Off the Shelf: April Book Review

Each month we’ll do a book roundup of some of my recent reads, including two business book and one other book. Check out what I read this month!

The Conquer Kit

Natalie MacNeil

This workbook is described as “a creative business planner for women entrepreneurs” on the cover. MacNeil outlines the process in eight steps, each with several tasks/activities within. I love that she tells you with each one how long it will take. I read this book on a flight recently and so wished I had some of the supplies she recommends having handy in the introduction like colored markers, magazines, and tape. (I’m sure my seatmate from San Francisco to Portland was thrilled I did not have said items.) Since I didn’t have access to all those goodies, my copy is currently covered with scribbled Post-it notes from my flight, and I can’t wait to dive into the actual activities soon, particularly the Client Welcome System activity in Step 3.

The steps themselves are the usuals suspects: your why, your product(s), systems, finances, marketing, your team, business planning, and goal-setting. MacNeil’s tone is comforting while authoritative. The sections on money and contracts, for example, are not at all icky or overwhelming. The activities are thoughtful, have an end result of you gaining clarity and having intention, and include room for accountability when appropriate. Sprinkled throughout the book in just the right places are inspirational quotes. Also, as if that’s not enough to get you excited, MacNeil has bonuses available online that include a budget worksheet, contracts, and more.

If you’re on the fence about this one or thinking it might be a great gift for someone you know, MacNeil is using 50 percent of book royalties to support students at a school in Tanzania that her company helped build, the Conquer Academy. Way cool.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Elizabeth Gilbert

You know those books that “everyone” is reading so you feel like you need to? That was this for me. I kept putting it off because I just did not care for Eat, Pray, Love. (There. I said it. I know, I know—gasp! I tried. I really did. I just couldn’t get into it.)  The Washington Post referred to Gilbert’s love of creativity as “infectious,” and they’re right. With every page, you could tell that Gilbert practices what she preaches; she truly believes in and lives the magic of creativity each day. Her tone was light but you could tell she means business and takes this subject seriously—and wants her readers to do the same. She encourages readers to define themselves as creative. Gilbert wants us to declare aloud: “I am a _____.”

While I was reading, I started marking what I thought would be my favorite quote or two (or maybe even three) from the book. I ended up with dozens, so I’ll just include a few here that really spoke to me:

  • “You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.”

  • “I don't sit around waiting to write until my genius decides to pay me a visit.”

  • “Share whatever you are driven to share.”

The subject matter here is nothing new, obviously, especially to creatives. But the reminders never hurt, do they? We must acknowledge our fears in order to make room for creativity. Everyone has them, whether they’ll admit them or not. Fear stifles creativity, though, so this step is critical. Next we must allow creativity in, literally and figuratively. Make room. Make time. Gilbert spoke about what happens when we neglect our ideas and thoughts: They go away. “If inspiration is allowed to unexpectedly  enter you, it is also allowed to unexpectedly exit you,” she writes. Think about that for a moment. We need to take our ideas and nurture them, not set them aside for “someday” or “when I have time.”

This is not one of those books that disappoints because “everyone” loves it. (Fifty Shades, anyone?) I finished Big Magic sad that it ended—and itching to create something. I am a creator. Are you?

The Island

Victoria Hislop

I read this book a couple months ago for my book club and really enjoyed it. It’s a long book but an easy read. I found Hislop’s portrayal of leprosy particularly engaging/interesting, as I don’t think of that disease as being so prevalent just a few decades ago. The Island tells the story of the Petrakis family, among others. They live in the Greek village of Plaka. When someone in Plaka contracts leprosy they must move to a nearby island, Spinalonga. It is a leper colony—a real place and a real leper colony just decades ago. Elena Petrakis is one such someone, leaving behind her husband and two daughters. Maria, the “good” daughter, cares for her father while Anna, the more self-centered daughter, cannot wait to get away from Plaka. She believes she can achieve a bigger and better life elsewhere. Maria contracts leprosy as an adult and must travel to Spinalonga, where she is involved in the school and cares for a young boy who was sent to Spinalonga at the same time. Maria makes the best of her new life. Spinalonga was a community similar to others except that its residents had an untreatable illness. There was a school; there was a local government. Life went on, just in a different location and new environment.

What struck me most about the book was how accepted this life was. While surely there were exceptions, generally speaking there was no discussion, there was no arguing, there was no complaining. It was accepted that if one contracted leprosy, that was that. You could pack items to take to Spinalonga: clothes, dishes, trinkets, photos of loved ones, etc. But you were going.

From Spinalonga, Plaka was in view. It’s difficult to imagine the emotional toll that must have taken on the residents of Spinalonga, to be literally so close yet figuratively so far away from Plaka and “normal” life.

Remember I said this was an easy read? There is an element of romance to the book, as well as familial tension, particularly between the sisters, but to me this was mainly a history lesson.


What books have you been reading lately? I’d love to hear in the comments below. Maybe they’ll be in next month’s Off the Shelf!