Let’s Read in October!

“Once upon a midnight dreary,” we decided to begin October with a reading list full of mayhem and a monster that “alone, in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil.” We’ll fill our month with accounts of “terrors of the night, phantoms of the night that walk in darkness” and those fantastic things that are “most unlikely but– here comes the big ‘but’– not impossible.”

Join us all through October to discuss your favorite Halloween stories. Leave a comment anytime before October 25th and we’ll add your favorite Halloween book to the list, to discuss on October 31st.

October 8th- “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe

October 11th- The Witches by Roald Dahl

October 17th- The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

October 25th- The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

October 28th- The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

October 31st- Happy Halloween! Let’s discuss your favorite ghost story!

Here’s a printable calendar to hang on your fridge, tuck into your nightstand, or keep in your office to remind you that October will be a month of spooky tricks and delicious literary treats. Happy Haunting, all you little ghouls!

calendar

Lean In- Sheryl Sandberg

 

Lean InThis book has garnered quite a bit of media attention since it first hit the shelves last March. It has been on the New York Times Bestseller list for 25 weeks and displayed prominently at almost every bookstore. The dust jacket proclaims it “an inspiring call to action and a blueprint for individual growth” for women in the workforce. As I mentioned earlier this week, I recently resigned my commission after serving for five years as a Naval Officer. The Navy put me through school and I paid back the time as a Surface Warfare Officer stationed in Norfolk, VA. I completed two deployments—one on a Destroyer and the other on an Aircraft Carrier. If you can find a more “traditionally male” work environment, let me know. So a book aimed at promoting equality in the workforce? Sign me up!

However—and this is a big however—I was skeptical. As a woman in the military, I experienced first-hand just about every sort of gender bias imaginable. When I first started at my commissioning program, some people told me that I didn’t belong there. Others asked me why on earth I would want to go there. I had people tell me that I was “too pretty” to be in the Navy. (Still not sure what they thought I should look like because no one looks nice wearing a baggy uniform waking up for their shift at 1:00 in the morning.) It was my first experience with gender-based expectations and it wasn’t pretty. I thought that someone needed to make sure that all of these old-fashioned thinkers knew they were living in the 21st Century. I was looking for someone like Sheryl Sandberg.

Nine years later, after I completed my service commitment and started the process to separate from the military, I got just as much “feedback,” except this time it was from the other perspective. People told me that as a successful woman, I should stay in the Navy. They told me that the Navy needed women leaders and that the female sailors needed someone that they could emulate. I even had one person tell me that I was obligated to stay in the military to fulfill some theoretical promise that I had made to the women that paved the way for my entrance into the Armed Forces. Instead of being criticized for working, I was now being criticized for leaving the workforce. The same people that condemned society for forcing women into traditionally feminine roles were now trying to force me into a traditionally masculine role. Do you mean that the past four years at a Service Academy and five years on Active Duty wasn’t enough for these people???

I wasn’t sure I wanted the same criticism from Sheryl Sandberg but, remembering the very real criticism I received when first entering the military, I decided to give this book a chance. The first few chapters were loaded with statistics and anecdotes about how women are underrepresented in the workforce and that “a truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes” (p. 7). I have to admit that I almost put the book down after the first chapter concluded with “we move closer to the larger goal of true equality with each woman who leans in” (p. 11). But I pushed on, hoping that I would find something a little bit later in the book that was more palatable to someone who is choosing to lean out. And I am glad that I did. Once I got past my intitial resistance to what seemed like a “women-should-rule-the-world” message, I realized that Sandberg’s prevailing message is that everyone should lean into their chosen path in life and not let society, others, or even themselves limit possibilities.

If you are just picking up this book, I recommend skipping ahead to Chapter 4 and reading from the perspective of an employee looking to improve their own leadership potential. Not a female or male employee, just one interested in professional growth. The second half of the book was full of little pearls of wisdom from Sandberg, someone that has achieved a high level of professional success, independent of gender. The most significant morsel that I took from this book was in a passage detailing management training given by Fred Kofman. Sandberg writes, “I learned from Fred that effective communication starts with the understanding that there is my point of view (my truth) and someone else’s point of view (his truth)” (p. 79). I think that this simple sentence effectively illustrates the crucial foundation for a good professional relationship: communication. But not just emailing, memo-ing, or even speaking face-to-face. Exchanging information does not always constitute communicating. It must be authentic and genuine, where both parties are acknowledged as having something valuable to offer, even if they don’t agree. When everyone knows that they are valuable to their organization and that their opinion matters, they are more likely to speak up and to really invest their best time and talent. Not only does the organization benefit, so do all of the other workers who are now able to collaborate to produce the best work.

The book goes on to offer other professional lessons, many of which apply to working men as well as women. “Don’t leave before you leave” (Ch. 7) tells employees to bring their very best to work everyday so that when or if they eventually consider leaving the workforce, it is a choice, not a necessity. “Make your partner a real partner” (Ch. 8) discusses the importance of sharing responsibilities at home. While always sound advice, regardless of who is or is not working outside of the home (no one likes to pick dirty socks off the floor, even if they are the traditional “homemaker”), I think that this issue is less prevalent in my generation. Many of my friends divide domestic responsibilities by skill set. Who cooks? The partner that makes better food, of course. Who mows the grass? The one that gets it done the fastest. Who picks up groceries? The one that passes the market on his/her way home from work. With the fast pace of life these days, maybe we’ve just become necessarily pragmatic.

I recommend this book for anyone interested in improving their relationship with their coworkers, bosses, or clients. While it is pretty heavy on the “pro-woman” rhetoric, it still has a lot to offer that can be applied across all spectrums of the office. Not all differences between coworkers are the result of gender stereotypes; many others exist as well. Race, religion, even sports team affiliation (not kidding- I’ve seen it) can influence how people are perceived and treated. The lesson from Lean In is this: don’t let anyone’s unenlightened perception of you influence your own performance or choices. Pursue goals of your own choosing, whether in the workplace, at home, or on the moon. Don’t limit your aspirations. Because if you think about it, people that are so unimaginative that they have to place you into a “group” based on something as silly as gender, race, religion or anything else, are not the kind of people you want influencing your life anyway.

If you can’t get your hands on a copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In but want to hear more from her, check out her TedTalk. In it, she discusses many of the main points that she later included in her book.

What was your reaction to the book? Did you wish that you could throw it at certain people in your office and make it mandatory reading? Like me, were you a little bit skeptical? Do you think that this conversation will ultimately help improve work and home environments for future generations of workers and families?

Book call

If you would like a book to be included in The Home Book Club, please comment below with title, author, and why you’re interested in it. We’ll add it to our new page, The List, which details our upcoming books and targeted discussion dates for you to follow along.

And because the internet doesn’t have enough cute cat pictures… here’s one more. This is my reading buddy, Albus!

Albus reads!

Albus reads!

Get your favorite book on The List today!

Lean In- Sheryl Sandberg

The next book to review will be Lean In by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. In her book, released in March 2013, Sandberg discusses why women are underrepresented in the top echelons of business and company leadership (spoiler alert: it’s not all just because of “them”). Sandberg cites numerous examples and personal experiences to illustrate that women and men are perceived differently in the workplace and how that perception affects their own behavior. Check back on Friday, September 27th, for the full review.

Full disclosure: I recently completed my Active Duty service as a Naval Officer and am “leaning out” of the workforce to pursue other personal and professional goals. While I have found a lot of sound wisdom in Lean In so far, I also know that my experiences and choices will influence my interpretation of this book. Please remember that each person reading does so from within their own circumstances. Opinions can be different, not wrong. I can’t wait to hear from others who have taken their own unique path in pursuit of their individual goals.

Lean In

Some questions to consider while reading:

– Have you made sacrifices for your career? What influenced you to make the choices that you did?

– Have you seen men and women treated differently in your workplace? What was the reaction of the individuals involved? What was the reaction of other employees?

– What is your definition of “success”? Describe a successful woman. Describe a successful man. Are the descriptions similar or different?

– How do you take care of household chores in your home? Do work schedules and requirements dictate chore assignments?

– What is your dream job? If you don’t have it yet, is it your goal? Why or why not?

– List obstacles to achieving success. How many are self-imposed?

National Book Festival 2013

In spite of a somewhat drizzly Saturday, the National Book Festival, held September 21st and 22nd on the National Mall, attracted crowds of adults, families, and even a few pets. The DC Metro was packed with people going to the festival—mothers with daughters, young couples on first dates, even out-of-town festival-goers that needed help navigating the lines. The day featured authors from all genres talking to readers about what motivates them, the future that they envision for their favorite characters, and even a few readings.

My favorite discussion was given by Brad Meltzer, a  literary jack-of-all-trades. He’s written fiction, non-fiction, comic books, children’s books, and even hosted History Channel’s Decoded. His latest book, The Fifth Assassin, was the focus of much of his discussion, but Brad didn’t stop there. He spoke about why he thought the National Book Festival was so popular among authors (hint- it involves the White House breakfast for participating authors and their chance to take home some “complimentary” napkins), his favorite DC area museum which started the train of thought that led to The Fifth Assassin, and his upcoming projects. He did it all with a satirical sense of humor that made his words resonate with the entire audience. His latest project is a series of Children’s books that tell the true stories of real heroes (think Amelia Earhart and Abraham Lincoln) as children. Check it out over on his blog. He concluded the discussion in the most admirable fashion, speaking humbly about his opportunity to travel around the world with the USO. Follow Brad Meltzer’s lead and donate your time or treasure to the USO. Check out the USO’s site for more information.

After getting to hear from some beloved authors, we went over to the Pavilion of the States. Here, each state had a booth set up to show off the best of the book world from their region. In honor of the book club, I visited Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, Virginia, and Hawaii. The gal at the Kentucky booth was so friendly, I couldn’t turn down a stamp from her. I’m not complaining; more book recommendations for me!

My Book Map!

I saw a booth set up where people could post answers to that all important question: what is a book? I saw pictures, things written foreign languages, and dictionary definitions. Many people wrote about how a book takes them “to a different world” or is a “time machine.” I thought that, as with most things, the best answer was the simplest one: “Magic!”

The best (and most challenging) part about the Pavilion of the States was how many people were there. How great to see so many readers get excited over book lists! Everyone I saw had a stack of pamphlets in their hand and a giant grin on their face.

Before leaving, we walked by the Capitol Building and the Library of Congress.

What a great day in the city! Did anyone else check out the National Book Festival? Or maybe you hosted one of your own in your home town. How do you “celebrate the book?”

National Book Festival 2013

Washingtonians have a wonderful opportunity this weekend to “celebrate the book” at the 2013 National Book Festival, sponsored by the Library of Congress and chaired by President and Mrs. Obama.

Where: National Mall
When: Saturday, September 21     10 am – 5: 30 pm
                   Sunday, September 22         noon – 5:30 pm        

Over 100 authors are slated to attend and will be available to sign books, talk shop, and share their love of literature with other readers. The Library of Congress will also be giving a “behind-the-scenes look” at one of the most intriguing public lending libraries in the United States and what they have to offer us, the reader. Kids will love the Pavilion of the States, where they can collect stickers and stamps from each “state.”

(If you’re a teacher, parent, or scoutmaster, check out the special Kids & Teachers page. Print out the Teacher’s Guide or pick one up at the festival to make the most of the day for your group. You can even print out a How-to guide and host your very own Book Festival in your home or classroom!)

Click here for more information as well as a full schedule of events and authors. Not in the DC area? Click here for a list of literary festivals in your area!

See you on the National Mall on Saturday!

The Inferno- Dan Brown

inferno-coverIn his latest work, The Inferno, author Dan Brown reintroduces us to the scholarly yet resourceful figure of Robert Langdon.  Only this time, Langdon, suffering from amnesia, is as unsure of his role in the developing drama as the reader, a plot twist Brown expertly uses to provide asides and explanations to the reader without stalling the plot. Langdon, after all, needs them, too.

The focus of the novel is on an evil scheme designed to solve the world’s impending overpopulation problem. The schemer, a stereotypically misunderstood genius-scientist, leaves clues and references based on Dante’s The Divine Comedy (remember Inferno from high school English class? It’s the first and best known part of The Divine Comedy). While overpopulation is not specifically addressed in Dante’s work (probably wasn’t even discussed in Dante’s time—at least not on the scale that we think of it today), Brown’s antagonist obsesses over it and leaves clues to his master plot based on nebulous references to Dante. The novel is saturated with references to Dante, The Divine Comedy, and the outbreak of plague in Europe, known today as the Black Plague.

I had high hopes for The Inferno as an exciting adventure novel, great to read during the last few days of a relaxing summer. While it certainly had its fair share of car chases and death-defying leaps from historically significant buildings, the constant tour guide-like quality of Langdon’s internal dialogue kept me from really escaping into the novel. However, if I was looking for a guidebook to Florence, Venice, or Istanbul, where the book takes place, I would be hard pressed to find one better than Brown provides in The Inferno. I don’t think that Trip Advisor includes accounts of the artwork seen in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio while fleeing from ominously vague threats of death. I doubt that Fromer’s describes even the void above the ceiling in the Salone dei Cinquecento, Hall of the Five Hundred, as eloquently.

“The air inside the void smelled musty and ancient, as if centuries of plaster dust had now become so fine and light that it refused to settle and instead hung suspended in the atmosphere.”

So perhaps reading The Inferno as escapist travel literature rather than a novel allows its greatest attributes to be fully appreciated by the reader. If I ever go to Florence, Venice, or Istanbul (as I hope to after reading such picturesque descriptions), I know that I will be packing my copy of Dan Brown’s The Inferno.

What did you think of The Inferno? Have you ever been to Florence? Venice? Istanbul? How do Brown’s descriptions compare to the real-life experience of visiting these places? Any art historians out there? How did you find Langdon’s account of the works mentioned? Anything else that you think he should have noticed while fleeing for his life?