Tag Archives: knopf

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

leaninAfter learning that I would be dashing to Silicon Valley for the summer, I snatched up Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (and co-writer Nell Scovell) to get a taste of her experience being one of the most powerful people at one of the most powerful companies in the area (she’s the Chief Operation Officer at Facebook).

Lean In is a slight combination of memoir, self help, and description of Silicon Valley. The parts I enjoyed most about the book revolved around Sandberg’s weaving in research findings about the workplace with real anecdotes. As a woman currently in tech, who often doubts herself (hello imposter syndrome, my old friend), reading about these studies were empowering. Many of the studies showed how women repeatedly disadvantage themselves by their mistaken beliefs about their own contributions (aka not believing that your contributions are worthy of a seat at the table) and their colleague’s incorrect beliefs (based on stigma, bias, etc.).

While I did enjoy most of the book, there were some caveats, most of which Sandberg highlights herself. A lot of her advice is specific to women who are 1)  partnered to supportive humans who empower them and share household responsibilities, 2) make an amount of money at their occupations that exceeds the costs of childcare, and 3) are well educated. This book is rooted in an ideology of “this is how I did it and you can too!” which is fundamentally false for many women who are or have been in the “workforce.” While Sandberg easily ties her success to her individual situation, that situation does not apply to everyone and there are many ways to get to a similar position to Sandberg’s other than her exact path described within the book.

All in all, I learned a bit, felt empowered, and wanted to send a hearty thanks to all of the powerful women in my life who have lifted me up in so many ways, all whilst encouraging me to do the same one day. That said, I was very much the target audience for a book like this and I could imagine it not being received as well by other readers.

Publication Date: 11 March 2013 by KnopfFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Sheryl Sandberg Lean In Organization/facebook/instagram

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Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

image1 (1)For the first 40 pages or so of this novel, I found myself laughing often and thinking “I love this book!” but once I moved deeper into Dear Committee Members, it became increasing redundant. The book is written as a series of letters of recommendation from a tenured professor, sitting in an English department that has lost most of its funding and slowly losing support for most of its students. All of the faculty seem on the cusp of fleeing or trying to seize power. The narrator’s letters are centered around fellow faculty, previous and current students, and other academic staffers, with whom the letter writer has had romantic entanglements that are described with many details in his letters.

This book will probably only be appealing to graduate students and those who work in university systems as it lampoons many of the archaic and slightly toxic rituals and norms within academia. The jokes that made me laugh the most were strongly tied back to academia insider woes, so I don’t think this one-note book will be worth it to those outside of this strange world.

Additionally, the book includes a rather jarring suicide toward the end of the book, which the reader will likely be unprepared for since they’re only reading things from the narrator’s letters of recommendations who is also caught off guard by one of the characters dying by suicide. I did not like the inclusion of this plot point and think it could have been treated more delicately if the author thought it was essential to include.

Overall, I liked this book for 40 pages, then wished it was over, and strongly felt that the ending was unnecessary. Dear Committee Members and the world it represents further contributed to my very messy feelings about academia as a current graduate student and perhaps will be a source of solace for others in this world.

Publiation Date: 19 August 2014 by DoubledayFormat: Paperback.

Author: Julie Schumacher web

Chemistry by Weike Wang

image1 (4)As someone currently stumbling through a PhD program, I was delighted to read a book about a character tripping, falling, and removing themselves from similar circumstances. PhD programs are super weird and demanding in different ways that are hard to explain to people who haven’t pursued one so I gobble up opportunities to hear about experiences, even fictional, navigating the strange world of PhDs. 

Chemistry by Weike Wang is almost like a diary/stream of consciousness of the main, unnamed character. She’s in a Chemistry PhD program, which are known to be notoriously demanding because of time required to be physically present in a lab to run experiments, and she’s completely flailing. Some of the “chapters” are simply written with thoughts that sometimes seem half-formed, as if they are the real thoughts of someone who is feeling quite a bit lost and not sure of where to turn next. 

The main character has Chinese parents who are no longer in the U.S. and their extreme expectations for the main character highlight her struggle between the “American dream” and her parents’ evaluation of what it means to succeed in America. This is juxtaposed with her white, American boyfriend’s comparatively easy experience of success because he isn’t simultaneously struggling to barely meet his parents’ expectations of all of the things they perceive he should also be accomplishing.  Most of the struggle in this book is related to the main character’s  parents’ expectations and demands not aligning with what would ultimately help her reach personal and professional happiness and the juxtaposition of the ease of her boyfriend to excel through the same program. 

Some readers may wish that this had more depth, but I enjoyed the brevity! There are some beautiful little bits (the deer metaphor was my favorite!) that are sandwiched in here that would be easy to miss if you were speed reading. I suspect that enjoyment of this book might be limited to those familiar with PhD programs or those interested in the family dynamics. If either of those sound like stories you want to read, scoop this up!

Publication Date: 23 May 2017 by Knopf PublishingFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Weike Wang bio

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Screen Shot 2017-06-19 at 12.09.13 PMThis was good and I’ve yet to read something by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that I haven’t been impressed by or hasn’t provoked me into thinking about something slightly differently than I did before. This thin, little book is composed as a letter to a friend who was seeking advice on how to raise her daughter as a feminist. Adichie offers 15 suggestions, specifically linking them to Nigerian, Igbo, and western cultures, but even these specific examples are still universal. Adichie admits that these tenants may be hard to accomplish, but we must strive to embody them to create feminists in our children and in ourselves.

A few choice quotes are below:

“Be deliberate about showing her the enduring beauty and resiliences of Africans and of black people. Why? Because of the power dynamics in the world, she will grow up seeing images of white beauty, white ability, and white achievement, no matter where she is in the world. It will be in the TV shows she watches, in the popular culture she consumes, in the books she reads. She will also probably grow up seeing many negative images of blackness and of Africans.” (p. 40)

“We ask of powerful women: Is she humble? Does she smile? Is she grateful enough? Does she have a domestic side? Question we do not ask of powerful men, which shows that our discomfort is not with power itself, but with women.” (p. 24)

“If we stopped conditioning women to see marriage as a prize, then we would have fewer debates about a wife needing to cook in order to earn that prize.” (p. 15)

“Don’t think that raising her feminist means forcing her to reject femininity.” (p. 43)

“Social norms are created by human beings, and there is no social norm that cannot be changed.” (p. 51)

the circle by dave eggers

thecircleThis was my first ever Dave Eggers read and I regret it being the first that dove into. My partner loved A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which is the memoir and debut of Eggers, and I’m not sure why I didn’t choose to read that book first. While I’ve heard great things about the writing style of Eggers, likely stemming from reflections on his memoir, I wasn’t impressed with The Circle

I’ve read quite a few futuristic novels that take place in technology over saturated worlds and I was beginning to think I was simply burned out on reading more renditions of the same story (spoiler alert: I was proved wrong when I recently read and LOVED Ready Player One by Ernest Cline; review coming soon!). The Circle‘s spin features a technology and digital company that is very similar to a blend of  Google and Apple, which allows the reader to envision that the world Eggers has created could actually exist if some things about our current world changed. The reader is introduced to the world through Mae, a young college graduate, who joins The Circle thanks to being recommended for a job by her college best friend. The Circle, as a company and not as the title of the book, is comprised of a leading search engine, a social media platform, and a leading technology innovation team.

During Mae’s time at The Circle, she can be a bit boring boring at times, even as her actions advance herself through the company’s ranks. Mae’s boringness is perhaps intentional so that she can be easily molded and manipulated by other characters in the book to advance the plot, but ultimately left me feeling put off and like Mae was a cog in the machine without any agency. Mae’s trust of The Circle is balanced by her parents and her ex-boyfriend who are very critical of how The Circle is completely overtaking the society that they live in; they seem to represent the views that Eggers himself perhaps holds about society’s relationship with technology. Because of this, the whole novel felt like a condemnation of our reliance on technology. The easy condemnation seemed lazy and more like a writing exercise than a full fledged novel. That said, I’m looking forward to reading some of his nonfiction in the future.

While I was listening to the audiobook of this novel, it was announced that Emma Watson would be starring in the movie version of the book. I can’t really envision how this will be adapted to the big screen, but I look forward to mindlessly watching it on an airplane sometime in the future.

Have you read any Dave Eggers works? Do you think his nonfiction pieces are superior to his fictional novels? Let me know in the comments!

Publication Date: 8 October 2013 by McSweeney’s and Knopf. Format: Digital Audiobook from Random House Audio.

Author: Dave Eggers Publisher Page

Narrator: Dion Graham IMDB