Off the Shelf: Essentialism

Every year is the year I’m going to declutter and minimize the “stuff” I have hanging around in my house. And every year…it doesn’t happen.

As a business owner, I’m in the same boat. I want to reduce the number of services I offer so I can simply focus on what I love (but I love it all). I want to stop being so busy and start getting more done (but there’s so much to do). Sigh.

I’ve read all the books and pretended to do all the homework, but yet nothing changes. So when I heard about the book Essentialism, I knew I needed to check it out. And you know what? I just think I might have gotten some key takeaways that can help me get to a more essentialist mindset.

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Books on My Holiday Wish List

If you know me, or have been reading this blog for awhile, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that my holiday wish list is filled with books. (There are also many coffee-related products, but I digress.) People ask me all the time what I’m reading, so I thought it might be fun to share a few books from my wish list. Note that not all of these are new releases. (I hope someone tells my husband to check out this blog!)

The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity

Louise DeSalvo

From Amazon: The Art of Slow Writing is the antidote to self-help books that preach the idea of fast-writing, finishing a novel a year, and quick revisions. DeSalvo makes a case that more mature writing often develops over a longer period of time and offers tips and techniques to train the creative process in this new experience.

I think this book might be suited more toward fiction writers (which I am not!), but an editor friend recommended it so highly that I want to read it.

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges

Amy Cuddy

From Amazon: By accessing our personal power, we can achieve "presence," the state in which we stop worrying about the impression we're making on others and instead adjust the impression we've been making on ourselves.

I’ve been a wee-bit Amy Cuddy obsessed since seeing her TED Talk. (Power poses, anyone?) I cannot wait to get my hands on this book and soak in every word. Calm is something I’m working hard to achieve as my business grows quickly — a good problem to have, I realize.

Born to Run

Bruce Springsteen

From Amazon: Born to Run will be revelatory for anyone who has ever enjoyed Bruce Springsteen, but this book is much more than a legendary rock star’s memoir. This is a book for workers and dreamers, parents and children, lovers and loners, artists, freaks, or anyone who has ever wanted to be baptized in the holy river of rock and roll.

I get it: You love Bruce, or you don’t. I happen to love him. I’ve seen him in concert 19 times and can’t wait to go again. His lyrics soothe me, and I hope the same is true of this book!

Small Great Things

Jodi Picoult

From Amazon: With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn’t offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game.

Jodi Picoult has been one of my favorite fiction writers. She takes research seriously, and it shows in her writing, and she tackles social issues in her books, which I love. I haven’t read one of her books in a few years, so I’m curious if this book is as good as her others were for me.

The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds

Michael Lewis

From Amazon: The Undoing Project is about a compelling collaboration between two men who have the dimensions of great literary figures. They became heroes in the university and on the battlefield―both had important careers in the Israeli military―and their research was deeply linked to their extraordinary life experiences. Amos Tversky was a brilliant, self-confident warrior and extrovert, the center of rapt attention in any room; Kahneman, a fugitive from the Nazis in his childhood, was an introvert whose questing self-doubt was the seedbed of his ideas. They became one of the greatest partnerships in the history of science, working together so closely that they couldn’t remember whose brain originated which ideas, or who should claim credit. They flipped a coin to decide the lead authorship on the first paper they wrote, and simply alternated thereafter.

I love, love, love Michael Lewis and his writing. I will read just about anything he writes, even if it’s a topic I might generally not be interested in. Can’t wait to dig into this one.

Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter

Kate Clifford Lawson

From Amazon: In Rosemary, Kate Clifford Larson uses newly uncovered sources to bring Rosemary Kennedy’s story to light. Young Rosemary comes alive as a sweet, lively girl adored by her siblings. But Larson also reveals the often desperate and duplicitous arrangements the Kennedys made to keep her away from home as she became increasingly difficult in her early twenties, culminating in Joe’s decision to have Rosemary lobotomized at age twenty-three and the family’s complicity in keeping the secret.

Why am I so obsessed with the Kennedys? I don’t know, but I sure am. It boggles my mind that Rosemary was treated the way she was — by her own father, no less.

As you can see, my reading taste is all over the place. What books are on your holiday wish list? Let me know in the comments. I’m always looking for book recommendations!

Off the Shelf - October

Just two book reviews this month, friends! With my own book launching next week, there wasn't much time for leisure reading this past month. We'll get back on track In November!

The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life
Hal Elrod

In my effort to be more productive, I purchased the Kindle edition of this book. And then didn't read it for months. That was a mistake! The book essentially opens with the scene of the author's car accident. He calls his survival a miracle and the catalyst for him making the choice to be "grateful for all that I had."

The author talks about mediocrity in our lives -- how we tend do be doing well in one area but mediocre in another (or others). I think a lot about work-life balance, so this rang true for me. What causes mediocrity? The author talks about a lack of purpose as one reason, lack of accountability as another, as well as a mediocre circle of influence, a lack of personal development, and a lack of urgency.

He then talks about how a morning routine can set our day up for success and lists some of the most common results: more energy, lower stress levels, improved health, less worry, more gratitude, uncovering your life purpose. The challenge with any routine, the author says, is finding the time. He insists that it must be the morning because then there is no time for "excuses to accumulate" throughout the day. (Good point!)

Another challenge is figuring out what will be the most impactful for you. The author has six areas he focuses on: silence (meditation; 5 minutes), reading (learning from experts; 20 minutes), affirmations (5 minutes), visualization (5 minutes), journaling (5 minutes), and exercise (20 minutes). This is a 60-minute routine. There is a chapter in the book titled "The 6-Minute Miracle (For the Busy People)" in case you really can't do 60 minutes a day.

Throughout the book are testimonials from real people whose lives have been changed and impacted by implementing a morning routine.

The author also addresses the elephant in the room: sleep. Chapter 5 offers a "5-Step Snooze-Proof Wake-Up Strategy" so we have no excuses not to at least try to develop this habit.

I enjoyed this book tremendously and have implemented some of it. I've got a ways to go, but I'm making progress!

Here are a few quotes from The Miracle Morning that resonated with me:

"While blame determines who is at fault for something, responsibility determines who is committed to improving them."

"Even when life is difficult or challenging -- ESPECIALLY when life is difficult and challenging -- the present is always an opportunity for us to learn, grow, and become better than we've ever been before."

"Our outer world will always be a reflection of our inner world."

 

The Dressmaker
Kate Alcott

The Dressmaker tells the tale of Tess, an aspiring seamstress who is hired by famed designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon to be her maid on their voyage on the Titanic. Tess bites her tongue and keeps her head down regularly, both on the ship and once they reach New York City, in the hope that she will earn increased responsibilities from Lady Duff Gordon and be taken under her wing so that she can be a famous designer one day, too.

Lady Lucile Duff Gordon was not a particularly likable woman. Even when circumstances are revealed to soften her (namely, Tess is the same age as the daughter Duff Gordon wanted), it falls flat because she has been so nasty to all those around her. Does she just have a nasty personality, though, or is she evil, as she's being accused of letting others perish while sitting in a mostly empty lifeboat? On that front, I admit it is easy to say that I would've done the right thing on one of those lifeboats. But to consider that there were hundreds and hundreds of people screaming in the water for help, the noise and the panic and the chaos -- well, who can say?

Tess is confronted with knowing, deep down, the truth about Lady Duff Gordon, and either keeping quiet (but retaining her income, job, security) or standing up for what was right. Never mind that the person being taking the rap in her place was Tess's love interest.

I wished there was more about the Titanic in The Dressmaker, but that happened at the very beginning of the book. The book was mainly set in New York, which was fine, but the Titanic was the hook that first interested me in the book. This is not quite a beach read, but it's a fairly light read. Worth checking out!

Off The Shelf - September

The 8-Minute Writing Habit
Monica Leonelle

I must admit I was skeptical about this book, but a few people whose advice I value recommended it, so I was curious to read it. The author had me at “butt-in-chair” is a myth, because I concur wholeheartedly. Though I acknowledge that there comes a time in every project when you need to do this anyway, and though I believe that you can train your mind to create on demand (for lack of a better phrase), I also believe that sitting down to write does not always work. Simple as that.

Leonelle’s system has three basic steps:

1. Break through the blocks that are holding you back.
2. Use her nine strategies.
3. Create a plan to write faster and more consistently.

The five blocks she lists will sound familiar. I’ll mention just a couple of them here. One is that writing may not pay off. Leonelle notes that writing is sometimes easier when you take away the expectation of outcome. I love that! Don’t write while giving yourself pressure about book sales, or number of readers for a blog post, or any other self-imposed expectations. Just write. (Trust me: There will be plenty of time later for expectations!) The next block Leonelle addresses is anxiety — the idea that we get too far ahead of ourselves is true. Think about writing only. Then think about editing. Then think about publishing. Taking the process one step at a time can help reduce anxiety and overwhelm. This is especially important if you are not a writer by profession, because the process is already (likely) overwhelming for you due to its unfamiliarity. Another block is distraction. It’s so important, Leonelle argues, to get buy-in from what she terms “your most important people.” Whether that is a spouse or partner, a roommate, or an accountability partner, the support and buy-in from a support system goes a long way, Writing is a lonely profession, after all.

Leonelle’s strategies are next. She notes that eight minutes is a short enough time for anyone but it’s also enough time to produce something. She encourages readers to incorporate the eight minutes into your already-established routine rather than trying to add something new, since we’re already so busy. In addition to writing for eight minutes, the strategies include writing in the morning to get it “out of the way” to collaborate with a fellow writer, to set public deadlines (this has been a game-changer for me), and to take your writing mobile (AKA to go somewhere new to write).

The third part of the book is Leonelle’s 8x8 Challenge: eight days of writing eight minutes per day. She gives an assignment for each day. Day 2, for example, involves switching up something: stand to write if you usually sit, or dictate your words if you normally type. Day 7 is to make a plan. How many eight-minute sessions do you need to finished a first draft?

The 8-Minute Writing Habit contains many useful takeaways for writers whether beginning or established. I loved the 8x8 Challenge and have done it several times. If you’re feeling intimidated by the idea of incorporating writing into your already-too-busy life, check out this method.
 

Blog in Bloom
Rosie Morley

Blog in Bloom is a dream. This workbook contains examples and exercises (with answers!) throughout to help you work through the logistics of blogging. There are checklists, tips to avoid burnout, and a working blog post before and after. Hedera begins by noting the Golden Rule: Write for your reader. All bloggers want to do this, but sometimes that’s easier said than done. To that end, Morley walks readers through how to figure out who your reader is. Blog in Bloom then walks readers through all the areas where we can get stuck and make mistakes.

The first part of the book, Foundations, covers structure and cohesion. Structure discusses the topics planning, subheads, and body. Cohesion includes signposting, using repetition, analogies, and conjunctions.

The next section is Polishing, which includes grammar and mechanics as well as proofreading. (Don’t worry: This is more fun than it was in seventh-grade English class!) The grammar and mechanics section includes discussions of sentence structure, punctuation (dashes, hyphens, colons, semi-colons, apostrophes), capitalization, comma splices, fragments, and subject-verb agreement. The proofreading section covers how to proofread, often-confused words, and consistency. (I feel like the list of often-confused words grows by the day.)

And finally, there’s You, which tackles style and voice. Style includes person, voice, construction, “weasel words” (words used intentionally to dilute meaning, such as basically or virtually), jargon, sentence length, boring verbs, and plain language. Voice covers contractions, casual writing, and breaking the rules.

Each chapter includes a section Hedera titles “So What?” to explain the why behind the lesson. The tone of the book is casual and fun, rather than stuffy and “there’s only one right way to write.” Each topic Morley includes is done so thoughtfully to show readers how to strengthen their writing while still keeping in mind — always — the Golden Rule. Blog in Bloom is a great writing refresher for your blog and any other writing you do.

The Husband’s Secret
Liane Moriarty

My book club read this book and, though a few of us assumed the secret couldn’t be an affair because that’s too obvious, what makes me sad was that that was the first thought every single one of us had. Yikes. (Surely that says something about our society today, though I am not sure what!) Liane Moriarty writes rich and complex characters, and this book was no exception. In this twist on Pandora’s box, protagonist Cecilia finds a letter in her husband, John-Paul’s, desk to be opened in the event of his death. He is on a business trip, and Cecilia wrestles with the idea of opening the letter or not. (I wouldn’t have wrestled at all; I know me: I would  have ripped that envelope open the second I laid eyes on it! My husband knows this about me, so this would never happen in our house.) The secret was not an affair. Instead, John-Paul confesses to the murder of a teenage girl when he was a teen himself.

Cecilia’s story becomes intertwined with that of Rachel, the mother of the murder victim. Rachel bears the loss of her daughter daily and is facing loneliness as her son announces that he and his wife — and therefore Rachel’s grandson, one of the few things to bring her joy — are moving out of the country. Rachel believes a man named Connor murdered her daughter. The police said that there was not enough evidence against Connor. One day as Connor was crossing the street, Rachel was driving took matters into her own hands. She accelerated in an attempt to hit Connor but instead hit a little girl who had ridden her bike into the street: Polly, Cecilia and John-Paul’s daughter. Polly’s leg is amputated, and John-Paul must deal with the guilt of his crime and of keeping the secret. If he had confessed years earlier, Rachel would never have tried to hit Connor with her car, and his daughter would not have lost her leg. Cecilia struggles with guilt, too. Should she tell Rachel? (Spoiler alert: She does.) She also wrestles with the idea that the man she has loved for so many years, with whom she has built a family, committed a crime — and lied about it.

The intersection of the characters’ stories is handled with ease, as is generally the case in Moriarty’s books. If you’re a fan of this author, The Husband’s Secret won’t disappoint.

P.S. Rumor has it there’s a movie on the way based on this book.

What have you been reading lately?

Off The Shelf - August

Check out what I’ve been reading lately. I’ve been soaking up summer with my family, so it’s an abbreviated Off the Shelf this month. I’ll be back to three books in September  — promise. 


If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?
Raj Raghunathan
 
The premise of this book is simple yet fascinating: Could the same traits that drive your career success also be keeping you from being happier?
 
Raghunathan breaks down the science of happiness before getting into how to achieve happiness and/or be happier, and he includes exercises in each chapter to do so. I found this book both engaging and compelling — because it makes perfect sense! As a business owner, I like control. In “real life,” trying to control everything is a recipe for disaster. As a business owner, I like to be in charge. In “real life,” I have a partnership. But this book teaches readers that we can take those qualities that are positive in our business life and use them to build a happy and fulfilling life.
 
Rather than “chasing” happiness, it makes more sense to do those things that we like and that we’re good at. Those things make us happy. Again, this is not rocket science, but If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? is a great read for any entrepreneur.
 
 
Rocket Boys
Homer Hickam
 
My book club read this memoir a few months ago and I really enjoyed it. In 1957, when Homer “Sonny” Hickam was 14 years old, he and a couple buddies decided to build rockets after seeing Sputnik. Homer saw them as a way out of Coalwood, a dying, West Virginia, mining town where boys, frankly, were expected to work in those mines. His father, superintendent of the mine, was a 100-percent company man. The town relied upon the mine for its vitality in a way that’s difficult to wrap our heads around today. (As an aside, one of my nephews visited my husband and me this summer and we took him on a coal mining tour in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. He was (and we were) amazed by what that life must have been like for miners: dark, dusty, cold, dangerous.) Sonny’s mother and his science teacher encouraged him to pursue rocket building. His father, like most of the town, was much more interested in the high school boys’ football team. Eventually people start to become interested and the boys earn the nickname “Rocket Boys” throughout Coalwood. More and more people become interested in what the Rocket Boys are doing. Throughout the memoir, it’s clear what small-town life was like, in Coalwood and in towns like it throughout the country. Spoiler alert: Sonny does get out of Coalwood. He went on to become an engineer at NASA.
 
 
What have you been reading this summer? Anything to share? I’m always looking for recommendations.

 

Off the Shelf - July

Here’s what I’ve been reading. What about you?

 

Booked

Josh Turner

The author says point-blank that this concept is not rocket science, and he’s right. However, sometimes we still need to hear it from someone else. This is a quick read filled with valuable information and motivation. The process, Turner says, is a simple one, which he outlines in general terms and then dives into each step. Generally, you must get in front of prospects, convert a percentage into leads, and then convert at least one lead into a client. Without leads, your business is in the danger zone. Getting those leads, Turner says, is easier if you can position yourself as a leader and expert. People — prospects — will then want to talk to you. And getting in front of people is how small business owners can stay off of the cash-flow roller coaster, which prevents growth. Turner urges readers to take advantage of online tools like email but especially LinkedIn and Facebook groups.

The detailed, five-step Booked process is as follows:

Step 1: The Foundation — clearly identify your ideal prospects and optimize your profiles

Step 2: Your Leadership Platform — generate appointments (appointments = sales calls = consultations = strategy sessions) and start a Facebook or LinkedIn group

Step 3: Building Your Database — after an initial blitz, reach out, on an ongoing basis, to new prospects; do this every day

Step 4: Your Messaging Machine — figuring out your numbers (# of prospects you need to reach goal) and which messaging campaign is right for you

Step 5: Email Blueprint

Turner includes scripts to use in Step 3 and notes the importance of doing this every day as well as scripts for each of the types of messaging campaigns in Step 4. He acknowledges that there are a lot of moving parts in the Booked process so it’s critical to stay organized and do prep and planning. He suggests that 30-60 minutes each day, five days a week, is the sweet spot for the system to work for you.

I had this book on my Kindle for a while before digging in. Even though a few entrepreneurs told me they enjoyed it, the title made me think it was geared more toward salespeople. I’m glad I gave it a shot!

Here are some of my favorite takeaway quotes from Booked:

“You can’t grow by cutting costs. The only way to grow, or to remain stable, is to generate a consistent flow of leads.”

“Follow up and persistence is the key to maximizing your results.”

“A well-designed email campaign can add 10-20% response rate to the overall system.”

 

The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You

Jessica N. Turner

This book is another one of those no-brainers, right? I love the snippets from real women she surveyed (found myself wanting to track a lot of these women down, either to hug or high-five them — or both) and the quick and easy “exercises” she has throughout, like noting who someone is that you compare yourself to and listing three blocks of 5 to 15 minutes you can find throughout your day. The exercises are all simple and un-intimidating (AKA, maybe we’ll actually do them). Turner talks about the challenge of finding balance, no matter our circumstances: married or single, with or without children, income, age. All women struggle with this concept in different ways. It looks different for me (41, married, and without children, full-time entrepreneur) than it does for my sister (31, married with an almost-three-year-old and a newborn, teacher) than it foes for our mother (62, married, four adult children, full-time executive). And that’s just in my immediate family.

In the first part of the book, Turner has readers EXPLORE. The chapters cover balance, pressures, guilt, and comparison. You won’t read much here that you haven’t read and heard before, but it’s the groundwork. She then moves into the DISCOVER part, which she calls the heart of the book. I couldn’t agree more. Here is where she covers shifting our perspective, identifying ways in which we can care for ourselves (such as health, spiritually, our passions), and finding that time for ourselves. In this section she mentions one of my favorite metaphors for life: Put on your oxygen mask first. Then assist others. In the third part Turner teaches us to MAXIMIZE. This is where we prioritize and learn to use our time efficiently. She includes a discussion of helpful versus wasteful multitasking that I really enjoyed. (My business coach talked recently about how multitasking isn’t really a thing, and that really our brains are just toggling back and forth among activities. Maybe that’s why so many of us feel like we’re on the hamster wheel.) She also includes a discussion of asking for and embracing help, as well as an honest mention of obstacles that can slow us down, such as financial restraints, interruptions, and disorganization. Finally in the fourth part, LIVE WELL, Turner talks about community and rest, choosing joy and giving thanks.

The tone of this book is that of one girlfriend talking to another, and breaking down what we all know we should be doing. If we could each implement even one or two of the results from exercises in the book, we can call that progress.

And as always, some of my favorite takeaways (There were lots!):

“Just because something is a good thing doesn’t mean it is good for this moment in your life.”

“When you make room in your schedule to breathe, you make room for you — and that is key to discovering fringe hours.

“Self-care needs to be included in what you should be doing. It is not a privilege. It is a necessity.”

“Acknowledgment of your passions is significant, courageous, and meaningful.”

“We must refuse to let our calendars control us.”

“The prioritization of our passions benefits us in every way  — internally (spiritually, mentally, and emotionally) and externally (in our relationships with other people and how we interact with them).

“Gratitude transforms us from the inside out.”

 

All You Could Ask For

Mike Greenberg

All You Could Ask For follows the lives of three women — Brooke, Samantha, and Katherine — who don’t know each other but whose lives intersect late in the book through a listserv for women with breast cancer. I wished their stories intersected earlier in the book because there was no common thread for me as I read (other than that they all came from Greenwich, Connecticut), making me wonder why and how the three characters, who were so vastly different, would come together. Were they sisters? All friends of a mutual friend? I knew before reading the book that breast cancer was involved (because I am a fan of the author and had heard him talk about the book) but was unsure how it came into play as I read.

The novel is about female friendships and support, yet the characters meet so late in the book that I didn’t really get enough of that. What I loved was that the characters were developed well enough that as each was diagnosed and dealt with both her diagnosis and treatment, I felt that we (readers) understood the characters well enough to see why they reacted the way they did. Even if we didn’t like it, we understood it. The battle is the same yet the battle plan is different for every single person dealing with the horrible disease. We all know a Brooke, a Samantha, or a Katherine. We can all understand how powerful a force having female friendships is. I hate to call this a “feel good” book since the subject matter is mostly certainly not that, but it’s nice to know that these friendships exist in real life and in books. My hope is that anyone dealing with a struggle has these friends to call upon.

What have you been reading?

Off The Shelf - June

EntrepreFriendships

Monique Melton

Monique Melton is a brand strategist who’s pulling back the curtain on some of her client processes. She helps her clients shine brighter in business and in life. In EntrepreFriendships, Monique discusses the importance of one-on-one, in-person interaction when you’re an entrepreneur, noting that it can sometimes be an isolated world. She discusses the types of events to look for, the types of business relationships that exist, and the five types of people you want to connect with (influencers/connectors, connected to influencers/connectors, influencer/connector supporters, industry colleagues, good connections). Step-by-step, Monique shows how to create and cultivate these special relationships she calls EntrepreFriendships, with sample scripts to use at each stage. She explains why the best mindset to have is that of “support and serve.” The book is filled with action steps, valuable takeaways, and exercises to help you decide who you want to meet, how to get in front of them, how to build that relationship, questions to ask, questions to avoid, how and when to follow up — and much more. This is a great guide for anyone navigating the world of entrepreneurship.

 

The Start-Up of You

Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha

I should have read the description more closely before digging into this book, as it’s really a guidebook for employees to treat themselves as an entrepreneur in today’s economy and workforce, rather than a book for entrepreneurs per se, which is what I was expecting (for no good reason). The book begins by likening cavemen to the self-employed: They had to find their own food and feed their families. The authors talk about the “death of the traditional career path” and how employees are more loyal these days to their horizontal network (their peers/colleagues) than they are to their vertical network (their bosses/management). I haven’t worked in a typical corporate environment for more than 15 years, but most everyone I know in real life does, and these statements both ring true. The authors discuss networkers versus relationship-builders and the importance of having allies and groups/community in your business life. Additionally they discuss how to tap into and use your network. The Start-Up of You includes real-life examples throughout from companies like Zappos, Netflix, PayPal, Pandora, and Airbnb.

This book was full of awesome takeaways/quotes. Here are some of my favorites:

·         “Adaptability creates stability.”

·         “Being better than the competition is basic to an entrepreneur’s survival.”

·         “The Best thing to do is to think and plan two steps ahead.”

·         “No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.”

·         “Opportunities do not float like clouds. They are firmly attached to individuals.”

·         “The value and strength of your network are not represented in the number of contacts in your address book.”

Each chapter concludes with specific action steps and networking advice, and the Further Reading section at the back of the book includes descriptions of the books included, which I love!

 

Still Alice

Lisa Genova

Still Alice is the heartbreaking story of Dr. Alice Howland, a Harvard professor. She begins experiencing more than “usual” forgetfulness but when she gets lost on her daily jog in her own neighborhood, Alice is terrified. At age 50, Alice is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Her journey was frightening and she was unsure how to navigate her new reality, as her job slipped further away until eventually she had to give it up. Alice struggles with hanging onto her sense of self even as it changes by the day.

My heart broke for Alice and her family, and the story reminded me that we don’t always react to news and situations the way maybe we should. I hated daughter Anna’s reaction, focused almost exclusively on the hereditary angle of the disease, as she was battling fertility and consumed with whether she and her future baby might be affected (though as someone with experience in that arena, it rang maybe just a bit too true).

I have not seen the film, but I have heard that it was a wonderful adaptation of this lovely book.

What have you been reading this month? I'd love to hear your suggestions! 

Off the Shelf: May Edition

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!

Work Your Wealth: 9 Steps to Making Smarter Money Choices with Your Money

Mary Beth Storjorhann, CFP

Let’s just cut to the chase: The best part of this book in my opinion is that, unlike just about every other bit of money advice you hear, Mary Beth does not say you have to cut out daily lattes to save $X per year. (Can I get an “Amen” on that?) Instead, her advice on this point, and throughout, is to personalize the money process for you. In other words, instead of your money controlling you, you’re learning to control your money.

Mary Beth’s tone is real and matter-of-fact but her advice is, and the nine steps are, so practical and seemingly easy to implement that this money book is not overwhelming. So often talking about money (or even thinking about it) causes anxiety. That’s not the case with this book. You don’t walk away from reading this book with a sense of dread about money mistakes you’ve made — or worrying that you’ll be working until you’re 90 in order to have enough. Instead you feel like you can actually do this (and it won’t be awful to make any necessary changes to get where you want to be).

Work Your Wealth covers all of the usual suspects when it comes to money and personal finance books: goals, budgeting, debt, investing, retirement planning, credit. It does so, though, in a way that is not condescending and but again, personalizes the process for you. Mary Beth asks what money represents to you so that you can set goals that are appropriate to you. My retirement dreams likely aren’t the same as yours, so our daily, weekly, and annual money decisions won’t be the same. Mary Beth’s encouragement is to make a money plan that will make you happy.

The book includes solid examples with real-life situations and numbers, all presented in an easy-to-understand manner. Complicated terms and concepts are presented in a way that non-finance people like me can understand and, just as important, in a way that is not boring. Mary Beth stresses the importance of tracking your financial progress and why you need to invest — now — both financially and in yourself.

Side note for those of us who are creatives, solopreneurs, and small business owners: Mary Beth includes advice specific to those of us with variable incomes, particularly when it comes to “lifestyle inflation.” I love this, too, because I think sometimes we’re forgotten in money and finance books.

Mary Beth Storjorhann takes the stress out of thinking about your financial future. After reading Work Your Wealth, you’ll feel positive about where you’re headed (and how you’ll get there). Turns out talking about money doesn’t have to be so intimidating after all.

The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion

Elle Luna

This was another one of those books where I had heard so much hype and so many positive reviews that I expected to be disappointed. I definitely was not. This book is everything “they” say it is. I can so easily see why this book, which started as an essay, resonated with so many people that it grew organically into something much, much bigger. The author writes that “these pages are a pep talk,” and they truly are. It’s up to each of us to figure out our own answers, but the content of this book is certainly a road map to follow as we think about our own Should and Must on our own journey.

She lays out in Part I the definitions of each, and the differences between them. She then offers what I consider the crux of the book, in two separate sentences: “Choosing Must is the greatest thing we can do with our lives,” followed later by “But if Must is so great, why don’t we choose it every day?” Yes! We are conditioned, really, by Should. Should is a part of everyday life. And then there’s this: Must is scary! To actually do that thing that is our calling? Yikes. Then you add to that that it takes hard work and time to deal with Should, and it’s easy to see why most people never make it happen. So there we are: at the crossroads of Should and Must. We let life dictate why we aren’t pursuing our Must: We can’t make a living pursuing it. It’s not the right time.

One of the big takeaways for me came early in the book. The author was talking about how she loved painting when she was younger but hadn’t painted in so long. When, as an adult, she painted, the joy returned. That really struck me: Our creativity stays within us even when we aren’t practicing it. For her, that meant painting. For some it’s writing. For others, drawing. For others, singing. Whatever it is, we need it let it out and reclaim the joy that results in practicing it! Find your Must  — whatever it is — and claim it, friends! As Elle says, honor who you are.

The Royal We

Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Why are Americans so fascinated by British royalty? I have no idea, but I definitely am. This is the first adult novel by Heather and Jessica, whom you may know as the Fug Girls (and if you don’t, you should; they are hilariously fantastic!), and it doesn’t disappoint. The book opens the day before Bex (Rebecca Porter) marries Prince Nicholas of Wales, future King of England, and the parallels are clearly drawn to Will and Kate from the get-go. The book is told from Rebecca’s point of view, showing how it must feel to live life under the microscope once she and Nick are “found out.” The plot is fairly predictable for those who know anything about the real Will and Kate, and the supporting characters somewhat recognizable: the ornery younger brother Freddie, the cold and stuffy father Richard, the aristocratic friend-since-childhood who thinks Bex isn’t good enough Bea, the sister who seems to grab a lot of attention Lacey. But reading along, via time jumps to the past and back, as the American commoner and the future king get to know one another as friends, fall in love, and dream of their life together is just plain fun. Of course, it isn’t all sunshine and roses. There are the tabloids, of course. And there are Nick’s ex-girlfriends, who travel in the same social circles and are thus still around more often than Bex would like. There are the inner workings of the royal family, which are beyond complicated (as one might imagine). And of course, there is the fact that Nick will one day be king, like it or not. His life has been planned out already, and Bex really is, in a way, “filling a position,” as Bea calls it early on in the book, rather than becoming the wife of the love of her life. The authors say they were inspired by Will and Kate, and in thinking about what happens after the prince kisses the girl at the end of the fairy tale. There’s a big difference between being a girlfriend and being a member of the royal family. One Amazon review I saw before reading this book talked about being in a fishbowl where everyone can see everything you do, from all sides, at all times.

The Royal We is a fun and entertaining read. Perfect for sitting on the beach or on the deck this summer! One last note about this book: I assume it goes without saying that I adored the character of Gaz? And not just because he was named after a font (Garamond)! This makes me regret not studying abroad in college even more. (Truly, it’s my one and only real regret in my life, but if I could have a friend named after a font, which I just don’t know would happen in the good ol’ USA, that would be awesome.)

What books have you been reading lately?

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!