Category Archives: Review

Book Review: ‘The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story’ by Marie Kondo, Illustrated by Yuko Uramoto

 

Throughout 2019, I’ve managed to read and review both The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing and Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, and now I am happy to say I have read The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story, and I am ready to share my thoughts on it. This also happens to be the very first time I’ve read any manga (I’m very behind on that front), but I don’t intend it to be my last.

I originally started to read Marie Kondo out of a sense of pettiness towards the online bookish community who felt a sense of outrage that on her show she suggested that her clients get rid of many of their books, and the revelation that she personally only kept about thirty books. Fortunately for me, the backlash led me to her books, which I probably never would have read otherwise. I was delighted by Life-Changing Magic, and I enjoyed Spark Joy just as much, so it was time for me to read Life-Changing Manga. This is also just following Marie Kondo’s announcement that she will be releasing two more books, including the confirmation of one of them being a picture book called Kiki & Jax: The Life-Changing Magic of Friendship.

The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up (illustrated by Yuko Uramoto, and translated to English from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano, the same translator from KonMari’s other books) takes all of the KonMari lessons you expect, and it puts them into a narrative comic. Rather than providing the information in a straightforward instructional fashion with additional anecdotes, this is shaped like a story. Chiaki realises her home is a mess and her life is a mess, and she contacts KonMari for tidying lessons. The story follows Chiaki’s personal journey, as well as the information KonMari teaches during her lessons.

Next to KonMari’s other two books, there are definitely pros and cons to reading the manga instead. If you are a very visual person, you will get more out of the manga (or Spark Joy) than Life-Changing Magic. I think one of the most beneficial aspects is really getting to see the method in play. Rather than just being told how to tidy, you get to witness someone’s journey, see how they do it, and experience the changes in their life along the way.  If you find it easier to learn through storytelling than just receiving the information point-blank, you will definitely find this to be the most comfortable read. While none of the books are challenging to read, this one is the most accessible, and could feasibly be more comfortable for young adult readers as well. I think the one drawback is that you get much less information overall, with the book being shorter with less text, so many of the smaller points are set aside to allow the story to be front and centre. That said, Life-Changing Manga still offers up all of the most important points, with none of the most vital details missing, so if you aren’t looking for finer points then you will still find this book to be helpful and enjoyable.

Chiaki is a really relatable character whose whole life is a mess, and it’s genuinely touching to see her journey and the ways tidying impacts her life (and the happy ending is very satisfying). I like that the story of Chiaki getting her life together and experiencing interest in a new romance actually manages to be pleasurable and sweet to read on its own, without factoring in any practical information. There’s a really great sense of humour, and you really get to appreciate Marie Kondo’s sense of self-awareness as she pokes fun at the image of herself as a cleaning fairy. Yuko Uramoto offers up some truly adorable illustrations that fit the story nicely, illustrate the methods of tidying very clearly, and accentuate both the practical and fun sides of this book, while also capturing KonMari’s spirit really well. Cathy Hirano provides clear and concise translations as always, making the book an accessible read.

Overall, I genuinely enjoyed reading The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up. I feel like it’s something that would work incredibly well for folks who aren’t sure that a book on tidying would be interesting to them, as this expands into an enjoyable story. As far as this book as a companion read goes, I feel like I really enjoyed it as a story in its own right, and it helped to drive home the most important points from KonMari’s other books. It probably wasn’t my favourite of the three, but I think it’s easy to recommend to those who enjoy the other books as well as to those who are hesitant to read the other books. I definitely look forward to reading Marie Kondo’s future book releases.

 

Book Review: ‘The Hidden Witch’ by Molly Knox Ostertag

 

After I read The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag, I just had to review it since it left me with a lot on my mind (in a good way). After enjoying it as much as I did, I was glad to hear there was a sequel, and I’m happy to say that I was able to check it out of my local library for the chance to continue the story of Aster and his friends and family. The Hidden Witch by Molly Knox Ostertag is a middle-grade graphic novel published by Scholastic Graphix in 2018. It is the second book in a trilogy, and the third book (The Midwinter Witch) is expected to be published later in 2019.

The Hidden Witch continues Aster’s journey where it left off in The Witch Boy. Aster is learning magic, even though not everyone approves of witches being boys, Charlie is starting back at school for the fall and meets a new friend named Ariel, and Aster’s cousin Sedge is uncomfortable around magic after the events of the first book. Everything is going well until the corrupted magic of a mystery-witch begins to attack them, leaving them fearful for themselves and the witch who may not know that their corrupted magic could put them in danger.

Just like the first book, this one moves at a comfortably quick pace that never leaves you with the chance to get bored. There’s always something happening, and the engaging style leaves you eager to know what’s going to happen next. Sometimes what happens next is a bit easy to guess, but never in a way that made me feel like I shouldn’t keep reading. Even when I am able to guess at what comes next, I am still eager to see it unfold anyway. The style is great for any middle-grader looking for a fast-paced story with a few twists and turns and a whole lot of fun.

The art style is very cute, accessible, and easy on the eyes. Ostertag’s art is very consistently continued from the first book, which is definitely how I prefer graphic novel series. Ariel is the only new main character, and I really loved her design, especially some of the clothes she goes for (which was definitely My Aesthetic when I was closer to that age). The scenery is usually simple, and when it’s not it is both lovely and serves a purpose, which I think helps avoid the visuals from overwhelming the story.

The Hidden Witch works just as much as an allegory for sexuality and gender identity as The Witch Boy. No one is really sure of where they fit in, everyone is pushing the boundaries of what is expected of them, and ultimately it leaves you with the question of why there are boundaries for expectations at all. The story encourages you to be your own person, and to accept those around you who are being their truest selves (even if that truest self isn’t what everyone around them wants them to be). Self-love, communal love, and accepting those we care about are all important messages to take away from this story.

Overall, I think The Hidden Witch by Molly Knox Ostertag is a genuinely fun, touching, vibrant story, and I definitely recommend it. It doesn’t work well as a stand-alone novel, but The Witch Boy is just as much worth a read. Whether you’re reading it for the cute art, the fast pace, the fun fantasy elements, or the great messages, you should find yourself right at home here. I especially recommend it to the targeted middle-grade audience, but I don’t think anyone outside of that age group should let the suggested label stop them.

 

Book Review: ‘Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Tidying Up’ by Marie Kondo

 

A couple of months ago I read and reviewed The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, translated by Cathy Hirano. I largely read it because bookish corners of the internet were not entirely happy with Kondo’s ideas beyond getting rid of books, but I ended up falling a little bit in love, and I genuinely wanted to read more of what she had to say. So I read the sequel (also translated by Cathy Hirano), Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up.

My overall feelings of her methods haven’t changed, and have only intensified in reading Spark Joy. I think she uses both logic and emotion within tidying that end up being ultimately more intuitive than anything else I have read. Keep the things that spark joy, get rid of the things that don’t, and organise whatever remains in ways that allow for a joyful experience and ease of tidying and cleaning. Kondo’s methods haven’t changed between books, but Spark Joy gives her the chance to explore many of her ideas further and expand upon the ideas she didn’t have time to get too in depth on in her first book.

I think one of the things that really struck me most here is that she gets much further into the ways you can store things. In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Kondo stresses simplicity, and she doesn’t delve deeply into what this can mean in every case. I think it was especially helpful here to learn about what simplicity can look like, especially if you’re the kind of person who might try to think a little too hard about creative ways to store your things. She leaves room for personal taste and encourages readers to encourage a layout that would bring them joy (such as by items that spark joy in a place that you see them and interact with them) and make things easier to keep clean (such as by keeping things off of your bathroom counter or away from grease splatter in the kitchen).

I definitely appreciated the time she took to go over the bathroom and kitchen items. I felt like I got a much better idea of what to do with communal rooms in my home from this book than I did from her first. I think she makes really excellent points about how in rooms where things get dirty faster but need to be used regularly regardless, it’s more important to make things easy to clean than it is to make things easy to use. I’ll admit this approach was far from the first that came to mind, but as soon as I read it, it made perfect sense. She explains it really well (and Cathy Hirano’s translations are crystal clear and vibrant), and she definitely has me inclined to follow her advice.

What I liked most about Spark Joy are the illustrations. I definitely found that some of her folding methods were hard to picture from words alone when I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and I was looking forward to this sequel specifically because of the illustrations in the hopes that it would clarify her folding methods specifically. It definitely lived up to my hopes. The combination of words and pictures for her folding methods was incredibly helpful. I was able to actually grasp how she folds things and understand how everything could possibly be stored upright (a concept I had struggled with a little bit before seeing the images). I definitely feel like I can tackle my own tidying marathon with a better idea of what to do thanks to these illustrations.

Kondo includes more information in Spark Joy about discarding and organising books, which continues to be largely practical. I still think her best quote about books comes from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, with the line, “Imagine what it would be like to have a bookshelf filled only with books that you really love. Isn’t that image spellbinding? For someone who loves books, what greater happiness could there be?” She stays true to this idea in Spark Joy and encourages the reader to keep books that bring them joy. I think the only thing that doesn’t completely fit with me is the idea of getting rid of all books you haven’t read, mainly because readers don’t generally read a certain number of books and then stop. There is obvious logic to donating any books you have owned for a long time and not read, but most voracious readers might find it inappropriate to discard everything they haven’t read yet. During my tidying marathon, I personally plan on keeping any books I haven’t read if the idea of reading them soon still sparks joy for me.

My only real concerns about Spark Joy stem from a similar place as my concerns following my reading of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. As a disabled woman, I have a hard time imagining myself getting as much done as she seems to expect, and it’s a little bit frustrating to be able to picture an end goal while I am uncertain about how I will actually get there or how I can make certain aspects of it more accessible for my health issues. I do genuinely find all of her advice really practical, but it can be hard to imagine myself getting through some of it, especially when I don’t know at what point my pain or exhaustion will take over, and I have definitely had pre-KonMari tidying marathons that led to physical exhaustion in the middle of trying to tidy and having to delay finishing while my floor is exploding with the things I pulled out to sort through. I think part of me just wanted to see something in either book about how to deal with this reality even though I didn’t really expect it.

Overall, I think Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up by Marie Kondo is an excellent book and well worth a read. I think it stands on its own without the first book for people who need visuals, but I recommend reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing first if possible (and if you’re only going to read one). If you read Kondo’s first book and found yourself with unanswered questions that you wanted to learn more about, definitely read this. I’m looking forward to exploring her work more (her manga and her show), and I’m looking forward to tidying my own space using as much of her method as I can.

 

 

Book Review: ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing’ by Marie Kondo

 

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, translated from Japanese to English by Cathy Hirano, is a wildly successful book written by a woman with her own method of taking a home or business and tidying them in a way that will never allow for it to revert to its original state. The KonMari method is so popular that Marie Kondo got her own Netflix show, where she consults with people on tidying in front of the camera.

I honestly probably would never have thought twice about this book before this year. I can honestly say that I never did think twice about it. It was the backlash after the special was released that got my attention. All of the bookish folks online realised that Kondo meant tidying is for books too, and that she thinks you should get rid of books you won’t read or re-read. Bookish folks went into “you will pry my books out of my cold, dead hands” mode, and I genuinely lost track of how many articles I read that were essentially just people agreeing or disagreeing with what Kondo had to say.

So naturally, I had to read the book. Other than Kondo being right about weeding your book collection (even libraries do it, folks!), I had to see what all the fuss was about. There were too many authors and bloggers I admire who were raving about what Kondo had to say for me to not at least try reading some of her work. One of my own goals for 2019 has been to read more books in translation, so this book would help me out with personal reading goals anyway. And to top it off, I have a ton of clutter myself, so if this book actually helped me, that would be a real cherry on top.

Now that I have actually read the book, I have to say that it far surpassed my expectations. Marie Kondo has a lot of really brilliant ideas when it comes to decluttering and organising, and it’s hard to deny that her ideas make a lot of sense. Kondo takes something that is often complicated and hard to manage, and she breaks it down into easy-to-follow steps that makes sense, and she uses methods that are both emotional and practical. Rather than advising people to work purely with logic or feelings, she uses a method that requires both. Kondo asks that the reader take steps to discard in a purely logical order, and take steps to sort in a purely logical order, but she asks that all of your decision-making come from a place of acknowledging what sparks joy and what does not.

I think Kondo has been so effective specifically because she is able to appeal to folks who are more logical, more emotional, or a mixture of the two. The KonMari method is sorted out well enough to make sense for a broad variety of people and types, and it is especially appealing to read Kondo’s own thoughts on why her methods work for such a broad variety of people and types. It is so clear in her writing that she has dedicated so much time, effort, study, and thought to forming her method, and she does a beautiful job of explaining the ways her method can help and the reasons that it is so effective for so many people.

Kondo’s exploration of why people feel so different after making such a big change in their homes was interesting, but also a lot of fun. I won’t deny that I had a really big smile when I read a testimonial early in the book that read, “Your course taught me to see what I really need and what I don’t. So I got a divorce. Now I feel much happier.” I can definitely see how something like that would happen. When you take away everything in your home that doesn’t bring you joy, when everything has been sorted to make your life easier and your home more enjoyable, it can be so much more apparent what in your life doesn’t make you happy, including your relationships. If you take away the mess that you were arguing about and find nothing left to discuss, is that relationship worth saving. This is obviously only one narrow example, but I think it makes it really apparent the ways this type of tidying can impact your life on a broader scale.

As I mentioned above, bookish corners of the internet felt particularly strongly, in a largely negative sense, about Marie Kondo suggesting that books should be decluttered just as much as the rest of your home (and, in fact, she lists books as the second category in her list of the order of categories for discarding items). I actually found this section of the book to be largely interesting and inspirational. Kondo says, “Imagine what it would be like to have a bookshelf filled only with books that you really love. Isn’t that image spellbinding? For someone who loves books, what greater happiness could there be?” Honestly, the image is spellbinding. It is easy to accumulate many books, and eventually have many that you no longer intend to read or haven’t used as the references you intended. Public libraries often weed their collections to ensure there is space for what patrons really need and want, and I can definitely see how those ideas connect. I think that I, and many others, read in amounts that Kondo is probably not considering that makes getting rid of all unread books impractical, but I definitely think more readers should apply her methods to their shelves. If a book has been sitting on your shelf for years, and all you feel when you look at it is guilt at never having read it, is it really worth keeping? If you don’t still feel excitement at the idea of starting that book, then it is time to move on. I definitely think it is advice I could use, and I am sure many others need to hear it as well.

I think what makes Kondo’s work so special is her concern with what brings you joy and with what comes after tidying. She wants readers to keep the things that make them happy, even if others might view those things as being unnecessary or even silly. She wants readers to keep things that represent their personalities in a way that makes them feel good about themselves and the space they are in. When people surround themselves with a space that represents their true selves and is filled with things that bring them joy (whether that be a style, a hobby, a shrine, or anything else), it encourages them to look at what they want and need from life. Kondo knows that readers have a better shot at achieving their hopes and their goals when they are in an uncluttered space that brings them joy.

I think my only real criticism is more personal than it is an actual critique of her writing or her tidying method. As a disabled woman, I definitely found myself wondering how I fit into certain spaces of her method. She advises not to stockpile things, but when I don’t know if my money or health will allow me to buy things at a later date, it can be hard to picture a life where I don’t stockpile certain things. I certainly don’t have the types of stockpiles Kondo describes some of her clients having, but I know that I buy more than I need when I can, and anything else doesn’t seem practical for my health or my money. As well, the actual act of tidying can often be exhausting for me, and it definitely can cause issues with my fatigue, pain, and dizziness, and I wish she had spoken more of time management. She says the tidying should be done all at once, and at one point she describes “all at once” as being within about six months, but I wish she had done more to explain how to work within time frames to achieve that. I found it hard to imagine the ways I could actually accomplish certain aspects of decluttering and organising in ways that could be termed as any semblance of “all at once.”

As a whole, I think Kondo has figured out a really great way to approach decluttering and organising, and she presents her methods clearly, concisely, and with a lovely sense of compassion and humour. I genuinely enjoyed reading the book, and I think her methods will apply nicely to my own life (and I certainly hope to apply them soon). Kondo released an illustrated sequel and a manga, and I’m definitely looking forward to reading both and exploring her TV series on Netflix. I think anyone who has doubts about how her methods would work should give it a read, and I think anyone who is looking to make a change in their lives should read it as well. Marie Kondo has been a pleasant surprise and a revelation for me, and I hope that other readers are finding the same from her works that I have.

Book Review: ‘Papergirl’ by Melinda McCracken

2019 is the one hundred year anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike, an event that shook Canadian history. Papergirl by Melinda McCracken is due to be published by Roseway Publishing in April 2019 to acknowledge the memory of this historic event. McCracken originally wrote this middle-grade historical fiction novel about the event in the early eighties and has since passed away, but her daughter Molly McCracken has worked to get this novel published so that it would be available to the public, and Penelope Jackson assisted in updating the novel with research that was unavailable to McCracken in the 80s.

In 1919, working-class families in Winnipeg were facing many increased prices for common and necessary goods following the Great War and the influenza epidemic. Despite this, wages remained stagnant, and families were unable to provide for themselves despite working long hours in harsh conditions. This is the setting of McCracken’s Papergirl. Cassie is a ten-year-old girl in Winnipeg, living in a working class but comfortable family. Cassie is able to attend school and eat multiple meals a day because both her father and nineteen-year-old brother work as part of the police force in Winnipeg. Cassie’s best friend Mary is less privileged; although she attends school, her mother works long factory hours and they often don’t have enough to eat since Mary’s father passed away in the war. This is the reality of life in 1919 Winnipeg.

Papergirl follows Cassie as the strike in Winnipeg gears up. Cassie’s brother Billy is dedicated to the strike, and the police agree to back the strikers but continue working to keep the peace to avoid martial law. This is all accurate information that is included in the book that uses a gentle but honest way to convey these messages. Cassie’s whole family, and Mary and her mother, become involved in the strike. They feed hungry workers, and Cassie becomes the papergirl for the strike bulletin, a daily paper created to present the workers’ side of the news, as the regular papers were typically strongly biased against them.

I think the way the story is able to present the perspectives of men, women, and children; child labourers, factory workers, paperboys and girls, and police; activists and everyday people; and wealthy adults and their families… It all ties together nicely in a way that gives us a small view of one girl and the people around her, but it paints a complete and cohesive picture of those around her. We can see what different experiences of the strike were like for different groups, all through Cassie’s eyes.

I think this type of narrative really has a lot going for it in the way it presents the facts. It doesn’t water down the brutal realities of working conditions, the fear of starvation, or the details of the strike itself or of Bloody Saturday, an event where the government sent in the Mounties to deal with strikers to “prevent” violence, and ultimately causing the deaths of two workers and dozens of injuries after the Mounties fired pistols into the crowds and clubbed at peaceful protesters. This is a difficult topic, but a vital part of Canadian history, and I really respect how this novel for middle graders is able to address such a complex and painful part of history without ever feeling age appropriate.

The historical content is quite accurate, and I admired the use of an individual perspective here. I also loved that this story often focused on the women’s work involved in the strike. Many narratives of working for labour rights often leaves out much of the women’s work involved. Papergirl gives us a look into individual women who helped to make sure no one went hungry when everyone was going without. We also get a look at Helen Armstrong, a real woman who was a labour rights activist and feminist who worked during the strike to organise women and children in everything from feeding strikers to taking children to sing outside the penitentiary when strike leaders were arrested. These real pieces of information were incorporated into the novel in a way that was striking to read and helped really bring history to life.

Papergirl also leaves a lot to ponder regarding the immigrant communities impacted by these types of historical events. McCracken is able to show the ways xenophobia was used to fuel fear of the strikers and to push back against any improvements to their work conditions or pay. Immigrant communities are often disproportionately impacted by social injustices in the workplace, and this was even truer a century ago. Cassie experiences only a little of these injustices firsthand since her parents emigrated from England, but she witnesses the fear and hatred directed towards her friend Freddy, son of Ukrainian immigrants and the only income in his family working as a paperboy for the big newspapers filled with propaganda about people from his own background. Even though the targets of xenophobia have changed, many of these themes resonate in today’s society.

Melinda McCracken did write Papergirl in the early 80s, so I honestly expected perhaps a bit of a dated style in the writing that you don’t see in current children’s literature. I think her style was very reminiscent of books that I read as a child and loved. I think it has the kind of style that will make adults who were bookish children really happy and nostalgic. I think that perhaps some readers might find the style not to their taste, since it isn’t a style many children who read current releases would be familiar with, but I still think that many will find something to love here.

I was interested in reading this story when I heard what it was about since I love reading about history and this seemed to have a feminist angle to it, but it honestly surprised me in a lot of the delivery. Papergirl is a story that feels incredibly relevant to today’s society, with workers still hoping for a living wage as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and I think a lot of readers will find that parallel something to really consider. I think that middle-grade readers deserve the kind of story that ties history into what is happening in the world now.

Overall, Papergirl by Melinda McCracken is something I personally really enjoyed. I thought a lot of the themes really felt closely tied to society today, and the historical elements were true to the real historic event. The story is filled with hope for the future, even as it feels as though we don’t experience truly happy outcomes. I honestly would have loved to see a longer story, but there’s only so much you can ask of a middle-grade novel. I highly recommend this one, with my only real caveat being that those who don’t enjoy the style of children’s literature from around the 80s might not find the style to be their taste. Ultimately, this is a feminist labour rights novel for middle-graders that allows history and contemporary society to mingle in a way that feels so right. It has certainly sparked a fresh interest for me in the Winnipeg General Strike.

You can pre-order Melinda McCracken’s Papergirl, due to be released in April, here.