When reading one book makes you want to read more

Sharp is a well-researched overview of a series of ten public intellectuals, all women, what they wrote, how other people reacted to it, and how they handled those reactions. What kind of personas did they get? Which of their pieces defined their public personas? How did they feel about that? Why?

The well-researched aspect of the book was the part that most resonated with me. I came away wanting to read all the books and articles by Kael, Didion, Parker, even Sontag, who I developed a disdain for in the 1990s for no particular reason. I want to add every entry in Sharp‘s bibliography to my own already too-long to read list. I am envious of Michelle Dean for having the time and purpose to have already done so.

Also, Nora Ephron, I’m sorry. I knew your persona as the person who wrote Meg Ryan movies. The same Meg Ryan movies that I got sick of in the 80s and 90s. I still don’t understand why/how Meg Ryan’s and Tom Hank’s characters fell in love without really meeting through the whole of Sleepless in Seattle. And Billy Crystal’s schtick was fine the first time I saw When Harry Met Sally, but it was grating upon re-watch. Eventually, the movies just felt like Meg Ryan being Meg Ryan – unfair to her and you, I can see now – and not like anything special or interesting. (And yes, I believe men and women can be friends without one wanting to sleep with the other.) I had no idea you had a whole pre-movie body of work. It’s time to go read that.

And maybe this is where I say something about how women get discounted in intellectual life, and where I cite a relevant quote from How to Suppress Women’s Writing. Instead I will say that I am glad Michelle Dean is taking these women seriously and inspiring other people to also take them seriously.

Recommended.

Thanks for Thinking!

Better Living Through Criticism isn’t so much about how to think as it is about why to think. It’s about doing more than just reacting to what’s in front of you; consider it, put it in its context, know who made it and possibly tease out why it was made.

One of the mistakes we as a people make is to think that culture is somehow universal, in the same way that, say, mathematics is. It’s not. My reaction to a book I’ve read is necessarily personal. It’s going to be a reaction to what I’ve read in the past and who I am as a person. But I can take a step back and ask things like “what is the author trying to do here?” and “does this say something larger about society?” or whichever questions seem appropriate.

I will confess that I enjoy reading more and am a better reader because I write these short reviews. I also occasionally participate in NaNoWriMo, not because I think the world needs to hear my stories (I have never shown one to anyone), but because the more I try to write them, the better a reader I become. Thinking helps.

Which is the point of the book: thinking helps in both reading and life. It helps you (me) be a happier, less stressed person. I’m going to keep doing it.

Clutch your pearls!

girls-and-sex

(The colors on the cover are not nearly that saturated. My image capturing process seems to need some help.)

Girls and Sex is largely about how high school and college aged girls form romantic and sexual relationships. What do girls get out of it? How about boys?* Should you, the parent, be clutching your pearls? Or worried?

Maybe? It explores how teenagers express their feelings, even if they don’t understand those feelings. It seems, to me anyway, that teenagers have a lot of ideas about what couples (or people who like each other) *should* do. Or maybe what they want to do without a lot of thought about the ramification of those actions.

My personal take as a parent is that my daughter should a) understand what she wants and be comfortable saying no, b) get the hell out if saying no doesn’t work, c) think, as much as she can, before she acts. Consent is hard, and drinking heavily isn’t responsible for a lot of reasons, but, in this case, consent gets complicated fast when one or the both of you isn’t making good decisions.

The book does end on a hopeful note, because it does talk about the fact that boys are often just as confused about girls about relationships. They’re given a different template of how to act, and that can cause its own problems.

Recommended if you have a teenaged child.

* Girls and Sex does have a chapter about same-sex romantic relationships and the further challenges of acceptance around those relationships as well. I don’t want to ignore that. But a lot of “how does he/she feel about me?” and “should I act on my feelings?” holds true no matter your partner’s gender.

 

What’s your purpose?

man's search for meaning

 

What’s it about?
Viktor Frankl spent World War II in a concentration camp. He was a therapist before he was imprisoned, and he used his time in the camps to better understand himself and humanity. It’s not a long overview of his time in the camps – maybe 100 pages? – but it’s powerful stuff. The upshot is that the people whose lives had meaning, who had something to live for, those people were the ones who survived. If you believed that you were going to be free by Christmas and then Christmas came and went, well, it was highly likely that you were going to die shortly thereafter. There’s a short appendix talking about his therapeutic philosophy – that everyone who believes their life has a purpose is happier and healthier. So why are you here?

Why should you read it?
The week I read this was a hard one. I was having a small bout of depression; my husband was out of town, so I was single-parenting; and I got insomnia. Reading Man’s Search for Meaning helped, a lot. It set my brain thinking about why I do what I do. I won’t go into detail (this blog post isn’t a therapy session!), but it gave me the headspace and strength to make it through. And I needed that. I know this book has helped other people figure out what they want to do with their lives. But for me it was simpler, more a confirmation that I’m ok with where I am. Sometimes, that’s all you need.

Networking is really about making friends

never eat alone

 

What’s it about?
Never Eat Alone is about having friends and their importance to your success. The book has some basic guidelines about how to be successful (set a three-year-out goal, create sub-goals that can be achieved every 1-3 months to keep yourself on track) and also how to meet people (hence the never eating alone because meals are a great time to get to know someone). Making and having friends is really how you get ahead in the world – the ambitious parents around here who insist their child get into this or that school often say, “It’s not that they’ll get a better education, it’s that their classmates will be the kids who are also successful.” It’s all about the networking in that case. But your friends will make reaching your goals easier, it won’t magically transport you to a place where all your goals are met.

Why should you read it?
I liked it because of its project-based approach to achieving your goals, and how the book emphasized that you have to work hard in order to get ahead. Networking is part of it – it helps to know the right people – but networking in this case means making friends. It’s not some weird business-only relationship. This book is full of advice about meeting people and being open to new people and being generous towards them. That was refreshing. I did skip the bits of the book that were more about “the brand of you” – creating an online persona that reflects what you want people to know about you rather than what you’re really about. That was all eyeroll-worthy. But overall, there are enough good parts of the book that it’s worth reading.

Popular market research

what women want

 

What’s it about?
Paco Underhill is a relatively famous market researcher, specializing in retail. His first book, Why We Buy, came out while I was working at Amazon, and it was required reading for awhile. What Women Want is about the growing buying power of women, as more women earn their own money throughout the world. He covers some things that are more important to women than men (cleanliness, safety) and how stores and hotels put those concepts into play. He’s also good at backing up what he says with data.

Why should you read it?
Paco Underhill has a successful market research business, and he’s conducted market research all over the world. He uses both that experience and the data he can get his hands on/share to write a good story about how global brands can appeal to women. That said, I do have a couple of quibbles. The first is that the book can get a bit man-splain-y, like “here, let me sit down and tell you how you as a woman tend to think.” But the information is good, so I’d urge you to do your best to grit your teeth and get past it. The second is that he glosses over the fact that wives control most of the money – something like 85% of it – spent jointly via a marriage. He emphasizes women spending their own money, but not how women influence how men and women spend money together. That was the larger problem, to my mind. Overall, though, it’s a well-researched and -written book. I’d recommend it to anyone who is a market researcher or works in the retail world.

How to market your idea

made to stick

 

What’s it about?
Made to Stick is a book about how to get people to remember your idea. The authors presume that the idea is about your company or your cause or a product you make or your marketing message. They posit that there are six things you need to make your idea sticky (e.g., get people to remember it): simplicity, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and it has to tell a story. They give examples and go into detail about what each criteria means.

Why should you read it?
This is actually a re-read. That’s right, Made to Stick is a business book I went back and read again. I’ve been doing a lot of communications work in my volunteer causes – email newsletters, websites, the like – and I wanted to refresh my memory on their criteria to guide me through some of my own writing and presentation. How should we talk about fully funding public education? How should we ask people for money? How should we portray our programs? I remembered it being helpful, but I needed a refresh. I’d recommend it to anyone who’s marketing a small business or organization.