Tag Archives: knopf

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

image1 (19)Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler follows Tess, a 22-year-old white woman who flees her old life in favor of starting afresh in New York City and “discovering” herself. Within days of arriving in the city, she lands a job at a very in demand restaurant in Manhattan, despite only having barista experience in whatever town she was in before. The book is all about the whirlwind, yet very contained life this job lands her in.

The lead character, Tess, perpetually whines and wants people to take her seriously as a “real person”, fitting the stereotype of many people I met at this age in NYC. While Tess’s own actions are annoying, you’re not met to necessarily be rooting for her — she moves to New York to be a more exciting person than she used to be, but she spends all of her time working in a restaurant without exploring the city or her own interests while living in the city. Tess throws herself into the restaurant world, with all of the learning about fine dining and the hooking up and the drugs and alcohol that follow restaurant workers into the early hours of the morning. 

The story is mostly about a young woman who immediately gets usurped into a specific restaurant’s world and the strange rules and practices of those who have been at the restaurant for years and view it as the center of the universe. These characters are pretentious and I found the story absolutely delectable. I’m looking forward to watching the TV adaptation soon.

Publication Date: 24 May 2016 by KnopfFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Stephanie Danler web/@instagram/@twitter

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Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies of a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

image1 (19)Bad Blood by John Carreyrou takes the reader through the incredibly wild journey and demolition of startup company Theranos. Carreyrou writes about this scandal in a way that is utterly captivating. I could not stop talking about this book while I was reading it and hated having to put it down when life got in the way. 

Theranos, a startup company founded by Elizabeth Holmes, claimed to be initially building the capability to do and eventually claiming ability to use a single pinprick of blood to do a variety of health tests that would actually require much more blood to do accurately. However, because Theranos amassed a board of impressive, seemingly trustworthy individuals, many who were skeptical chose to let their questions and disbelief slides. The problem? Not many got close enough to see what a huge scam the foundation of the company was based upon. What happened? Theranos was able to con investors and partnered companies out of hundreds of millions of dollars by promising a technology that could not and would not be developed by the company. 

When scientists and Theranos employees raised red flags internally, they were strongly suggested to leave the company and forced to sign nondisclosure agreements that made many former employees terrified of speaking about the going ons of Theranos. When employees did speak out, the CEO, Holmes, threatened them with (and sometimes served them with) lawsuits.

Carreyrou, the investigative journalist at the Wall Street Journal who broke the first stories about Theranos being a scam, writes a full book about everything leading up to Theranos becoming the big company that it was, the terror and lies that were occurring within the company, and the beginnings of the unspooling of the company once it was publicly declared to be terrible. Every few pages my jaw dropped with new details that emerged that contributed to the creation and ultimate downfall of this company. This is a nonfiction page turner that you will not want to put down. 

Publication Date: 21 May 2018 by Knopf PublishingFormat: Hardcover.

Author: John Carreryrou @twitter

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Screen Shot 2018-09-19 at 8.00.09 PMI snatched up Wild at a resell shop after loving every word of Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, a compilation of bits of her advice column for Dear Sugar. I love the way that Strayed weaves a sentence and a feeling, so I knew that I would probably greatly enjoy her famous memoir about a very specific period of her life.

At 26, Strayed is newly divorced, reeling and grieving from the sudden death of her mother a few years ago, and feeling unattached to anything in the world. She sets forth to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT as it more regularly called, alone and entirely unprepared. What follows are her musings of her life up until 26 and all of the moving pieces that came together for her to feel compelled to tackle an incredibly difficult hike, despite lacking any hiking experience or training. Strayed felt like she had mountains to climb, both physical and mental, and that she needed to be alone to do it.

I found Wild to be entirely captivating, as I read through someone recounting the mistakes they made, acknowledging the harm they caused others, and descriptions of wading through grief. All by happenstance of when I stumbled upon this book, I ended up taking Wild to four different state parks in California which felt perfect and majestic and left me thinking that maybe I, too, could trek across the PCT. (Spoiler: I can’t and I won’t because Strayed is extremely lucky nothing very terrible happened to her on her hike; and because I quite enjoyed driving to the parks, getting lost in nature for a few hours, then piling back into a car and driving back to my quiet, air conditioning lodging).

Beyond inciting a need to place myself into nature, Wild moved me in other ways. Every time I read a piece from Strayed about losing her mother (see here for a post I share nearly every Mother’s Day), I feel suddenly seen, in a way that is striking and comfortable simultaneously. These were the parts of her memoir that bubbled within my chest for several days at a time. I loved reading about Strayed’s journey and all of the messy bits along the way. I hope to keep reading her words for years to come.

Publication Date: 20 March 2012 by KnopfFormat: Paperback.

Author: Cheryl Strayed web/twitter/instagram/facebook

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

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)