Tag Archives: nonfiction

Review: On Becoming Fearless

fearlessRecap: A few weeks ago, I was about to embark on a new journey and decided  Arianna Huffington’s book On Becoming Fearless was the perfect book for that moment. I was scared. I was about to start a new job in a new city more than 1,000 miles away from home. I was moving up professionally, and I was overcome with anxiety. I wasn’t sleeping well, eating well,  exercising much. Quite frankly, I fell out of my routine. I thought now’s the time to work on becoming fearless.

Huffington’s book is part memoir, part self-help (mostly self-help). It’s similar in structure to Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B in that way, except Huffington’s book didn’t stem from a single traumatic event, but from a series of events and lessons learned over the course of her life. Certain moments in her past have made Huffington a somewhat controversial figure; she is disliked by many, but at the end of the day she is an incredibly successful woman. Typically a woman doesn’t achieve status like hers without going through her fair share of hardship. She uses that in this book as a force for education, so we may learn how to be fearless about our bodies, fearless in love, in parenting, at work, about money, about aging and illness and death, about leadership and speaking out, about changing the world.

In between chapters, there are sprinklings of stories written by other successful women and the lessons they’ve learned on each of these topics.

Analysis: As I expected, it was exactly the kind of book I needed in that moment. I enjoyed the stories, which made their case for the lessons they tried to prove. But unfortunately, having read it only about a month ago now, I can’t recall many specific pieces of advice that Huffington delivers. Yes, there are the obvious things: sleep more, meditate, eat better, exercise — essentially take care of yourself because your mind and body will both thank you. But some of the tactics for remaining fearless have escaped my mind. But maybe that’s really all it is: the mind. Having the right mindset, the right attitude.

Fundamentally geared more toward women, the book makes the case for “owning” whatever it is you’re battling or going through. Recognizing your worth and daring to prove it to others — or better yet, yourself. There are sections I read that don’t yet apply to me. For instance, the chapter about motherhood. I found it interesting, but know there will come a time in my life several years down the when I’ll have a strong desire to re-read this book and remind myself of the mindset of becoming fearless. Because what do we have to lose? If there’s anyone who’s fearless, it’s Arianna Huffington and like her or not, we could all stand to learn something from her about becoming fearless.

Get On Becoming Fearless in paperback now for $11.94.

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Review: Notorious R.B.G.

RBGRecap: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is only the second woman to ever rule on the U.S. Supreme Court, and she made it to the top with good reason. As a hardworking Jewish girl from New York, she grew up in a time when women weren’t expected to have careers, but she decided she wanted more out of life than a husband.

Notorious R.B.G. started as a Tumblr page  whose creators then turned it into a book. The near coffee table-sized book details RBG’s rise to the Supreme Court — including her years in college and law school — as well as the feminist qualities that allowed her to build a career and a family simultaneously when women didn’t typically do that. The book includes photos, doodles and annotated Supreme Court decisions, more or less mixing biography with history book. It’s an interesting read for anyone who may want to learn more about law, the Supreme Court or just feminist badassery. For all those reasons, Notorious RBG totally worked for me.

Analysis: Okay, so maybe this book was given to me as a gift with me not having very much care for the Notorious RBG. And maybe this book was given to me even though I was clueless about the fact that Ruth Bader Ginsberg had famously became an internet sensation several years ago. But I was still intrigued, if for no other reason than RBG and I share two letters in our monogram (I was LBG before I got married) and she was a small, Jewish woman — like me. So I read it and was naively astounded to learn how truly prolific this feminist woman is. What she has done for our country’s judicial system, people fighting for their rights and women around the country and world is incredible. She is a true force to be reckoned with.

The writing style itself was nothing special. Some of the sections — though cleverly sectioned and titled based on Notorious B.I.G. lyrics — skipped around with the timeline of her life, and at points I found that confusing. A more linear timeline may have worked a bit better. Some of the explanations of the court cases also could have been simplified — though to be fair, details of court cases sometimes make my head spin, so maybe that’s just a personal issue? But mostly, it was funny, inspiring, easy to follow and transforming.

As women, we could all use someone like RBG to look up to. Now with my understanding and knowledge of her life and work, I can’t wait to read and follow the rest of her court decisions, dissents, and career.

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Review: The Last Dropout

last dropoutRecap: Whatever you think the national dropout rate for high school is, it’s probably worse. Whatever you’ve read the national dropout rate for high school is, it’s likely worse. The truth is we don’t have very accurate data on it since most high schools try to highlight the more positive statistics and shuffle the bad stats underneath. Some schools don’t even include ninth grade dropouts in their numbers, even though ninth grade is clearly part of high school.

This undeniable crisis is highlighted in The Last Dropout. The book focuses on the national nonprofit organization Communities in Schools (CIS), which was developed to help school-aged children and ensure they don’t drop out of school. CIS primarily works in urban areas where dropout rates are typically worse and resources typically less available. Rather than acting as a resource in and of itself, CIS acts as an intermediary party that connects school districts with outside resources that could benefit students. For instance, it connects school with local doctors and dentists to ensure students are getting proper healthcare and dental care; that would allow them to better focus on schoolwork because they wouldn’t have to stress about their health. It also connects students with organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters to ensure students have mentors who can guide them if they don’t receive that attention at home.

The Last Dropout documents the history of CIS, how it works and its successes.

Analysis: I received this book from a viewer (I’m a local TV anchor) a while ago and never read it. I was never sure why they felt compelled to send it to me, and there was no note included in the package. I let it sit on my shelf for a long time, thinking I’ll get to it eventually because it seems interesting. But by the time I finally picked it up, I thought I’d just have to power through this.

I was wrong! The book hooked me from the beginning with anecdotes about the children who have been helped by the CIS mission. The book is written by one of the co-founders of CIS, who is so passionate about the mission, it reels you in. The story of how he developed the nonprofit is fascinating. Latter sections of the book were a little meatier. Parts of it lost me with lots of education jargon, and the author’s sometimes repetitive explanation of CIS’s mission. But of course, he’s proud of his work and the organization, and based on what I’ve learned from the book, I can’t blame him.

The book is now 10 years old, and I’d love to know how CIS has grown over the years and how many more children have succeeded because of it. The Last Dropout opened my eyes to a systemic problem I was never really aware of before, and I’ve already recommended it to some of my teacher friends.

Get The Last Dropout in paperback now for $8.35. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $1.99.

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Review: Ann M. Martin: The Story of the Author of the Baby-Sitters Club

IMG_3463Recap: Ann M. Martin is the brilliant creator and writer of The Baby-Sitters Club series that I binged ferociously throughout elementary school. I wanted friends like the girls in the club, and I wanted a side job like they had so I could make money to shop at Claire’s. Ann M. Martin was J.K. Rowling before J.K. Rowling. She was a badass woman who created an entire world of people and problems to which every kid could relate. Finally learning a little more about her as a person was exciting and interesting.

The book is a true biography of her life and climb to the top as a children’s author. It includes details of her family, her childhood, the fall that caused her to deal with lifelong pain and illness and how she started writing professionally. When you read her biography, it becomes clear why she wrote about what she wrote about. She always loved children, writing and babysitting. For most of her young life, she thought she would be a teacher, but things ultimately changed direction as they so often do.

It was also interesting, maybe not so surprising, and a little disappointing to learn that once the series became so popular, she wasn’t necessarily the author writing all The Baby-Sitters Club books.

Analysis: A little backstory on this: I received this book in the mail as a response to a fan letter I wrote to Ann M. Martin probably when I was about eight years old. Clearly, author meant for me to read it then, but I didn’t and it fell into the abyss of my childhood bedroom. I rediscovered the book several years ago when my family moved out of that house, so I finally decided to read it.

It was extremely thoroughly and painted a beautiful, wholesome picture of the woman who will always remain wholesome in my pain.

That said, I wish I’d read it when I was eight. Though her story was interesting, it was clearly written for kids. The writing is extremely basic, especially when compared to some of the other adult memoirs and biographies out there. (I mean hell, I read Ron Chernow’s Hamilton a few years ago.) But it is the perfect biography for children who probably love Ann M. Martin as much as they love her books.

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Review: Option B

417t2blcp9rl-_sx292_bo1204203200_Recap: Grief is no easy thing and like addiction, it is not something people can “overcome.” It’s something that simply becomes a part of our lives forever, and we are tasked with learning to manage it. If anyone knows about grief, it’s Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg who several years ago lost her husband suddenly. He died from heart-related problems at the age of 47 while working out at the gym.

Sheryl feared not only that she would never get over his death but that her children would never be happy again.  She turned to friends, family and experts to help her work through her grief. Along the way, she became close with psychologist, author and University of Pennsylvania professor Adam Grant, who helped her co-write Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. As she writes in her book, “Option A (having her husband) is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of Option B.”

Speaking to Grant and other psychologists, she writes about many theories that helped me to better understand why some of us make grief harder for ourselves than others. For instance, Sandberg talks about “The Three P’s: personalization, pervasiveness and permanence. The goal is to avoid the three P’s; avoid thinking this situation is all your fault, avoid thinking this will affect every part of your life and avoid thinking you will always feel this way.

Analysis: Sandberg’s Option B works in a way that many other self-help books don’t in that she offers concrete, easy-to-employ tactics for dealing with not only grief, but any kind of loss: unemployment (loss of job), divorce (loss of marriage), etc. They’re easy to put into everyday use, like stop saying “I’m sorry,” allow yourself cry breaks, do good deeds for other people, find ways of honoring the person you’re grieving so they don’t feel forgotten and talk about them with others, including co-workers.

She does this while still offering the same theories, analysis and results of psychological studies that other self-help books might also include. But she also tells short stories about people all over the country who have gone through horrific, life-changing events and overcome them. These real-life stories work as great examples for some of the psychological theories that we may not otherwise understand because of therapist jargon. They also worked for me as examples of people who have been forced to work through situations much more severe than mine. The thought process becomes: if they can get through that, I can certainly get through this.

I’d been wanting to read this book for so long after the death of my father, and while I (thankfully) found I had already employed some of these tactics into my own life to help deal with my grief, I also found this book helped me to better understand grief in general and understand why I’m still having trouble working past certain aspects of my grief. As Sandberg explains, grief is not considered to be a linear process, and it’s different for everyone. I have accepted my Option B. Thank you, Sheryl, for showing me what I need to do now to kick the shit out of it.

Get Option B in hardcover for $7.83. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $13.99.

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Michelle Obama To Release Memoir

becomingFormer First Lady Michelle Obama has announced she will be releasing a memoir later this year.

Entitled Becoming, the book, published by Crown Publishing Group, is due to be released November 13th, according to Entertainment Weekly

The former FLOTUS announced on Twitter “Writing BECOMING has been a deeply personal experience. I talk about my roots and how a girl from the South Side found her voice. I hope my journey inspires readers to find the courage to become whoever they aspire to be. I can’t wait to share my story.”

In a release from the publisher, they wrote “Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her — from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it — in her own words and on her own terms.”

 

Get your pre-order ready, folks.

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Movie vs. Book: Julie and Julia

Recap: As her 30th birthday becomes frighteningly close, Julie Powell realizes she’s unhappy with her life. She has a wonderful husband who she’s been with since high school, but her job leaves her unfulfilled, she and her husband live in a tiny apartment and she has a condition which will likely make it extremely difficult to have children. Doctors continue to push her to have children before turning 30 since that would be her best chance for success, but she’s not ready for kids yet. Her dissatisfaction with her life leads to a fairly irrational decision. She likes to cook, so she will cook….the entire first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julie Child.

She gives herself a one-year deadline, which sounds feasible until you realize that’s 524 recipes she has to cook in 365 days, and most of them are obscenely difficult and…well…French. They include killing, cutting and cooking lobster, boning ducks and hours and hours of stewing in ovens and stovetops. The challenge is beyond difficult. She has no choice but to employ the help of her husband to buy groceries and meat. She invites friends over to enjoy the food. She keeps a blog which suddenly has readers she feels she must entertain and please. The media picks up on her blog, and Julie’s Julie/Julia Project blows up across the nation. All this happens as her friends deal with the trials and tribulations of love and lust and while Julie’s own marriage takes a backseat to her goal.

Each chapter is also interspersed with bits and pieces about the life and love of Julie Child. Her loves — like Julie — are both cooking and her husband. Much like Julia Child learning to cook at age 37, Julie is also on a search to find herself and does after quite a bit of time and hard work.

Analysis: The movie Julie and Julia is a decent adaptation of the book, cutting back and forth between Julie (Amy Adams) and Julia (Meryl Streep) as they find themselves through food. The movie includes much more of Julia Child’s story as she works to publish her first cookbook. (Right from the start, the movie acknowledges it’s sharing the stories of two different books : Julie Powell’s Julie and Juliand Julia Child’s My Life in France.) Because the movie has more Julia, it therefore has less Julie than in the book. Her fertility issues are not mentioned in the movie, nor are the side characters (Julie’s friends) and their crazy love lives. Those cuts help to make the movie a little more upbeat and uplifting and better parallel the journey of both Julie and Julia.

The best parts about both the movie and memoir are how funny they are — Meryl Streep portrays Julia Child impeccably, and Amy Adams is great at bringing Julie’s frustration, rage, determination and humor to life. Both also end in a more moving way than you might expect, but the movie’s end pales in comparison to the book’s final pages. Powell’s powerful writing about Julia Child’s death and what she ultimately learned through this journey moved me to tears and made clear that this challenge was about much more than just cooking and writing about it; it’s about the journey we all find ourselves on, and sometimes you just need to force yourself to take the first step.

Get Julie and Julia in paperback now for just $3.35.

Or get it on your Kindle for $7.99.

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