open in the past couple of years, and the book spoke to me more than I was expecting. There is some useful information and advice contained in these pages, and reading it was itself a calming experience.

At the same time though, some of the information was far too “out there” for me. For example, there are several suggestions to lie outside at night and explore the cosmos through your mind. For someone who is a verbal thinker rather than a visual one, it was hard for me to picture doing this.

Much of the information in this book is metaphorical or abstract, which is something else that left me feeling unconnected with it. There’s nothing wrong with metaphors! It’s just that in a format such as this one, I’d prefer information that can be taken at face value. An example is a chapter on “planting seeds” of your hopes and dreams and learning more about yourself as they grow. I get it, I really do. It just didn’t speak to me.

I’m glad that this book encourages meditation and peacefulness, traits that, in my mind, are always positive and good for the spirit. Some people will like this graphic novel more than others depending on how you feel about new-age spirituality. I read the entire book in roughly fifteen minutes, so if you’re even remotely interested in, go for it.




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The (Other) F Word edited by Angie Manfredi – A Review

The Other F Word Angie Manfredi

The (Other) F Word: A Celebration of the Fat and Fierce
Edited by Angie Manfredi
Nonfiction | Essay Collection | Body Positivity | Young Adult
Published by Amulet Books
Released September 24th, 2019
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

Note: I received a free, unsolicited edition from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affects my opinion.

 The (Other) F Word is the type of book that I wish I had discovered in high school. It would have given me more confidence and shown me that it’s okay to love your body, regardless of its size.

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S. Qiouyi Lu

I’m fat. For most of my life, I’ve been overweight. I was the fat kid in school, and I’ve always had an unhealthy relationship with food and my weight. It’s been worse in the past few years, as I lost a drastic amount of weight in my early twenties (over a hundred pounds) and then gained it all back. That experience caused a great deal of discomfort with my body, as I felt like it betrayed me. I viewed it as a win when I lost the weight (which happened during a bipolar manic episode where I literally became obsessed with exercise in a shockingly unhealthy way), and as I gained it back (starting with a depressive episode) I felt like an absolute failure.

It’s only relatively recently that I’ve started learning how to love my body again and this collection of essays helped to give my confidence a boost. While The Other (F) Word is technically meant for teenagers, everyone struggling with their weight or who identify as fat will get some benefit from reading it.

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Saucyé West

While I’m not going to make a full list of each writer included in the collection, some prominent names include Julie Murphy, Alex Gino, P.S. Kaguya, Lily Anderson, S. Qiouyi Lu, Virgie TovarSaucyé West, and Ady Del Valle. Their contributions range from essays to poetry to illustrations and art.

It would take too long to review each essay, but suffice it to say that I gained a lot from reading through this entire collection. There’s advice for where to find clothes that actually fit well, self-care information, powerful motivators, and so much more. There is a wonderfully great amount of inclusivity here in terms of race, gender, sexuality, size, and ability, which is incredible to see.

I’m so glad that many of the essays brought up the fact that doctors and health professionals aren’t always welcoming to fat people. While I’ve been fortunate enough to find a doctor that doesn’t treat my weight as something bad, I have friends who have gone through absolute hell to receive treatment for serious medical conditions. In one case, the doctors automatically assumed that the pain she was experiencing was a result of her weight, and she had to fight to get them to take her seriously. It’s atrocious to me that people have to deal with that kind of treatment from a medical community that is supposed to be there to help, and I’m glad that it’s something that received attention in some of these essays.

If you’re anything like me, it’s inspiring to know that there’s a community of people who look like you who are living their best life and loving their bodies. They know they don’t have to conform to what society and the media believe to be beautiful because they already know that they’re beautiful and wonderful. This collection is one that I can see myself coming back to over and over again when I have any negative thoughts about body image or just when I want to be inspired. I would recommend The (Other) F Word to everyone.


Pair with a candle for maximum relaxation!

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Champagne Toast White Barn 3-Wick Scented Candle


Have you read The (Other) F Word? If so, what did you think?

Who are your favorite body-positive influencers? Let us know in the comments!




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They Called Us Enemy by George Takei – A Review

They Called Us Enemy George Takei

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, & Steven Scott
Art by Harmony Becker
Non-Fiction | Graphic Novel | History | Memoir
Published by Top Shelf Productions
Released July 16th, 2019
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

There are parts of American history that the people in power would like for you to forget, and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II is one of those. I wasn’t taught about this in high school, even while discussing World War II, and it wasn’t until college that I found out about the prejudice and hate that Americans of Japanese descent had to live through following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.

Hopefully, George Takei is a name that is already familiar to you. You’ll definitely know him if you’re a Star Trek fan as I am, as he played Hikaru Sulu in The Original Series.

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George Takei was born to Japanese-American parents in southern California in 1937. In 1942, when George was just four-years-old, his family was one of many rounded up unfairly and sent to an internment camp. They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s memoir of his family’s experience living in three different internment camps, one as far away as Arkansas.

Told as a graphic novel with wonderful, simple art done by Harmony Becker, this is a heartbreaking book to read. It’s hard to imagine a level of hate and fear so great that America would support internment camps for people of a particular ancestry.

As I mentioned before, I was not taught about this period of our history in school, which is offensive to the people who had to live through it. Takei’s book is accessible for all ages, and I sincerely hope that it makes its way into schools all over the country.

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As hard to read as this real-life account was, it was also inspiring at times. I was incredibly impressed at how Takei’s parents tried as hard as they could to make their children’s lives normal. His father worked to make conditions better in the camp for everyone while his mother tried to make their new “home” more liveable. All of the families who were sent to these camps lost so much – their homes, possessions, jobs, and links to the outside world.

In many cases, these families were given little to no warning that they were about to be forced to leave their homes behind.

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One of the Japanese-American internment camps

One of the most difficult moments in the book came when the people living in the internment camps discovered that America had dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Takei family had relatives living in Hiroshima, who died that day. They were locked up with their grief, along with other families grieving for their relatives as well, with no way to fight back. They weren’t allowed to travel and were unable to properly mourn for their loved ones in Japan. I can’t even begin to imagine the horror that so many people had to experience.

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Towards the end of the book, Takei writes about how little he realized was happening when he was young and learning about it through his father afterward. The anger he felt when he thought they hadn’t done enough to prevent it to a greater understanding is all portrayed honestly here. Takei also discusses the racism and prejudice that ran rampant in Hollywood when he got started as an actor, and how Star Trek was the role of a lifetime for him.

I cannot urge you enough to read this graphic novel. It’s too easy to forget the horrors that governments and angry citizens can lay down on people, and it’s something that we should never forget. Donate this book to schools, share it with others, read it yourself – let’s not forget what happened to the Japanese-American population during World War II, and let’s prevent it from ever happening again.


Have you read They Called Us Enemy? What did you think? Were you taught about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II? Let me know in the comments.




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Healthy as F*ck by Oonagh Duncan – A Review

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Healthy as F*ck: The Habits You Need to Get Lean, Stay Healthy, and Kick Ass at Life by Oonagh Duncan
Nonfiction | Health & Fitness
Published by Sourcebooks
Goodreads | Amazon
Release Date: September 17, 2019
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

Note: I received a free ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affects my opinion.

As I grow older, I put more and more time into self-improvement. Especially with having depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, it’s really important to me to stay on top of my health. It hasn’t been easy this past year, and as of this writing I’m overweight and still experimenting with medications to treat the above-mentioned conditions, but this book was a great motivator to put some new, healthy habits in place.

I requested an ARC of this book as soon as I saw it, and am so, so thankful to Sourcebooks for sending me a copy. It’s honestly the best self-help book I’ve read since starting this blog.

Healthy as F*ck is a no-nonsense look at creating healthy habits to improve your health and fitness. Oonagh Duncan doesn’t fluff up any of this book with woo-woo nonsense, which is something that I come across so often in the self-help genre. Instead, she focuses on the most important part of getting healthy – creating solid habits.

How many of us have started a new workout routine or diet, only to give it up a week later? I know I have, and I imagine most of us have at some point. Focusing on habits first is so obvious, and yet I don’t think it’s talked about enough. For that alone, I’d recommend Duncan’s book to anyone wanting to get healthier.

The other reason I love this book so much is that she emphasizes many times that you need to be happy now and in your current body before you can be happy at a lower weight. She’s completely right that losing weight won’t make you happy in and of itself. This is something I’ve lived through and can vouch for. I’ve weighed as little as 115 lbs and as much as 270. I can say for sure that in my own experience, my happiness depended on my mental health, the people I surrounded myself with, and how I chose to spend my time far more than on a number on a scale.

This book is packed with an insane amount of information. I went through an entire stack of page tabs while reading it. Since finishing it a few days ago, I’ve already found myself coming back to it over and over again for advice and to remind myself why it’s important to focus on my habits.

If you’re looking for a great book to motivate you to be happier and to make better habits that will lead to you being a healthier person, look no further. Oonagh Duncan’s Healthy as F*ck is a perfect choice.




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$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn Edin – A Review

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$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn Edin & H. Luke Shaefer
Non-fiction | Social Issues | Economics
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Released September 1, 2015
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

Every single one of us knows that poverty exists. You may have even experienced poverty yourself. The fact that there are people and families that are trying to get by on less than $2.00 a day is a little less known because many of these people fall under the radar in America.

Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer’s nonfiction book about these families is both eye-opening and disheartening. In a country where we pride ourselves on our standard of living and consumerism seems to rule our habits and thoughts, it’s shameful learning about people who are skipping meals or turning to prostitution just to make sure their children have something to eat come dinnertime.

The authors took a look at families in a few different areas, from the south side of Chicago to the rural areas of Tennesee. There were examples of people whose only income was from donating plasma a few times a month, or of a family with nearly twenty people under one roof, all just trying to just survive.

By the end of this book, I found that I was angry at the systems in place that are supposed to be helping people like this.

Something that I don’t talk about very often is that I spent two years at university studying political science and dropped out because the idealism I’d always had turned into cynicism at realizing that there’s not enough that one person can do to change things. This book reminded me of that. Yes, there are definitely ways to help, such as donating food to a food pantry, volunteering time or money to organizations that bring food to low-income areas, and more, but those things are minuscule in the grand scheme of things. For people to get out of that sort of severe, hard-to-fathom poverty, it’s going to take a lot more, and a lot of help from local, state, and the federal government.

Read Yourself Happy is not a place where I want to get political. This is a space for literature and wellness. Therefore, I’m not going to get into any long rants about the state of our country and social programs. Suffice it to say that this book left me in tears and that no one should have to resort to some of the extreme measures that the people interviewed for this book has. In a country of relative wealth and plenty of resources, it’s a disgrace that there are people working trying to survive by selling their SNAP benefits or turning to illegal means because they literally have run out of other options.

Today there is no state in the Union in which a family that is supported by a full-time, minimum-wage worker can afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent without being cost burdened, according to HUD.

This book does a great job of looking at America’s social programs throughout the last few decades, such as Welfare and TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families). It also shows how it’s not a matter of people not having jobs – most of the people interviewed for this book want to work, but they either don’t have access to a job or get fired for trivial reasons because they work for companies that do not have their workers’ welfare in mind.

Not only do they pay low wages, but those who work them are often subject to variable hours and are seldom offered benefits such as affordable health insurance, paid vacations, or retirement plans.

Another thing the book does very well is by showing the reality of this kind of poverty. Things such as having to stand in line for hours to try to get government aid, and even then not be guaranteed to be seen that way. Also, while SNAP is a great benefit for people, it doesn’t turn into cash for them to pay their electric or water bills. Also, the mental strain on people living like this can be extreme:

Rae likely suffers from the effects of what researchers refer to as “toxic stress,” defined as “strong, frequent, or prolonged activation of the body’s stress response systems in the absence of the buffering protection of a supportive, adult relationship.” She is on near-constant high alert—never knowing when a new threat may emerge or an old one may reappear. And she is always dealing with crisis in one form or another. Exposure to toxic stress affects people mentally and even physically. It can impair “executive functions, such as decision-making, working memory, behavioral self-regulation, and mood and impulse control.” It “may result in anatomic changes and/or physiologic dysregulations that are the precursors of later impairments in learning and behavior as well as the roots of chronic, stress-related physical and mental illness.” Toxic stress can literally wear you down and, in the end, kill you.

I think this is an important book that everyone should read, and I think books that discuss poverty in America, including what’s come to be called “the working poor” (people who work 40+ hours a week and are still below the poverty line), should be required reading in high schools and universities throughout the country. If you pick this book up, prepare to be infuriated at the conditions that the poorest in America have to live with.




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The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han by Mark Edward Lewis – A Review

The Book

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The Early Chinese Empires – Qin and Han (History of Imperial China Book 1) by Mark Edward Lewis
Goodreads
Published by Harvard University Press
Released June 30, 2009
Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | ThriftBooks | Books-a-Million

Synopsis

This book focuses on the history of the Qin and Han dynasties in early Chinese history. From how the empires got started, to individual emperors, their wars with the nomadic peoples of the north, and how the lives of normal peasants looked, this non-fiction book contains all the information you need on the Qin and Han dynasties. Throughout the pages are also maps of the areas being talked about and images of ancient Chinese art to help illustrate the ideas.

I wanted to include some of my favorite bits of information from this book, in no particular order, to give you an idea of the types of things you can learn from it:

  • In many of the earliest Chinese empires, such as the Zhou, conformity was favored by the ruling classes, and people saw regional variations in behavior and dress as belonging to a to a lower class of person.
  • Wang Mang’s Xin dynasty was incredibly short-lived, lasting only seventeen years. He was a Confucian ruler who implemented a number of reforms that eventually led to the rebellion that ousted him. Such reforms included confiscating and redistributing land in equal plots, which infuriated much of the population.
  • There was a system in place for people to police one another in much of early Chinese history. For example, if someone broke the law or committed a grievous crime, their entire family could be punished for multiple generations, as well as the entire town in which they inhabited. People failing to report crimes would also be punished, and some of these punishments were harsh: “Anyone who failed to report criminal activity would be chopped in two at the waist, while those who reported it would receive the same reward as that for obtaining the head of an enemy.”
  • Some emperors would build replica palaces of areas that they conquered in battle. “Because palaces were seen as the embodiment of states, the Qin could symbolically annex a state by destroying its original palace and rebuilding a ‘captive’ replica in its own capital.”

Review

Before I begin this review, I would like to preface it by saying that I’ve always loved historical non-fiction. In fact, in high school and my first couple years of university, it was what I primarily read for fun. I grew up loving history and wanting to constantly learn new things, so I was always seeking out new history books to read.

From the time I read Foundations of Chinese Civilizations by Jing Liu I knew I wanted to learn more about the Qin and Han dynasties. The histories of both sounded so fascinating, and I saw this book at my local library when I was searching for books for my #readtheworldchina challenge.

Although this book does contain a lot of interesting information, it was so dry that I had trouble reading it. I didn’t even finish it if I’m being honest. I made it about two-thirds of the way through, and I was starting to feel bored just looking at the cover. I decided to DNF this book because I was no longer able to focus on it. The whole time I was reading it I was actually thinking about other books that I could be reading instead.

I think it’s easy to make non-fiction enjoyable if you focus on the people involved and the reasons behind the things they did rather than minute details and dates. This felt more academic than enjoyable, so if you’re writing an essay on the Qin and Han dynasties of Imperial China, then I actually would recommend this book to you. However, if you’re looking for a fun read, this might not be it.

Verdict

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Although there is great information in this book, it was too dry and laborious for me to give it more than two stars.