The Book of Awesome. By Neal Pasricha. Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam. $22.95.
Change Your Age: Using Your Body and Brain to Feel Younger, Stronger, and More Fit. By Frank Wildman, CFT, Ph.D. Da Capo. $18.95.
Cynics, begone! The Book of Awesome is easily dismissible as a silly attempt to elevate meaningless elements of everyday life to the level of great importance. And if you read it that way, that’s just what it will be – and you will not enjoy it at all. Non-cynics, be aware: The Book of Awesome really is an elevation of small, apparently meaningless events to a higher level than they would ever normally attain – but that is the whole point. Neal Pasricha’s argument is that, with all the grand and miserable things going on in the world, everyone can take refuge in the small, delightful things that occur all the time but that we rarely pause to acknowledge. Think of it as “stop and smell the roses” expanded to nearly 400 pages. True, a little of this bubbliness goes a long way, which is surely why Pasricha’s blog, www.1000awesomethings.com, gets so many hits and has won so many awards – you can look at it daily for just a second or two and get the point of the whole thing, and maybe find a pick-me-up for yourself and your day (and if not, there’s always tomorrow). Pasricha’s concept is well communicated by the headlines in this book, which pretty well render the explanations that follow unnecessary. For example, “when the thing you were going to buy is already on sale” is certainly an “up” moment. Whether Pasricha’s follow-up personal story of “humming down the aisle and happily accepting little sample cups of drinkable yogurt from sweet old ladies in hairnets” adds anything is a matter of taste (and not just whether you have a taste for drinkable yogurt). Similarly, “discovering those little tabs on the side of the aluminum foil box” really does feel like a small accomplishment, whether or not you add Pasricha’s personal aluminum-unrolling foibles to the initial headline. And “finally clipping your fingernails after you’ve been meaning to do it all week” scarcely needs to be followed by the news that “it’s not a trim, it’s a full-on shear…and you sort of feel a little buzz of pride, relief, and cleanliness.” Still, Pasricha’s unbounded enthusiasm for the little pleasures of life can be infectious if you let it be, and it is truly wonderful to see how many of those little pleasures he comes up with and writes about: bakery air, the cooler “other side of the pillow,” laughing along with someone whom you spot singing in his or her car, getting to use a neighbor’s expensive swimming pool, perfectly popped microwave popcorn – there is nothing earthshaking anywhere in The Book of Awesome, but there are so many little niceties that readers will feel renewed, maybe even uplifted, by the time they finish it. Which they should do slowly, since the items really do cloy if taken in too-large doses at one time.
Another thing to do slowly – if you want your mobility to belie your calendar years – is to move, stand and lie down. The importance of doing those activities carefully and thoughtfully is one lesson from Change Your Age by Frank Wildman, CFT (which here means Certified Feldenkrais Trainer, not, say, Center for Financial Training or Community Foundation Trust). Wildman, also a Ph.D. and educator, heads the Feldenkrais Movement Institute in Berkeley, California, which aims to improve people’s balance, fitness and daily life through a self-awareness program created by Israeli physicist Moshé Feldenkrais (1904-1984). Guided self-observation, awareness and self-rehabilitation are foundations of the Feldenkrais method, whose teachings pervade Change Your Age but need not be studied or followed dogmatically in order to benefit from Wildman’s book. For the book is really about small things you can do, on an ongoing basis, to improve your overall quality of life, whatever your age. One subheading, “Hidden in Slow, Small Movements – The Potential for Change,” stands for much of what Wildman recommends and is followed by this explanation: “It is by paying attention that you can assess how young or old different parts of your body feel, determine the realistic and reasonable changes needed to make your movements more youthful, and measure your progress toward your goal of a more youthful self.” In the book’s six sections, Wildman focuses on becoming mindful of your body as it is and as you want it to be, then exercising in ways that will help you get from where you are now to where you want to go. “The Change Your Age Program” of 30 exercises is the core of the book and the longest section by far, detailing basic and advanced movement exercises (all derived from Feldenkrais teachings) to be done when lying down, sitting, kneeling, and so on. Like all books recommending exercise – even gentle exercise – this one cannot provide the motivation needed to learn the movements and practice them day in and day out. But Wildman’s recommendations have an advantage over those in the many “sweat it out” exercise books: these are gentle, motion-focused exercises rather than ones designed for strength building or cardiovascular fitness. Some have silly or whimsical names (“baby alligator,” “the sitting and turning dance,” “jump-sitting in a chair”), but all are serious attempts to maintain or improve mobility. The flaw in Wildman’s approach, as in the many well-meaning “exercise for fitness” books written in recent years, is the assumption that people have the time as well as the motivation to become as intensely involved in these exercises as Wildman clearly is himself. In the case of Change Your Age, though, this is not a significant drawback, since the exercises have specific purposes – for example, “coordinating your neck and eyes with your legs and pelvis” – and it is not necessary to do all the activities all the time. Furthermore, the underlying precepts of the exercises are nicely explained here, as in a section called “The Importance of Orientation and Scanning” that explains why certain forms of movement are evolutionarily significant and how improving them can therefore be beneficial in everyday life. Change Your Age will not, of course, alter your chronological standing, but it can help you develop habits that, if they will not make you become younger, can make you feel younger than the calendar says you are – and that, after all, is one thing that people most value as time goes on.