Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Katie Talks Books: Packing Light

Semi-recently, while in the bookstore I picked up a couple of books at random, just because between the cover and the synopsis on the back, they caught my eye.

One of those books was Ally Vesterfelt's packing light: thoughts on living life with less baggage.

By the time I was about five chapters in, I signed up for her email newsletters and was following her blog. Her newsletters and the book itself have collectively been one of the influences pushing me to consider just how much of our stuff we really need.

I finished the book this morning, and figured it could be the next in the Katie Talks Books posts I do now and then.

Especially considering the fact that I haven't had much to say over the past week; too busy, at work and at home. At work we put together a bulk mailing, which involves a truly exciting series of steps - We put address labels on 2,000 postcards. Then I organize the postcards by zip code. Then I count the postcards so I know how many there are in total, as well as in each zipcode. Then I fill out forms. Then we take 'em on up to the post office. Then I sigh with relief until next time. So that kind of filled my brain with math, which as we know means there isn't any room for anything else.

At home, we're preparing for my parents' annual Thanksgiving visit, which means panicking over little things going wrong, complaining about how messy the house is, and then playing video games until the guilt becomes too much and I dust something.

Then, on top of that, our cats are having some issues right now so we're up a little earlier than we plan to be, and not waking up in an easy way.

And now it's raining.

So... there you go. That was my week.

You see why I've decided to do a book review.

So, right. Packing Light.

Overall I'd probably give it about 3.5/5, unless I can count her emails and links and blog posts, in which case I'd knock the whole thing up to a 4.5.

Ally and her friend Sharaya, who in the beginning of the book isn't a terribly close friend, just one of those people-you-know that we all have, decide to go on a road trip.

To all fifty states.

The plan is for Sharaya, a somewhat struggling musician-with-a-day-job at the beginning of the story, to play in venues while Ally does merchandising and support during the shows. This also gives Ally time to write.

Parts of this book are simply memoir, and I found those parts the most facinating. The arguments and insecurities and friendship that she and Sharaya share due to their constant proximity, when their car inevitably breaks down in the middle of nowhere, their disappointment in actually seeing that Mount Rushmore isn't nearly what they thought it would be... all of these were wonderful anecdotes and kept things moving.

The ends of each 'section' of story, where Ally sort of caps things up with advice or more general thoughts on what these experiences may mean for life or for her readers were less interesting for me, in no small part because often I felt that the stories and memories themselves made those points very clear without needing her to reiterate them so openly. I would have appreciate a more straight-forward memoir, perhaps with a wrap-up chapter at the end dispensing advice, with less of it interspersed throughout the book itself.

Just before the trip, Ally meets a guy named Ben who she starts to fall for immediately. She decides to go on the trip anyway, and while I won't give away what happens I will say that this book is not a storybook romantic comedy in any way, and the story of Ben and her relationship with him is a strong backbone to the rest of the trip from Ally's perspective.

Overall, I definitely liked it.

Obviously I like Ally's writing - I wouldn't have started following her online presence otherwise.

I think the story of their trip stands on its own quite strongly, and I would like to have read a version with a little more detail on the trip and little less generalized advice or thinking-out-loud.

That said, her regular emails (and the free e-book I received when I signed up for them) have rapidly become things I happily check for every day and enjoy. Sometimes it's posts by her, sometimes it's link roundups of things she's found around other blogs, but I always enjoy them. I feel like they sort of support the book, as well, as they give her sections-of-advice in the book a little bit of context.

I will say, above all, that the most important and awesome thing I took away from the book was almost at the very end, where Ally, feeling some insecurity, tells Sharaya that she's not sure she can tell people she's a writer, since she doesn't feel like she's "made it" yet. And Sharaya replies to her that Ally's the only one who didn't already know Ally's a writer, everyone else knew that a long time ago, and to just own it.

Ally does, and where that takes her ends the book on an incredibly upbeat and satisfying note.

As I said above, I definitely do reccomend it. It's a book that makes you think, and I think it'll be good for more religious folks my age hitting their quarter-life crises, so to speak; that age where you realize none of your plans worked, nothing happened according to your timeline, and what do I do now?

Good book - and, fitting with the book's theme, there is a page on the very back suggesting you 'pack light' by passing this book along to someone else who you think will like it, each of you filling your name and the date in as the book leaves you and moves on to someone else. I loved this as a little inclusion on the back page. I'm going to stick my copy in the Swamp Rabbit Cafe's take-a-book-leave-a-book box outside, and hope whoever picks it up likes Ally and her writing as much as I did.

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