Book Reviews: You Are Awesome-9 Secrets to Getting Stronger and Living an Intentional Life by Neil Pasricha

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In this day and age it’s difficult to feel somewhat mediocre let alone awesome. Our country is deeply divided, our global world is spinning out of control, and Mother Nature is a harsh mistress.

On personal level we are constantly bombarded with messages telling us we are never enough. We are told by advertisers and marketers, social media, reality TV, corporate owned news, and celebrity culture. We’re not rich enough, smart enough or just enough.

It’s all enough to make us feel awful. But Neil Pasticha begs to differ in his book You Are Awesome: 9 Secrets to Getting Stronger and Living an Intentional Life.

For the uninitiated Pasricha is a best-selling author, popular public speaker who has given speeches at TED Talks and SXSW, and award-winning podcaster at 3 Books.

I admit I have a love/hate relationship with self help books. Some have all the appetizing quality of a breath mint and others are a delicious feast.

After a brief introduction where Pasricha reminds us to be resilient, he gives us the 9 secrets to claiming his awesomeness.

  1. Add a Dot, Dot, Dot
  2. Shift the Spotlight
  3. See it as a Step
  4. Tell Yourself a Different Story
  5. Lose More to Win More
  6. Reveal to Heal
  7. Find Small Ponds
  8. Go Untouchable
  9. Never, Never Stop

Now my fully competent readers, you can probably figure out a few details of Pasricha’s secrets from the nine titles. But the titles are not sentimental greeting card verse. Pasricha goes very much in depth, using care and craft, the hard work, scientific facts, true stories (including his own) and various resources to achieve transformation. Believe me, you’re not awesome because you are breathing.

In the wise words of one of my favorite  philosophers, RuPaul:

“You better work!”

You’re going to have take an in-depth look at your life, past, present, and and possible future and do a full assessment of your missteps. It won’t be pretty.

But you will also be encouraged to revisit the times where you succeeded and found true joy, professionally and personally.

In the end You Awesome is both a regular book and workbook. While reading it I found myself writing down notes, highlighting passages, and applying Post-it notes to several pages.

Written in voice that is both honest and relatable, Pasricha’s You are Awesome is a good primer on gaining more resilience and living a life of purpose and meaning.

*Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for the advanced copy of You Are Awesome: 9 Secrets to Getting Stronger and Living an Intentional Life. This book will be released this Tuesday, November 5th.

Book Review: Maid-Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land

Over the past few years I’ve read several books on what it is like to live in the richest country on low pay, back breaking work, while striving to make a better life for oneself and perhaps one’s family. Some of these books include Hand to Mouth by Linda Tirado, We Were Witches by Ariel Gore, The Broke Diaries by Angela Nissel, and of course, Barbara Ehrenreich’s classic, Nickel and Dimed.

I didn’t think I could handle reading another one until I came across Stephanie Land’s memoir, Maid-Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive. (Introduction by Barbara Ehrenreich)

Not quite 30, Land found herself leaving an abusive relationship with a young daughter in tow. What followed her was a nightmare of homelessness, deplorable apartments, low wages working as a housekeeper, and a very unpleasant journey through the so-called safety net when it came to acquiring government assistance. Unlike some fortunate souls Land lacks a supportive family who help her in her time of need.

Land decides to clean houses to support herself and her daughter while also attending college. She works for a local housecleaning company but also takes on freelance gigs. Not surprisingly, housekeeping is truly back breaking, horribly paid, and demoralizing. Some of her clients don’t see her fully human and worthy of respect. And then some of them just don’t see “her.”

Not making enough money to buy even the basic necessities, Land has to go on government assistance, a tangled weave that is often very difficult unravel with its endless paperwork and noxious questioning of Land’s eligibility and worthiness. If one earns a few extra dollars, one can find their benefits slashed or lose them in their entirety.

Keep in mind, not only is Land taking care of her daughter and cleaning houses, she’s also attending college. I just dare any reader to call her a slacker. She is the antithesis of lazy. In fact, due to my research, most people receiving some type of assistance are working and/or going to school. They are not cheating the system and most are not lazy losers.

But back to the book…

Maid is searing with brutal honesty. Land’s love and devotion to her daughter is undeniable as is her willingness to make a better life using various options. Her resourcefulness is both admirable and clever. I couldn’t help but root for her. Does she at times feel sorry for herself? Well, of course. She is human, after all. There certain times in one’s life when you just got to cry over your lot in life, and then you move on.

In the end people who are struggling like Land deserve respect, not empty pity or utter derision lacking any type of empathy.

In the end Maid convinces the reader to look beyond the stereotypes you may have swirling in your brain when it comes to the poor, anyone on benefits or those faceless, nameless heroes and heroines who make our lives much easier through their blood, sweat and tears.

Maid is a treasure of a memoir. Land should be very proud of herself, and I hope she keeps writing. I expect more from her. She’s one to watch.

Book Review: Leading from the Roots-Nature-Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World by Dr. Kathleen E. Allen

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“Leadership today is about unlearning management and relearning being human.” – Javier Pladevall, CEO of Volkswagen Audi Retail

You know I like a book when I mark it up with post-its, write notes in the margins, highlight certain passages and nod my head along like one of those bobble-head figurines. Which is exactly what I did while reading Dr. Kathleen E. Allen’s fascinating, timely and revolutionary’s book Leading from the Roots: Nature-Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World.

This book implores organizational leaders (and pretty much anyone else with a stake in the workplace) to look beyond the confines of the physical spaces where we toil to nature and how it can help us and our companies thrive.

Leading from the Roots is divided into 11 well-researched,  and finely-written chapters on concepts like cooperation, diversity, lack of waste, curbing excess, the power of limits and so much more.

Each chapter gives ample evidence on how nature can help worker’s productivity and commitment to their jobs and how simple it is to work these practices into the workplace that won’t break the bank, take up too much time, or distract us from our tasks at hand. Dr. Allen provides ample evidence through both her extensive end notes and bibliography. And each chapter concludes with a summary of the chapter’s main focus and points to ponder and discuss.

Simply put, Leading from the Roots inspired me. Dr. Allen’s lessons are doable, practical and very audience-friendly. It’s ideal for everyone-managers, workers, students and grads, religious leaders, politicians, activists, teachers, creative types, social workers, medical personal, entrepreneurs, and so on.

Leading from the Roots is a great addition to my book shelf. I highly suggest you add it to your book shelf.

Book Review: Becoming Michelle Obama by Michelle Obama

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Even my cat, Pokey Jones, liked this book!

Once upon a time, in land called the south side of Chicago, lived a girl named Michelle Robinson. Instead of living in a huge castle, she lived in a modest house on a street called Euclid Avenue. And instead of having to deal with an evil stepmother, she had two loving parents and a protective older brother. Like a lot of girls, Michelle Robinson dreamed of adventures that would take her beyond her humble roots and finding her own Prince Charming. She did that and so much more, thus becoming the history-making first lady Michelle Obama, not only the first black first lady (not to mention one of the most educated and admired, and if I may dip my toes into the shallow end of the pool, one of the most stylish first ladies, in the history of the United States).

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or are so “unwoke” you might as well be in a coma, you are fully aware of Michelle Obama’s years of living in the White House – her “Let’s Move” campaign to alleviate childhood obesity, her work with second lady Dr. Jill Biden on veterans’ issues, her loving marriage to President Barack Obama, and her challenges of raising two children in the White House under the glare of the media. This is a very compelling part of Becoming, and Mrs. Obama is fully honest about the good, the bad, and the ugly she dealt with during the White House years.

However, most of Becoming focuses on Mrs. Obama’s life before her time as First Lady, and it is both extraordinary and ordinary, which I’m sure a lot of readers with relate to.

Mrs. Obama describes these years in rich detail that had me riveted. Her family was firm and loving, inspiring her to be a striver and excel in whatever she pursued. She writes about teachers who supported her from grade school through law school. She lovingly mentions the girlfriends who inspired her, and are still with her today (even if one standout friend is only with her in spirit). Mrs. Obama discusses the various mentors she was blessed with while navigating the difficulties in the workplace. And she’s brutally honest about these privileges and her gratitude seems truly sincere.

However, she also had to deal with the thorny issues of both racism and sexism, and plenty of naysayers who claimed she’d never make it. For instance, one person tried to convince Mrs. Obama that she wasn’t Ivy League material. Ha, she showed this person, didn’t she?

And yes, Mrs. Obama also dishes on a certain fellow named Barack Obama, from her initial meeting when she was his mentor to her twenty-five plus years of their marriage.

But just as Mrs. Obama is grateful for her blessings, she is also honest about the trials and tribulations she faced personally. Prince Charming was sometimes a bit of a challenge and often their marriage was less than ideal. Mrs. Obama also faced issues with having children, finally reverting to using fertility treatments and later giving birth to her cherished daughters Malia and Sasha. In other words, her life is at turn both typical and atypical, one that inspires and one that a lot of us can relate to.

Now, it’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Michelle Obama. However, as a book reviewer I realize I must be truthful of my assessment of Becoming. Not to be gross, but you can’t crap on a cone and expect me to call it ice cream. Thank goodness, Becoming is a sundae of a read and truly exceeded my expectation. It’s both down to earth and out of this world, one that takes a treasured place on my book shelf. I can’t recommend it enough.

Book Review: The View from Flyover Country-Dispatches from the Forgotten America by Sarah Kedzior

When not being ignored by the two coasts, flyover country is being celebrated as where the “real Americans” live, usually by conservative pundits. And to these pundits, real Americans are defined as white and for the most part living in the suburbs or rural areas who define themselves as conservative Christians.

But not so fast, living in flyover country, I know we are a much more diverse bunch and so does Sarah Kedzior, which she sums up in her collection of essays The View from Flyover Country-Dispatches from the Forgotten America.

A reporter for Al Jazeera America and residing in St. Louis, Missouri, Kedzior’s essays focus on such thorny topics as race, income inequality, the friction among generations, education, foreign policy, the media, women’s issues and so much more.

Kedzior starts off The View from Flyover Country with an introduction rolling out what her collection of essays is all about, giving the reader a clear idea on what to expect among its six parts.

In Part One, Flyover Country, Kedzior defines flyover country and topics such as how expensive cities are killing creatives and hipster economics.

Part Two, Post-Employments, explains issues of survival, how workers are paying a steep price, zilch opportunities and how sometimes these issues make people do extreme things like lighting themselves on fire.

Race and religion define Part Three, where Kedzior writes about the tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s murder, Black Lives Matter, and what happened in Ferguson in the wake of Mike Brown being gunned down by police.

In Part Four Kedzior examines the broken promise of a higher education, and how school debt has crippled countless smart, hard-working and talented graduates. She also decries the deplorable pay of adjunct professors who work tirelessly to educate our students.

Part Five is a careful examination of our media and how gaining access seems to be only available to the well-connected elite (don’t I know it!) and the problem of fringe media in the Internet age.

Foreign policy makes up Part Six when it comes to gender, Edward Snowden, the situation in Iraq and basic human rights.

Finally, Kedzior sums things up with a standout essay on the importance of complaining. If people didn’t complain, women wouldn’t have the right to vote, black people would still be at the back of the bus, and gay people wouldn’t be able to marry those they love.

While reading The View Flyover Country, I marked several pages with post-it notes and wrote down some key quotes and passages in my well-worn notebook. Kedzior writes in a down-to-earth way with smarts and clarity. She truly cares about these issues and implores us to also care about them.

The View from Flyover Country is a treasure of a book and is ideal for both the college classroom and book discussion groups everywhere.

Book Review: Drink Like a Woman-Shake, Stir, Conquer, Repeat by Jeanette Hurt

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When it comes to liquor and libations Milwaukee-based food and drink writer Jeanette Hurt knows her stuff. So I was only too delighted to come across her book Drink Like a Woman: Shake, Stir, Conquer, Repeat.

Drink Like a Woman provides over 70 cocktail recipes and so much more. It goes beyond the fruity, sweet, pink and girly drinks like the Cosmopolitan popularized by Sex and the City to provide cocktail recipes for all kinds of palates and tastes.

After a foreward by Ann Tuennerman, founder of Tales of the Cocktail, Hurt share a few words on so-called “girly drinks,” in which she claims there are no “girly drinks.” Women like what they like and we don’t have to apologize for it.

But before we can make a cocktail we need to get our home bar together. Hurt provides a very thorough list of needed accessories like jiggers, muddlers, shakers, strainers, pourers and glasses to make your home bar top notch whether you’re new to the cocktail game or an experienced mixologist. And you don’t have to break the bank. Many of these items can be found at thrift stores, estate sales and rummage sales.

Okay, now we’re onto the fun part-the cocktail recipes, which are inspired by fierce femmes and our herstory, which spans from the 1600s to the modern age.

Chapter One, Witches and Bar Wenches covers the years 1600-1900, which celebrates the Revolutionary War, authors Jane Austen (Jane Austen’s Zombie) and the Bronte Sisters (Bronte’s Brew). You can also make a toast to trailblazers with drinks like Nellie Bly-Tai, Curie Royale and Amelia Takes Flight. That time of month? Ditch that Midol and enjoy a Monthly Medicinal instead.

Chapter Two, Votes for Women, Whiskey for All, covers the years 1900 to 1950. Drinks celebrate flappers with Flapper’s Firewater, Rosie the Riveter with Rosé the Riveter and the iconic artist Frida Kahlo with a Frida Kahlúa. Do you need a virgin cocktail for non-drinkers or those underage? Stir up it up with a Suzy B’s Virgin Voter, which honors Susan B Anthony, famous suffragette and a proponent of the temperance movement.

Chapter Three, Libations for the Liberated, covers the years 1950 to 2000. Pop culture icons like Mary Richards, Princess Leia and Buffy the Vampire Slayer get their own drinks (Bloody Mary Richards, Kissed by a Wookie, and Buffy’s Stake), feminism is in fine form with the Bra Burner, Sister Solidaritea, and the Gloria Stein’em.

Chapter Four, Stirring Up Cocktails and Shaking Up the World, covers the 2000s. You can also make a toast the LBD with The Little Black Dress, denounce manpslaining with Mansplainer Antidote and celebrate friendship with the BFF.

Drink Like a Woman also provides recipes for all kinds of syrup, the rules for creating creamy drinks, and hangover cures in case you indulge too much. And Drink Like a Woman also provides a list and brief bios of the ladies of liquor, the mavens of mixology who shared these cocktail recipes.

Drink Like a Woman is also a fun read for its quotations, lists of music and movies to love while enjoying your cocktails and Paige Clark’s charming illustrations. Drink Like a Woman is a welcome addition to any one’s book shelf whether one imbibes or does not.

Retro Review: The Child Who Never Grew by Pearl S. Buck

For the longest time I only knew multi-award winning author Pearl S. Buck through her classic The Good Earth, among other notable works of both fiction and non-fiction.

But Buck was also a mother of daughter with special needs, a daughter named Carol, which I was made aware of this when I came across Buck’s slim memoir about raising Carol called The Child Who Never Grew. And it at turns, bittersweet, wise and very touching.

When Carol was born she seemed perfectly normal and healthy. Buck and her husband felt truly blessed. But it wasn’t long before they realized Carol wasn’t developing at the same rate as other babies. In fact, Carol’s cognitive abilities would never surpass that of a four year old child.

Devastated, yet determined to do right by Carol, Buck and her husband arose to the challenge of raising a child with “mental retardation,” finally sending Carol to a facility most suitable to address her needs in Vineland, New Jersey.

The Child Who Never Grew is brutally honest on the “stigma” of raising a child like Carol but also the compassion that was so needed and desired by Buck and her husband, and most a beneficial to a person like Carol. I was also impressed on how Carol was looked at in the western culture of the United States and the culture of the far east. This book is also interesting on how we’ve come in our society when it comes to the lives of children and adults with special needs.

A book filled with heartache and triumph, The Child Who Never Grew isn’t just a memoir of mothering a child who is “different,” it is an amazing look at motherhood itself.