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“The Weekend Effect”

By Katrina Onstad

c. 2017, HarperOne

$25.99, $31.99 Canada; 304 pages

Zzzzzzzzzip. That was the sound of your last weekend as it passed by, but it probably doesn’t matter anyhow: it was packed with work, to-dos and obligations, kid’s sports, and more work. Sometimes, you wonder why you even bother. You might as well just go to the office – but first, read “The Weekend Effect” by Katrina Onstad before you zip out Friday afternoon.

When was the last time you had two full days without plans? If you’re like most working adults, answering may take you a few minutes. Chances are, it’s been awhile; like millions of North American employees, our weekend is “not a weekend at all.”

Much like the seven-day week, weekends are manmade things: Ancient civilizations created our modern week, the Old Testament demarked a day of rest, and employers tried forcing workers to toil most of both. In 1791, U.S. carpenters held the first strike over hours; the eight-hour day started to take hold in the late 1800s; Henry Ford introduced a five-day workweek in 1926; and generally, there we were until the digital age, when employees could – and do - carry work with them everywhere.

Considering that 15th-century serfs enjoyed a holiday-filled church calendar, says Onstad, you may work more now than did a medieval peasant.

That’s not good for mind or body, and employers are starting to recognize that. Known for obsessively-focused marathon workweeks, Silicon Valley may taketh away, but it also giveth: some high-tech start-ups offer employees flex-time and demand down-time. Your boss may welcome happier employees who aren’t so stressed. Four-day work weeks aren’t rare anymore, nor are half-day Fridays.

And yet, Onstad says, if someone asked you what you’d do with free weekends, you might struggle with a list. Think: you can actually visit with real people, in-person. You could volunteer more, read more, attend more church, or go for more walks.

In short, you can stop, and learn to do less.

What would you do with two unencumbered days?  Imagine the possibilities, and then read “The Weekend Effect.”

While it might seem that few people need convincing when it comes to taking time off, author Katrina Onstad shows, in her first pages, why some people feel trapped into working more. Readers might see themselves in some of Onstad’s short profiles – we obviously have compatriots in our drivenness – as we learn why a “cult of overwork” is detrimental to both individual and to a business. Yes, we can brag, but it’s unsustainable and we’re hurting ourselves, as it turns out.

Once you have the ammo needed to try to make change, Onstad offers things that might now take up that newly-gotten free-time. There’s a surprise in that: whatever you think you like to do on your weekends, you could be doing it all wrong.

This book is eye-opening, but it may also tell you something you already know: you work too hard. For confirmation, though, or for further reasons why you need shut off your phone and find a hammock, “The Weekend Effect” has that all zipped up.

“The Garden of Small Beginnings”

By Abbi Waxman

c. 2017, Berkley

$16, $22 Canada; 353 pages

You almost can’t believe your mom saved them. File upon file, chronologically ordered, neatly preserved, every drawing you ever did, from the time you could hold a crayon until the day you graduated. Senseless scribbles, things that hung on the refrigerator, she saved them all. And, as in the new novel, “The Garden of Small Beginnings” by Abbi Waxman, you wish she’d saved that sense of innocence, too.

Lili Girvan’s husband, Dan, was a good listener. He never argued. He let her gripe, never blamed her for anything, never told her what to do. That was probably because he was dead and cremated, but never mind.

It had been years since he was killed on the street in front of their house, practically in their kitchen. Claire was a baby then, and Annabel was three. Now they’re both in grade school, and Lili still misses Dan. She misses him so much that she can sometimes barely stand upright.

What’s curious is that everybody seems to want to play matchmaker. Lili’s sister, Rachel, keeps trying to trick Lili into dating. Friends give Lili that “isn’t he hot?” look when they see a guy checking her out. Her daughters probably wouldn’t mind if she dated, and Lili’s in-laws tell her that Dan would want her to be happy.

She doesn’t know what would make her happy. That’s the problem.

And so Lili goes to work, where she’s an illustrator for textbooks, a job she loves. She’s also been hired to illustrate a series of books on flowers, vegetables, and gardening in general and, to give the L.A. City Girl somewhat of an idea of the hobby, Lili’s boss asks her to take a gardening class.

It sounds like fun, and six Saturday mornings is no sacrifice, especially when she has nothing else to do. Annabel, Claire, and Rachel want to learn to garden, too, so Lili signs them all up. It would be interesting to see how food is grown. It would be fun to see how flowers are grown. Lili never thinks she’d grow, herself …

When you head out to find A “The Garden of Small Beginnings,” be sure to pick up some painkillers, too. You’ll need them. Your face will hurt from smiling so hard while you’re reading this book.

The most appealing main character ever, hands-down, has total control of author Abbi Waxman’s story: Lili is sassy, sarcastically funny, down-to-earth, and so faux-confident. Waxman nicely and fittingly drags that aching angst out: between childcare issues, job stresses, and her wildly inappropriate (but hilarious) sister, Lili becomes someone readers can identify with, and will want to know better. Also of interest: there’s a tantalizing, not-completely-told mental-health issue in the story, complete with a no-nonsense therapist who makes brief appearances.

Despite its underlying theme of sadness, this isn’t a book that will leave you unhappy; in fact, there’s plenty of joy here, some profanity (beware!), and enough humor to make it all fun. Start “The Garden of Small Beginnings,” and see how fast you’re drawn in.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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