2021 Reading List: Dare to Lead by Brene Brown

I think I have to stop reading books by Brene Brown. Don’t get me wrong, I love all her vulnerability work and I think she really has something there. But I looked back at the past few books of hers that I read and I didn’t love those ones either.

I love her as a person. I really do. I think she’s doing great work. I think she’s changing lives and organizations. I think she’s making a difference. And I’m sure her message and her books resonate for a lot of people.

But for me, I just can’t read about rumbling and wholeheartedness anymore.

Continue reading

2021 Reading List: The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World

Two days after I finished this book, Bill and Melinda Gates announced their divorce. Since I loved this book and I suddenly felt irrationally close to Melinda after reading her words, I was heartbroken. I have struggled to finish this post ever since.

I admittedly don’t know very much about Bill and Melinda Gates, besides their involvement with Microsoft and the Foundation. But I will be the first to tell you that I don’t think you need to know someone’s entire biography in order to read their books, articles, media, etc. and listen to what they have to say. So I was excited to read Melinda Gates’ The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World.

Continue reading

2021 Reading List: Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope by Wendy Holden

Every so often I pick up a book about the Holocaust. It’s a heart-wrenching reminder of the strength and fragility of human beings. I can’t remember where I saw this book recommended but it was probably on a list somewhere. Seems that other people find these stories to be moving as well.

Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope, by Wendy Holden, is perhaps more impactful and meaningful to me now, as a mother myself, than it might have been a few years ago. This is a shockingly true story of three women who were in the early weeks of pregnancy when they were sent to Auschwitz in 1944. Amazingly, all three mothers and all three babies survived. This book is their story.

This book takes readers through each of the women’s lives, telling us where they grew up and went to school, how they lived with their families, their hopes and dreams, their skills and values and religious views. One chapter at a time, we learn about their backstory and who they were before the Holocaust changed their lives forever.

Every story of a Holocaust survivor is heartbreaking. It’s horrific and unimaginable. These stories are perhaps more so.

Continue reading

2021 Reading List: Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo

Somewhere I must have read something good about this book. There has to be some reason why I thought it would be worth reading, why I thought it might help me succeed in life.

Maybe for someone out there, this book really was worth reading. But for me, it felt redundant and childish.

Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo is the basic pep talk you need if you are struggling, in general, with life, and maybe if you’ve never ever had a pep talk before and if you’ve never heard anyone else cheer you on and tell you that you have what it takes. But at the end of the day, that’s all it was. A pep talk. It was nothing life changing. There were no huge life lessons explained. There was nothing that the book told me that I didn’t already know.

I have had lots of supportive people in my life who have told me, in some way or another, that I am amazing and strong and capable and smart. And I have read books and articles that are far too similar to what this book ended up offering.

I wanted this book to actually help me figure shit out. I wanted this book to give me some mind-blowing insider knowledge about how to literally figure everything out. Things like how to change a tire, how to plan a wedding, how to fly to a foreign country. Actual, practical things. And yes, the book is telling you that those things are figureoutable. But it does so in a vague way that starts with setting your goals and managing your time and following your dreams.

There are plenty enough books out there about how to follow your dreams and achieve your goals. I don’t need another one, particularly this one. This book was full of platitudes and fluffy motivational quotes. As if she’s the first person to ever quote them. As if I don’t see those exact same quotes set against the background of a beautiful sunset at the beach every other day on Facebook. She starts the chapter with one of these Pinterest-y quotes and then she goes on to explain it as if she has all these deep, innovative, novel thoughts. All she did was take the same old tips for goal-setting and career-building and put it against the backdrop of a made-up word. She tried to make her philosophy seem new and different but it was the same-old same old framework.

I don’t think Marie Forleo acknowledged real life enough either. She mentioned that, yes, the working mom doesn’t have much extra time in her day. Or that, yes, there are setbacks or issues that happen in your journey to achieving your goal. But she almost completely ignores the fact that there are actual struggles that sometimes are beyond people’s control. You can’t just dedicate 20 minutes a day to your goals and get out of the cycle of poverty. You can’t change systemic racism with her figureoutable mindset.

At the end of the day, this was a cute little self-help book that was wildly naive and incredibly lacking in original thought and advice.

2021 Reading List: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Here’s a fun, light-hearted read for you. Of course I had to read Crazy Rich Asians, by Keven Kwan, before I watch the movie and see what all the hype was about.

I finished this book pretty quickly, but not because it was particularly great. For the first half of it, I actually thought the plot was pretty boring. It was extremely descriptive of the rich lifestyle led by these families in Singapore and rather lacking in the action. Of course, the detail and nuances about their lives was necessary for the reader to truly understand the reasons and emotions behind the later actions.

Continue reading

2021 Reading List: Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

Let me start by saying, I love Malcolm Gladwell’s books. I own a bunch of them, I’ve reread some (which is something I don’t do often), and I recommend them to anyone who’s interested.

That being said, I thought this book was going to be a little different. I thought this book would be about the chance encounters that human have with strangers every day – the barista at the coffee shop, the chic mom shopping at Target, the neighbor walking his dog, etc. I thought it would be more about the awkwardness that humans feel in certain situations with strangers, the way we interpret body language or facial expressions, the reason we’re afraid to ask for someone’s phone number even if we felt we had a great conversation with that particular stranger.

Someone should write that book.

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell, was actually an analysis of very certain types of interactions with strangers.

Continue reading

2021 Reading List: What Great Brands Do by Denise Lee Yohn

I have always been intrigued by great brands. What makes us buy something, use something, do something, or go somewhere based on the brand name alone? What do those brands have that makes us recall them immediately when we need that product? What makes us trust them so implicitly that we don’t need to do the research or read reviews?

So I’ve had this book on my reading list for awhile, tucked away in my Save for Later cart on Amazon. (Ahhh Amazon…) I finally just asked for it for Christmas so I could really dive in.

And really I think that the seven principles discussed in What Great Brands Do: the Seven Brand-Building Principles that Separate the Best from the Rest could actually be compared to what people are looking for in their own personal lives. The principles don’t just apply to brands – they apply to being human.

The principles are:

  • Great brands start inside
  • Great brands avoid selling products
  • Great brands ignore trends
  • Great brands don’t chase customers
  • Great brands sweat the small stuff
  • Great brands commit and stay committed
  • Great brands never have to “give back”

When you list them out like that, it feels like common sense. Of course you want leadership to walk the talk and to believe in their products before they tell their customers to. Of course you believe that ultimately your products aren’t just a product, they make life better! Of course you’re not just following the crowd. Of course you can stand on your own two feet and right customers will just come to you. Of course the details matter. Of course you’ve committed for the long term. Of course you want to make a different in the lives of those less fortunate.

When you talk about it like that, it sounds easy. But if it were so easy, then we’d have more great brands. More people would feel like the brands they were buying were authentic and trustworthy. More people would feel like their purchase choices matter. It’s not easy.

As a marketer myself, having worked for several agencies, I often get clients who want a social media campaign. Or a brochure. Or a new website. And they come to us with who they think their audience is, what they want out of the promotion (more customers, almost always), and what their message is. But rarely do they come to me with who they are. There is often a lot of disconnect between the true core of a company and the message they put out there. Leadership doesn’t always see the big picture. They don’t see the real customer journey, they don’t understand the emotions behind a decision, they don’t think it matters if they say something in an ad but can’t truly back it up as a company.

I think this book did a great job explaining why these seven principles matter. We can all sit here and say that yes they do, but if we don’t truly understand why it works or how it works, then we’re going to fall back into the same trap of chasing the customers, selling the features of a product, or skipping over the little details that show a company cares.

Now back to being human – aren’t these seven principles also things that you’d want to see in a relationship with someone? Not necessarily a romantic relationship. Just any human relationship. You want other people in your life to do what they said they’d do. You want them to understand you on a deeper emotional level. (You don’t just want a nanny who keeps your kids alive, you want a livesaver who will help raise your kids.) You don’t want someone who’s only around because it’s a convenient time and place for them, or because you make them look good. You want a relationship with someone who cares about the details and pays attention to the little things. (The husband who cleans the snow off your car in the morning before you even wake up.) You want someone who is committed to the relationship, through thick and thin. And at the end of the day, you don’t need that person to give you birthday presents or Christmas presents because just being in each other’s lives makes your lives richer.

Behind every great company and every great brand are just people. People connect with people. It’s not some mysterious puzzle that we’re solving here.

This book was actionable in a long-term planning way. You could sit down and do some of these exercises, but at the end of the day, the actions you need to take are bigger-picture. This book can give you the tools and steps to take, but also the reason behind it so that you can build a better plan for your brand and get the right people involved.

I had been hoping the book would focus a bit more on the examples, in more of a storytelling way, but that wasn’t the case. It was descriptive, but more technical and action-oriented, rather than storytelling. So if you’re in a position to build a brand, then this would be an excellent starting point to put you in the right mindset.

2021 Reading List: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Even before you read this review, you know Liane Moriarty will never disappoint.

Nine Perfect Strangers, by Liane Moriarty, has a lot more going on than you might think at first glance. The book is about nine people who book a 10-day retreat at a health resort in order to transform their lives. It is actually a bit of a misnomer because not all nine people are strangers to each other. There is a married couple and a family of three. So obviously they are not strangers to each other. But on second thought, maybe they are…

The story is told from the point of view of all of the characters, but seemed to focus most on Frances. Frances is a romance novelist who had recently fallen for, ironically, an internet romance scam. Maybe it would have been better if she’d lost all her money and been more destitute, but Moriarty made it sound like she was so insanely rich that losing a ton of money didn’t even matter for her. Frances has two ex-husbands, no children, a gaggle of friends, an estranged family. She had just read a critical review of her recent book and decided that she needed this cleanse at the resort to start over.

We learn about the rest of the characters in similar chapter by chapter fashion. Tony is an ex-football star, Lars is a gay divorce lawyer, Ben and Jessica are a young married couple who recently won the lottery but are struggling with their marriage, Carmel is a recently divorced mother of four who thinks she’s fat, Heather and Napoleon are there with their daughter, Zoe, and they are grappling with the grief of their son’s (her twin’s) suicide three years ago.

They are all there for different reasons, but being at a health resort, they all believe the ultimate outcome will be that they are refreshed, rejuvenated, healthier, and perhaps thinner. But the reviews of this resort are mixed, the guests just don’t know why. We learn early on to be skeptical of this place when Frances’ friend warns that the director, Masha, has some unconventional techniques. And Frances’ massage therapist warns her not to do anything she is uncomfortable with.

I was hoping for a little more drama amongst the guests, but their challenges and struggles are fairly straightforward. They are all going through different seasons in life and trying to figure out what that means for them, how to cope, and how they are going to move forward. Nothing sinister is going on in any of their backgrounds, like I suspected.

The true crazy one turns out to be Masha. I felt sorry for her innocent assistant, Yao, and all of the resort’s staff, ignorant of what was happening right under their noses. I felt sorry for Masha, who couldn’t find a healthy and normal way to cope with the terrors of her past.

This book takes you deep into the character’s lives, and their normal human struggles. Death, grief, love, jealousy, money, vanity, weight, drugs, marriage and divorce. It covers everything. And it makes you wonder, what would it take to truly transform your life? Is it as simple as a week at a health resort? 10 days without your phone and alcohol? Losing weight? A meetup with a stranger? Confronting death itself?

What would make you realize you need a change and turn your life around? Is the answer that simple?

2021 Reading List: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Maybe it was just coincidence that the first book I finished in 2021 was a book about a dystopian replacement of the United States, right when we are watching extreme displays of anarchy play out in real life at the U.S. Congress. Crazy. Appalling. So wrong. I could go on, but this isn’t about politics today. This is just my book review.

The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood, is a sequel to her novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, which I read in 2019. Then, like now, I marveled at a book that is written to be wholly fictional and unrealistic and yet is so believable that it may actually happen. I remember thinking that The Handmaid’s Tale was a well-written book but kind of boring in terms of action and plotline. The Testaments, on the other hand, was the opposite. There was a lot going on in this book, and Atwood pretty much required you to read The Handmaid’s Tale first so that you know the background and context of this Gileadean world.

Despite being written some 35 years after The Handmaid’s Tale, the connection to the characters and the life they live is seamless.

The book is set about 15 years after the time of the The Handmaid’s Tale, and follows the experiences and accounts of three women, who are, inevitably, connected.

The first, a young girl, Agnes, the daughter of a Commander. Then another young girl, Daisy, who lives in Canada with her parents who run a thrift shop. Lastly, Aunt Lydia, one of the founding Aunts of Gilead, the one who is in charge.

Throughout the book, you realize that everything about their lives is based on lies and deceit. Agnes’ parents were not her real parents. She gets a step-mother, Paula, who had lied about the way her previous husband had died. She gets out of an arranged betrothal by lying and saying she had a calling to become an Aunt. Daisy’s parents aren’t her real parents. They are involved in a secret organization that smuggles girls and women out of Gilead to safety. Daisy had actually been smuggled out of Gilead herself when she was a baby and everyone in Gilead is looking for her. She must lie and deceive in order to sneak back in to Gilead with the hope that she can be a messenger to reveal the crimes of Gilead and bring about its destruction. Lydia’s entire life is built on lies, eavesdropping on every conversation in order to use what’s said and play the right hand. She says she is the founder and is committed to the success of Gilead but she’s actually plotting its demise and has been since she was captured.

Once again, I am surprised by how little time passed between the coup that resulted in the founding of Gilead, and the current events of the book. I had commented that in The Handmaid’s Tale it seemed that only 3 or 4 years had passed – Offred remembered her previous life, her husband, her child, as if it had happened so recently. And now reading The Testaments, I realize that if Aunt Lydia founded Gilead and she had already been considered old then and she is still alive to run the place, then we are only talking about 20 years of Gilead.

So there are women who remember the old ways. There may only be one generation of children who’ve been brought up completely engrained in this dystopian culture. And yet everyone acts like, this is the world, this is the way it is. It’s amazing how they forgot. It’s amazing how they could have adapted to this life of lies, brainwashed into thinking that Gilead is a better place than the world before.

Violence keeps them there. A violent and oppressive system that Lydia herself came up with and devised the rules for. The lack of power keeps women from rebelling. Killing their own citizens keeps them from running away. Fear for their lives and the lives of people they know and love keeps them quiet and subdued.

When you boil it all down, any society could become like this. Take away the power, change the rules, resort to fear and violence to contain the disorderly, and you have a system that is completely dysfunctional and morally wrong. But those with the power might say, whose morals? Everyone thinks their own worldview and way of life is the correct one. That’s why they’re living it. We all think everyone else is wrong, had made the wrong decision. The most extremists will fight, kill, overthrow, and condemn those who don’t believe what they believe or do what they say is right. The most extreme will spread lies, convince others to join them, incite insurrection, all in the name of what they think is fair and just. They think their world is better than reality and they will stop at nothing to control everyone around them and contain them in it.

I know I said I wouldn’t get political, but I leave you with this. Is the world we actually live in today much different from this fictional futuristic society?

2020 Reading List: Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

It shouldn’t surprise you, but this book is about three women. More specifically, three women and how they experience their own sexuality. One woman, Maggie, had a secret affair with her teacher when she was 17 years old. One woman, Lina, has a sex-less, presumably love-less marriage so she has an affair with a married man. The third woman, Sloane, has sex with other men and women while her husband watches or participates and she mostly enjoys it.

This book, Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, is real, raw account of these women’s lives. I loved the way it was written; it felt unbiased and yet it was emotional and relatable. Relatable in the feelings and desires of these women, not necessarily lifestyle. It didn’t glorify or condone any lifestyle or decision but it also didn’t cast judgment or blame on anyone. It was an exploration of the real needs and wants of women that are so often ignored. Continue reading