I love to read -- but I'm not a librarian. Or an employee of the NY Times Book Review. This is a free blog. You get what you pay for.
In fiction, I like a well-told story crafted around well-edited sentences, original metaphors and honest (and often inspiring) humans. In non-fiction, I like a well-researched, applicable-to-real-life, readable book. I gravitate towards topics that help me become a better human.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
My 8th grade son's class is reading this and I was asked, as a parent, to read and opine on the school's selection. All I can say is WOW. This is such an incredible, thought-provoking, beautifully-written, brilliantly-structured book. It tells the sweeping, multi-generational story of a family born in Africa in the 1800s, brought to America as slaves and how they navigated life to the present. I suspect it was written as an adult book but we're finding it to be a profound read for my teenage son. Caveat - Gyasi does not shy away from providing a very realistic portrayal of slavery and the violence around it. There are many adult themes (such as sexual assault, death and drug use) but all are handled with the respect and complexity with which they warrant. I'm glad my son is being exposed to these important issues in this context. I'm glad I was exposed to them, too.
West with the Night by Beryl Markham
I was given this by a friend who knows "Out of Africa" is one of my favorite movies. It's delightful! Evocative, well-written and rounds out (if not deepens) the Africa experience of Meryl Streep. It's a step back in time, to when the wild animals still roamed freely across the plaines - and I found myself pining for a time before all changed under the guise of global advancement. Beryl's voice is charming. She's a fearless adventurer; spunky, plucky and, overall, my kind of gal.
Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull
A behind-the-scenes look at how the co-founders of Pixar run their process for the making of their films. So interesting and very helpful for anyone working "with creatives" to harness, protect and maximize creative vision and output. My biggest take-aways? Successful projects (e.g. Toy Story) often get worse before they get better; Steve Job was really quite the mean-spirited bully who seemed to have gotten lucky a lot by running into very talented people; the lowest low is just part of the journey to making something impactful; figure out a way to NOT say No; and Never Give Up! All-in-all, good reminders for the office (and home).
Serenity by Amanda Enayati
Not only am I privileged to know the author, I can attest that knowing the difference between stress and anxiety is the key to getting through any work/home week! Since reading this, I've become better at identifying the good stress from the bad (good = getting those projects done well; bad = fear that I'll never achieve the success I want). And that makes all the difference in the world! Good stress has positive affects on health and output. Bad stress doesn't not. As I'm better able to identify the anxiety, I'm better able to shake it off and get a good night's sleep. Ah, that's serenity.
Adultery by Paulo Coelho
I bought this at the airport and read it in one sitting from LAX to Boston. It starts off great -- exploring a marriage through the POV of an unsatisfied wife and her ensuing affair -- but the back half of the book didn't ring as honest as the first half, as if it was rushed and the characters' journeys suffered from the quick wrap-ups. On the whole, the affair felt more tawdry than I thought for the wife to embark and/or sustain. It made the story much less impactful than it could have been. BUT, I didn't put it down for the whole flight AND never before has a flight gone by so quickly. So that's saying a lot.
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
I respectfully disagree. The will (or a lack thereof) to lead is NOT the reason women are not leaders in society. NO, NO, NO. I am an ambitious woman and I leaned into my career before my husband & I decided to have children. I leaned in so hard, I was nearly horizontal to the ground. And then, after I had kids, I continued to lean. But no one leaned with me. It is NOT the women who leave the office workplace to work in the homeplace who are the problem. Instead, we need everyone outside the home (Employers! Investors! Policy Makers!) to lean in to the value of primary caregivers. Give them real job opportunities when they re-enter the workforce! Give them social security credits for all their years as caregivers! Give them a break, for gods' sake. Lean into that, respectfully.
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
This is one of the rare instances where I found the movie to be more fulfilling than the book. Sorry! Yes, the book is lyrical but the movie extracted its finest elements - and then, expanded on them in ways I could never have imagined. The good news is that in you'll get two distinct experiences of the same story -- one in print, the other the big screen. As for my choice, if you only have time for one? The movie! It's one of my all-time favorites and if you haven't seen it, stop reading this blog and watch it. And be prepared to weep.
Mindset by Carol Dweck
I have read this book several times (and gifted to so many more). This is a must read! Dweck's research (which lies underneath Malcolm Gladwell's theory that "10,000 hours" of practice will make anyone an expert) had a profound affect on my view of my own talents (or rather, lack thereof) AND it changed how I spoke to my children. Wish you were better at something? Practice more! Think you'll never be excel at that? Practice more! Want to be the best at something? Why not?!? You can do anything you put your mind muscle to. How great is that?!?
Topgrading: How Leading Companies Win by Hiring, Coaching and Keeping the Best People by Bradford D. Smart
Okay, so this book is way too long (nearly 600 pages) but the lessons in the first 100 are ones I continue to live by today. (I first read this when I started Totefish and was struggling to hire good programmers). The short version? The best companies are stocked with A employees (verses B's or C's). That means everyone from an A-level CEO to an A-level assistant or janitor. And no, A's don't stay long working for a B's or C's. If your employees (or the higher ups) aren't A's, then the company has 3 choices -- redeploy B's and C's into different roles (where they can become A's), re-train/teach them or fire them (so they might become an A somewhere else). All of this makes great sense... especially if you start to apply it to your social life. Maybe it's time to rank your family and friends, no?
Night by Elie Wiesel
I recently re-read this (as part of my "Adults Should Re-Read the Classics of their High School Years To Get The True Meaning Out of Them" self-directed course). Incredible. A heartbreaking testament to the cruelty and fragility of human beings. What kind of human would I be, when faced with such extreme, terrible circumstances? I can only wonder.
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Thankfully, I read this before the movie came out (for the movie is a very honest and true rendition of the novel ). The book was delightful... until the end. I won't spoil it but I have to admit that the author's choices colored my entire experience, causing my initial love of the book to wane. But McEwan is a talented wordsmith and the story was full of emotion, his characters full of life and the world came alive off the page.
The Culture Code: An Ingenius Way to Understand why People Around the World Live and Buy as They Do by Clotaire Rapaille
Did you know the smell of coffee can trigger feelings of warmth and love from an American's adult's childhood? And the Japanese love most things green-tea flavored? Oh, the interesting little tidbits on different cultures and their buying habits you'll read. The first half of this book is eye-opening. The second half, a bit surface but it's still a fun read. Remember, the world's gone global so you might as well learn a little about the world buys. Easy, light read.
Non-Fiction / Memoir
Educated by Tara Westover
Westover's story is incredible -- born into a poor, conservative, abusive, Survivalist family, a young woman works against all odds and gets out. Oh, the power of a good education! Westover is a talented writer, which becomes all the more impressive as you learn about her childhood and her limited access to formal schooling. Inspiring, indeed. But her journey is heart-wrenching and I struggled with my increasing anger towards her father (who's an abusive, narcissistic, racist and sexist human being) and my frustration with her mother (who's an abused woman unawares, unwilling or unable to make a stand). I felt so sad for Westover and can only hope she continues to find the strength to rewrite the ending of her life's story.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
I picked this up after reading Ng's "Little Fires Everywhere." I love her style of writing (raw, simple, immediate and lyrical -- all at once) and this is a thoughtful dive into an unhappy, unrealized family. Good read but given my choice, I think I'm partial to the story told in "Fires."
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
A wonderful, quick read. I read this after I learned it was being made into a tv series for HULU -- and I am so glad I read this before the series hits the air. I quickly got lost in Ng's world of upper/middle-class suburban Ohio and the strange, overlapping lives of two women. The mystery is compelling and drives the story nicely, the characters are rich, the language is beautiful and the conflicts are deep and thoughtful. Recommend, indeed.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
I love this book. Her advice is so simple and yet, has complex implications and messaging. I've modified her suggestions to meet my own POV but overall, making sure the "things" in my life either 1. bring me joy or 2. serve their utilitarian function well has had the most profound influence on my closets and drawers. Goodbye clutter and guilt! For a longer review, check out my blog post on decluttering.
Non-Fiction / Memoir
Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr
Disclaimer: I love Rome, I love all things Roman and, if given the chance, I'd visit Rome at least once a quarter. I picked up this memoir after reading Doerr's "All The Light We Cannot See" (which is so wonderful) and I delighted in his account of exploring Rome, trying to write a novel and juggling two newborn twins. Not only was it a (virtual, remote) walk through Rome but I was reminded of the difficulty of wanting to be creative and productive when it's not really happening... and the craziness of raising babies! Plus, it was real special to be in Doerr's head, knowing he was about to begin to writing, "Light."
Protecting The Gift by Gavin de Becker
This is a very interesting companion book to De Becker's "The Gift of Fear." It's the application of his findings to issues affecting parents and he's created a very concrete guide out of it. Not only does he give you the rationale behind how to make smart parenting decisions (such as finding the right preschool, hiring a nanny, finding a doctor), I found his lessons applicable to regular life ('cause who doesn't need a good doctor?!) . One of the lessons learned? Don't take a friend's advice blindly; cross-reference and do your own research. Why? Because rarely does someone say, "I've entrusted a very mediocre babysitter to care for my kids. You don't want her number."
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
My first thought when reading this was how intelligent Eugenides must be! WOW! I'm not sure if I'd be thrilled or scared to death to sit next to him at a dinner party. This is an epic story, simultaneously grand and grounded; sweeping and intimate. It's a joy to read and the family's journey, told through the many generations, can't help but make one wonder about their own family lore and experiences. I was sad to see it end.
Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter
Years ago, I read Slaughter's Atlantic Monthly's essay on the plight of the working mother and her decision to quick her high-power job to become the primary caregiver for her two teenage boys -- and found it relevant to my own struggles of ambition vs. caregiving; the needs of a woman verses those of her kids, etc. This book is a bit of an expansion on those ideas but didn't really offer the (optimistic) concrete advice I was hoping for. Instead, it's a data-supported reality check that society WANTS well-raised children but DOESN'T support those who do it -- and the quandary of ambitious woman looking to juggle childrearing and their career? Well, good luck with that. Harumpf.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
A must read. I'm sorry it took me so long to pick it up. Beautiful, poignant, emotional and witty. As relevant and meaningful now as ever (especially when read though the lens of today's gender politics). The story is told through letters -- and wow! So original, so amazing, so impactful. And, yes, it does have a happy ending. Phew! This one will stay with me for a long time.
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Honestly, I picked this up at the library and read it in two nights. It's a quick read yet chock-full of complex characters and their emotions. Strout is such a strong writer! Yes, it's short -- which means I was wanting for more story, more time, more of everything -- but rumor has it she's got another book in the works. I can't wait to delve back in to the world of Lucy Barton. That's a sign of a good book, no?
Non-Fiction / Memoir
Just the Funny Parts by Nell Scovell
I read this just as the Hollywood #MeToo movement was getting underway. I greatly appreciate how Scovell writes candidly about the (somewhat discouraging) inside world of TV sitcoms but because of her candor, it's not a particularly uplifting book. Her only salvation seemed only to come from her partnership with Sheryl Sandberg, which gave her the courage to confront David Letterman about the harassing environment he led at the Late Show. Unfortunately, David's response was mostly silence. My biggest take-away the book? A lot of adults (in very successful, influential positions) need to deal with their unresolved inadequacies and grow up already. Geez.
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Oh, this is written so beautifully! It's lyrical and unique and intense. The experience of reading the prose was almost more impactful than the story. The story, overall, left me a bit wanting -- neither character is particularly likeable. But the complexity of the characters and Groff's incredible writing are worth the read. I so look forward to reading more from her.
The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker
Okay, so this is one of those somewhat frightening books that everyone MUST read (especially women). Basically, it's a scare-ya-straight reader for why you should NEVER override your 6th sense/instinct that tells you something is amiss. Listen to it! Act on it! It might save your life! Seriously. It's a really good book. I'm gonna make my son & daughter read it just before they head off to college.
Purity by Jonathan Franzen
As always, Franzen writes a very intelligent book and the prose is... kinda perfect. Compelling characters, interesting plot, a lot of movement and thoughtful commentary on identity and relationships. Is it a must read? I found myself wanting for more emotional stakes. Honestly, I still like "The Corrections" more.
The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway
When I read this as student in high school, I was annoyed at the old man. Just let go of the damn fish! That's why I think the classics are wasted on the young. How I get the brilliance of this story now. It's a quick read (always good after a long day at work) but it's profound in its simplicity. It got me wondering about my identity, my passion and the sacrifices (or costs) that come from my inability to see beyond my nose; beyond my assumptions of what I need or must do. It's worth a re-read, especially as we enter the back-half of our life, where we're all a bit more like the old man than we think.
The 48 Rules of Power by Robert Greene
I'm torn on this book. On the one hand, it is incredibly compelling. It gives shrewd advice on how to "be powerful." I mean, who doesn't really want that? The advice is given in historical context and the stories are, if not a bit dense, very entertaining. But on the other hand, its value lies in the heartless, ruthless, greedy and apathetic pursuit of individual power. To what end? To what affect? Certainly not in the hopes that goodness will prevail. Not this book! But, it is still relevant. For even the most moral, upstanding and loving among us should be aware that many of those seeking power abide by the rules set forth here. So, you better read the book, if for no other reason than to be aware of what the other guy might be doing to take YOU down.
Eloquence: The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth
Recommended to me by my 15-year old daughter (her English teacher assigned it). DELICIOUS. For anyone who wishes they had an enlightened English teacher, this is a must read for anyone interested in writing (or giving a speech). Forsyth deconstructs the underlying "secrets" of great prose (and speeches) with clarity and useful, relevant examples. It's as informative as it is entertaining (as far as grammar books go). Forsyth has a sharp tongue (or pencil, in this case) and a fantastically-dry, British wit. Who knew the secret of Shakespeare's success rested in his sophisticated, strategic use of alliteration and rhyme.
Non-Fiction / Memoir
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Wallis' memoir is well-written and incredibly engaging (if not heartbreaking) -- and I appreciated her enduring optimism and positive spin on her "unconventional" upbringing. But honestly, I struggled to see beyond the abuse and neglect. No child should be subjected to such -- and while I applaud (and am left in awe) of Walls' perseverance and strength of character, my anger towards her parents' narcissism and their willful total lack of responsibility and maturity was overwhelming. Shame on parents such as these. Parents owe their children stability, safety, support and love. Full stop.
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
I read this years ago (and still employ the best of its lessons) but our kids' school just recommended it, too. For me, the biggest takeaways = We create habits to fulfill a need; those habits become ingrained with triggers; to change the habit, you must acknowledge the trigger AND the emotional reward (which don't change) and then, change the behavior inside. Example -- You come home stressed from work. You pour yourself a glass of wine. You destress. But now, you want to stop with all the empty calories? But, you still want to be distressed (need) and you still walk in the door the same way (trigger). Thus, dropping the wine is realllllly hard. Proposal? Walk in the door, put on your sneakers ASAP, go for a walk. Then, you're more likely to stay away from the wine. Make sense? Well, read the book. He explains it better than me.