Book Review: Educated by Tara Westover

A fan of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls I was looking forward to reading Tara Westover’s book Educated, another memoir about rising above and beyond a hardscrabble childhood.

And let me state this: I read The Glass Castle. I know The Glass Castle. I even met Jeannette Walls at an author event. And believe me Educated is no The Glass Castle.

Born and raised in Buck’s Peak, Idaho, Tara Westover was the youngest of her mother and father’s seven children.

To say Westover’s childhood was less than typical is an understatement. Her parents, Gene and Faye (pseudonyms), strived to live off the grid, isolated from society. They shunned the government, doctors, and public schools. Instead, they treated ailments with homemade cures often using essential oils and tincture. And Faye homeschooled her brood in a very haphazard manner.

Still, as a child, Westover desired a more normal life. She wanted to go to school and get involved in activities other kids her age were involved in. Her father forbid her going to school to get some “book learning.” Yet, somehow Westover was allowed music lessons and ended up playing lead in a local production of the musical ” Annie.”

Getting involved in local theater and hanging out with kids from more “normal” backgrounds opened up new worlds for Westover. Yet, her family, for the most part, weren’t very impressed with Westover’s theatrical pursuits. Especially her father who put the kibosh on his daughter going to school.

Fortunately, Westover had an older brother, Tyler, who encouraged his little sister to envision a life beyond Buck’s Peak. Incidentally, Tyler escaped Buck’s Peak and achieved an education, including a Ph.D.

Sadly, Westover had another brother Shawn who was very abusive both physically and emotionally. He even shoved her head in a toilet!

Because of her lack of formal schooling (and needing to escape her dysfunctional family), Westover chose to educate herself. She scored very high on the ACT and was admitted into Brigham Young University.

BYU was like going to another planet for the sheltered Westover. Until then she never had heard of the Holocaust among other historical moments.

Westover also had a hard time adjusting to her peers and their different ways. And at times she was quite judgemental towards them.

Yet, she did bond with a few of her classmates and professors. Many of them supported and mentored her, often getting her out of a sticky situation.

Westover excels as an undergrad, which gives her a chance to study at England’s prestigious Cambridge University and Harvard later achieving her very own Ph.D.

Still, Buck’s Peak beckoned, and Westover found herself going back despite her family’s extreme dysfunction. Her brother Shawn had become even more abusive, especially towards his wife and children. And Westover’s parents were busy with their successful essential oils business.

Educated started out strong with a powerful narrative of Westover’s troubled upbringing.

But once she got to BYU, her story began to fall flat and sparked my cynicism. At times there were plot holes so big you could drive a semi through them.

Westover claims her family lived as survivalist yet they had modern convienences like TVs, computers, Internet access, and cell phones.

The family has horrific accidents and injuries, yet never receive proper medical care.

Westover gets away with things in college most students would not. And professors, classmates, boyfriends, and roommates bend over backwards for her. Not too mention a lot of her success seems to fall in her lap. She isn’t that brilliant.

And though she did get scholarships, I wondered where she got the money to pay for rent, bills, food, travel, and other assorted amenities.

I was also bothered by her refusing to report Shawn to the authorities. She definitely had the power to do so.

Though Educated is a compelling read, I found Westover to be humorless and cold. And I didn’t appreciate her lack of gratitude or her lack of paying it forward.

Thank goodness there are vastly superior memoirs I’ve enjoyed over the years, many I’ve reviews at this very blog.

Book Review: Make Almost Anything Happen-How to Manage Complexity to Get What You Want by Tim Kilpatrick

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It’s no secret we live in a very difficult time. We deal with complex issues both personally and professionally. And at times our situations make us crazy with self-doubt wondering how we can better manage our lives.

Fortunately, health care strategist, systems engineer, and entrepreneur Tim Kilpatrick might have the answer in his book Make Almost Anything Happen: How to Manage Complexity to Get What You Want.

Make Almost Anything Happen is divided into six distinct parts:

  1. Mission
  2. Impacting People
  3. Impacting Realities
  4. Impacting Activities
  5. Strategy
  6. Iteration

Part one describes how to define and develop a mission or goal you want to achieve. This is of utmost importance.

Part two examines how the mission impacts people in various ways.

Part three focuses on how the mission affects our reality and the reality of others.

Part four defines what activities will benefit from the mission by studying people and realities affected by the mission.

In part five, we develop a strategy framework. The strategy framework delves into how the mission we’ll accomplish with a planned out complex system.

And finally in part six-iteration-is about learning by working on various activities, what Kilpatrick calls an “Enablement Framework.”

Throughout Make Almost Anything Happen, Kilpatrick provides ample examples on the people who made things happen by managing complexity. Some are well-known like Coco Chanel and the Wright Brothers. More currently there are names like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Sarah Blakely, the creator of Spanx.

And there are names of people not as well-known like Olympic Bob sledder Jasmine Fenlator and Edward Jenner who invented the small pox vaccine.

Unsurprisingly, a book about managing complexity is, well, complex. While reading this book, I was overwhelmed by the information, data, ideas, and requirements outlined by Kilpatrick. I suggest using Post-it Notes, highlighters’ and journaling to keep track of all of the pertinent details.

Fortunately, Kilpatrick’s writing isn’t dry and stuffy. He writes in a friendly tone and implies this book can be used personally as well as professionally. For instance, one of Kilpatrick’s personal missions is to be a better father, a very worthy goal.

Make Almost Anything Happen is a pretty heavy duty book, but should be read in the workplace, the classroom, and on the homefront.

Book Review:The Self-Evolved Leader- by Dave McKweon

Written by leadership and speaker Dave McKeon The Self-Evolved Leader is a primer for any leader who wants to get the best of their staff fousing on various team directions, developments, and that end up in positive results.

McKeon has a 3 step process to help leaders of all & kinds of processes that include creating a shared vision and sharing by using 5 disciplines.

The Self-Evolved Leader is divided into 4 parts. They are:

1. Preparing for a Self-Evolved Leadership.

2. The key elements of Self-Evolved Leadership.

3. Mastering the Self-Evolved Leadership Disciplines.

4. Sustaining the Self-Evolved Leadership.

All of these parts contain huge amounts of advice on issues like mediocrity, accountability, change, creativity, developments, and responsibility. And to maintain your progress McKeon has some ” homework” for you to do.

This book has a lot for you to do and can be a quite overwhelming. I suggest you bring out a high lighter, Post-it Notes, and notebook to mark key passages as you read this book.

Hopefully, this will guide leaders become more effective and make their staff top notch. Believe me, as someone who dealt with pretty bad bosses this is a much needed book.

 

Book Review: Never Stop Dancing by John Robinette and Robert Jacoby

It is said April is the cruelest month and for John Robinette this is true. In April of 2010 he lost his wife Amy.

When it comes to losing a spouse there are countless books about and by widows by not a whole lot about widowers. The only two I can think of are books written by Rob Sheffield and Mathias Freese.

Now there is another: Never Stop Dancing.

Divided into four parts named in the four seasons starting in the summer after Robinette lost his treasured wife Amy and it’s aftermath.

Encouraged by his friend Jacoby, Robinette was asked to share his experience as an act of therapy and healing and Never Stop Dancing conveys both of their stories.

Robinette goes into heartbreaking detail about losing Amy from her sudden demise to moving on finding someone new to love like planning her funeral, cancelling her credit cards, to experiencing the stages of grief, not to mention being a single dad to two boys deeply entrenched in their own grief. And all of it truly pierces your heart.

And there are tales of why Amy was so loved. Described as Robinette knew her true self, Amy seems almost too good to be true, but one person I wish I new personally.

Jacoby also shares his experience helping his friend cope and his story is also necessary in conveying Robinette’s path of bereavement and healing.

Never Stop Dancing isn’t just about losing a spouse. It is also a story of male friendship.

This book is written in exquisite detail and when you finish it you just want to everyone a huge group hug.

Book Review: Stressed in the US-12 Tools to Tackle Anxiety, Loneliness, Tech Addiction and More by Meg Van Deusen, Ph.D

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How do you know when I find a book that informs, inspires, and Impacts me in a positive way? When I fill it with Post-its, highlight certain passages, and write notes in the.margins. And that’s exactly what I’ve done Dr. Van Deusen’s book Stressed In the US.

We live in a nation where people are stressed and stretched to the max. We don’t get enough sleep. We’re addicted to social media yet ache with loneliness.We mindlessly eat, don’t exercise, and are disconnected from nature. Both our physical and mental health are out of whack in a toxic world.

What’s a person to do just to feel a little less stressed?

Well, reading Van Deusen’s book is a good start.

As I’ve mentioned in past book reviews, I’m a bit wary when it comes to self-help books. Some are way too namby pamby and some are too self-righteous. But Van Deusen’s book is one of understanding, research, life experiences (including her own), and a great deal of compassion.

Stressed in the US focuses on defining stress and what stressed us out. Van Deusen goes into deep detail on our attachment to others, dealing with loneliness, overcoming our addictions to technology of all kinds, and how getting more sleep, exercise, and healthier diets can de-stress us and make us feel a whole lot better. And yes, we can have a few indulgences and luxuries every now and then.

And in the final chapter she sums up the 12 tools to living a less we can use to combat stress which include things like making eye contact with others to getting back to nature.

I, myself am slowly but surely, working these tools into my daily life. And I forgive myself when I mess up. I hope these tools will help me overcome the past few horrible years. Stressed in the US is a welcome addition to my book shelf and my journey to healing.

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.

Asylum-True Tales of Madness from a Life in Fashion by Simon Doonan*

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“Ah! Fashion. A nuthouse? A refuge? Or maybe both. Yes, an asylum in both senses of the word. A place where unemployable crazy people are always welcome.

Every seasoned personage has his or her favorite stories of folly, aberration, derangement, kookiness and excess.”-Part of a quote of Simon’s author quote in his book Asylum: True Tales of Madness a collection of madcap essays about what Doonan has witnessed during his life in the fashion biz.

Among them include peers that peanut gallery of nuttiness, models who fancy themselves as spiritual advisers and who are also total cheapskates, Anna Wintour barely blinking, let alone freaking out, when a ceiling fell at a runway show during fashion week, the dating habits of the fashion elite, which include affairs with hustlers, porn stars, gangsters, and jailbirds, fabulous fashion femmes like Diana Vreeland, Polly Mellen, Suzy Menkes among them, and so much more sordid stylish and fashionable fables that will entertain both fashionistas and people who can’t tell the difference between a Jimmy Choo and a Jimmy John’s.

And of course, Doonan can’t help drop names, names, names when it comes to the factory of fashion, including Chanel, Rei Kawakubo from Commes des Garcons, Lagerfeld, Balenciaga, Tom Ford, Thierry Mugler, and so much more!!!

But there is essays that reflect on more serious topics, like how AIDs impacted the fashion industry, taking the lives of creative visionaries like Perry Ellis, Tina Chow, Willi Smith, Halston, Patrick Kelly, and Juan Ramos.

Smart, sassy and wonderfully written, you will find a sensitive man of true compassion and fashion. I have no doubt Mr. Doonan would give you one of his technicolor shirts off his back when you’re in the depths of despair while also filling you in on the a la mode of all the people, places and things of fashion.

*I also reviewed Doonan’s book Wacky Chicks.

 

 

 

Book Review: Eloquent Rage-A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper

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Already a fan of Brittney Cooper’s work at the website Salon I was pretty excited to get my hands on her book of essays Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower. I was especially thrilled after I read all the praise this book was garnering from notable women like Joy Reid, Rebecca Traister, and my beloved Roxane Gay, who calls Cooper’s work “provocative and engaging.”

Provocative and engaging? Yes, and so much more.

Cooper is a professor of women and gender studies, and Africana Africana studies at Rutgers University. She is also co-founder of the Crunk Feminist Collective.

Eloquent Rage focuses on black women and black women’s feminism. Her essays offer commentary on topics like politics, pop culture, relationships, sex, and other things affecting the black community. Much of these topics reflect Cooper’s experience but she invokes the experiences of others.

Cooper’s writing is both academic and accessible. And these essays are a much needed education for this white feminist.

To give you a sneak peek into the pages Eloquent Rage, the essays focus on topics like bothersome sassy black woman stereotype, strong female leads in pop culture, Michelle Obama’s silent defiance of the Trump regime expressed through her hair and body language, and the problem with white feminists.

Eloquent Rage is a treasure of a book and should be used in both the classroom and at book discussion groups.

 

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.

“Author! Author!” An Interview with Rotaru Arthur Cristian

Author Bio

“My name is Rotaru Arthur Cristian and I am a 20 years old student at the Academy of Economic Studies in Bucharest, Romania.

I was always very fond of writing and especially reading a lot of stuff on a lot of topics, which allowed me to deepen my knowledge in many different areas of life. One of my favorites was the self-improvement one and this was the beginning of ‘How to get the most out of life’.”

  1. What inspired you to write a book?

The main thing that inspired me to write this book was primarily… reading other books. After reading many self-improvement manuscripts and taking notes after each one of them, I realized that even most of them had very good content (especially older ones), none of them was “complete”. Each dived into one aspect or another of this whole “improvement” area, but if you wanted the whole package you had to read the whole library.

  1. Please describe your book.

“How To Get the Most Out of Life: The ABC of a Negotiator” is a self-improvement book which has the purpose of helping anyone who wants a positive change in his/her life.

The first thing that should be clarified about it is probably the title, more precisely the word “negotiator”. This book is giving a new meaning to this word, and this is probably the first thing that differentiates it from other books in the same area.

The manuscript goes through the main strategies of negotiation, and then it dives into a bit more advanced topics like body language and specific phrasing and signals.

As stated in the book, it is the maximum amount of useful information in the least amount of pages possible.

My goal while writing this book was to put together all the essential subjects of all the books that I read, thus creating a “beginner guide” to a better life.

Of course, after reading it you may want to deepen your knowledge in one of the subjects treated in my book by reading others which are more concentrated on that specific subject, but nevertheless I think that “How to get the most out of life” is the best starting point in being a better “you”.

  1. What is your writing background and experience?

I was fond of writing ever since I was a kid, when I was creating small pieces of poetry and stories, but choosing a math/informatics high school and then following the courses of a cybernetics university didn’t give me the chance to truly cultivate this passion. However, it allowed me to better understand economy and people in general which lead me to write this specific book.

  1. What challenges did you face writing this book? How did you deal with them?

I tried to get some feedback on my manuscript but because I am not famous yet it proved pretty hard to find people willing to read it. However, I managed to convince some people (including some directors and university teachers) and their response was very positive. It really boosted my confidence because apart from some minor constructive feedback, most of them were very fascinated.

Probably as any other author, I had my personal challenges while writing my manuscript, but probably the one that took me the most time to solve was the riddle. Yes, this book contains a well thought riddle that is for the smart and curious ones.

  1. What has been the response to your book? What do want people to get from your book?

Being a relatively short book, I would love if people could get everything out of it. However, I know that is unlikely to happen, so I guess the core idea that I want people to be stuck with after reading my book is that every person can improve his/her life, no matter their background and social/financial status.

Even if some readers may consider that the things I taught in the book are not suited for their lifestyle (which is highly unlikely), I want them to know that there is always a way to get better. Maybe not my way, but a way.

  1. What advice would you give to other writers? What advice were you given?

I think the most important advice that I can give to other writers is to never tell anyone about your manuscript until it is finished. People usually try to come up with new ideas which “fits better” and that is natural, but this is why you want to shape it the way you want, and after that you can ask others for opinions. Personally, I wasn’t given any -personal- advice before writing, because nobody knew I was doing it.

  1. What are your future writing plans?

In the future I want to write a few more books on topics that I love and to get my book in front of as many people as possible.