22 Feb 2019

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Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

 

Bad Blood by John Carryrou: It only took listening to the first episode of Rebecca Jarvis’s compelling podcast The Dropout, a story about the famed biotech billionaire, Elizabeth Holmes, and the fall of her company Theranos, to make me run out and get Carryrou’s book. For those who are familiar with the Greek saga (trust me, it’s got all the elements of a Greek play, so much so, the film version is in the works starring Jennifer Lawrence as the sociopathic CEO), Carreyrou broke a series of articles in the WSJ doubting the efficacy of The Edison, a Theranos product that purported to provide up to 200 blood tests using 1-2 drops of blood, pricked from your finger. This technology, if it would’ve have worked, would have revolutionized healthcare, making blood tests more accessible and convenient, and people would have to rely on needle draws.

However, as one of my skeptics have said–a good idea is a dime a dozen. There’s a reason science Nobel winners get prizes in their 60s-90s–they’ve been doing this for a while. Biology and chemistry are complicated–especially when you try to combine them with new technology.

Carreyrou’s book is a sensational read–giving you all the drama, science, and suspense of a fast-paced thriller. There’s Elizabeth’s childhood, mired in financial legacy and an obsession with money and prestige. There’s the world’s desire to see past reality so much so that they’ll believe anything, the suicide of a prominent scientist, the fissures of familial relationships, the corporate lies, intimidation, and intrigue, and SO MUCH MORE. I’m grateful that Holmes is facing prison for her reckless pursuit of power at the expense of real people who made real decisions based on the faulty results of her 5th-grade science experiments. I absolutely recommend this book. BUY IT.

The Sylvia Plath Letters Vol 2: Anyone who’s taking an English class knows about Sylvia Plath. Possibly, they know more about her brief life than the astonishing volume of poems completed in the remaining months of her life. Her biography has experienced sixty years of vivisection. There was the rise of the pretty, ambitious and promising poet who won all the prizes and accolades but could never shake the untimely death of her father–a gruff, Aryan figure that spent his life fixated on bees. There are the years at Cambridge as an American riding around on a red bicycle, but striding ahead of her peers academically. There’s the chance reading of Edward (Ted) Hughes’s poem in a college lit journal and the launched party that set the dramatic tale into motion. The mythology of the union of two great poets, in an era where a woman’s sole role was that of being barefoot and in the kitchen, has been the stuff of movies and hordes of books.

For years, all of Plath’s work, as well as her brand, was managed with an iron hand by the Hughes estate. Two renowned Plath scholars, aided by Freada Hughes, were able to offer two volumes of un-edited letters from Plath. These are the Instagram-level tom-foolery of Aurelia Plath’s Letters Home. I’ve read every single book written by and about Plath and Hughes and this two-volume set is the real deal. Exhaustive annotations give the letters context, so you can read the true voice of a poet constrained by society’s expectations, hatred for her mother, the suffocating, yet the symbiotic relationship with Hughes, and her mental illness–made that much more prominent after Hughes’s infidelity and abandonment. Plath is the epitome of control and discipline. I admired her fastidious management of the couples’ money and the publishing pursuits. She was wry, funny, often an asshole, but in so much pain. The pain is palpable in the final few letters she sends off in her final weeks and the depression that surfaces so prominently and acutely. Plath fans will be satisfied with the two volumes. I felt as if I came away with an even more nuanced perspective of the young poet.

Evening in Paradise (More Stories) and A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin: Have you ever started a book loving it–feeling the author and her wild, imaginative style of writing–and then slowly feeling nothing but disgust for the author hiding behind the style that soon feels deliberate. Recently, I started (and couldn’t finish) The Chronology of Water, and it’s rare that you’ll find me judge the subject of a memoir, but Lidia Y.’s behavior was so reckless and repugnant without consideration of the wrecked lives she left in her wake–even after the passage of time. How do you drive and drive and then hit a pregnant woman, and, in writing about it years later still manage to make it about you? Every bold-faced writer adores Lidia Y. Her book’s being made into a film. She’s happy, tra la la, but the mark of a great memoir is the symphony between the work and how the work is presented. The structure and style fall apart in the middle of the book, and the character becomes increasingly abhorrent, having learned nothing. Having gained no perspective. She’s an alcoholic sex addict, but she’s suddenly cured by the right man and a baby. Delivering a neat and tidy ending. Um, ok.

Listen, I’m all about unlikeable characters–I write them–but they’re humanized and not subsumed by their own narcissism. I’m writing this long intro about a book I hated because I’d read a review that compared aspects of Lidia’s memoir to the late, great Lucia Berlin. Both women have written about addiction, sex, and bad decisions, but Berlin manages to create a work of art and grace and Lidia…well, she’s getting a movie deal I guess?

Anyway. Lucia Berlin’s books are astonishing on the level of Joan Didion and Didion fans know that is a bold statement. There’s something about Berlin’s smooth, cool style in the way that she recounts the tragedies and horrors of her life and translates them loosely into fictionalized stories. Both story collections spam Chile, the Bay Area, Mexico, New York, and the American Southwest with characters that are addicts, struggling mothers, bad Christians, and socialites. An alcoholic mother who gets the shakes at 7am practically crawls to the liquor store because her children have hidden her car keys will one day get sober. A woman drops everything in California and boards a plane for Mexico to care for her sister, her childhood nemesis, who’s dying of cancer. A cleaning woman discovers that her boss is dead and wonders who amongst his loved ones is the murderer. An American growing up in Chilean high society glimpses the revolution through the eyes of her rebellious teacher and is seduced by her father’s friend. Two small children go door-to-door with a scam game that feels a little Bernie Madoff and discovers the price of making money. A woman with a young boyfriend and small children ventures out for an overnight affair to come home and discover that one of her children had gone missing, state troopers were called, and the whole town is in a frenzy. The now-sober woman travels to meet up with a professor with whom she’s developed a relationship via correspondence and realizes the whole trip was an epic mistake.

To say that you feel like a voyeur peering into the raw and intimate lives of Berlin’s characters is an understatement. She manages to find humor in even the darkest moments and recount horrific decisions with style, grace, and perspective. You’ll love her stories because the landscape is rich and is its own character. Her voice guides you through the landscapes as you navigate the complexities of these women’s lives.

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This post includes affiliate links, which means I make some spare change if you buy any of these books. 

2 Comments

  1. Patty wrote:

    Felicia:
    As always, your book recs are spot-on! Thank you. I also am working through Plath’s letters, vol. 2. Like you, I’ve read most books about her and I’m enjoying seeing the new letters–as heartbreaking as some of them are–and the annotations. I also read “Lover of Unreason,” the bio about Assia Wevill. Wow. Have you read that? It’s also heartbreaking. I read both books in the last 2 months–such an insightful juxtaposition. Best to you in books, my friend…

    Posted on 3.17.19 · Reply to comment
    • admin wrote:

      Yes! That was SUCH a great book!!

      Posted on 3.18.19 · Reply to comment

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  • As you guys know, I am BIG on education. My goal for this year is to share as much education and free resources on freelancing, marketing, and writing as possible. I'm even switching email list providers (moving to ConvertKit) so I can send you better emails related to what you're interested in. Don't care about the brand stuff, but want to know more about writing? I GOT YOU. When I sell resources, I want them to be relatively affordable. So, I'm starting small with a MONSTER guide on freelancing. I originally thought this was going to be 100 pages. Well, it's 150+ pages with 40% of NEW content I'm writing RIGHT NOW. Templates, how-tos, personal stories, resources, and everything you need to know about getting started, getting clients, onboarding them, managing them, and dealing with them when they drive you bonkers. .

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So many people paint consultants, marketers, educators and course providers with a broad brush. Yes, there are hoards of incompetent hustlers. People who don't do what they teach. But there are those who are bright lights. And today I was reminded of that. 
There are good people out there and I can still be surprised by kindness.
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Inspired by one of my professional heroes, @byreginatv, I removed 2,000 people from my email list and it felt glorious. Don't be tethered to a vanity metric. If people aren't connecting with you, the numbers are meaningless. I'd rather have a smaller, engaged audience of people who are into my vibe and work than the ability to shout out a high subscriber count. #foodforproverbialthought.
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I’ve got new book recommendations up on my personal blog: http://www.feliciacsullivan.com if you want to devour some excellent reads.

Finally, aided by a new friend, I’m going to my first Quilt chat this week. The Wing isn’t my vibe and it’s can’t rationalize spending the money and Quilt is my scene. I’ll likely be chatting about this in my newsletter as I’m FINALLY in a place where I can network in a non-smarmy setting.
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Here’s to an excellent start to the week!
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  • This year is shaping up to be my best yet, and I’m happy to have made it out of the dark country. I’m writing work that means so much to me. I’m reading 2 books a week. I’m tackling challenging, but thrilling projects. I’m collaborating with brilliant, beautiful friends. And I’m calm, centered, and focused. It too a long while and a breakdown to get here, but I’m grateful for my small patchwork of a family who always checked in, hired me when I desperately needed it, and didn’t flee when things got tough. Sometimes you need to feel the weight of your sadness to unburden yourself of it. Here’s to yummy lunches and the best year yet!
  • Over the past two years, I’ve been toying with teaching. I’ve taught marketing to creatives at USC. I’ve taught creative writing in New York. I’ve mentored employees and friends. I love learning and sharing what I’ve learned, and forpeople I know and love I often do it for free. 
So, what’s stopped me? Honestly, the machine that’s become the online course industry irritates me. Webinars that waste time. Who wants to watch a 45-minute infomercial? Not me. Or how about the fake fan love and Instagram platforms that are transparently transactional? Courses that are a million dollars, taught by people who haven’t done the thing they’reteaching beyond their own privileged platform. And did I mention that everyone looks the same? The super stars are white, well educated, and bragging about their seven-figure incomes. 
I mean, COME ON. 
Listen. I’m half-white, privileged as fuck, well educated, but I definitely don’t make seven figures. And I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated with freelancers who call themselves brand strategists (aka, predators posing as house pets) making bank, yet they lack the experience, education, and discipline. But I’ve learned that complaining does nothing if you’re not creating, if you’re not putting out the thing you want to see in the world. I spent two months creating an 8-step tutorial on how to build a brand platform because I was tired of people not having access to education and opportunity because they couldn’t drop $1,500 on a brand-building course.

Then I thought about how I need to stop complaining about the shady machine that is the online course space and put out the education I want to see in the world, made accessible to people who don’t look like me or have the fancy-pants Ivy League degrees I have (which have driven me to paralyzing debt, but that’s a whole other bag of sad tricks). I’m planning two courses: one on getting into the freelancing game and another on building your brand and finding your customer. Interested? Sign up for my email list (link in bio), where I’ll keep everyone posted.
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  • You guys. I’m having an incredible fucking year. I’ve published tutorials, thought leadership and essays I’m proud of, I’m working with incredible clients who are breaking ranks, I’m partnering with brilliant people on projects, my pipeline is healthy, my mental health is getting back on track, and I’m reorganizing my business so I can run it more efficiently. Sometimes you have to applaud the wins, especially when they’ve been earned.
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Today, I had a day of interviews that culminated in a presentation to the executive team. After it ended, several people asked if I’d considered teaching because I just delivered a master class on brand strategy.
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