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.

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Book Review: The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree-Words from the Heart edited by Mrs. Fields


Note: Over 10 years ago I reviewed this book for a U2 fansite. In honor of Poetry month, I decided to dust it off, make a few revisions, and publish it here at The Book Self.

U2 fans are not your typical rock and roll fans. Sure, they buy the CDs, download their music, and go to the concerts, but being a U2 fan is so much more than that. U2 fans are motivated. They are inspired to open their minds, learn new things, and get involved in causes bigger than themselves. However, they are also inspired to use own creativity. This is evident in a slim, yet powerful book of poetry and short stories called The Little Red Book of Poet-ee-tree: Words from the Heart.

The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree is a volume containing heartfelt prose by a collection of U2 fans throughout the globe. Their love of U2’s music and the written word lead these fans to The Heart. The Heart was an Internet poetry forum where writers cultivated their writing skills, shared their work with others, and got their creative juices flowing. Sadly, it shut down in 2003, but fortunately for the Heart community, U2 fans, and lovers of good writing, the works created for the Heart are not lost forever. They are compiled into The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree.

All the royalties of The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree went to the African Well Fund, a charity founded in 2002 by a group of U2 fans to provide a clean water sources to many African communities. The African Well Fund has built and supplied clean water and sanitation projects in Uganda, Angola and Zimbabwe. The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree was just one part of the African Well Fund’s comprehensive vision to help others.

The poets published in The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree write about love and loss, heartbreak and joy. They write with clear-eyed optimism and downcast despair. These poems take us on a journey of both the writers’ hearts and souls, and our individual interpretations to their work. Some poems a mere few lines, whereas others nearly tell a story.

Jennifer’s startling “Modern Day Warfare” uses the frightening images of mustard-gas lies and biological-warfare thoughts, along with rat-ta-tat fists to chillingly describe abuse both emotional and physical.

Kel, in the poem “Africa” describes the continent as a living, breathing human female, inhaling her warm earthy air. This poem puts a very personal face on one’s personal journey throughout the African landscape.

Mrs. F. conveys the love a mother has for her children in the poem “Earth and Angels.” Phrases like “He darts in dizzy zig zags…Listens wide-eyed, hoots at the owl” and “Head filled with fairies and music…She skips and sings” give us an intimate look at the special qualities that make our sons and daughters so special to us.

All the poems, whether short or lengthy, are very strong, and open to many interpretations. I don’t know how these poets came to their words. Sometimes a poem just comes to someone and easily flows out onto paper. Sometimes constructing a poem is like throwing a bunch of words into the air, and then constructing a poem using the scattered words. However the poems came to be in this book, they came through what Allen Ginsberg once called, “ordinary magic.”

Several short stories are also collected in The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree. When writing a short story, writers also face challenges. Writers need to grab the reader and tell a complete story in a short amount of words. And these stories have to be engaging, draw the reader in, and achieve a believable conclusion without seeming to be tacked on in haste.

This is expertly done in Laurie CK’s “Pennycake.” In this story, carefree memories of a 1970’s childhood are recalled with its birthday rituals and lazy summer days. The brief mentions of Noxzema, Keith Partridge, and 8-Track tapes give the reader a strong idea of a certain place in time. This story also evokes what it is like to be a child facing real life unexpected grief and a subsequent loss of faith.

The one quibble I do have with this book (and it is a minor one) is the limited amount of writers. I don’t know if this is because only a few writers were accepted or only a few writers chose to submit their work. This could also be because the Heart was a small group to begin with. If anything this book begs for a sequel.

 

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: Braving the Wilderness-The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brené Brown PhD, LMSW

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I first head of Dr. Brené Brown when she was mentioned during a sermon at my church, First Union Society of Milwaukee several years ago. Intrigued, I decided to read Brown’s books and check out her now classic TED talk on “The Power of Vulnerability.” I’m now a huge fan of Brown’s work so I was only too happy to read and review Brown’s book Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. *

Braving the Wilderness is about being courageous enough to strip us off all pretenses and face an often critical world being our true, authentic selves. It’s also a reminder that by doing this we might find ourselves standing alone is ways that may make us uncomfortable. To do this Brown gives us four practices to guide us, which include.

  1. People are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In.
  2. Speak Truth to BS. Be Civil.
  3. Hold Hands. With Strangers.
  4. Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart.

After several chapters summing of the context of Braving the Wilderness, which includes stories about Brown’s personal stories of a rough childhood and several notable luminaries, we get into the crux of the book.

The practices Brown advises are clear as can be. We often hate what we don’t know, especially people we deem as “others” so it’s important to move in and get to know then as living human beings. However, sometimes we must speak out when other tell lies, just don’t be a jerk about it. Don’t be afraid to extend a hand to someone you don’t know, and finally have a back bone, a compassionate soul and a heart that is brave enough to survive the rough and wild world out there.

In print, this seems easy, but in actual practice they might be quite difficult. So thank goodness for Brown’s wisdom in imparting her advice throughout Braving the Wilderness using her gifts as a storyteller and academic. She touches on the issues that divide us, but also reflects on issues that unite us.

While reading Braving the Wilderness I often found myself nodding my head, saying to myself, “Yes, I get this. This is my truth!” And at times I was faced with passages that challenged me in ways where I had to put down the book a take several moments to reflect on Brown’s words. I also read passages I wanted to revisit once I finished reading Braving the Wilderness long after I finished it, which is obvious from all the post-it notes I placed in my copy.

I must admit I was a bit hesitant in writing my review of Braving the Wilderness. I was afraid I’d come across an over-enthusiastic fan girl of Brown’s or this review might be more of a marketing piece than a legitimate review. I also didn’t want to give away too much of the book’s content either. It is a book that should be read and savored as personal experience.

Most of all Braving the Wilderness is a very important book in our modern age of “MAGA cap wearing deplorables” and “pussy hat wearing snowflakes.” We are so polarized. Is there a way we can become less “Us vs. Them” and more “We the People?” A very timely book, Braving the Wilderness is just one soothing and wise elixir that might make that possible.

*Braving the Wilderness is currently being sold at the Book Tower in the Common Room at First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee.

Book Review: The Actor’s Life-A Survival Guide by Jenna Fischer

Back in the day, I believe it was in the year 2006, when MySpace was still a thing and we were all friends of Tom, Jenna Fischer wrote a post on her MySpace page where she discussed the trials and tribulations she faced as an aspiring actor. Already well-known as  the sweet and vulnerable Pam Beesly on The Office, Ms. Fischer’s MySpace post resonated with a lot of people, even people with no acting ambitions.

Now Fischer has turned that MySpace post into something more with her book The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide that is at turns both a memoir of Jenna’s journey to acting success and a wise and practical primer for aspiring actors.

Fischer fell in love with acting and performing as a child. She took acting and dance classes and performed in both community and school productions, including acting as the Fiddler in Fiddler on the Roof, which must have been quite a challenge for a someone going to all-girls Catholic school.

After earning a degree in theater at Truman State University in Missouri, this St. Louis native packed her bags and headed out to Los Angeles. All Fischer had was her college diploma, a beat up car and some saved up cash. But she also had a big dream to make it as an actress in both television and in film. She thought it wouldn’t be long before she saw her name on the marquee of movie theaters or among the credits of a hit television show.

Boy, was she wrong. It took her eight years to finally become a success on The Office and in movies like Blades of Glory and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. And in that nearly decade long road, Fischer dealt with the good, bad and ugly of being an aspiring actor, which she isn’t afraid to share in The Actor’s Life.

When it comes to the survival guide, Fischer offers sound advice on getting the right headshot, getting into the film and television’s actor union SAG (Screen Actors Guild), and building one’s resume as an actor. She also advises on finding and keeping an agent and manager.

Fischer also discusses in detail the arduous auditioning process, the heartbreak, the glory, and how to keep going on.

Want to know what it’s like to be on the set as an extra, a bit player saying three lines in one scene, a guest star or part of the main cast? It’s not glamorous, but once your performing, you’re reminded why you chose acting as a vocation.

Of course,  even once one makes it things don’t go smoothly. Pilots for TV shows don’t get picked up,  shows get cancelled, speaking parts get edited out,  a movie bombs at the box office even if you’re an established name. You may even get fired. Fischer was recently fired from a TV show. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. She’s now the star of the ABC show Splitting Up Together, which is filming its second season.

Interspersed throughout The Actor’s Life are Fischer’s tales of getting speaking parts on hit shows like Spin City and That 70’s Show, working less than desirable office gigs, falling apart at The Pottery Barn because she felt like such a loser, filming kissing and sex scenes, her wonderful relationship with her manager Naomi Odenkirk, and the dos and don’ts on how to behave on the set.

Fischer also discusses creating opportunities by generating DIY acting projects and how the iconic book The Artist’s Way helped her on her journey as did actor and friend Molly Shannon.

Within the pages of The Actor’s Life include inspirational quotes by a diverse collection of people-Einstein, Sheryl Sandburg,  Marilyn Monroe, Jon Hamm and Debra Messing.

I enjoyed reading The Actor’s Life,  starting with an introduction by Steve Carell who played the bumbling Michael Scott on The Office to Fischer’s loving acknowledgements to family, friends, and colleagues at the very end.

The Actor’s Life is honest,  funny and wise. Fischer’s writing voice is empathetic, truthful and warm. It’s a must read, and not just for actors. I’m using it as a guide as I get my writing career back on track.  I also think this book is ideal for teachers, guidance counselors, and college career centers.

It was The Office that made me a fan of Jenna Fischer and The Actor’s Life is one reason why I remain a fan.

Well that,  and we both suffer from MCG-Midwestern Catholic Guilt.

 

Book Review: Shrill-Notes From a Loud Woman by Lindy West

I’ve been a fan of writer Lindy West since her Jezebel.com days. Whether she was writing about pop culture or social issues, I found her writing voice to witty and wise,  a welcome relief from tiresome clickbait and lazy listicles.

So it was a thrill to read West’s memoir Shrill: Notes From a Loud woman.

Growing up,  West was nerdy, shy and fat, not exactly a recipe for success. Yet, she was able to find success, both professionally and personally, once she became an adult and found her voice.

And though her voice brought her admirers it also brought her haters,  mostly obnoxious trolls.

You see West is a woman with an opinion. She’s also fat. How dare she!

Through her feature articles and opinion pieces, West expressed her disdain for rape jokes and the struggles with body shaming. In response, she often faced horrific comments telling her she should be raped and ripped her apart for not being a tiny size two.

West fully describes in Shrill what it was like to be caught up in hail storm of hatred. It was a time of loneliness and tears,  vulnerability and anger, but it was also a time where West found support, decency, empathy and a the will to go on as a writer and just person trying to live her life

But in the end West triumphed. She triumphed so much a troll even reached out to her to apologize.

Today, West is having the last laugh. Shrill is gaining lots of praise, including praise from two of my faves, Caitlin Moran and Samantha Irby. Now based in Seattle West now writes for GQ,  The Guardian,, and other assorted highly respected publications. She founded the advice blog for teenagers called I Believe You/It’s Not Your Fault. West is also blessed with a loving family and a happy marriage. Hmm, maybe being shrill isn’t such a bad thing.

Though Shrill is West’s story, it’s also the story of every woman with an opinion and  one who doesn’t fit into our society’s slender notion on how to behave…and look like. I highly recommend it.

Book Review: Voices From the Rust Belt – Edited by Anne Trubek

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Just what is the Rust Belt? In simple terms it stretches from Milwaukee to Buffalo with cities like Chicago, Detroit, Flint, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh inbetween, cities that were once known as vibrant communities of manufacturing that have fallen on hard times but are trying to recapture their former glory. The Rust Belt is also a place I call home.

Sometimes romanticized,sometimes looked down upon, and often ignored, the Rust Belt is a place rich in history and tales so I was only to happy to find Voices from the Rust Belt, a collection of essays by people of all kinds who deftly write about what it is like to live in the Rust Belt.

After a brief introduction, which describes what is the Rust Belt and why it matters, Voices from the Rust Belt is divided into four parts.

1. Growing Up
2. Day to Day in the Rust Belt
3. Geography of the Heartland
4. Leaving and Staying

I pretty much loved all the essays written by talented women and men of all kinds. Some stories I could relate and others opened my eyes to experiences completely foreign to me. These stories are written by journalists, immigrants, students, artists, business owners, activists and working stiffs of all kinds who call the Rust Belt home. Nearly every one of theses writers impressed me and I was thrilled to find brief bios of the writers, which gave me further insight to these people beyond their written words. I also pondered what it would be like to see a well-made documentary on the Rust Belt – Ken Burns, I’m looking in your direction.

If I have any quibbles with Voices from the Rust Belt it is there is no voice from Milwaukee. Hmm, maybe in the sequel.