Tuesday, March 3, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Detroit by Charlie LeDuff

ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

Back in his broken hometown, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Charlie LeDuff searches through the ruins for clues to its fate, his family’s, and his own. Detroit is where his mother’s flower shop was firebombed in the pre-Halloween orgy of arson known as Devil’s Night; where his sister lost herself to the west side streets; where his brother, who once sold subprime mortgages with skill and silk, now works in a factory cleaning Chinese-manufactured screws so they can be repackaged as “May Be Made in United States.”

Having led us on the way up, Detroit now seems to be leading us on the way down. Once the richest city in America, Detroit is now the nation’s poorest. Once the vanguard of America’s machine age—mass production, blue-collar jobs, and automobiles—Detroit is now America’s capital for unemployment, illiteracy, dropouts, and foreclosures. It is an eerie and angry place of deserted factories and abandoned homes and forgotten people. Trees and switchgrass and wild animals have come back to reclaim their rightful places. Coyotes are here. The pigeons have left. A city the size of San Francisco and Manhattan could neatly fit into Detroit’s vacant lots. After revealing that the city’s murder rate is higher than the official police number—making it the highest in the country—a weary old detective tells LeDuff, “In this city two plus two equals three.”

With the steel-eyed reportage that has become his trademark and the righteous indignation only a native son possesses, LeDuff sets out to uncover what destroyed his city. He embeds with a local fire brigade struggling to defend its city against systemic arson and bureaucratic corruption. He investigates politicians of all stripes, from the smooth-talking mayor to career police officials to ministers of the backstreets, following the paperwork to discover who benefits from Detroit’s decline. He beats on the doors of union bosses and homeless squatters, powerful businessmen and struggling homeowners, and the ordinary people holding the city together by sheer determination.

If Detroit is America’s vanguard in good times and bad, then here is the only place to turn for guidance in our troubled era. While redemption is thin on the ground in this ghost of a city, Detroit: An American Autopsy is no hopeless parable. LeDuff shares an unbelievable story of a hard town in a rough time filled with some of the strangest and strongest people our country has to offer. Detroit is a dark comedy of the absurdity of American life in the twenty-first century, a deeply human drama of colossal greed and endurance, ignorance and courage.


I will be traveling to Detroit early next year, so this book caught my interest.  I'm glad I read it, but it is certainly not a feel-good book!

Journalist Charlie LeDuff returns to his hometown of Detroit after several years away.  He tells the story of Detroit from its rise to its decline, interwoven with bits and pieces of his own life. LeDuff describes the realities of life in Detroit, from the rampant arson for the sake of entertainment to the deteriorating firehouses (one specifically that cannot park its engines inside the building because the floors are unstable) to the government paper trail showing millions of dollars that supposedly went into fixing the firehouses (some of which did not even exist).  He talks about the effects of the changes in the auto industry from the perspective of the people who work in the factories (or used to) and the drug abuse and murders.

It is depressing yet fascinating.  I recommend this book for readers who have an interest in Detroit and/or American history.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Quiet by Susan Cain

ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams. It is to introverts—Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak—that we owe many of the great contributions to society.

In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts—from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.


Things I knew about myself before reading this book:

  1. I hate small talk, but I love spending hours in deep conversations with close friends or family members.
  2. I have a huge fear of public speaking and prefer to express myself in writing.
  3. When I worked in a building with other people around (before I worked from home), I used to close my office door to "get work done."  I never understood how everyone else ever got anything done when they were hanging out and talking all day.
  4. I would rather spend an entire Saturday by myself (or with my family) than "out with the girls."
  5. I hate answering my phone unless it's my husband or a handful of people I know will only keep me on the phone for a few minutes.

What I learned about myself from reading this book:

I am an introvert!

Okay, so I would have described myself as an introvert even before reading this book, but it gave me a new understanding of what it means to be an introvert.

In Quiet, Cain writes about introversion in the workplace, in the school system and in relationships, and she discusses parenting/teaching an introverted child. She talks about how introverts are perceived by the outside world and what is really going on inside those heads.

Even though I was absolutely fascinated by the book, there were just two things I wish she would have covered more about:

1) Statistics on introversion.  She mentions that 1/3 to 1/2 of the population is introverted, but I'm also curious about statistics specifically on introverted people, i.e. gender and birth order.

2) Being an introverted parent with an extroverted child/children.  After reading this book, I've decided I now need to go find a book on this topic!  Let me know if you have any recommendations!

If you are (or think you might be) an introvert or if you are married to an introvert, this book is a must-read.

Friday, February 20, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Publishing by Gail Godwin

ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

Publishing is a personal story of a writer's hunger to be published, the pursuit of that goal, and then the long haul--for Gail Godwin, forty-five years of being a published writer and all that goes with it. A student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1958, Godwin met with Knopf scouts who came to campus every spring in search of new talent. Though her five pages of Windy Peaks were turned down and the novel never completed, she would go on to publish two story collections and fourteen novels, three of which were National Book Award finalists, five of which were New York Times bestsellers.

Publishing reflects on the influence of her mother's writing hopes and accomplishments, and recalls Godwin's experiences with teachers Kurt Vonnegut and Robert Coover at the Iowa Writers' Workshop; with John Hawkins, her literary agent for five decades; with John Irving and other luminaries; and with her editors and publishers. Recollecting her long and storied career, Godwin maps the publishing industry over the last fifty years, a time of great upheaval and ingenuity. Her eloquent memoir is illuminated by Frances Halsband's evocative black-and-white line drawings throughout. There have been memoirs about writing and memoirs about being an editor, but there is no other book quite like Publishing for aspiring writers and book lovers everywhere.


This book caught my eye because I have been in the (indie) publishing industry for nearly 10 years.  Working every day with writers who want to publish a book, I thought this memoir would be interesting.  It certainly was, although I would recommend it more highly for readers who are already fans of Gail Godwin.  I had never heard of her before, so I did have one regret while reading the book -- that I had not (yet*) read any of the books she discusses writing and publishing.  If I had, I think I would have felt more connected with her while reading her memoir.

Besides discussing the reading and publishing of her books, however, Godwin also talks about her experiences as a writer - studying under Kurt Vonnegut and writing stories with her mother - and also the changes that she saw happening in the traditional publishing industry over the years (from her perspective as the author).  I found both of these themes in her book very interesting.

*I have reserved A Mother and Two Daughters by Gail Godwin from my public library and am looking forward to reading it.

Favorite quotes:

"Publishing is about wanting for a long time to be a published writer and about the condition of living as a writer for a long time after you are published."

"If I am an unknown man and publish a wonderful book, it will make its way very slowly or not at all.  If I, become a known man, publish that very same book, its praise will echo over both hemispheres.  You have to become famous before you can secure the attention which would give fame."

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

Thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry. This means that women’s voices are still not heard equally in the decisions that most affect our lives. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential.

Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook and is ranked on Fortune’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. In 2010, she gave an electrifying TEDTalk in which she described how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers. Her talk, which became a phenomenon and has been viewed more than two million times, encouraged women to “sit at the table,” seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto.

In Lean In, Sandberg digs deeper into these issues, combining personal anecdotes, hard data, and compelling research to cut through the layers of ambiguity and bias surrounding the lives and choices of working women. She recounts her own decisions, mistakes, and daily struggles to make the right choices for herself, her career, and her family. She provides practical advice on negotiation techniques, mentorship, and building a satisfying career, urging women to set boundaries and to abandon the myth of “having it all.” She describes specific steps women can take to combine professional achievement with personal fulfillment and demonstrates how men can benefit by supporting women in the workplace and at home.

Written with both humor and wisdom, Sandberg’s book is an inspiring call to action and a blueprint for individual growth. Lean In is destined to change the conversation from what women can’t do to what they can.


When my first child was born ten years ago, I was working full-time and my husband and I financially could not afford for me to quit my job to be home with her.  After an 8-week maternity leave, I reluctantly returned to work, and I was miserable.  One day, while having lunch with a few co-workers, one of them (who did not have children yet) told me that when she had children she was going to "give it 100%," meaning that she was going to be a full-time mom and not divide her time between work and her children. I will never forget that conversation.  While it may not have been her intention to hurt me (although I believe it was), it reinforced the guilt I was already feeling inside because I could not give my child "100%."
A couple of years later, when I was pregnant with my second child, I realized that I would soon be paying so much in childcare that it was almost not worth it for me to be working (when looking at it from a short-term perspective).  I was able to find a very part-time job working from home that enabled me to continue contributing to our household income and was much happier being home with my kids.  However, this new side job quickly blossomed into a new (and very demanding) career that I hadn't expected.  I found myself struggling with the "work-life balance," but also discovered that I really enjoyed my work and the sense of accomplishment it gave me.
As a working mother, Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg is the most empowering book I have ever read!  It was eye-opening for me in a few ways:

1) Women often make decisions that hold them back in their careers long before they even have children.  We may select certain career paths or turn down opportunities because the idea of having a family "someday" is in the back of our minds.

2) In the last 30 years, women have made significant progress in the workplace, but the same cannot be said for the home.  "According to the most recent analysis, when a husband and wife both are employed full-time, the mother does 40 percent more child care and about 30 percent more housework than the father.  A 2009 survey found that only 9 percent of people in dual-earner marriages said that they shared housework, child care, and breadwinning evenly." I am so intrigued by these statistics that I have added the book Getting to 50/50: How Working Couples Can Have It All by Sharing It All to my reading list for this year (possibly to my husband's dismay)!

3) Being a working mother does not mean that you are bad mother!  "Study after study suggests that the pressure society places on women to stay home and do 'what's best for the child' is based on emotion, not evidence."

4) I have never considered myself a feminist, although when it is defined as "someone who believes in social, political, and economic equality of the sexes," I realize that, well, I am. 

I have worked with many women over the years who refuse to "lean in" to their careers, and I have been guilty of this myself in the past.  Sheryl's invitation to "lean in" is a powerful message to all women!  "We move closer to the larger goal of true equality with each woman who leans in."

If you are a working mother, Lean In is a must-read!  But I also recommend it for any woman who may have children someday, and I also believe that men (especially those who are married with children and/or in leadership roles) could gain a lot from it.

Friday, February 6, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Onyx Webb (Episode One) by Richard Fenton & Andrea Waltz

ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

Best-Selling Authors Fenton & Waltz Welcome You to the World of Onyx Webb. This is Episode One of Season One.

One reviewer says, "Fabulous. Different. Odd. Crazy. Wonderful. I've never read anything like it. You've created great value and I adore your pithy quote-ables all over the place. You've created the weirdest, coolest new genre of fiction and I love it." - It’s June, 1980 and piano prodigy, Juniper Cole is on the way to her senior prom.

- It’s January 2010, and Koda Mulvaney has blown through his 20 million dollar trust fund and is told by his father to return home and get to work.

- It’s August, 1904 and little Onyx Webb is on her way to the famous World’s Fair in St. Louis with her father, Catfish.

Two of the three will see a ghost, one will become a ghost and everyone will learn that life is hard to let go of even when you’re dead. And that's just Episode One. A paranormal suspense, supernatural romance, with a dash of historical fiction, Onyx Webb is what author Richard Fenton and Andrea Waltz have called creep-spiration. The stories may haunt you, the darkness may disturb you, but ultimately you’ll be reminded to treasure every moment of your life because… If you think life is precious now? Just wait until you’re dead.


The authors of this book reached out to me and asked if I would review their book.  They sent me a free copy in exchange for my honest review.

I'll admit, I was a little nervous when I received my review copy. The "presentation" of this book is a little different - there are black and white images before each chapter and cursive fonts in a couple of places.  Then the first few chapters seem almost disconnected -- each chapter is a different character in a different time period and I wasn't quite sure where it was heading, but once each character came back around again I started to get into each of their story lines.

The only thing I did not like was that the story (Episode 1) ends before the dots are connected.  Just when you really start to get into the story of each character, Episode 1 ends, and you don't quite know yet how everything ties together.  Because of that, it feels kind of incomplete and you want to jump right in to Episode 2, but it isn't available yet.

Luckily, I read on their website (http://onyxwebb.com/) that "Episode One...is a stand-alone episode.  All subsequent episodes will be released in books containing three episodes per book." And the next book is scheduled for release in February 2015.  I would definitely be willing to read the next book when it comes out.