Lean In

Reading Roundup and a Confession

Life hasn’t been only space TV shows, work, parenting and Listen to Your Mother over the last few months. I managed to read a few books, but I never had a chance to write a thorough review for them. At this point, a thorough review seems like a lost cause, so I thought I would combine my thoughts about them into this post. Maybe one will make it onto your “to read” list.

I Read Books!

Defending Jacob

A 14-year-old boy is found stabbed to death in the woods near his school, and Assistant District Attorney Barber is shocked to discover his son is the prime suspect in the case.  Jacob insists that he is innocent, and ADA Barber shifts into defense mode to save his son as the world he thought he knew falls apart around him and he is forced to confront unpleasant truths about his past as well as whether he really knows his son.  Most of the book is a courtroom drama, but there is a shocking plot twist at the end.

This book was a very fast read and very engrossing. That said, I didn’t think it was a very good book, but it earned raves from many prominent reviewers.   The father’s a jerk. The mother is a cipher, and Jacob is never fully present in the book. He is portrayed through recollections and stories.  One of Landay’s goals is to make you question whether Jacob is an sullen, emo teenager or a psychopath as well as whether there is such a thing as a genetic disposition towards violence. The problem is that you never get to see the world through Jacob’s eyes but through only his mother’s and father’s, and they are not what I would consider to be reliable narrators.

Landay employs a very surprising plot twist at the end that I didn’t see coming – it truly shocked me – but I felt like he spent so much time setting up the twist that it impacted his characterization. Maybe that’s why Jacob never seemed like a main player in a book that is ostensibly about him and his supposed crime.

Coincidentally, I read the book a few days after the Newtown shooting and maybe it was too soon. Maybe the frustration I felt over the lack of character development mirrored the frustration we felt at being unable to ask Lanza WHY.  We’re left to extrapolate meaning from memory and conversation relayed by others when what we really wish we could do is talk one-on-one.

Far From the Tree

Maybe it’s a good thing I haven’t had a chance to write a review for this book because I’m not sure how I could do it justice. Andrew Solomon spent a decade meticulously researching and investigating ways in which children can be profoundly different from their parents and what that does to our notion of family, identity and the world.  He begins with his own experience as the homosexual child of heterosexual parents and goes onto explore deafness, autism, disability, dwarfism, genius, schizophrenia, Down Syndrome, children of rape, criminals and transgender.

I cannot say enough positive things about this book. Solomon does a masterful job of helping you enter the worlds he describes and handles each identity thoughtfully and with great respect. I learned so much, and I also had so many ideas challenged. Each identity is its own chapter and that made it easy to jump around or take a long time to read the book (as I did).  I highly recommend this book if you are looking for a big book to chew on.

Lean In

So Sheryl Sandberg wrote a book. Maybe you’ve heard of it?  I eagerly read this book, curious to see what had generated so much debate and whether I, as a working mother, would agree or disagree with Sandberg’s advice. Overall, “underwhelmed” describes my reaction to the book.  A lot of what she advises is common sense: marry a man who will be a real partner; even if you plan to take time out of the workforce when you have children, don’t use that as an excuse t0 check out too early; take a seat at the table; don’t let fear hold you back.

I don’t mean to imply that it is a bad book; it isn’t.  Sandberg offers a lot of useful advice about finding a mentor (if you have to ask someone, then they aren’t a mentor) and how to assert yourself (focus on what problem can you solve for someone).  I liked that Sandberg talked about the conflict, guilt and a judgment she feels from time to time.  Sandberg has achieved a lot and knows what she is talking about, but I expected more.   Sandberg’s advice is for the individual woman in the workforce and what she can do to succeed, but there is no talk about how corporate America and our work infrastructure must change in order to make it easier for women to succeed and have families.   She comes closest when she notes:

“For decades, we have focused on giving women the choice to work inside or outside the home. . . . But we have to ask ourselves if we have become so focused on supporting personal choices that we’re failing to encourage women to aspire to leadership.”

There is a lot of truth in that statement, but what is left unsaid is that encouraging women to aspire to leadership is not enough. Aspiration won’t be sufficient to break through the real barriers that exist; what can business do to support women better?

Summer Reading List

We’re going to the beach in about 6 weeks (yay!), and I have been adding books to my list in the (likely) deluded hope I get to read any of them.  Here are a few that have caught my eye:

Don’t worry. I’ll also go through my book sale treasures for the conspiracy theory books that are my guilty pleasure 🙂

Confession

I’ve stated that I will read almost anything, and I mean that! If a book sounds fun or interesting, I’ll give it a shot, no matter how pulpy.  To prove this to you, I’ll share what I consider to be my most embarrassing read:

The Left Behind Series.

Yes, I read every book in the series. All 16.  I checked out those suckers 3 and 4 at a time from the library.  I was hooked.  I was intrigued at how the authors would tackle the Rapture and the events in Revelations.

And they truly weren’t the worst books I’ve ever read. Sensational? Yes. Over the top? Yes. Dogmatic? Yes. But this all-but-professed atheist found them riveting. Maybe they play into my conspiracy theory-loving soul. Maybe I was bored.  I don’t know, but I read the entire series, and I don’t regret it.

What is the best book you read recently?

What is on your summer reading list?

What’s your most embarrassing read?

Leaning In and Leaning Back

Next week I’ll have the chance to read Sandberg’s Lean In and review it for Liberating Working Moms.  You can’t go online anywhere without running into the book whether it is a pre-publication review (sometimes by someone who hasn’t read the book), a critique of the review, a critique of the critique and then the inevitable article about why women hate successful women. How meta.  Needless to say, I’m looking forward to actually reading the book and deciding for myself what I think about it.

The Huffington Post has been publishing a series of posts by contributors on whether they chose to lean in or lean back and why.  They are often short and sometimes not very good: I don’t think some understand quite what leaning in or leaning back means because their stories confuse the terms.

I feel like I’ve chosen to “lean in,” considering that I’m still working and continue to accept more responsibility.  I like what I do and find it challenging, interesting, occasionally infuriating and fulfilling (usually).  I can’t help but feel, though, that sometimes “leaning in” feels like being “all in” to borrow a term from poker.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about “leaning back.” My intuition tells me that more time at home and with my family could be very helpful right now, but the problem is that is that it’s not easy to “lean in” and then “lean back” without serious repercussions.  Ideally, it would be a lot easier to transition between the two states, leaning in, then leaning back when necessary and then leaning in again without hits to salary, benefits and career trajectory .  A fluid motion not  unlike that of a rocking chair, rocking back and forth with ease.

Maybe the book will have some wisdom for me.

A few interesting links I came across this week: