02 Jun 2018

what I’ve been reading

Photo by Alex Sawyer on Unsplash

One of my more indulgent fantasies features a room filled with books. Floor to ceiling books. Books spilling out of shelves. A ladder that allows me to climb to places where I can’t reach. I secretly hold onto this fantasy, especially when life brings me more than I think I can bear. But I manage because this is what one does–bear the dark spaces knowing that they will always, invariably, lead you to light. Books have always been my companion through this journey. When I’m jubilant, I read. When I’m feeling broken, I read. The only difference, really, is the types of books I cleave to in these moments of sadness and joy. When I’m on my game I read literary fiction and heady non-fiction. When I’m pulling the covers over my face, I go for the best of the genres–thriller, horror, historical fiction, YA, etc. Sometimes, when you reside too much in your own head, it’s nice to get lost somewhere else. In someone else’s world, one so artfully created. Push me back, pull me forward, or take me somewhere I’ve never been.

I’m excited to share what I’ve been reading over the past few weeks!!!

Tigers in Red Weather by Lisa Klaussman: I’m endlessly fascinated by the 1950s and 60s and the tension women faced between ambition and societal norms. When I was young, I devoured all the books about families come undone–families with lofty bank accounts and cocktail mixers–and Klaussman’s novel does not disappoint. I got glimpses of the Wheelers in Revolutionary Road and all things Cheever while reading this story of a family coming apart at very delicate seams.

Nick and her cousin Helena grew up in the privilege of gin parties and summering as a verb in a beautiful home in Martha’s Vineyard. They’ve got their men and their dreams and after WWII, they realize that the world they so assiduously built is far from their reality. Nick’s husband Hughes is withdrawn, no longer resembling the man she married before the War. Avery, Helena’s smooth-talking Hollywood charlatan, is hungry for fame, dollars, and all the trimmings Helena’s world provides. Both women are stuck with men who are pale facsimiles of their former selves and by societal norms. Who leaves their husband, especially after having children? You stay and endure the steady march of the years that follow. One summer, their teenaged children, Ed and Daisy, find a mangled body in the Vineyard and their family embarks on a decade-long downward spiral. This book is DARK, darker than I actually anticipated, and I loved it for all its bleakness. Why? Because sometimes life isn’t as tidy as you want it to be. It’s messy, unsatisfying, heartbreaking, and I find that SO MANY people want to be anesthetized. They want their shiny, happy ending, and I get it. I do. But that doesn’t stop me from going after that which is honest and real. There’s also a psychopath thrown into the story for good measure, and you guys know how I feel about THAT.

The Widow by Fiona Barton: Don’t you hate when publishers compare one book to bestsellers, even if the plot isn’t even remotely related? Yeah, me too. Everyone and their pony compared Barton’s first thriller to Gone Girl (I hated this book so much I actually through the film saved it) and Girl On the Train, but aside from an unhinged wife married to a douchebag husband, the similarities end there. Barton’s first book opens with Jeanie, a woman married young to a controlling husband, who loses said husband during a freak accident. We soon learn of the stench on them–Jeanie’s husband was a lead suspect in the abduction and murder of two-year-old Bella, four years ago.

The story is told through alternating POVs–you hear from the lead detective on the case, the ambitious reporter, the mother of Bella, and Jeanie, the widow. Over the course of the novel, we learn more about the insular couple, what binds them, and what tears them apart over the course of the trial. The question hovers around how much the widow knew? Did she know about her husband’s pedophile tendencies? Did she know about Bella? More importantly, when did she know? The pacing was on point (the book is literally a page-turner) and the inner workings between the police and the media were fascinating and well played out–no doubt to Barton being a well-regarded journalist in the UK. My only beef is that the story went exactly where you expected it to go. There’s no twist or red herrings. Rather, it’s a slow burn to uncover who knew what and when. Aside from the ending, which was less than satisfying (I like my twist), I finished this book in under a day and it’s definitely worth renting from the library.

Being Boss by Kathleen Shannon and Emily Thompson: I’m not a snob about career books, but many of them are just SO BAD. They’re either dry and redundant or too woo for words. However, Being Boss manages to straddle pragmatism and personal velocity in a way that’s practical, inspiring, and motivating. I also purchased their CEO Day kit and in one day I got complete clarity when it came to my career and its direction. Shanon and Thompson are small business owners who also produce the wildly popular Being Boss podcast. I love the podcast because it constantly reminds you of the difference between working in your business (knee-deep in the weeds) and on your business (establishing that bad-ass vision).

You don’t need to be a creative entrepreneur to find value in the book, which takes you through practical advice on how to manage and build your brand and career. You’ll learn everything from how to combat imposter syndrome to how to build your offering (and why you’re so awesome and unique, i.e. value proposition) as well as building real, actionable goals to jettison your career. Their voices and real stories from the trenches were infectious, and they’ve also brought in quotes and insights from people at the top of their career game. You also get worksheets and checklists! I found that this book, combined with their CEO Day course, really helped me gain clarity and focus when it comes to my career. This book is absolutely worth your $$$. And yes, this book is also helpful for the guys in the house.

Articles I’ve LOVED this week:

  • I had a blast on The Hartford’s Small Business Ahead podcast where I talk about firing wack clients.
  • The double-edged sword (and reality) of remote work.
  • How your email list can do some of the heavy-lifting when it comes to sales.
  • “It’s a very slippery slope from admiration to jealousy, especially as social media has become so prominent, giving us the ability to follow anyone’s carefully curated image of success and glamour.” This piece on online jealousy and hate-reading is excellent.
  • Five ways of looking at a serial killer.
  • As a small business owner, you need to be working on your business, not in your business. Making calculated moves is the key to success and you’re not able to do that if you’re knee-deep in handling the day-to-day details. I write often for The Hartford’s Small Business Ahead blog and here’s my latest on the power of delegation.
  • “We cannot manage time, we can only manage ourselves and our workflows. Time doesn’t change, it isn’t flexible and can’t be manipulated to fit our needs.” Some real truth on time management.
  • You can’t be well-read without reading women. AMEN, people. AMEN.

 

Full Disclosure: There are Amazon affiliate links in this post, which means if you purchase any of these books, I make a little cash to pay for my site’s hosting fees. 

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  • When I was in Cape Town, I was supposed to have been making headway with my new book—the first story since I started my last novel in 2013 that’s excited me. All my books have been about familial, specifically maternal, discord. A mother and daughter never made whole. And this is the first story where parents don’t play a role. At the heart of the story is the friendship between two broken, flawed, and funny women who lean on one another to crawl out of darkness. It’s hard for me to write about love, but this, I think, is the closest I’ve come to it.
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I like these characters. I like imbuing my dark sense of humor into my work. I like leaning away from. The weight of language and literary fiction to tell a story as simply as possible. And believe me when I say that simplicity is fucking hard. Writing lean, impactful sentences are hard. Conveying so much in a small space feels, in a way, like poetry.
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I WAS supposed to have made headway, but that didn’t pan out and it’s okay because I was more focused in relaxing. I was more in awe of the landscape and people than I’d anticipated so all I wanted to do was be outside. Funny for someone who holes up in her Los Angeles apartment, but I digress.
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I’m back and the story is coming, albeit slowly, but it’s coming. There is a plot only I don’t know it completely yet. I know the ending—I can see it clearly—it’s just the path there is a little foggy.
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And this is the first book I’ve written that is more linear than anything I’ve written.
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I’m proud of this.
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And I’m trying not to think of the business of books. The chore of searching for a new agent after I fired my one of 20 years. The chore of overcoming my last book’s Bookscan numbers, the pitching and the selling. The fucking preening. I want none of it.
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So, for now, I just think about the work.
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  • So...apparently I’m writing a new book. It’s interesting (or odd, depending on your view) that new work comes in my darker moments. I started my last book after I had a breakdown from a job (and sociopathic boss) that was killing me. I was in Biarritz when I started what would become my second book, which is darker than my first book.
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This time, I’m toying with what happens when you climb out of the dark (my first two never got to that place). The book is titled The Only Possible and it centers on the close friendship between two broken women who are climbing out of their familial and person wreckage. This might be the first long work that ends with hope. I have this marker for myself, which is totally arbitrary. If I get to 50 good pages, the book is real.
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I’m at 52, so I suppose this thing is real. Light in the dark and like that.
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A brief thank you to the people who’ve been there for me these past few weeks. The ones who haven’t ignored or muted my posts—you are true friends and allies. Thank you for your friendship and kindness. I don’t give my heart and trust to many people for these obvious reasons, but I’m grateful to those that have it.
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  • Can we talk?
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I think it’s important to learn from the experiences we’re desperate to forget. Some of my greatest teachings come from working with terrible clients and sociopathic bosses. I wrote about this on medium (@felsull) and I’d love for to check it out, clap, and share.
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But remember this. Don’t let anyone define your worth. Only you have the right to that math. No one deserves to be yelled at. No one deserves verbal abuse. No one deserves to hear that they’re worthless, stupid, or an idiot. You are the guardian of your worth.
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Constructive feedback is a valuable tool, but it doesn’t define you as a person. We will fail. We’ll botch a job or make mistakes. Value comes from learning from the missteps, in creating systems and processes for yourself that reduces the likeliness of that mistake from happening again. Your worth is not the measure of your failures, but how you’ve rebounded from them. How you’ve grown professionally AND personally. It’s about you standing up in the wreckage and saying, okay, let’s keep going.
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Your worth is not bound to your work product — it’s defined by all the things that make you, you.
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  • This morning, I finished all my deliverables for two of my biggest projects this year. I can’t believe I got it all done!!! Save for two client calls today, I plan to spend the day supine and watching horror movies. #yassssss #brandstrategist #marketingstrategy
  • I used to be this intense person and I assure you this is not a compliment. I went at everything so hard. I worked through pain and exhaustion. I cleaved to velocity — a body in motion stays in motion and like that. Force = mass x acceleration and like that. I placed more value on outcomes than inputs. I cared about what people thought of me and wanted to please everyone at the expense of my well-being. I placed an unhealthy level of emphasis on amassing a large collection of people in my life more than cultivating richer relationships with a handful. I pursued things at the expense of the quiet nobility of living an honest, full life.
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My wake-up call was a phonebook packed with numbers but no one to call when I was breaking. What changed during that dark time was this: I began to live small and this is, I assure you, is a good thing.
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Small isn’t a pejorative. It’s about getting surgical about the people and things that inhabit your life. Cut the barnacles. Eliminate that which is extraneous and unnecessary. Don’t settle for common or this is how it’s always been done. Small is about the amount of noise you allow in. It’s about making the choices that won’t please the majority of people, but you end up pleasing yourself. It’s the difference between living in a mansion and creating a house that is a home. Fewer, better are words whose meaning has shifted for you. They are words of wealth. And more suddenly feels like a burden.
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For those who suffer from depression, meds and therapy simply level the playing field. They elevate you from negative integers to zero. It’s easier to build from zero than from mounting losses. Meds and therapy don’t create shiny, happy people. There are days that are dark and tough and what’s allowed me to function during that time is the concept of living simply and small.
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