Category Archives: Book Review

“Born For This” Book Review

BornForThisbook

Do you ever feel unsure about what you’re  doing with your life? Wake up in the morning and think, “Am I really doing what I’m supposed to be doing?”

Whether it’s where you live, your choice of partner, or your career path, there are many things that can cause a sense of dissatisfaction or restlessness. We all feel these things from time to time—but what we choose to do with these thoughts is what sets us apart.

Some people are dissatisfied, but feel stuck, so they don’t change anything.

Others choose to do something about their discontentment, and they look for ways to change the things that are making them unhappy.

Chris Guillebeau is definitely a man of action. He set a goal to visit every country in the world before he turned 35—and he achieved it! He gathers thousands of people every year in Portland for the not as scary as it sounds World Domination Summit. And he regularly seeks out people who are doing inspiring things and shares their stories through his writing (his other books include The Happiness of Pursuit and The $100 Startup).

Born For This is Chris’s newest book, and it’s all about helping readers find the work they were meant to do.

This topic is especially interesting to me since I spent over two years writing about jobs and career paths when I worked at AfterCollege and oversaw the AfterCollege Blog.

If you see someone who loves their work, it’s easy to think that they were just lucky, or as Chris puts it, they “won the career lottery.” And it’s true that some people have an innate sense of their calling and everything just seems to fall into place for them. But that’s only a small percentage of people.

The larger percentage of people have to experiment, trying different jobs and industries before they find something that’s a good fit.

In the past decade or so, there’s also been a shift in the types of jobs that are available. There are now so many more options for people who want to start their own business or freelance.

In Born For This, Chris offers anecdotes and advice for every type of employment, whether it’s a side hustle, firefighting, or DIY rock star. I love the stories and quotes from real people that appear throughout the book. These are further proof that there’s no single way of finding your career path—you can step in gradually by trying out small projects or jump in head first.

The book also features a few suggestions for activities and exercises you can try to help find the answers to some of these big questions if you don’t already know what you should be doing. I took the short quiz online and found the results to be surprisingly accurate and enlightening!

Chris’s writing style is clear and engaging, so Born For This is an easy and enjoyable read.

I think that ultimately, experience is the best way of assessing whether you’d be suited for a particular career, and reading a book won’t give you the same insight that an internship, informational interview, or job shadowing session would. But if you’re at the stage where you don’t even know where to start (or you just want to hear some entertaining and inspiring stories about other people’s quests for career happiness), Born For This is the book for you.

A Few Thoughts on Amy Poehler’s Yes Please

yespleaseempty

I’m not a die-hard Parks & Rec fan (though that may be changing now). I didn’t really know anything about her performances on SNL or with Upright Citizens Brigade. I’ve never seen Baby Mama or watched the Golden Globes award ceremony. But despite my general lack of exposure to Amy Poehler, I’m so glad that I read her book, Yes Please (2014, HarperCollins).

Some sections didn’t make a ton of sense to me because I have only seen a handful of episodes of Parks & Rec, but overall she has some important, funny, and well-written things to say about motherhood, marriage and divorce, Hollywood, relationships, and life in general.

I love how Yes Please alternates between hilarious and heartfelt—maybe that’s due to Poehler’s own belief that going from laughing to crying to laughing helps extend your life. There were so many parts where I found myself smiling, nodding along in agreement, or swelling with admiration for Poehler and her relationship with both her work and her colleagues.

One of my favorite chapters, entitled “Plain Girl vs. The Demon,” covers the thorny issue of self-confidence, especially how it relates to appearance. She starts by introducing this concept of the voice you hear that tells you negative things about yourself: “This voice that talks badly to you is a demon voice. This very patient and determined demon shows up in your bedroom one day and refuses to leave.”

She explains how this demon voice has crept into and out of her life at various stages, and how one of her best methods for dealing with it is through improv and acting, and another technique she recommends is standing up for yourself and talking back to the demon: “Other times, I take a more direct approach. When the demon starts to slither my way and say bad shit about me I turn around and say, ‘Hey. Cool it. Amy is my friend. Don’t talk about her like that.’ Sticking up for ourselves is a hard but satisfying thing to do. Sometimes it works. Even demons gotta sleep.”

I love this chapter because it feels so authentic to me. Us regular people spend a lot of time scrutinizing ourselves for our various “flaws,” but it made me realize how that pressure is so much greater on the women who are in the public eye.  It’s so helpful to reframe that self-criticism as an evil force to be ignored and try to build up the part of you that is a friend.

Another chapter that really stood out to me was “Time Travel,” where Poehler shares her thoughts on this concept (which is not so much about time travel as it is about being present in every moment): “You can control time. You can stop it or stretch it or loop it around. You can travel back and forth by living in the moment and paying attention. Time can be your bitch if you just let go of the ‘next’ and the before.’

And I especially appreciated this part because it certainly resonates with some of my own experience: “People help you time-travel. People work around you and next to you and the universe waits for the perfect time to whisper in your ear, ‘Look this way.’ There is someone in your life right now who may end up being your enemy, your wife, or your boss. Lift up your head and you may notice.”

You might think that a book by a famous comedienne would be full of jokes and witty one-liners, and Yes Please certainly is, but these brief poignant moments throughout the book are like little buried treasures.

And I barely held it together on the train when I read through the list of rejected names for Leslie Knope’s character on Parks & Rec. So if you’re looking for comedy, don’t worry—you won’t have to search too hard.

To Amy Poehler and Yes Please, I say Thank You Very Much.

Review of Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) by Christian Rudder

writer crush

Let me just come clean and put it out there: I have developed a serious writer crush on Christian Rudder after reading Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking).

Christian Rudder is the cofounder of OkCupid (and on-again off-again author of the popular OkTrends blog) so it’s not too surprising that his writing has the power to evoke some pretty serious swooning.

Here are the reasons why I loved Dataclysm:

  • Powerful storytelling and hooks. Every chapter opens with some sort of story or anecdote that draws you in, whether it’s about the power of nostalgia or the internet’s ability to build up heroes and tear them down instantly. Pretty impressive for a book that’s centered around data, numbers, and charts.
  • Strategic usage of witty one-liners. One of my favorite parts of the book is the rubric that Rudder creates to categorize the most commonly used phrases in people’s OkCupid profiles. These are broken down by race and gender, so you can see what the most common phrases are among white males, Asian males, Latino males, etc. Rudder’s overall assessment of the white male demographic? A lumberjack music festival. (Of course this makes much more sense when you can see all the phrases, but some of the highlights in the white male section include “Phish,” “redneck,” and “Flogging Molly.”)
  • The subject matter/cocktail conversation fodder. I find dating and relationships fascinating, and it’s super interesting to learn about common misconceptions, like the idea that you and your partner have to have matching political views. Rudder argues that it’s actually the strength of your convictions (in other words, whether you care about politics or not) that’s more predictive of a relationship’s success than whether both people are Democrats or Republicans. Also, the two questions that tend to predict compatibility the most accurately are: “Have you ever traveled alone?” and “Do you like horror movies?” (If both people answer yes to each of those questions, they have a higher rate of compatibility than other couples.)
  • Rudder’s sensitivity to limitations and privacy concerns. In a brief interview on Amazon.com, when asked about whether he’s worried about any of his research and its implications, Rudder says, “I have mixed feelings about the implications. I myself almost never tweet, post, or share anything about my personal life. At the same time, I’ve just spent three years writing about how interesting all this data is, and I cofounded OkCupid. My hope is that this ambivalence makes me a trustworthy guide through the thicket of technology and data. I admire the knowledge that social data can bring us; I also fear the consequences.” I also appreciated how in several instances, he explains why he’s only looking at a certain segment of the population and what impact that can have on his overall assessments.

Dataclysm is definitely one of the most well-written and thought-provoking books I’ve read in a while, and I hope that taking the time to make these observations will help me to become a more sensitive and skillful writer myself.

Have you developed any writer crushes lately? What attracted you to a certain writer’s voice, content, or style? Let me know in the comments!

Review of Everybody Writes by Ann Handley

Should you get your hands on a copy of Everybody Writes by Ann Handley?

Short answer? Yes.

For the slightly longer answer, read on.

Confession time: I’m not sure if I’m exactly the type of reader that Ann had in mind when she wrote this book. As best as I can tell, she wrote the book mainly for people who:

  • have a strong aversion to writing, but need to write in their professional lives
  • are what she affectionately terms “adult-onset” writers (in other words, people who were scarred by negative experiences and swore off writing for a decade or so)
  • lack confidence in their writing abilities and need a friendly guide to coach them through some of the basics

I, on the other hand:

  • have been obsessed with writing for as long as I can remember (My earliest masterpiece was some text I dictated to a preschool teacher to accompany one of my drawings. “This is a monster. He scared a ghost. The ghost scared the monster. Last night I saw a Dracula and three debils [sic].” Chilling commentary on the post-modern condition or a factual narrative of Halloween? You decide.)
  • have loved every English teacher I’ve ever had (perhaps with the exception of Mr. Page, a cranky old Englishman who wanted us to write down everything he said verbatim. “It took me years to compile all this information and you’re not writing it down! TAKE NOTES!” But even he had a certain charm…)
  • have devoted the majority of my career to writing and pretty much spend a good chunk of every workday writing and editing

And yet, I’m not too proud to say that I still have a lot to learn. Especially since I’m relatively new to this whole content marketing gig and at work I often get asked to write or edit things like marketing emails or landing pages (which were decidedly not on Mr. Page’s AP English syllabus).

Everybody Writes appeals to me because Ann strikes a perfect balance between informative, entertaining, and straight up hilarious.

In one of my favorite passages, she alters a quote from Mean Girls to make a point about high school-mandated writing styles:

“What you learned in high school might’ve once been a helpful guidepost. But it’s time to let go. As Janis says in the movie Mean Girls: ‘That’s the thing with five-paragraph essays. You think everybody is in love with them when actually everybody HATES them!’

Actually, Janis was talking about the school’s mean girls—The Plastics. Not essays. But same dif.”

Whether she’s offering tips on the difference between “bring” and “take,” a cool app that’ll prevent you from opening Facebook while you’re trying to draft your latest blog post, or just making a Tina Fey reference (because… why not?), Ann’s writing is clear and helpful. And friggin’ hilarious.

In Everybody Writes, Ann talks about having “pathological empathy” for your readers. Basically, you always want to think about what benefits they’ll get from reading whatever you’re writing. What’s in it for them? I love this concept. Because even though writing can feel like a very egotistical pursuit, if you leave it at that, most people won’t bother to read it.

So, in the interest of anyone who happens to be reading this, I’ll stop telling you why you should read Everybody Writes and just let you get on with it!

P.S. Do you have a long, boring commute? Do you get amped up about listening to audio books while going for a run? Or maybe you feel nostalgic for your childhood days when your parents would read to you? Whatever the case, there’s good news! Everybody Writes is now also available as an audio book on audible.com. Check out a little snippet of it here.