Review(ish) – Yes Please

Sometime last year, my two besties from high school (and loyal GIAO readers!) and I started talking about reading a book together to discuss and review. Initially, that book was going to be Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices. Then, we took it down a few notches and decided to read Amy Poehler’s Yes Please together.

20910157

This led to a series of texts and emails over a few weeks about the book, about the virtues of reading, and about coolness. Reading is obviously a pretty solitary activity, but discussing a book with friends can be all sorts of fun. I highly recommend it (and guys, let’s do it again!).

So, here’s what we thought about the book (texts and messages have been edited to sound way more put together than the conversation actually was. My buddies are Bestie 1 and Bestie 2 – they are both brilliant and hilarious.

H: How’s the book going?

Bestie 1: I’m about halfway through – she is funny, but I can’t stop comparing it in my mind to Tina Fey’s book which I thought was funnier. Not a fair comparison, but that’s what’s happening.

H: I am also comparing to Tina Fey, but not sure who wins the comparison yet. I noticed they are both no dummies: UVA and Boston College. With Bossypants, I sort of regretted that I never watched 30 Rock and am now sort of regretting not watching Parks and Rec.

Bestie 2: Interjection: Amy Poehler has a site called Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls that posts cool stuff women achieve worldwide. Also, I have spent more time in the past 12 months reading other women’s advice than is really necessary: Sonya Sotomayor, Ariana Huffington, Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton (albeit indirectly), Tina Fey, Rachel Maddow, Mindy Kaling. I’m sure I’ve got more.

Bestie 1: Half the point of reading is to understand people and who they are and what they did to make them who they are so I would say it was all time well spent.

[Break for messages about when we can all get together for a weekend. Insert note from #2 –  For-freaking-ever H lived on the East Coast near Bestie 1, but she recently came to her senses and moved back to the Midwest where Bestie 2 lives.  Bestie 2 is ridiculously excited about this because now we can force Bestie 1 to come visit and freeze her ass off in the 11 months of the year it is cold here.]

Bestie 1: Things I have thought while reading Yes Please: Amy Poehler is cool. I wish Amy Poehler would stop trying to convince me she is cool. I wish Amy Poehler was as cool as Tina Fey. I wish Amy Poehler was as cool about her coolness as Tina Fey. I wish I was as cool as either one of them.

Bestie 2: She’s also more blatant about her messages than Tina – Say what you want, like who likes you, etc. Tina more told parables that were entertaining along the way that you enjoyed reaching the moral of the story.

[Break for messages about bread, cheese, and wine — in copious amounts. Priorities.]

H (the open-minded optimist): I am 40% done with the book and I don’t feel like Amy is overselling her coolness really. Hmmm.

Bestie 2 (in a moment of delusion): She’s growing on me.

Bestie 1 (always agreeable): I have also turned around on the book – I am almost done now and the final third warmed me back up to who I thought she would be. Not that I was ever really not enjoying it.

[Break for messages about Bestie 2’s new puppy! Yay puppies!  That puppy is amaze-balls.]

H (bringing us back to order): Am I the only one not finished with this book yet? Working on it now! She lost me a bit waxing poetic about her Parks and Rec castmates since I have never watched it.

Bestie 2 (feeling herself again): I have no patience. I skip things I’m not interested in. Only reason I’m still reading this one is to chat with you besties about it.

Bestie 1:  [radio silence]

H: Okay, here’s my final thoughts. From reading this, I think Amy Poehler is pretty cool, but I am definitely not a super fan – she joined SNL long after my days of watching it, and I really haven’t seen her in that much. I really don’t have anything bad to say about the book – I just don’t have anything great to say either. It was okay.

Bestie 1: I am glad we read this book together because I like doing things with you guys and texting funny things to each other. As for the book – it was good, but I just wish it was better. I like Amy Poehler – she is smart and funny and I like that she encourages girls especially to be smart and funny. I honestly just thought she would be a better writer. I was under the impression that she wrote more (I had the mistaken presumption that she created and wrote Parks and Rec like Tina Fey created and wrote 30 Rock). It was a good breezy read. I have been reading a book about the Cook County criminal courthouse, busiest in the US. Interesting so far. [H interjection: that one sounds less breezy!]

Bestie 2 (a.k.a. crabby-pants-mcgee): Umm I have decided that I don’t have to finish everything I start.  

So there you have it.

Review: Henna House

Henna House, Nomi Eve

Reviewd by Amanda

Published August 12th 2014 by Scribner

320 pages

18775306

From Goodreads…

Nomi Eve’s vivid saga begins in Yemen in 1920, when Adela Damari’s parents desperately seek a future husband for their young daughter. After passage of the Orphan’s Decree, any unbetrothed Jewish child left orphaned will be instantly adopted by the local Muslim community. With her parents’ health failing, and no spousal prospects in sight, Adela’s situation looks dire until her uncle arrives from a faraway city, bringing with him a cousin and aunt who introduce Adela to the powerful rituals of henna tattooing. Suddenly, Adela’s eyes are opened to the world, and she begins to understand what it means to love another and one’s heritage. She is imperiled, however, when her parents die and a prolonged drought threatens their long-established way of life. She and her extended family flee to the city of Aden where Adela encounters old loves, discovers her true calling, and is ultimately betrayed by the people and customs she once held dear.

Henna House is an intimate family portrait and a panorama of history. From the traditions of the Yemenite Jews, to the far-ranging devastation of the Holocaust, to the birth of the State of Israel, Eve offers an unforgettable coming-of-age story and a textured chronicle of a fascinating period in the twentieth century.

 I am still reeling from this book.  First of all, how gorgeous is that cover?  I find the practice of henna to be beautiful and fascinating and I had no idea that it was widespread beyond India.  I’ll say I was wholly unaware of the story of Yemenite Jews as well so I feel like I learned a lot from this book.

Adela’s childhood in Yemen was far from idyllic.  Her mother is disconnected from her, her brothers seem like terrible people and she knows her father is dying.  The law of the Imam at the time is that any Jewish child orphaned by their father will be adopted by a Muslim family to be converted.  Adela is watched closely by the family that wants to take her away so basically the poor child lives in terror.  The exception to this rule is for a child who is to be married, so Adela’s parents should have had her engaged from the time of her toddlerhood.  Key being should have. We see how this failure to plan haunts Adela as she grows up and especially in the wake of her parents deaths.

As a young girl growing up in the Middle East in the 1920’s and ‘30s Adela has very little control over her own life.  Despite the lack of power Adela really impressed me.  When her cousins move in next door and introduce her to their henna nights Adela learns about the power she can have as a woman. She learns to draw with henna and begins to learn the alphabet and dreams of more in her life.  Her life at the end of the book was not at all what I would have predicted when we met her.  All of Adela’s life is wrapped up in these henna patterns that you can nearly see through Eve’s words.  The writing is as beautiful as the henna itself.  I both loved and hated parts of the ending I have to say-some of it was just too much for me.

Comparisons to The Red Tent are inevitable and I think this is a worthy successor!

4 stars!

Thank you Scribner and NetGalley for this copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Review: China Dolls

China Dolls, Lisa See

Amanda

Published June 3rd 2014 by Random House

376 pages

Source: Edelweiss

From Goodreads…

18404427

In 1938, Ruby, Helen and Grace, three girls from very different backgrounds, find themselves competing at the same audition for showgirl roles at San Francisco’s exclusive “Oriental” nightclub, the Forbidden City. Grace, an American-born Chinese girl has fled the Midwest and an abusive father. Helen is from a Chinese family who have deep roots in San Francisco’s Chinatown. And, as both her friends know, Ruby is Japanese passing as Chinese. At times their differences are pronounced, but the girls grow to depend on one another in order to fulfill their individual dreams. Then, everything changes in a heartbeat with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Suddenly the government is sending innocent Japanese to internment camps under suspicion, and Ruby is one of them. But which of her friends betrayed her?

Grace, Helen and Ruby meet as they’re all auditioning as dancers in a Chinese club in San Francisco.  These are great paying jobs for women at the time-especially for Chinese women, but this is not innocent dancing and there’s also a price they pay for that.  Eventually they leave San Francisco and start traveling the country with other Chinese entertainers or those passing as Chinese due to the times.  I had never heard of the “Chop Suey Circuit” of Asian entertainers traveling the United States so the stories were fascinating to me.  This was a shocking read from a 2014 perspective of the racism that was present at all levels and the way that it was just part of these girls’ daily lives. Unfortunately these characters didn’t really come to life for me the way that I felt about See’s previous work such as in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.

Ruby, Grace and Helen’s lives become deeply intertwined and they depend heavily on each other.  Despite that dependence the interactions between them just felt forced to me at times.  They professed to be such true friends, but really were frenemies.  Maybe that’s just show business?  Reading about false friendships can be fun and all-but this wasn’t supposed to be that kind of book.  I felt like I could see what was coming far ahead of time-the great reveals really weren’t any kind of revelation for me.  If See had put as much into her characters as she did into the historical setting this would have been an amazing book.

 3 stars

Thank you Random House and edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

GoT Update…Still Reading, Sort-of

Here’s a continuation of our ongoing GoT discussion!

We last left the conversation off here.

Holly’s review of Game of Thrones can be found here.

Amanda: I think I hate this book – in part because of the hype. I thought I’d love it right away.

Holly: Do you just think everyone is the worst? Because they sort of are.

Amanda: Yeah I think I hate everyone except Bran and Jon Snow. Maybe Ned. I don’t hate Ned.

Holly: Oh, Ned.

Amanda: Also, why is this mf’er so LONG?

Holly: It doesn’t get any shorter.

Amanda: Catelyn just called out Tyrion. This might have just gotten more interesting.

<interlude for more reading>

Amanda: I hate this book because nearly no one except Neddie and the kids (so far) is who they’re supposed to be.  It’s getting tiresome.  Maybe Dany, but she’s so minor right now I just don’t know if I care – 45% in.

Holly: I think that’s true, but it’s not necessarily a problem for me. The whole story is really about the Starks: Starks v. Lannisters, and Starks v. the whole f’ed up kingdom. I hated that the men were complex characters while the women and girls were all one dimensional…but that seems to change. Or else I am developing immunity.

from http://glockgal.tumblr.com/image/19440986541

How awesome is this picture? from http://glockgal.tumblr.com/image/19440986541

Amanda: Hmmmm.

Holly: Hmmm like I am profound?

<interlude while Amanda considers my profundity. Or continues to hate-read.>

Amanda: Yes, Holly I always find you to be profound!

I admit I’ve given up at this point.  I will go back because I am afraid of you.  Just a little.  Since that one time you punched me.  Or I’m mostly just afraid that if I don’t finish you won’t read anything else I might try to make you read.  And since your life will not be complete if you don’t read Quintana of Charyn, I’ll finish this monstrosity.

But I’ve realized a new issue that I have due to all the hype around this book – Rape Anxiety.  I just don’t want to read about it. And due to all the facebook posts and tweets about the show and the books, I know it’s coming and I just could do without reading about rape.

I know I’m a total nut for Seanan McGuire, but she wrote a great blog piece about why sexual violence doesn’t have to happen in her books and I love her even more for it.  I think we hear enough about situations in real life in which women have their power taken away from them due to sexual violence. and I don’t need it in my fiction too. I’m not saying I don’t read books where rape happens or that I put down books because of it, because I don’t. But when its an issue enough that people who don’t read the books or watch the show Game of Thrones are talking all about the rapes, I think it crosses a line for me.

Holly: Don’t worry sister! As I was waxing poetic about the library , I searched to see if they had Quintana yet, and they do. So, that should be waiting for me to pick up soon.

However, now I sort of feel between a rock and a hard place – because I do want you to read GoT, but I also can’t really defend against the rape aspect. Obviously, I wrote a whole post about how I felt George R.R. Martin hates women, and at least 45% of the statements that come out of my mouth can be directly linked to a feminist-worldview, and well, the other 55% are probably less than 6 degrees away.

So I get it. And I shall respond very very carefully. 

What bothers me in GoT, and in any book, is when rape is used as a characterization – like, we are supposed to understand something about the Dothraki culture based on the preponderance of rape among Dothrakis. And among the wildings. And even among the brothers of the Night’s Watch, which is an escape outlet for rapers.

Not cool, George.

On the other hand, sometimes terrible things happen to the people in the GoT world, rape included. Daenerys’s sexual experiences are integral to the story, and to her development as a character. And the way her story is written seems…realistic, for lack of a better word, for a 13 year old married to a warrior several times her age. For a non-GoT example, think about Lisbeth Salander in the Millenium Trilogy – there is a really really awful rape scene in that book, which plays a pivotal role in Lisbeth’s life. Fun to read? No, obviously. But I don’t think that negates the rest of the story. And, I’ll add that it is possible to write about rape in a way that neither normalizes or excuses it – see Froi of the Exiles…which you demanded I read, no?

For what it’s worth, the storylines in the books really run the gamut in the s-e-x department: consensual sex, sex with prostitutes, young love & young lust, (unexpected) protection against rape, and women using their sexuality as a weapon.

And well, if all else fails, just take your tips from this brilliant piece of satire. You know, turn off that feminist consciousness for a minute, kick back, and read: http://www.theonion.com/articles/woman-takes-short-halfhour-break-from-being-femini,35026/

Also, oh dear. Did you just tell the internet that I punched you one time? For the record, I think I was 6. I have since learned healthier ways to deal with anger. I swear!

Amanda:  You are the funniest person I know over the age of 3.  Back to reading I go.  Heavy sigh.

GoT Update

When we last mentioned Game of Thrones, I (Holly) had mixed feelings about the first book in the Song of Fire and Ice series – mixed because, while I was into the story, I was not at all down with how all of the women in the story were presented. There was a bit too much gratuitous T&A and a lot too much raping, thankyouverymuch. However, I have continued the series, in part because of the people who urged me to continue, but mostly because J has been reading them and talking about them (minimally, since I won’t let him tell me any spoilers).

Since then, I’ve watched the first season of the TV show, finished book #2, and I’m 45% into book #3. And, Amanda is working on reading #1, A Game of Thrones, RIGHT NOW. So, we’ve decided to chat about what we’re thinking so far – mostly for our own entertainment, but hopefully for yours too!

So, here’s what’s been going on via text since Amanda started reading (perhaps edited a bit for clarity…and so we don’t sound like total weirdos)

Amanda: How in God’s name am I supposed to keep all these names straight?

Holly: That sounds like an excellent way to start our post!

Amanda: 10% in. Right where I gave up before. Meh.

Holly: Stick it out a little further! LIke 12 more hours if you’re me. So maybe 45 minutes?

Amanda: I lied. I read more last time. I do like Tyrion I think.

Holly: Tyrion is cool! And there are a fuckton of names. You won’t need them all…sometimes I use the search function on my Kindle.

Amanda: Ah – search function – genius!

Dragon Wedding pic via - tinyurl.com/d43y4yg

Dragon Wedding pic via – tinyurl.com/d43y4yg

Amanda: I far preferred my wedding to the dragon princess’s.

Holly: Yeah, the dragon wedding is about where George started to lose me. There are a lot of rapers.

Amanda: Exactly. I really lose a desire to read a book when it’s about rapers.

Holly: J pointed out that George maybe doesn’t like the men too much either, as evidenced by the army of eunuchs that comes up later (#3).

Amanda: And since he kills characters rampantly?

Holly: Funny on that…since I keep hearing that, I basically am reading every page waiting for someone else to die. So I’m actually more surprised at who is still alive.

Amanda: Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! I just realized I left my kindle at home! This is what I get for having alternating morning and evening commute reading right? I was just thinking I might get into this book now, despite the rapers.  And despite really really really not liking the Queen one bit.

Well, we’d post more, but clearly we both have to forge on through our reading. What are your thoughts on the series? Keep ‘em spoiler free, please!

 

Review: You Should Have Known

You Should Have Known, Jean Hanff Jorelitz

Amanda

Published March 18 2014 by Grand Central Publishing

448 Pages

Source, NetGalley

From Goodreads…

17454929

Grace Reinhart Sachs is living the only life she ever wanted for herself. Devoted to her husband, a pediatric oncologist at a major cancer hospital, their young son Henry, and the patients she sees in her therapy practice, her days are full of familiar things: she lives in the very New York apartment in which she was raised, and sends Henry to the school she herself once attended. Dismayed by the ways in which women delude themselves, Grace is also the author of a book You Already Know, in which she cautions women to really hear what men are trying to tell them. But weeks before the book is published a chasm opens in her own life: a violent death, a missing husband, and, in the place of a man Grace thought she knew, only an ongoing chain of terrible revelations. Left behind in the wake of a spreading and very public disaster, and horrified by the ways in which she has failed to heed her own advice, Grace must dismantle one life and create another for her child and herself.

 

I think I expected this book to be something that it was not, and that was a failure on my part not the book.  I read this “a violent death, a missing husband, and, in the place of a man Grace thought she knew, only an ongoing chain of terrible revelations” and thought this was going to be a thriller.  You Should Have Known is not a thriller.  Once I figured that out, I did like the book better.

In this book Grace has to face some horrible truths about her own life and take steps to move forward.  Grace was not a totally likeable character for me in the beginning of this book, and maybe that was due in part to my expecting more action when things started happening in her life. I don’t want to say too much without giving away the plot-but let me tell you that I think you would have acted too!

As the book begins Grace is about to have her book published, which chastens women for choosing partners they know are wrong from them from the very beginning.  I thought this was a great juxtaposition to Grace reflecting on her own life throughout the story.  I liked being deep in Grace’s thoughts, but they didn’t always make Grace deeply likeable.  Its hard to root for a character that you don’t like too much, but I came around on Grace in the end.  I think that’s a sign of a well written character-that even when its someone you don’t like you still want to know what will happen.

I wanted more resolution at the conclusion of this book, but perhaps that goes back to my thinking I was reading a thriller.  Check this out and tell me what you thought of Grace!

3 Stars!

Thank you Grand Central Publishing and NetGalley for this copy to review!

 

PS Goodreads has a giveaway of this! Ends 4/19 so enter today!

 

Reading about Marriage

Holly

When J & I announced our engagement last summer, I noticed that people presume a lot of things about weddings. So, and this is completely true, rather than immediately start shopping for a wedding dress, I wanted to read a book about wedding history and traditions. Every time I got a question about dresses or flowers or honeymooning or cake, I wondered where these expectations came from. I wanted the full background – so that I could avoid the patriarchy as much as possible in the planning. (And yes, true that the entire institution of marriage is historically steeped in patriarchy, but I am confident that my pending marriage is not, and I am indeed excited about it. So let’s put that aside.)

Anyway, I downloaded an ebook about wedding traditions months ago, but it turned out to be pretty disappointing. I could have saved $1.99 and just read Wikipedia for all that was included in there. And, it turns out that picking out flowers and dresses and cake has been pretty fun – especially cake.

However, I decided to turn my book search from “wedding” to “marriage,” and embarked on a little reading project recently. Here’s what I read – and what I found.

#1 A History of the Wife by Marilyn Yalom

history of the wife

This book was basically exactly what I was looking for – it goes through the history of (western) marriage as experienced by the wife, opening with ancient Greek and Roman wives, through medieval European history, to modern American marriages. And of course, seen overall, these thousands of years of history are full of double-standards and one-sidedness, but Yalom includes plenty of first-person narrative accounts of how women perceived their own experiences. The personal accounts really made this book for me.

As she closes out with a chapter on American wives from 1950-2000, Yalom reflects back on how wives – ie, women – of a certain generation are sometimes lumped together, and she points out that this view is not entirely fair. This statement is about contemporary views of the last few generations, though it really could be applied to every “wife” in the book – each individual is obviously not representative of her particular place in history.

As we consider these changes, it is useful to remember that a wife is not a single photo, but a series of photos as one would find in a family album. The women of the fifties were not frozen into perpetual domesticity, nor were their daughters – adults in the seventies and eighties – congealed forever in the molds of feminism and sexual freedom that were characteristic in those decades. People change with the times both with and against the currents they encounter. They change because they interact with members of the next generation, who force them to confront new values and behaviors. And most of all, they change because they themselves age and reach different development stages.”

I like this. What is important to me about my relationship and soon-to-be status of “wife,” does not have to mirror what society has deemed important about marriage. Phew – weight off the shoulders.

#2 Against Love: A Polemic by Laura Kipnis

After Yalom’s history, I turned to this trope against the idea of modern marriage. From the description, I thought this book was going to argue that evolutionarily or psychologically or culturally, humans are just not suited for long-term monogamy.

However, that was not in fact the overall point. And, I’ll add here, that I think most of her points sucked. She had four chapters – here is what they were called, followed by my interpretation:

1. Love’s Labors – the relationship-industrial-complex is just another tool in the capitalist machine.

against love

2. Domestic Gulagsbeing in a couple is suffocating, dude. You have to like, think about someone else’s feelings and shit. (Dear Laura, that is called not being an asshole, and is not limited to coupledom)

3. The Art of Loveadultery is really a way to rebel against The Man, so that’s cool.

4. And the Pursuit of Happinesslook at all the politicians who can’t keep in their pants. Must be something in the water!

I could get on board with some of the questions she raises at the beginning, about society’s expectations on marriage and relationships, but this went downhill pretty quickly. Actually, if you read the front cover, it probably starts going down from there. I saw several reviews talk about how funny this book was, but mostly it seemed angry and mean.

#3 All There Is: Love Stories from Storycorps by Dave Isay.

I had to cleanse my mind with a feel-good relationship book. This collection of (very) short stories did the trick. I didn’t know exactly how Storycorps worked until I read the description here, but basically it is an NPR project to capture people telling their own stories, which are recorded and archived and shared in various ways. All There Is  is a collection of love stories from the project.

My favorite contributor, by far, was this guy:

My wife and I were in Philadelphia, and we saw a sign that said SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGE. I will never forget it. It had six points to always say to your wife or husband, and the first one was YOU LOOK GREAT. The second one was CAN I HELP? The third one. LET’S EAT OUT. The fourth one was I WAS WRONG. And the fifth one was I AM SORRY. But the last and most important one was I LOVE YOU. That was it. There was six statements, and it said if you follow that, you’ll have a successful marriage. So we followed it, and we did have a successful marriage. If she was working out in the yard, I’d come out: “Can I help you?” And when we’d come home from work, and I knew she was tired, I’d ask her, “You want to go out to eat?” To keep her from working and cooking at the same time.

all there is

It lasted fifty-three years, two months, and five days. It’s been rough, but every morning when I wake up she’s included in my prayers, and I talk to her every night when I go to bed. She was something. One thing: If they ever let me in those pearly gates, I’m going to walk all over God’s heaven until I find that girl. And the first thing I’m going to do is ask her if she would marry me and do it all over again.” – Leroy A. Morgan

I can’t beat that, folks.

Can We Please Stop Hating on Sheryl Sandberg?

I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In last summer, before this book blog was born. I felt compelled to go back and look at it again now, after seeing this article appear in my own Facebook newsfeed repeatedly. I laughed along with the article at the beginning – “some college students, like Sheryl Sandberg, teach aerobics classes. Other college students, like myself, lie around the dorm reading novels…this of course, is also why I hate her.” Then, I got to the end of article, and I thought, wait, I don’t think that was what Lean In was about at all.

In “Recline: A Manifestus for the Rest of Us,” Rosa Brooks argued against the idea of leaning in because a) Sheryl Sandberg has a lot of money and therefore she can make different decisions than the rest of us, and b) women still do the majority of housework and childcare so how the F are they supposed to lean in at work?

As for a), Sandberg acknowledges that her book. And b) Yes. That is part of the problem and part of the question and every time I see that particular criticism of Lean In, I wonder if the critic has actually read the book.

Lean In is not supposed to be a be-all end-all treatise on the status of women in society. It’s not about being supermom, and it’s not about the gender-wage gap, and it’s not supposed to compel anyone to put in more time for a lesser quality of life.  It’s about more women in leadership roles. It’s about breaking down barriers that prevent women from reaching the top leadership ranks in business and politics – specifically, self-erected barriers.

There are social and institutional barriers to women’s success, and Sandberg recognizes and acknowledges those. However, this book is not about external barriers – and I found that refreshing. I spent a lot of time studying, and I still spend a lot of time pointing out, the ways that society works to repress women. Lean In made me examine the trees, instead of the forest. Lean In made me think about the choices that are within my control. Lean In acknowledged some things that I knew, but perhaps could not articulate very well.

Like this:

In addition to the external barriers erected by society, women are hindered by barriers that exist within ourselves. We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. We internalize the negative messages that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men. We lower our own expectations of what we can achieve. We continue to do the majority of the housework and child care. We compromise our career goals to make room for partners and children who may not even exist yet.

Yes. I met J when I was 27. For a short-time, we were both employed as part-time secretaries and high school athletic coaches with Master’s degrees. Up to that point, we had both made several moves and job changes in our twenties, trying to find the right place to land. I absolutely can look back on every major life decision I had made up until then, and know that I took into account the status of whatever relationship I was in, or even those “relationships” that might have a vague possibility of blossoming in the next six to twelve months, when determining my next steps. I know that J took absolutely none of that into account in his own trajectory. And yet, we both ended up at the same place (and fortunately for us, at the same time). I learned that I wasted, if nothing else, a lot of brainpower and energy overanalyzing decisions that probably deserved no room in my head. J got reinforcement for his M.O., that, the key to developing a healthy, happy relationship is finding someone who’s lifestyle can fit into yours (and you into theirs), rather than building your decisions around someone else – especially not a hypothetical “someone else.” Why don’t we teach girls that?

Instead, this is what we take on, per Sandberg:

A few years ago, a young woman at Facebook came to my desk and asked if she could speak to me privately. We headed into a conference room, where she began firing questions about how I balance work and family. As the questions came faster and faster, I started to wonder about her urgency. I interrupted to ask if she had a child. She said no, but she liked to plan ahead. I inquired if she and her partner were considering having a child. She replied that she did not have a husband, then added with a little laugh, ‘actually, I don’t even have a boyfriend.’ It seemed to me that she was jumping the gun – big time – but I understood why. From an early age, girls get the message that they will have to choose between succeeding at work and being a good mother. By the time they are in college, women are already thinking about the trade-offs they will make between professional and personal goals.

As I dove back into Lean In, I went back and forth on how to rate the book. I started thinking it was a solid 4-stars for me – the book covers many things I already knew about women and work, presented with a slightly different perspective. However, what pushes it over into a 5-star, is the chapter “Don’t Leave Before You Leave.” Here, I think Sandberg addresses something that no one else is really talking about, and that we need to talk about. It goes like this:

Women rarely make one big decision to leave the workforce. Instead, they make a lot of small decisions along the way, making accommodations and sacrifices that they believe will be required to have a family. Of all the ways women hold themselves back, perhaps the most pervasive is that they leave before they leave. The classic scenario unfolds like this. An ambitious and successful woman heads down a challenging career path with the thought of having children in the back of her mind. At some point, this thought moves to the front of her mind, typically once she finds a partner. The woman considers how hard she is working and reasons that to make room for a child she will have to scale back…often without even realizing it, the woman stops reaching for new opportunities… The problem is that even if she were to get pregnant immediately, she still has nine months before she has to care for an actual child. And since women usually start this mental preparation well before trying to conceive, several years often pass between the thought and conception, let alone birth. In the case of my Facebook questioner, it might even be a decade. By the time the baby arrives, the woman is likely to be in a drastically different place in her career that she would have been had she not leaned back.

Sandberg goes on to talk about how this affects the new mother coming back to the workplace; she is likely to scale back her ambitions, and becomes more ready to leave permanently (if that is an option), because she’s no longer headed for the top, and no longer given challenging opportunities. Perhaps this is where the criticism of Sandberg comes in from Brooks and others – women shouting that they can’t lean in at work when there is so much to take care of at home.

Again, I wonder if they kept reading. Sandberg talks about her own parenting – yes, acknowledging that she and her husband can afford exceptional child care. She talks about how they manage household responsibilities, admits fault, and grapples with her decisions. I didn’t take any of the judgment that seems to be projected onto Sandberg and the Lean In movement by those working moms shouting “recline” or “lean out!” She talks about the need for women to engage with their partners to share household responsibilities, and how sometimes we need to settle for less than perfection, at home and at work.

One of my favorite posters at Facebook declares in big red letters. “Done is better than perfect.” I have tried to embrace this motto and let go of unattainable standards. Aiming for perfection causes frustration at best and paralysis at worst.

Sandberg spells out her objectives in black and white at the end: “I have written this book to encourage women to dream big, forge a path through the obstacles, and achieve their full potential. I am hoping that each woman will set her own goals and reach for them with gusto.

Sure, most of us don’t have Sandberg’s resources – whether partnered or single, parents or not. Not everyone aspires to leadership roles, and not everyone has the skill-set to lead. However, I’m tired of reading the same two criticisms of Lean In – “easy for her to say, with her salary,” and “I don’t want to sit at the table, thank you very much.”

If you want to criticize Lean In, fine. We can talk about addressing the social and institutional barriers versus chipping away individually. We can talk about the gender wage gap, and affordable child care, and the seemingly endless fight for women’s control over our own bodies. Believe you me, I can – and often do – talk about all those things until I’m blue in the face. But at the same time, I’ll quote Sandberg one more time – “let’s agree to wage battles on both fronts. They are equally important.

Review: The Rise and Fall of Lucy Charlton

The Rise and Fall of Lucy Charlton, Elizabeth Gill

Amanda

18595697From Goodreads…

A gritty, emotional saga about a tragic loss, a mysterious inheritance, and one woman’s determination to succeed in the male-dominated society of 1920s north England

1920, Durham. Since she was a child, Lucy Charlton has dreamed of working with her father in the family law firm. But a scandal shatters her dreams and, when her father disowns her, she finds herself on the streets, fighting for survival. Joe Hardy has returned to London after the Great War to find his life in tatters—his father is dead and his pregnant fiancée has disappeared. Then Joe learns he has unexpectedly inherited an old river house in Durham from a stranger called Margaret Lee. With nothing left for him in London, he makes arrangements to travel north and claim it. Lucy’s determination has finally secured her a job as a legal secretary, campaigning for the rights of the poorest in society. As Joe arrives in her office to collect the keys to his new home, she promises to help him uncover information about his mystery benefactor. But before long, the past comes back to haunt them both, with shocking consequences.

This story begins with Lucy being disowned by her family and cast out of her home, not the most cheery beginning.  We then meet Joe, who is returning from France to find out his father is dead and his fiancee has run off.  I was definitely a little worried this would be a very depressing book at this point.  I liked Lucy though and I liked her determination to survive despite her family.  I enjoyed reading about a young woman determined to push the boundaries of what society deemed acceptable for a young woman of her station.  In the beginning I found Joe to be somewhat less likeable, yes, he did come home to find nothing of what he expected, but he was far too willing to be carried along by the tragedies at first.  Thankfully he did come around into a likeable character.  I also liked the various minor characters of the friends and neighbors that Lucy and Joe picked up along the way.

The description for this book made it sound as though Lucy was rallying on the streets for her cause for the poor in general and I found that to be misleading.   Lucy’s drive to become a solicitor is to help others and the results are rather vague.  You’re told she’s successful and beloved in the office, but the only people you personally see her helping are her neighbors in Durham, you don’t meet her clients.  I’m not downplaying the events with her friends and neighbors as they were central to the story, but I think this tries to sell the book as a bit more than it is.  I think I was expecting more of a strident social activist or feminist like Emmeline Pankhurst.

This book definitely did wrap up all details happily, but not in the way I expected at the beginning.  I enjoyed the story overall.

I will say as a warning/spoiler that there is some sexual violence.  I don’t think it was out of line for the story nor was it excessive, but it did surprise me and might have been part of my initial hesitation when I started this book.

3 Stars

Thank you NetGalley and Quercus Books for this advance read copy!

Review: Lost Lake

Lost Lake, Sarah Addison Allen

Amanda

13481275

From Goodreads…

From the New York Times bestselling author of Garden Spells comes a novel about heartbroken people finding hope at a magical place in Georgia called Lost Lake.

Suley, Georgia, is home to Lost Lake Cottages and not much else. Which is why it’s the perfect place for newly-widowed Kate and her eccentric eight-year-old daughter Devin to heal. Kate spent one memorable childhood summer at Lost Lake, had her first almost-kiss at Lost Lake, and met a boy named Wes at Lost Lake. It was a place for dreaming. But Kate doesn’t believe in dreams anymore, and her Aunt Eby, Lost Lake’s owner, wants to sell the place and move on. Lost Lake’s magic is gone. As Kate discovers that time has a way of standing still at Lost Lake can she bring the cottages—and her heart—back to life? Because sometimes the things you love have a funny way of turning up again. And sometimes you never even know they were lost . . . until they are found.

Why are Sarah Addison Allen’s books never long enough?!  I think that has been my main complaint with the last few.  I need more!  Though I suppose I would far rather have that complaint then have a book that I was wanting to end.  When you start one of Addison Allen’s books you really can tell where the story is going to go, but they’re always happy (even when bittersweet) and the sense of whimsy that follows along is always enjoyable for me.  This book starts with Kate “waking up” after sleep walking through the year after her husband’s death and really watching her 8 year-old daughter for the first time in that year.  Kate and her daughter Devin find a postcard sent 15 years earlier from Kate’s aunt Eby at Lost Lake and they decide to drive the 4 hours to see if the resort is still there.  At the same time Eby has decided to sell Lost Lake to a developer and warns her last regular guests this will be the last summer.

This book starts out as a farewell to Lost Lake and a 1 day journey for Kate and Devin but turns into a magical summer.  I really loved getting to see Eby and her late husband as they honeymooned in Paris and the steps that took them to Lost Lake.  I wish we had been given more time with Kate as she was before Matt’s death (though Waking Kate, a free ebook, is one snapshot).  I feel I was given a certain impression of Matt and how he felt about life and I wish I had more depth to him and his relationship with Kate.  I think that would have added to the story for me, rather than just hearing that Kate fell apart when her husband died because that’s what the women in her family do.

I love the women that Sarah Addison Allen write, and I really like watching them find their own paths– in this book from young Devin to the older women, Eby and Lisette.  Also, I just love the magic.  Its not overwhelming, this is not a fantasy story, just a little bit of magic combined with everyday life which I think we all can use sometimes.   As I said, the ending is pretty predictable, but for me that did not take away from the pleasure of the story at all.  I also think this book was a triumphant return to writing for Sarah Addison Allen after her bout with breast cancer.

4 Stars

I won an advanced copy of this book from the publisher.