The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Kondo-tidyingupKondo, Marie. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Trans. Cathy Hirano. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 2014. Print.

Genre: nonfiction

Summary: Tidying coach and expert Marie Kondo shares in this book the top-secret techniques she normally teaches one-on-one to clients paying top-dollar. Throughout, she defies conventional wisdom and practice so that the act of tidying up can be done only once in your life and never again. And, if you follow instructions carefully, you might just tidy up your soul, too.

Critique: Did you notice how the title of this book sort of repeats itself? Much of the text will do that, too. Many paragraphs will feel not like a progression of thoughts, but more like multiple iterations of the same sentence. I chalk this up to the difficulties inherent in translating — supremely demonstrated in this snippet from RadioLab.

Besides the repetition, the first fifty pages or so feel like the cousins of a Popeil infomercial. Kondo beats a steady drum to advertise that these methods are hers, hers alone, perfected over decades, beginning when she was but a tweenager obsessed with lifestyle magazines, and that she has trademarked these techniques as the KonMari method. (And in case you couldn’t figure out the etymological roots of that mysterious moniker, she tells you: it is her name, flipped and abbreviated. Well played, Ms. Kondo. Well played.)

I promise I am not merely quibbling over this book’s minor flaws and quirks. My hope is that if you know about these flaws in advance, you will smile at them and then read the book all the way through. Because you should. Kondo has an uncanny way of rooting out why we hoard, why we clutter, why we stockpile, why we acquireandacquireandacquire, how these habits hurt us emotionally, and why our repeated attempts to clean up and get organized ultimately fail within a few months.

As I noted above, Kondo defies our conventional tidying habits. She might as well. They don’t work. But the real knock-out epiphany lurking in her methods is not just its originality. Kondo links the way we treat our home and our stuff to the ways we treat the people in our lives. (Especially ourselves.)

Is it true that how you acquire, keep, and shelve your books is a reflection of how you maintain friendships?

How does a properly folded pair of socks improve your relationship with siblings and parents?

Can you really find true love (or better treasure your soul’s mate) by giving an honorable farewell to old mementos?

Will a tidy home actually make you a more joyful person?

These questions may seem innocuous. Inane. Insane? But when it comes to finding enduring happiness, the questions are as worth the asking as the methods are worth the trying. I mean, heck, think about it. What if all that’s keeping us from experiencing joyous and fulfilling lives is a poorly folded pair of socks?

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Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin

Kuklin_MagentaKuklin, Susan. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out. New York: Candlewick, 2014. Print.

Genre: Nonfiction

Summary: Photographer Susan Kuklin compiles the stories of 6 transgender or gender-neutral teens as they transformed from male to female or female to male. Whichever way they go, these young souls discover that to be happy with who you are on the inside, you must also feel comfortable with what you are on the outside.

Critique: In honor of Caitlyn Jenner’s debut to the world, I just had to share this very excellent book! Whether the former Olympic gold medalist’s gender transformation had you clapping your hands or scratching your head, this book is worth your time and attention. Kuklin profiles six teens and pretty much transcribes their responses to her interview questions. The result is their voice, their take, their experience and profound insight. Photographs fill up other pages, tracking the metamorphic transformation. These photos are more than before-after snaps. They are a revelation of what it looks like when the soul does not harmonize with its shell–and how radiantly it glows when it does!

The stories all revolve around the central question of happiness. What would you be willing to do in order to be happy? It’s a fair question; one we all face.

This book as a lot to teach about the nuances that differentiate gender from sexuality, as well as queer from gay from trans from a million other potential identities. Perhaps the photo-essays from Cameron (who is also featured on the book cover) say it best, likening gender to a spectrum in which some people float while others swim. Unlike floaters, swimmers control where they are on the spectrum at any given time. Is someone in your life learning to swim that spectrum–a friend, a sibling, a partner, a child, a parent? Maybe just you.

Either way, when it comes to achieving happiness, don’t get stuck dog-paddling!

Also, because this is an annotation, it’s worth listing the “few” awards and honors heaped on this book’s shoulders…

A 2015 Stonewall Honor Book
Flora Stieglitz Straus Award for Nonfiction, 2014
Publishers Weekly’s list of Best YA Books of 2014
Kirkus, 10 Best YA Books, 2014
CCBC Choices, Best-of-the-year, 2014
Blue Ribbons, The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, 2014
TAYSHAS 10 Best Books, Texas, 2014
The Advocate, 10 Best Books list for Transgender Non-Fiction,2014, Advocate.com
Books for a Better Life Awards, National Multiple Sclerosis Society [Finalist]
Shelf Awareness, Best Books of 2014
Booklist, Editors’ Choice for 2014
Finalist, Lambda Literary Award, a “Lammy”
Finalist, Cybil Awards 2014
Finalist, 2014 Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award for Young Adult Nonfiction
Notable book, National Council on Social Studies, 2015
ALA Rainbow List, 2015
Top 25 pick for IRA Notable Book for a Global Society