Before I get to my review of probably the most important book you’ll read in 2011 (…or 12…whenever you get to it), I wanted to share this pretty rad website – 15 Super Cool Bookcases for the Modern Home. Now, some of them are downright ridiculous and I do not live in a “modern home” by any stretch of the imagination, but everyone’s entitled to their own ugly tastes. The one I absolutely loved was the Contemporary Q one but I’m pretty sure my dad could build that for about $20.00, not $2000.00. I also enjoyed the one that totally looked like a Plinko board, but only because it looked like maybe I could win up to $10,000 if I slid a book down it or something. Love me some TPIS and of course, Drew Carey.
Anyway, when I heard about the book My Year With Eleanor by Noelle Hancock, I immediately (okay, after I got a gift card for a bookstore…I’m poor, sue me) went and bought it. It had all the elements of a life-changing book for me.
I am admittedly afraid of everything, but I never realized it completely until I read this book. Sure, I’m a little terrified of being outside my house at night (there could be GHOSTS, people!), I don’t love flying, I’m not really into committing to things and I refuse to eat anything out of a microwave. Just kidding, the last one was a total lie. I just won’t eat anything cooked in PLASTIC out of a microwave. But, overall, I wasn’t aware of how much fear controlled my life and still totally does. (Changing your life takes time, okay?)
Noelle, the author and main character (it’s a memoir!), loses her cushy six-figure-paying job writing about celebs (hello, dream job) and is contemplating her next step. She sees a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt on the chalk board at a cafe – Do one thing every day that scares you.
Noelle set up a plan to do one thing that scares her every day starting on her birthday that year to continue to the next birthday. She researched Eleanor Roosevelt the entire time, weaving stories about Eleanor’s life into her own fear story, and it made me have a newfound respect for that particular FLOTUS. (Or I suppose FFLOTUS…Former First Lady of the United States?) I never knew Eleanor was so BA! She stood up for gay rights (why have we not progressed much in this area since the 1940s?), she was an independent thinker and she put up with a certifiably crazy mother-in-law. I think anyone who can put up with a woman like her mother-in-law deserves accolades and probably something named after her. (This has probably happened, though probably not because of the MIL.) The crazy mom-in-law kept a “birthing room” in her home, designed all museum-like to look just the way it was the day she gave birth to Franklin. If that’s not crazy, I don’t know what is. (It’s crazy. Don’t even try to argue. If you want to argue, you’re probably a mother who is too involved in your son/daughter’s life. Cut the cord, woman!)
In addition to Eleanor’s awesome stories, Noelle’s fear conquering is equally as awesome. Noelle has a lot of support from close friends, her boyfriend “Matt” (names have been changed to protect the innocent…or just for funsies) and from her therapist Dr. Bob. I wish my therapist was Dr. Bob. He helps her discover that fear isn’t just “fear of public speaking” or “fear of being mauled to death by rabid raccoons.” It can be avoidance, which is a caused by a fear of fear. Confusing? No. It makes sense. Do you avoid speaking your opinion in a large group because you don’t want to offend people? Do you work at a job you hate because it’s easier than quitting? Do you pay full price for things at flea markets because you are nervous to barter? Noelle uses a lot of these examples in her book and it completely resonated with me. I avoid EVERYTHING. I even sometimes put off getting ready for bed because it’s so time-consuming and I really hate when my face is wet. What? It’s annoying. Dr. Bob also explained a lot of evolutionary reasons for having certain fears, which was interesting. I can’t think of any good examples right now, but you’ll learn about yourself. And our ancestors. And that babies don’t like to go over cliffs or something. It’ll all make sense when you read the book.
This book will make you want to start really living your life. Maybe you do already and if you do, good for you. Naturally, we can’t all sacrifice a year and do something scary every day. We especially can’t afford it (big props to Noelle’s daddy for giving her some cash for Mt. Kilamanjaro.) But, I’m in the process of making some smaller scale “no more fear” changes in my own life. In all seriousness, I wanted to re-read the book as soon as I finished it. I need more motivation to do what I want with my life instead of what’s easy. I learned that like most perfectionists (guilty), I have trouble finishing tasks and ideas because I’m afraid of failing. Failure is a huge fright for me. I always thought I was even a failed perfectionist – I’m not very motivated, I don’t really like anything (see : My Prerogative) and I’m pretty apathetic about anything controversial – but it turns out all of us perfectionists have these similar traits. It’s all avoidance! If I don’t finish something, I can’t fail! Brilliant plan, Angie. If only there were a job where you received raises on what you don’t finish. I’d have it in the BAG.
Again, I’m not into spoilers, but here’s a short list of the best things about this book (I really like lists):
1. Noelle is relatable and witty. I could learn a few lessons from her in this area.
2. She does so many cool fear activities that I wish I had money to do and yes, the guts – flying a plane! (Just kidding, that sounds awful…I mean…I need to face my fear!) Swimming with sharks! (um…face my fear…from land!) Trapeze! (I could handle that.) Stand up comedy show! (This so would bomb.)
3. Eleanor Roosevelt. I can’t say it enough. She is the best part of this book, besides, of course, Noelle facing fear. The biographies Noelle used to supplement her memoir are on my list of books to read now because of it. There just are not enough strong female role models in society and I think everyone could learn something from her. Especially me. Who knew nothing about her. At all. Thanks, Kenowa Hills high school social studies classes!
4. Dr. Bob. He says wise things like, “Goofiness is threatening to people who want to be in control of themselves all the time, who want to be serious. What stops us from acting goofy is our fear of being evaluated. But silliness can be empowering. I think you need to stop being afraid to be goofy.” I LOVE being goofy, but I could always be more goofy. Huck-yuck!
5. Lastly, I loved that each chapter starts with a quote from Eleanor. I know, I already listed Eleanor as one of the reasons I loved this book, but even if it WASN’T Eleanor quotes, I’d like that there were quotes at the beginning of each chapter. I’m a sucker for quotes.
In conclusion (aren’t you never supposed to write that or something? too bad, I’m facing my fear of breaking proper grammar rules.), My Year With Eleanor is my favorite book I’ve read this year so far. Doing something every day that you’re afraid of would be amazing. I can think of a million excuses why I won’t do it, but I’m pretty sure the point of this book was to stop making excuses, so I think one day I will. Is procrastinating caused by fear? I’ll figure it out tomorrow.
Until next time, go buy this book immediately…or when you get a gift card. (Or better yet, visit your local library! This has been a PSA from the Library Enthusiasts Association.)