Even though the economy is supposedly getting better and jobless rates are lower, Americans are still dealing with unemployment, underemployment, wage stagnation and just all-around job dissatisfaction.
By now you know the color of your parachute. You’ve leaned-in more than once or twice. You’re no longer a dummy or an idiot when it comes to creating a great resume or handling an interview. You’re on LinkedIn. You’re fully engaged on various social media. But what other steps are there when it comes to career success? I know I’m trying to figure it out, and maybe so are you. I often look for books that take these issues head- on and offer doable, concrete advice on how to navigate the world of work (and looking for work) in the 21st century. Sadly, Tess Vigeland’s book Leap: Leaving a Job with No Plan B to Find the Career and Life You Really Want is not one of those books.
When I found Vigeland’s book Leap, and thought “Yes, this book might help! Someone found herself at a crossroads when it came to work and didn’t have the perfect plan on how to proceed! And I bet this book will feature other people going through the same thing and what can be done to get back on track!”
For the uninitiated, Tess Vigeland was a host for NPR’s Marketplace. Vigeland initially wanted to work in television news but found a place in talk radio. And due to her talent and ambition became quite successful. Vigeland worked for several years at Marketplace and was beloved by both NPR and its audience.
Now you’re probably wondering, “What happened? Was Tess fired? Was Marketplace cancelled? Was she dealing with some awful behavior in the workplace?”
Nope, none of these things happened. Vigeland just felt unfulfilled…so she left Marketplace, and she had no other job in sight and no concrete plan on finding another.
Now you may wonder how being jobless with nothing on the employment horizon affected Vigeland? Did she end up dead broke, nearly homeless? Did she have to work a bunch of crappy jobs, go on food stamps, sell her belongings or really struggle after she leapt?
No, Vigeland didn’t deal with any of that. Instead, she had a great deal of money saved up, is married to a successful man and a she also has a network of well-connected and well-off close friends. If this isn’t a net, I don’t know what is!
So instead of taking whatever opportunity that came her way, Vigeland was able to “find herself” in a staycation version of Eat, Pray, Love. While on this pursuit, she never really questioned why she felt so unfulfilled at Marketplace. To me, it seems as if she needed a lot of external kudos and applause and Marketplace wasn’t fueling her ego. Now, this I can understand; people often only define themselves and their worthiness by what they do for a living. People want their jobs to be more than just earning a paycheck.
So Vigeland didn’t have a job, and without a job, she didn’t have an identity and she didn’t have a paycheck. But she did have a lot of free time to interview other people who also made the choice to Leap, and like Vigeland, they also had privileges that most of us don’t have. And by the time Leap got to this point, I was starting to get pissed off. Story after story consisted of privileged, moneyed, well-connected people who just didn’t feel fulfilled, talk about first world problems. And as I read their tales, I grew more and more bored…and cheated.
Leap (at first glance) is sold as a how-to but it is just another memoir, and a fairly dull one at that. Vigeland is hugely self-absorbed but not very self-aware. She never truly acknowledges her privilege, not just when it comes to her professional success, but also the privilege she has had since she was a child-upper-middle class parents, excellent education, fancy internships, a network of well-connected friends and classmates, a loving and supportive spouse, and so on. I do not hate her for any of those things. And I fully acknowledge her intelligence, ambition, talent and work ethic in a culture that seems to undermine these qualities. I just think of a bit more of self-awareness and fully owning up to one’s privilege would make Leap a bit more bearable to the reader.
So don’t let this book Leap onto your reading list, and dust off those copies of What Color is Your Parachute and Job Hunting for Dummies. They’ll probably be a bit more useful.
Eleven books to celebrate the 4th of July.
Bookworms and their importance in our high-tech times.
Michael Bond, late author of the Paddington the Bear books, found inspiration in helping World War II refugees.
The late Warren Zevon’s collection of books to be sold.
Tejal Rao on the joy of reading cook books.
Actually Janet Bloomfield (real name Andrea Hardie) of Judgy Bitch, Michelle Carter is you in training. Your vicious views, not too mention your hateful screeds, led several of your followers to threaten me with rape and death threats and call me several misogynistic and anti-Semitic names.
Potential Handmaid Tales aren’t just for books and television. They are real life.
New John Green book to be published this fall.
Just what is love? Philosophers, poets and song writers have been asking that question since the beginning of time. To music journalist Rob Sheffield, love is a mix tape. The author has chronicled the cross section of music and love in debut book called Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time.
Long before people downloaded music into their smart phones or other hand-held listening devices with their favorite music, they made mix tapes. Mix tapes were very personal. Not only did they reveal some of our favorite songs, they also revealed our hopes, desires and thoughts. Mix tapes were therapy on a magnetic strip.
Rob Sheffield is no different from every music obsessed Generation X-er. A total music geek, he found solace and a reason for being through his love of music. Starting as a young child, he DJ-ed at school dances, collected albums and tapes like baseball cards and debated the merits of different bands with his friends.
In the late 1980s, Sheffield met Renee. Renee couldn’t have been more different from Rob. He was tall; she was short. He was a shy geek from Boston. Renee was an extroverted Southerner. The only thing these two seemed to have in common was an intense love of music, and it seemed music was all they needed. The two soon fell in love and were married until Renee’s untimely death from a pulmonary embolism at the age of 31.
Sheffield deftly writes about his all too brief marriage to Renee and he does this with a catalog of different mix tapes he made. Each chapter starts with a different mix tape, complete with the names of songs and artists. Some tapes are for making out, some for dancing and some for falling asleep. Sheffield proves to be no music snob, mixing top-40 guilty pleasure pop with the alternative music of the 1980s and 1990s. Each lovingly crafted mix tape conveys an intricate detail of the sometimes loving, sometimes rocky, and all-too-human relationship between two very interesting and complex souls.
Love is a Mix Tape had me riveted. Sheffield is an amazing writer, handling his love of music and his love of Renee with tender loving care. He gives an intimate glimpse into his marriage without revealing too many intimate details. The marriage of Rob and Renee is never conveyed in a way that is too saccharine or maudlin. These are two very real people who seemed to leap off the page. Often when men write about the women in their lives they do it more as a reflection of their own egos rather than writing about these women as three-dimensional human beings. Sheffield does not fall into this trap. I really felt I knew Renee. In fact, I wish I knew Renee. She was an Appalachian Auntie Mame who told her husband to “Live, live, live!” and tells the reader to do the same.
And even though I began reading Love is a Mix Tape knowing of Renee’s death, I was still very shocked when it happened. How could this ebullient soul not be cavorting somewhere on the planet? And Sheffield’s grief was so palpable I felt a dull ache in my heart as he described existing as a young widower.
I highly recommend Love is Mix Tape to anyone who considers music as vital as breathing and knows only too well the ecstasy and heartbreak true love can bring. Rob Sheffield has written an amazing book. I hope he has more books in him.
To learn more about Rob’s affiliation to write about love and music please check out my review of his book Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love and Karaoke.
Not too long ago, the lovely people from Eventbrite burned up some cyberspace and contacted me on writing about my ideal book panel discussion featuring my favorite authors and/or characters. I Googled Eventbrite to see if it was legit or not. Looking pretty darn legit, I quickly contacted them and said I’d love to do it, just give me some time to figure out what authors and/or characters I’d like to have on my panel.
Saying yes to this project was the easy part…coming up with authors and characters was quite another. There are so many authors and characters I adore and nearly worship. I would need a round table as large as Lambeau Field to house them all. What authors and characters do I pick? There are times when just picking out what earrings to wear on a particular day is a monumental task.
First I decided to pick authors only. And then I decided the authors would all be women. This is no slap at the male authors I adore or men in general. It’s just four authors popped into my lady brain and they just happened to be women.
What else does a panel discussion need? Well, moderators, of course! We can’t let this discussion run amok, right? Now who would I choose to moderate (well, besides me, of course). I immediately thought of my favorite journalist, Bill Moyers, a lovely gentleman whose curious, thoughtful and empathetic interviewing style would be perfect for this panel and our sure to be scintillating discussion.
Afterward the panel discussion I’d host a post-discussion casual meet and greet for the authors and the audience. I’ll even bring snacks.
Following are the principle players in the Book Self’s First Women of Words: A Celebration (and Potluck).
Moderators: Bill Moyers-see pic (and me, of course)
Audience: Men and women who love to read (and maybe even write). I’d pretty much invite fellow bookworms who have a mad love of the written word.
Special VIPs: My mom who got me to read in the first place and introduced me to the wonders of libraries and book stores. My friends, both in my off-line universe, and those I adore via the Internet. They include long-time friends Nora and Elaine Takagi, Jen Locke, Rosie Blythe, Cobalt Stargazer and Tari. I chose these ladies because they are talented writers who have written guest reviews at both my blogs, have blogs themselves and are just incredibly talented writers as a whole.
As for the potluck I’m providing post-discussion and during the meet and greet? Well, I’d offer various types of cookies and brownies, including my treasured sugar mint cookies and dark chocolate brownies with a sea salt caramel glaze, chocolate chip cake, zesty pretzels, various chips and dips including my goat cheese dip, veggie with dill dip, guacamole, hummus and salsa, fruit and veggie platters, a tasty cheese plate with homemade crackers, and various liquid refreshments including my mom’s Brandy Smash.
As I mentioned, I selected four distinct ladies of letters-Judy Blume, Dorothy Parker, Roxane Gay and Caitlin Moran. The following are reasons why I want them on my panel:
How could I not have my discussion and not feature Judy Blume? When I was a mere lass feeling like a 4th grade nothing, battered by bullying, confused by puberty, and vowing to never name my future male offspring Ralph, Judy was the Man…I mean Woman!!! Whereas other writers wrote about tweens and teens in a way that were both saccharine and unrealistic, Judy wrote about the adolescent experience in realistic ways, which never sugarcoated the issues we faced whether it was getting our periods, sex and masturbation, schoolyard bullying, family strife, religion and social issues. She knew these distinct moments in our lives were of monumental importance and treated the topics and her readers with so much respect.
No panel discussion of mine would be complete with the ghost of Dorothy Parker, whose poetry continues to inspire me. However, I must admit I was initially not a fan of Parker’s. I first heard of Parker when, as an insecure, bespectacled pre-teen, I read her line saying, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” Stomping in my Nike sneakers, I thought to myself, “What a mean lady!” But it wasn’t long before I realized the Divine Dorothy was just being snarky and probably pitying those men who didn’t quite get the erotic allure of a girl in glasses. I’m now a huge fan of Parker’s and I consider her to be the patron saint of all witty women too smart for their damn good. How could I not invite her to Women of Words.? You know she’d have plenty to say, and she’d love the Brandy Smash!
Then there are two of my favorite writers I have recently grown to appreciate who are not only fabulous writers, but who are also very proud to claim the word feminist. These women are Roxane Gay and Caitlin Moran. Both of these women write about the female experience, with clarity, wisdom and richness fully capturing the beauty and ugliness of what it means to be a female in the 21st century. Both Bay and Caitlin have written non-fiction and fictional books that are near and dear to my heart. Both Gay’s collection of short stories in Difficult Women and Moran’s novel How to Build a Girl received rave reviews by the Book Self. And their individual collection of essays, Bad Feminist and Moranifesto are two feminist-minded must-reads.
This discussion could also be a way for Gay to promote her memoir Hunger, which chronicles her experience as a survivor of a gang rape and how it led her to using food as an escape, comfort and shield. Interestingly enough, in Moranifesto Moran tells men two things they need to know about women one is we fear them, that they will hurt us physically, sexually, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. This topic alone could make for a very intriguing and mind-blowing discussion.
However, I want this to be so much more! So even though I want this to be a free floating discussion of writing, I also have some questions Moyers and I could throw out to the panel. They are as follows:
- What did they read when they were little girls and why?
- When did they start to write and why? What did they write? Who are their favorite authors and books from their girlhood to today? Who are these authors and books and authors their favorites?
- When did they realize writing was their vocation?
- What inspires them to write?
- Describe their version of writer’s block. How do they cope with writer’s block?
- Describe the good, bad and the ugly of being writers, especially women writers.
- Describe what it is like to write non-fiction, fiction, poetry, journalistic features, and so on, both the similarities and the differences.
- What is the one book they wish they wrote?
- Discuss their future plans.
- Advice for writers.
After the panel discussion we’d have a Q & A session where the audience gets to ask the panel their own questions.
Later, we’d sum up the occasion with a casual meet and greet/potluck. However, we’d have to tell Dorothy Parker she has to smoke outside and keep her from bogarting the Brandy Smash.
I must admit I had fun writing this and I’m so happy Eventbrite asked me to be a part of this. I also realized there is so much I want to discuss with these ladies that it might take up more than one session. We could make this a week-end event!
Eventbrite offers great book-related events all over. If you ‘d like to find a book event near you check out this registration online tool.
“Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.” ― Leonard Cohen
What does poetry mean to you?
When I was a little girl and read the books of Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, I thought all poetry had to rhyme. My idea of poetry was quite simplistic.
As I got older, my ideas of poetry advanced. I learned poetry didn’t have to rhyme. In fact, it often didn’t. I also learned of various styles of poetry—sonnets, haiku, limericks—to name a few. So for a while I thought of poetry was a writing format with a lot of rules and regulations and something a wee bit pretentious.
However, a few years ago I covered a slam poetry event for high school students sponsored by Still Waters Collective, an organization that mentors talented young writers and speakers. This event blew me away, and reminded me that poetry could be whatever you wanted it to be and wasn’t pretentious at all.
“To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.” – Robert Frost
Who are your favorite poets and why? Name some of you favorite poems and why?
Well, I mentioned Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, but I also got to give a shout out to three ladies whose appreciate like Maya Angelou, whose classic “Phenomenal Woman” never fails to lift my spirits.
Mad Girl’s Love Song
“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
I fancied you’d return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)”
I often wonder what else Ms. Plath could have written if she hadn’t met such a tragic demise.
And then there is my love for Dorothy Parker, the patron saint of all witty women too smart for their own good.
“A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.” ― W.H. Auden
Have you ever written poetry? Why or why not? (You can share your original poetry if you want to)
Back in the 1990s, as I inched my way back into the world of writing, I participated in a local poetry writers group. Though I wasn’t in it for a very long time, it did get the writing juices flowing. I didn’t think of myself as a poet, especially compared to my fellow writers, and I turn my talents to non-fiction writer working as a copywriter, research writer, freelance journalist, publicist and editor professionally, personally and academically.
Interestingly enough, I found some of the poems I wrote while in this group and was pleasantly surprised that a good deal of it wasn’t as cringe worthy as I thought. Sure, some of it was pretty damn good.
And last month I attended a poetry workshop at my friends Nora and Elaine’s Buddhist temple in Chicago. I was at first hesitant to participate because of my lack of experience writing poetry. I thought maybe I could just sit back and observe. No dice. I actually had to write something, which I did and I had so much fun and learned so much, not just from the teacher but from my fellow students, too. Everyone’s poem weaved such eloquent and creative tapestries of words. I felt humbled to be around such rich talent.
Now I don’t envision myself a poet but this class (and the discovery of some of my old poetry), once again challenged me as a writer and inspired me in ways that go beyond the written word.
“There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it.” ― Gustave Flaubert
Anything else you would like to add?
It’s funny; ever since I asked people to give me their thoughts on and experiences with poetry, I am starting to see poetry beyond actual poems. I see poetry in music, words I read in various books, dialogue in both movies and TV shows, various quotes, and just from everyday conversation. I see poetry in visual art and innovative crafts. I see poetry through fashion and style. I also see poetry in my love of food when I read my cookbooks or discover a new recipe or make a meal. I’m finding poetry in the natural world around me, whether it’s the blooms of lilac bushes, Lake Michigan, the twittering of birds when I wake up in the morning, or a glorious sunset as I end my day. I see poetry in the physical world of dance, yoga, and athletics. I find poetry in prayer, meditation and just simple silent contemplation. I guess I just find poetry in living life!
“I think that were beginning to remember that the first poets didn’t come out of a classroom, that poetry began when somebody walked off of a savanna or out of a cave and looked up at the sky with wonder and said, ‘Ahhh.'” That was the first poem. – Lucille Clifton
Ways to celebrate Gay Pride Month through reading and books.
Are you planning to see the new Wonder Woman movie? If so, here a list of books to read afterward.
JK Rowlings epic mike drops regarding Trump and Pence’s views on climate change.
InfoWars Editor at Large Paul Joseph Watson eats books, and by eat, I mean he actually eats them.
Here is a list of the most misspelled words of all 50 states and Washington, DC. Come on my fellow cheeseheads! We can better than this!
How certain books make real-life places more special.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who puts the Supreme in Supreme Court, to publish a book on her work-out regime.
Senator Al Franken is no longer welcoming shamed stand-up Kathy Griffin to his upcoming book event.
Bogota, Colombia-based trash collector saves books he finds in the garbage.
I became a fan of Roxane Gay when I first saw her speak at Boswell Book Company about her book, the part memoir/part assortment of essays, Bad Feminist. Bad Feminist blew me away so when I found her latest release, a collection of short stories called Difficult Women, I just knew I had to read it. I hoped Gay’s singular voice in writing non-fiction would translate into writing fiction.
I am glad to say I am not disappointed. Gay is a writer who fully recognizes the complex lives of women’s truth, from the most of grand experiences to the tiny minutiae that make of their daily lives (and ours). Some live in impressive privilege and others dreary lives of poverty.
Difficult Women is made of 21 stories, dissimilar yet fully connected. The opening chapter “I Will Follow” is about two sisters who were abducted as children and experienced deplorable acts. The sisters’ past makes them eerily, yet touching connected well into adulthood as they follow each other all over the country. Even though these sisters (by society’s standards) should have staked out their own separate lives, I understood how this might be nearly impossible for them.
The title story “Difficult Women” Gay defines “loose,” “frigid,” “crazy” women along with mothers and dead girls through vividly written definitions and descriptions:
Just what does a loose woman see when she sees herself in a mirror? “Nothing. She doesn’t look. She doesn’t need to. She knows exactly who she is.”
Where does a frigid women go at night? “There are places for people with secrets and she has secrets, so many of them that sometimes they threaten to choke her. She goes to the places for people with secrets for people with secrets and there she waits.”
What happens when crazy women snap? “She is sitting at her desk, working late, when her boss hulks his way into her office, sitting too close, on the edge of her desk, taking up space in the way men do. He stares down her blouse and it’s the presumption in the way he doesn’t hide his interest that makes her hold the sharp letter opener in the cool of her hand.”
As for mothers? Well, mothers can only be described in their roles as mothers on from what she sees in her child’s face to how she loves.
Dead girls, you are now wondering? What about them? Well, they are dead. How do you define them? Are they more interesting? Do you find them beautiful?
Another story I adored is Gay’s fable-like “Requiem for a Glass Heart.” In this story the wife is made entirely of glass, her husband is fully-human. The glass wife is smooth, hairless, and transparent. Day after day she takes care of child also made of glass. The husband has matted chest hair and calloused hands who earns his money as a stone thrower. He also has a mistress on the side, one made fully of flesh and blood. Does the glass wife know about the mistress? She just might. Perhaps being made of glass doesn’t quite this woman as transparent as she may initially seem….
Other stories are complete stand-outs—“North Country,” “Bad Priest,” and “Best Features” quickly come to mind. But to be honest, every single story in Difficult Women is so remarkable that choosing a favorite is quite, well, difficult.
As I came to Difficult Women’s close, I found myself not only thinking of Gay’s voice as a visionary writer, but how these stories played out like mini-movies in my mind’s eye. Difficult Women would make for a great TV series, perhaps all the stories adapted by female screenwriters and directed by female directors. Or maybe in an interesting twist, some stories adapted by male screen writers and directed by male directors.
But alas, Difficult Women is for now, is a book, one I implore difficult women everywhere (and the beguiled men who love them) to read.
“There’s cathedrals and the alleyways in our music. I think the alleyway is usually on the way to the cathedral, where you can hear your own footsteps and you’re slightly nervous and looking over your shoulder and wondering if there’s somebody following you. And then you get there and you realize there was somebody following you: it’s God.”— Bono
Rock ‘n’ roll has long been called the “devil’s music.” But for many U2 fans, it’s also been known to uplift and awaken our spirituality. Christian Scharen, currently Vice President of Applied Research and the Center for the Study of Theological Education at Auburn (he also taught at Yale), examines how U2′s music not only makes our feet move, but also moves our hearts, minds and souls in his thought-provoking book “One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God.”
Scharen is a long-time U2 fan who knows both the band’s music and how the teachings of Biblical scripture is infused into nearly every one of U2′s songs, not only in the obvious like “40” from 1983′s War album, a song taken from Psalm 40 and refrain from Psalm 6, but less apparent songs like “Discotheque” from 1997′s Pop.
One Step Closer is divided into three parts, which Scharen calls steps. The first part is called “Singing Scripture,” in which Scharen points to the ways scripture speaks of God’s work, using various voices of scripture like psalms, prophecies, parables and the apocalypse. Scharen takes these aspects of the scriptures and shows how these elements are evident in U2′s music.
In the second part of the book, “Singing the Cross,” Scharen uses such themes as faith, hope and love and explains how these themes are evident within U2′s music. He also discusses how these themes have tension with less lofty themes that we found ourselves struggling with like despair and selfishness.
In the final section, Scharen introduces the idea “Singing the Truth,” a way to live the cross. This section takes in account on how U2 lives out their faith. Most of us aren’t unfamiliar on how the members of U2 live out their faith beyond the boundaries of their music, especially regarding Bono’s tireless work on behalf of the African continent.
Throughout the book, Scharen gives examples of U2 songs and how they relate to different scriptures and themes found in the Bible. For songs embodying themes of faith and doubt, Scharen offers songs like “I Will Follow” from U2′s 1980 debut Boy and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” from 1987′s The Joshua Tree. In songs with themes of the saint and the sinner, Scharen mentions songs like “Bad” from 1984′s The Unforgettable Fire and “Acrobat” from 1991′s Achtung Baby. Scharen quotes lyrics from these songs to make the reader understand the themes and also asks the reader to think of other U2 songs that follow various Biblical ideas. I can imagine this inspiring U2 fans everywhere to run to their CD collections or grab their digital devices to find U2 songs that follow these themes. I also wonder if Christian U2 fans will open up their Bibles to find different scriptures that relate to U2′s music.
Though a Lutheran pastor and a professor of divinity, Scharen takes a critical look at the modern church and asks it to take a good, hard look at itself. Religious institutions have to ask themselves why so many U2 fans feel no connection to the church or religion as a whole, but find God’s word or a “higher power” in U2′s music. Scharen isn’t afraid to tell the modern church to get over “religion” to get over its obsession of piety and judgment of everyone and everything. The goal of the modern church, instead, should be to inspire, forgive, uplift and do good work in the world around us. I know as a lapsed Roman Catholic turned Unitarian Universalist full committed to my faith, I have more often felt the spirit of something greater than I at a U2 concert than I ever did in all my years of going to Mass (but service at my UU church comes pretty close.
I don’t think you have to be particularly religious or even a Christian to gain something from this book. Religion is a fascinating topic, especially in how it can relate to modern music. Furthermore, Scharen gives thorough explanations of different aspects of scripture for readers not quite up on their Bible studies. Fortunately, Scharen is respectful to those of all religious backgrounds. And though “One Step Closer” is a scholarly book, it isn’t dry and acts as a reference to both U2 fans and those looking to know the Bible more fully.
In a world where religion is often quite polarizing in these troubling times, Scharen offers U2′s music and its messages as a unifying force. In “One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God,” the secular and the sacred aren’t mutually exclusive.