DNF: Relentless

I really don’t do a lot of DNFing (that’s Did Not Finish). I suppose that is, in part, because I’m generally quite deliberate with the books I choose to start. And it’s also because sometimes I’m willing to let reading experiences drag on to great lengths – case in point, this book, that took me half of 2015 to finish, and this article, that sat in my inbox for 3 years. (For the record, both were totally worth the time).

Anyway, a team of my co-workers and I had recently decided to do a little work-book-club, where we’d read a business-related book to discuss. After soliciting nominations, and voting on the top choices, we came up with a book called Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable. By title, of course, this sounds like a great choice, right? Let’s push ourselves to be the best we can be, and all that jazz.

17354208

But no.

It was so, so bad. So bad, that I officially/inadvertently killed the book club (or, more accurately, killed that book, so we moved on to choice 2, but it sounds so much more dramatic to say “I killed the book club!”)

To save you from this reading experience, I’d like to share some of the quotes from this book. To give you the proper context, the author Tim Grover, is a trainer for elite athletes. Primarily, he references his work with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Dwayne Wade. Anyway, Grover’s “leadership” model is based on 3 types of people, “coolers, closers, and cleaners.” You don’t really have to understand anymore than that to get the most out of these quotes.

Here’s the first place I almost stopped reading, on principle:

A Cleaner controls his urges, not the other way around. The dark side isn’t about taking stupid risks and getting in trouble; that would show weakness. You can feel your desires and act on them, or not act on them; your self-control is what distinguishes you from everyone else. You can walk away or hold back whenever you choose. You reach for the bottle because you want a drink, not because you need one. You can have the hottest women, enjoy them all, but never get too involved.

Wait, did he seriously just say that? Objectifying women as something you “have,” as part of what you should aspire to be if you want to be relentless? *Vomit*

Yet I continued:

Cleaners go home to detach from the dark side; it’s the built-in safety valve. That’s why so many men fight to stay in their marriages even after they’ve been caught doing something they shouldn’t have been doing: home is the only safe place they know. Home surrounds you with comfort and security; the force of the dark side comes from somewhere else. You go home to feel safe and loved, you go out to feel excitement… you may not want to admit it, but you can’t deny it. The fire in your gut comes from the dark side, and the dark side has no place at the family dinner table…

I don’t know if there’s a better example than Tiger Woods, who’s now-famous dark side led him to become involved with a dozen or so women who were not his wife. Of course, that number of women would be a slow week for some pro athletes…

WTAF? So, “relentless” individuals must cultivate a safe space at home, but then also find outlets for their “dark side.” Is that what he is saying?

Why, yes, actually it is:

When a cleaner wants a break from the pressure he puts on himself, he escapes to the dark side. Something else for him to control, a temporary fix that maintains the pressure but allows him to shift his focus from one addiction to another for a while. Instead of working, he reaches for sex.

This book is shit.

I killed* the book club, and I’m not sorry about it.

*Not entirely true. We’ve moved on to the second choice: Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by the CEO of Zappos. Hello, shoes. Goodbye, sleazeball misogynist athletic trainer.

Advertisements

Review: When Everything Changed

When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present
Gail Collins
Published 2009 by Little, Brown and Company
480 Pages

women

This book opens with an incident in 1960, in which a 28-year-old woman was sent home from an appearance in traffic court – to pay her oil-executive boss’s speeding ticket – because she was wearing slacks. Collins quoted the magistrate who sent her home:

“I get excited about this because I hold womanhood on a high plane and it hurts my sensibilities to see women tearing themselves down from this pedestal,” the magistrate told reporters. It was a convoluted expression of the classic view of sexual differences: women did not wear the pants in the family – or anywhere else, for that matter. In return, they were allowed to stand on a pedestal.

Ugh. Vomit.

What follows is a wide-ranging survey of the (almost) 50 year span between that incident and the book’s publication. Collins uses news articles and interviews to document the big-picture changes through individual lived experiences of American women:

One day coeds were in school just to earn an MRS degree, and then – whoops – there were so many qualified, competitive young women winning the best places in the best colleges that the media worried about what would become of they boys. One year little girls were learning the importance of losing gracefully, and the next they were suing for admission to the Little League. It left many people shaking their heads, wondering what propelled such extraordinary change so rapidly.

This book was a good conversational starting point, to be sure. Collins covers a lot of ground, including the differences between reformers and radicals in the women’s movement, the role of black women caught between movements for their race and for their gender, how women were able to rise in their careers thanks to the availability of lower-class women to help with childcare and housework, and how Gloria Steinem “served as a symbol – whether she liked it or not – that women could be both militant and sexually appealing.”

The movement’s various factions had little in common. The reformers did not want to overthrow the existing system – they wanted to open the gates so that women could become part of it…the leaders of the radical wing of the women’s movement wanted to go much farther than simply leveling the playing field when it came to things like job opportunities. They were going to examine everything about American womanhood…they intended to figure out what had kept their sex in such a secondary role…If you could connect all the dots and examine the patterns, you could identify the patriarchal forces that were keeping women down.

Mostly, this book left me wanting more. Of course, that’s not so much a statement on the book as it is a statement on 2016 society, folks.

One piece of history that seems to have been lost at some point, was that in “in the early 70’s, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators and representatives actually passed legislation that would make child care available to every family that wanted it.” Huh. Did you know that? However, it was vetoed by Nixon – in a move that surprised many – and we’ve never had that kind of support again.

So in a world where women have certainly earned a seat at the table in schools and corporations and politics, there’s still a relegating to “women’s issues” things like healthcare and maternity leave and education and childcare, as women are left to solve those problems on their own.

When the young activists of the ‘60s and ‘70s had imagined what life would be like for the liberated woman…they did truly believe that the structure of society would change to accommodate their new ways of living. They thought the humanistic corporations of the future would offer flexible schedules so both the husband and wife would be able to pursue success on the job while having time to take care of the responsibilities at home. They expected that men would automatically do their share of household chores. And they believed the government would start providing early child care the same way it provided public education. They had not considered the possibility that society might remain pretty much the same as always, and simply open the door for women to join the race for success while taking care of their private lives as best they could.

I’ve paid close attention to opportunities for women in America since 2nd grade, when my mother called out my teacher for saying that the girls in our class can grow up to be mothers. “Of course they can. Mothers and what? Or did you also tell the boys they can grow up to be fathers, full stop?” I’m paraphrasing here, but the story is definitely a true fact. Anyway, for being in-tune with the topic, I did learn a few new things and new perspectives from this book. I’m glad I read it, but it’s not going to go down as an oft-quoted favorite.

Reading this general overview reminded me of some more topic-specific reads I’d like to get into.

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights (link to Shannon’s review on River City Reading)

The Birth of the Pill (my sister’s review)

Notorious RBG (my sister’s review)

Bad Feminist (my sister’s review)

Anything else you would add to this list?

CPHbyC7UAAA7XyR

Review: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Michael Chabon
Published 2000 by Picador USA
639 Pages

 


3985

I didn’t know very much about The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay when I added it to my 2015 TBR Challenge List, other than it had something to do with comic books. The novel is divided into 6 parts, each one adding a layer of richness to the story of two Jewish cousins, and the rise and fall of their comics empire.

At the outset, teenage Joseph Kavalier is living in pre-WWII Prague, with his family’s hopes pinned on sending him to start a new life with relatives in New York. The first of the many layers of storytelling is Joe’s escape, involving his magic teacher and the Golem of Prague. At this point, I was all-in for wherever Chabon was going to take the story. (Thanks in part to The Golem and the Jinni for kicking off my fascination with golems.) Joe makes it to New York, and meets his cousin Sammy, who suffered in childhood from polio and an absentee father. Sammy’s dreams coupled with Joe’s artistic talent lead to great things – as well as terrible things – for the cousins.

Scrolling through the Goodreads reviews for this Pulitzer Prize winning novel, I see comments that are all across the board. Not every book is for everyone, but here’s my two cents: I’m not into comics in general, and there is a definite shortage of female characters with agency in this book, but neither of these things diminished my enjoyment of getting caught up in Joe and Sammy and their successes and heartbreaks.

Nor did Chabon’s immense vocabulary – I was happy to be reading this book on my Kindle, where I was able to look-up a words at least once a chapter. In fact, I wish I had made a list of words as I went, like I found from this reader. I’d be interested in the other 158 words that made his list.

Have you read this one, or any other Michael Chabon books?

Rosa shook her head. It seemed to be her destiny to live among men whose solutions were invariably more complicated or extreme than the problems they were intended to solve.

 

2015 TBR Challenge – I Cry Uncle

Last December, Amanda and I signed up for the 2015 TBR Challenge. Though I had lofty aspirations, between an extremely demanding work year, and the amount of time I spent laboring over Romantic Outlaws, I just didn’t get it done.

I did, however, make a late run, finishing another 4 books from my list since the end of October, for a total of 7/12. Coming soon…our 2016 TBR lists, for a super casual challenge with Amanda and I, plus Eva the Paperback Princess. Feel free to join in with your own list!

Recent Completions

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (2008)

One-sentence summary: This book is a lovely, happy story for 90% of the book, and then it crushes your soul.

This pause in time, within time…When did I first experience the exquisite sense of surrender that is possible only with another person? The peace of mind one experiences on one’s own, one’s certainty of self in the serenity of solitude, are nothing in comparison to the release, and openness and fluency one shares with another, in close companionship.

Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson (2000)

One Three-sentence summary: Fascinating look at the formation of the weather service and the power of a 1900 hurricane. Not my favorite Erik Larson, though it would take a lot to replace my beloved Devil in the White City. I wanted more scandal and turmoil, which was a bit buried beneath all the bureaucracy – as it tends to be, I suppose.

The chief did not want his observers just sitting around between weather observations, a wise policy, given the sex scandals, grave robbing, and other incidents that would soon surface and further undermine the weather service’s reputation.

Little Men by Louisa May Alcott (1871)

One-sentence summary: Jo has grown up.

As there is no particular plan to this story, except to describe a few scenes in the life at Plumfield for the amusement of certain little persons, we will gently ramble along in this chapter and tell some of the pastimes of Mrs. Jo’s boys.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (1970)

One-sentence summary: I am glad I read this, but if you can only read one coming of age story, please let it be Coming of Age in Mississippi.

If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat.

Have you read any of these 4?

Become a Podcast Addict/ Nonfiction November

Nonfiction-November-2015-300x300

 

This week in Nonfiction November, the topic is nontraditional nonfiction – including “e-books, audiobooks, illustrated and graphic nonfiction, oversized folios, miniatures, internet publishing, and enhanced books complete with artifacts.”

I love a good nonfiction book, but when it comes to other ways of consuming nonfiction, I have a clear favorite: podcasts. Oh, not just any podcasts – I am here to tell you exactly where to start listening to get hooked on audio storytelling.

Here is your 5 step guide to becoming a podcast-addict.

 

  1. Start here: In 2014 (or maybe late 2013?) Alex Blumberg left NPR to found a podcast company called Gimlet, where he chronicled his own journey in season one of Startup, and started launching new (amazing!) podcasts. Check out this recent episode of Startup, called “The Secret Formula,” which explains the kind of obsessively crafted podcasts Gimlet makes. This will set the tone for everything else you’re about to listen to.startup_logo_small2
  2. Next, try another Gimlet podcast: Mystery Show hosted by Starlee Klein. If you don’t love the episode “Belt Buckle”, then I’m not sure we can be friends.mystery_logo_small
  3. Remember when I said Alex Blumberg left NPR? Now it’s time to revisit where he learned how to make great podcasts: from one Ira Glass at This American Life. There are currently 539 shows, so I get that seems a bit overwhelming. Here’s a few episodes to start with: “Very Tough Love,” about a drug court in Georgia, and “The Problem We All Live With” – parts 1 and 2, about school segregation and integration. And also, “Fear of Sleep.” Seriously, just listen.logo-v5
  4. Before there was Gimlet, Alex Blumberg helped start NPR’s Planet Money, a show that bills itself this way: “Imagine you could call up a friend and say, “Meet me at the bar and tell me what’s going on with the economy.” Now imagine that’s actually a fun evening. That’s what we’re going for at Planet Money.” If you’re ready to dive into this show, start with this 5 episode series where the Planet Money team worked with economists to create a fake presidential candidate pitching an economist-approved agenda. No, really – it will get you thinking for sure.download
  5. It’s time for one more Gimlet Show. Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt host Reply All, “a show about the internet.” Careful readers may have noticed that I say “this is a book blog,” but I often start with books and then write about whatever I feel like – that’s basically what Alex and PJ do. They definitely start with the internet, but this show goes into all sorts of fascinating directions. Like in the episode “Shipped to Timbuktu.” You really, really, really need to listen to this one.replyall_logo_small

 

Bonus step: visit http://serialpodcast.org/ and wait for Season 2 to be released. You can certainly catch-up on Season 1 if you haven’t heard that yet. But I’m assuming you have, right? It’s the only the most popular podcast ever.

download (1)

Some technical notes: iTunes is the obvious place that most people find podcasts, but there are definitely alternatives. I’ve been using an app (for Android) called Podcast Addict that I love. I download when I’m on wifi and listen to downloaded episodes wherever: in the car, on a run, and while making dinner or doing laundry. You can also play the linked episodes above right from your computer.

download
And finally – I am often terrible at responding to comments, but I really want to hear your thoughts on these podcasts and whatever podcasts you love! So let’s discuss, eh?

Book Pairings: Nonfiction November Edition

Nonfiction-November-2015-300x300

In case you missed it, last week Amanda kicked off our Nonfiction November with some of her fave NF reads. Lest she call me out again for skipping out, here I am to get us started for this week’s topic: pairing up a nonfiction book with a fiction one.

Grouping books together is totally my jam – see exhibits a, b, and c – so I am excited about this topic.

Holly’s Pairings

Issac’s Storm + The Promise

Hurricane

Both of these books have been on my TBR for a while, and I’m actually just waiting for Issac’s Storm to be mine from the library so I can hop to it! Issac’s Storm is Erik Larson’s nonfiction account of the 1900 hurricane in Galveston, Texas – the greatest natural disaster in American history. The Promise is Ann Weisgarber’s novel about a young woman from Ohio who arrives in Galveston in 1900 to marry a childhood admirer. I can’t to see how the fictional account works in the realities of the storm.

 

The Girls of Atomic City + Code Name Verity

ww2

If you are interested in reading about women during WWII, then I’m going to recommend both of these books. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is an amazing novel about two friends and the role they play in the war effort. The Girls of Atomic City is Denise Kiernan’s nonfiction account of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and the work that was done there during the war. Young women doing what they can during the war? Check. Hardships and reality? Check. Secrets and intrigue? Check. Seriously – you won’t regret reading either one.

 

Amanda’s Pairings

The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and The Missing Corpse + The Talented Mr. Ripley

duke

I just finished The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and The Missing Corpse which was kind of a bizarre story.  I spent most of the book trying to figure out when the Dead Duke really died and whose life he was living at the time.  Trying unravel this mystery led me to thinking about Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley.  Ripley’s way of becoming someone is far more sinister than what might have happened with the mysterious 5th Duke of Portland and  T.C. Druce – but Druce sounds like kind of a dirtbag which led me to this comparison.  

 

The Witches: Salem, 1692 + A Few YA Reads

FotorCreated

I’m only 20 pages into The Witches right now and I keep thinking of books I have read or want to read! First,  I thought of the Cahill Witch Chronicles by Jessica Spotswood which I’ve been wanting to read forever.  Witches trying to stay secret – yes please.  Next I thought of The Fever by Megan Abbott, about a creepy panic when high school girls fall ill.  Not my favorite read to be honest, but it was compelling and the paranoia hearkens back to Salem quite a bit in my mind.  Continuing with the YA theme I thought of The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker.  This is more of a stretch I think – but the accusations and the searching for witches is what brought it to my mind.   Last one,  maybe more middle grade I suppose, but the fantastic Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time series -specifically A Swiftly Tilting Planet.  As I read about Cotton Mather inserting himself into the history of Salem I thought about how he gets involved in the story of Meg and Charles Wallace.  And  I want to now throw over my whole TBR to read the whole Wrinkle in Time series again.   I am curious to see what else jumps to mind as I keep reading – and a bit nervous to read about what happened in Salem.  

What books are you linking together this week?

 

 

Nonfiction Review: Romantic Outlaws

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley

By Charlotte Gordon

Random House, 2015

Source: e-ARCs from Edelweiss

22294061

Holly

You guys. This book was my white whale of 2015.

Let me tell you a (not)secret: I do not read nearly as many books as my sister. To date, I have read about half as many books as my 2015 goal – in part because I spent so much time not-reading Romantic Outlaws.

I started this book in March. I finished it in September. More accurately, I started and stopped this book in March and then read this book in September, but it weighed heavily on me in the interim.

Anyway, you should read this book, but I won’t pressure you about when. Take your time.

I chose – and labored over – this book because Amanda said: ‘hey, let’s read this!” All I knew of Mary Wollstonecraft I remembered from Mr. Nall’s AP European History class, and she sounded like someone I should know more about, having written A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792, well before the first-wave feminist movement began in earnest.

I went into this book with no idea what I was getting into with the Marys.

Amanda

I too, think I read this book forever.  This is not a read for the faint of heart – it is 672 pages.  But it was completely fascinating and worth all of the time it took.  I really didn’t believe a nonfiction book this long would keep me enthralled but I was hooked.  Occasionally I was thrown off by too many Marys, but I really loved how we flashed back and forth from mother to daughter.

Holly

Mary Wollstonecraft was born in 1759, and died in 1797, when her daughter Mary Shelley was born. Mary W had unquestionably shitty parents – an abusive father and a checked-out mother – and she spent her childhood moving around as her father dodged debts or chased various schemes. Mary W decided she wanted more out of life, and took initiative to make things happen – starting with her writing. She wrote articles, then books, and then decided to document the French Revolution in real time. She willingly went to Paris during the terror while blood is running in the streets. There Mary, not one for social conventions, fell in love and had a child out of wedlock. She was up for the challenges she faced from society, though she had more trouble with her rocky relationship and her own depression. Back in England a few years later, Mary met and eventually married William Godwin, who had once called a husband’s legalized possession of a woman in marriage “odious selfishness.”

Mary Shelley grew up with her father, William Godwin, who remarried shortly after his wife’s death. Godwin, while an interesting person, turned out to be not a winning parent himself. Mary S, singled out her whole life as the child of intellectual heavyweights, went through a rebellious teenaged period which resulted in her running off with the poet Percy Shelley. The married poet Shelley. This was a bad scene, made worse by the fact that Mary’s step-sister and rival, Jane, tagged along. Then Jane changed her name to Claire, and there were pregnancies and rumors and the poet-playboy Lord Byron and before long, the girls and the poets were nicknamed “the league of incest.” All the while, Godwin was either not-speaking to his daughter, or asking her to get Shelley to send money. Along the way, Mary Shelley developed into a talented writer herself, truly the equal of her husband. Mary and Percy marry, eventually, after his wife’s suicide. Seriously – these stories are fascinating.

The book flips with a chapter on Wollstonecraft then a chapter on Shelley. At first, I found this jarring, but when I tackled this book in September I just decided to take notes along the way. Once I actually got into this book, it was a page-turner – in part, because of the scandals and antics, but also because of the impact that mother & daughter had on writing, on feminist ideology, and on the societies in which they lived.

Amanda

Do you ever have that experience when you’re really into a book then find that it relates to everything around you?  As I was reading about Mary W making the choice to stay in France during the Revolution and what she wrote about the revolutionaries I was also reading The Secret History of the Pink Carnation books.  That series focuses on the English nobles who, at times, actively worked with the displaced French nobility.  I had a whole new perspective on my fun historical fiction read.  

Then I met Lord Byron – the Justin Bieber of his time. Seriously, I need to read more about him.  But I then flashed back to Almost Famous Women and the story of poor and illegitimate Allegra Byron.  Does this happen to anyone else?  I swear I referenced this book all the time in conversation and I talked my husband’s ears off.  These Marys were just amazing! I have 21 pages of highlights in my kindle from this book.  I won’t give you all of those – but will leave you with Gordon’s words:

Even those who revere mother and daughter do not fully realize how profoundly they changed the moral code of the day… Not only did they write world-changing books, they broke from the strictures that governed women’s conduct, not once but time and time again.  Their refusal to bow down, to subside and surrender, to be quiet and subservient, to apologize and hide, makes their lives as memorable as the words they left behind.  

So Holly, when are we going to start reading A Vindication of the Rights of Women and Frankenstein?

Read this! Nonfiction November is coming!

Thank you Random House for these advance read copies in exchange for honest opinions!