Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Lean In - Sheryl Sandberg

I was prepared to be a defensive nay-sayer about this book.  I had just grown tired of all the work-life balance debate and everyone judging everyone else for the choices they make and their definitions of success, etc.  But, I found so much in this book worth thinking about.  Sandberg acknowledges from the outset that her thoughts are directed to women in white collar professions, and she acknowledges throughout the book that so much of what she has been able to accomplish is because she has a supportive spouse (if men were paying attention, many of them would be able to admit the same thing).  But, my take-away from this book was also that to really succeed in corporate America, one not only needs a supportive spouse, but they need lots of money for childcare, and they need to be willing to let go of being the primary caregiver who is there for everything.  And I don't necessarily think that is a bad thing (but the over-attentive parent is a whole different discussion).  I think many of the suggestions Sandberg has could work in my workplace, and many of them are totally irrelevant.  But, at the end of the day, I think the main message I got from the book (which I have been trying to embrace) is that we each need to figure out what we want - what we want from our careers, what we want with respect to our families and children - realize that there needs to be some give and take - and then we need to give up our guilt and go for it.  I also like that Sandberg acknowledged the value of people who have made different decisions than her.  One story that stuck out was her thanks for the parents who do all the volunteer work at her kids' schools - she identified them as the SAHMs though in my experience many of them also work outside the home, and some are dads.  But, just that we all benefit from the time and commitment that they give to the schools and to our children when we can't always be there because we're on a business trip or a late meeting - and so while we might not make that same choice for our careers and families, we benefit from their choice and we should recognize that.  Anyway, that was just one small point in a book of much larger points.  I did not agree with everything, of course, and I certainly would not make the same choices as Sandberg, but I appreciated her thoughts - they really got me thinking about what I can do in my life to better find the balance that I want, to be happy, and not to succumb to martyrdom.

And the Mountains Echoed - Khaled Hosseini

After The Kite Runner, I'm not sure Hosseini could write a book that I wouldn't fall in love with.  Though, I suppose, sometimes I love books so much that nothing else that I read by the same author ever seems to live up (The Lovely Bones comes to mind).  But, there is just something about Hosseini' storytelling that grabs me - and moves me to tears - every time.  And the Mountains Echoed begins with a brother and sister - joined by a tremendous bond - but separated due to circumstance.  The book initially follows the path of the children, but quickly splinters out into myriad stories of family, always questioning why we make the choices we make in the name of love.  At times, the book would go in a direction I hadn't anticipated or necessarily wanted- I wanted to learn more about a given person, but the author had a different plan.  I found myself initially annoyed, but after a few pages suddenly completely invested in the new story being told.  It happened over and over.  I have to admit that I was saddened by the end of this book and felt like it really could have gone in a different direction without being too Hollywood.  But, Hosseini's storytelling ability is like no other I have encountered - I can picture him sitting around a table after a big meal and enchanting adults and children alike - like a modern day Arabian Nights.  I really can't get enough of his words and can't wait for his next novel to arrive!

Ghana Must Go - Taiye Selasi

My brother recommended this book after seeing it listed as one of the best of 2013 in The Economist.  Given the publication, I anticipated a heavy read with global implications.  The novel was not as weighty as I would have expected from The Economist staff, but it certainly introduced some thought-provoking issues. The book opens with the death of Kweku Sai, a renown surgeon.  His children gather in Ghana bringing with them the baggage weighing down the relationships as children, siblings, and as a family.  The book is the story of modern families - how we each establish our own identities as individuals and necessarily in relation to others - and how we hide the darkest secrets from those we purport to care the most about.  I found some of the secrets kept by each of the characters a little too much, but overall, I liked the moving pieces in this book - getting to know each of the characters, learning more than each of the other characters knows about the other.  The author tried, I thought, to be too enigmatic and clever at times, but all in all an interesting read set in a country I could stand to learn more about.