Who are you reading?

I love books – words in general, really. I come from a family of readers. Every summer – in the days before Kindles – my aunts and uncles and grandparents hauled big bags of books to trade at family gatherings. “What are you reading these days?” is a common topic of conversation.

I stopped reading for pleasure at some point in college – it wasn’t exactly a leisurely respite from the thousands of pages of required reading each semester. But after I finished grad school and settled into something like a rhythm of adult life, I found that I missed reading and rededicated myself to it. (Around this time, I also discovered Goodreads and was roundly horrified to see that I had read all of 2 books in 2011.)

I started setting annual reading goals and have been able to increase my reading time steadily each year for the past five years:

screenshot-2017-01-12-15-34-59

Yesterday, I was catching up with my friend Andrew who recently started a new personal reading challenge. We started chatting about what we’ve been reading, how we source recommendations, how we balance fiction and nonfiction texts. Then, Andrew pondered aloud something that I have often wondered myself: whose words am I reading? What’s the breakdown of male and female authors? Am I reading books by mostly White people, or also by Black, Hispanic, and Asian authors? We both suspected there were a lot of white male authors in the mix – particularly because we both read a lot of business books, which are overwhelmingly written by white men.

While I hope that Goodreads will someday allow me to analyze the authorship of my books as easily as the stats on page count or genre (stats from 2015 and 2016 above), I decided to run this analysis myself. Woof.

2014-2016 Analysis of Authors by Gender and Ethnicity

Between 2014 and 2016 I read 92 books. Here’s how those authors (or, in the case of essay anthologies, editors) broke down by gender:

2014-author2015-author-gender2016-author-gender

As you can see, I’m pretty consistently achieving gender parity across authors. I suspect that if I broke this down further, the majority of my nonfiction/business books would be authored by men, so I think that’s the area for improvement here. I would love to find more business books written by women. Right now, I think that list is limited to Sheryl Sandberg and Arianna Huffington.

And here’s the not-so-surprising yet majorly disconcerting breakdown of authors by ethnicity:

2014-author-ethn2015-author-ethn2016-author-ethn

I expected that the majority of these authors would be white, but this was jarring to see. Across 93 authors and editors of books that I’ve read in the past three years, 79 of them were white – nearly 85%. Only five books had Black or Hispanic authors: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2 books), Junot Diaz, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Toni Morrison.

This is startling to me because I have long held the assumption that I have been reading broadly, from a wide range of authors, genres, and perspectives. In reality, I’ve just been reading 50 shades of white.

Why does this matter? I love books and words because I believe they have power. I believe books have the power to challenge and shape our worldview, mold opinions, inspire ideas, and change perspectives. If my worldview, opinions, ideas, and perspectives are being narrated by white authors 85% of the time, they won’t be an accurate reflection of the country or the world. One of the joys and aims of reading for me is to change my thinking or learn something new; reading primarily white authors is more likely to validate my existing worldview and perspective than to challenge me to consider new ones.

This has been an eye-opening exercise for me and something I’ll be paying much closer attention to as I select books from now on. If you have recommendations of favorite books by Black or Hispanic authors, please share in the comments!

When you’re 30.

I was a terrible child. I don’t mean I behaved badly – I mean I was terrible at being a child. According to nearly everyone that had a hand in raising me, I have been X going on 30 since I could speak. I’ve got about 48 hours to go, so let’s recap the promises that were made and the glory that is about to rain down on my life on November 6, 2016.

yay30

30 has been a sort of magical age for me for as long as I can remember. Somehow, every adult in my life mutually agreed that this was the age when all my dreams would come true. “When you’re 30” everything you want to happen starts happening; everything you resent will go away. 30 was my happily-ever-after.

“When you’re 30, you can wear that.” This was a frequent promise that my mother made in fitting rooms at the Monmouth Mall. Halter tops, mini-skirts, anything with sequins or rhinestones, and definitely anything with cleavage: strictly off-limits. But man, was I going to be one hot 30-year-old in my mini-skirt and rhinestone halter top. (A brilliant strategy on her part, as my mother can now tell me I am too old for these garments.)

“When you’re 30, boys will like you.” As you can imagine, my restrictions on skin-bearing clothing and my old-soul mentality made me a really hot item in middle school. And high school. And college. And my 20s. But according to everyone I have ever complained to about my loveless life for the past 18 years, when I turn 30, some magic gates will open and hordes of handsome sophisticated men who love a sassy woman will be waiting for me.

“When you’re 30, you can date.” This former promise is so convenient, because just as men get hip to me being a total catch, I will officially be allowed to date! (Sorry Dad, I may have cheated on this one a little bit. But basically, fine, you told me so and I should have just listened and could have saved a lot of heartbreak and disappointment. Goddamn, my parents are prophetic.)

“When you’re 30, you’ll change your mind about not wanting kids.” Aw man, so sad to retire this one. I’m really going to miss the condescending tone of those who think they know my wants and needs and body better than I do.

“When you’re 30, it won’t matter.” Insert daily drama of middle/high school. It doesn’t.

“When you’re 30, you can tell me if you still think it’s cool to go to a concert with your Dad.” My father and I may have gone to see Celine Dion in concert at least 4 times. What? It was the 90s, and she was all the rage. I was about 9, so I my sarcasm-detection was not as finely honed as it is today, but I think my father may have been suggesting that by age 30 I would not think it was cool to hang out with him at a concert. And this may mark the only time in 30 years that my father has ever been so wrong, because to this day, there’s nothing I love better than listening to live music or catching a show with my Dad.

I wanted a lot from life at an early age. I wanted freedom (could I live in an apartment in the backyard?) and wild adventures and epic love (like Buffy and Angel). I wanted city life. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to swallow up every book I could get my hands on. I wanted good food – gourmet food. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted and wanted and wanted.

And now I’m 30. And I now have it: the life I always wanted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2014-2015 Goodreads Challenge

Towards the end of 2013, I rededicated myself to reading for fun. As a kid, I devoured books. We would go to the library bi-weekly and check-out stacks of books. I killed those Book-It Challenges (even though my mother rarely let us actually redeem those personal pizzas) In one summer alone, I read over 10,000 pages.

In high school, I had a lot more reading to do for school and stopped reading as much for fun. Same for college – especially as a liberal arts student. Each year, I read fewer books just for fun. After college, I wasn’t exactly swimming in free time as a full-time teacher and Master’s student. I read between 5-15 books per year – a far cry from my childhood records. I missed it, wistfully roaming the aisles of bookstores.

I’m not sure what course of events reignited my passion for reading, but I recommitted to it, and my reading has happily and steadily increased over the past few years:

Screenshot 2016-01-01 09.50.16

Since the past two years were great reading years for me, I thought I’d summarize my reading lists and highlight my favorites. For my full list, check out my bookshelf or follow me on Goodreads.

Top 5 books of 2015 (out of 31):

  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony DoerrScreenshot 2016-01-01 09.58.52
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
  • The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

Top 5 books of 2014 (out of 25):

  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieScreenshot 2016-01-01 09.58.32
  • Zero to One by Peter Thiel
  • Dataclysm by Christian Rudder
  • The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
  • The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

 

 

 

Challenge: A Month of Gratitude

Last month, I was stumped on Spirit goals for June, so I crowdsourced some ideas. Justin Kownacki suggested the exercise of writing down three things I felt grateful for at the end of every day. This fit nicely with my goal to journal daily in DayOne, so I accepted the challenge.

gratitude

I had low expectations. I had heard that this type of ritual can help increase your general happiness and blah blah blah. I was mostly looking for a way to document small memories of this important time in my life… to remember “how it felt to me,” as Joan Didion perfectly describes the benefit of writing things down in one of my all time favorite essays, On Keeping a Notebook (emphasis mine):

So the point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking. That would be a different impulse entirely, an instinct for reality which I sometimes envy but do not possess. At no point have I ever been able successfully to keep a diary; my approach to daily life ranges from the grossly negligent to the merely absent, and on those few occasions when I have tried dutifully to record a day’s events, boredom has so overcome me that the results are mysterious at best.

I accepted Justin’s challenge, and I must say, I am rather shocked by the results. As the month went on, I found that my habits of mind noticeably shifted: I became aware of my gratitude in the moment. I started thinking, “I’m feeling so grateful to have this right now – this will be one of my three things today!” This was a revelation. I am not a live-in-the-moment kind of person. I am a futurist to the core, and usually thinking, mulling, planning for the hours, days, months, years to come. Feeling grateful in the moment was new to me, and at the risk of being redundant, I’m grateful for it.

I also noticed that most of the things that immediately came to mind at the end of each day were rather, well, small: a bite of fresh food, a chat with a friend, a good laugh – hardly none of the seemingly epic milestones that constantly stress me out made the list. Another seismic mental shift: The small things are the big things. 

I’m so pleased with this challenge that I’ve decided to continue it, logging at least one moment of gratitude each day. And, I had so much fun with it, that I welcome NEW Life Olympics challenges for July!

My 90 moments of gratitude from June:

I’m grateful for…

  1. Lunch with Ted
  2. My new standing desk
  3. My new bag
  4. Small problems
  5. The Sangria Series
  6. Nerd lunch with Robbie
  7. Jen
  8. Knowing so many insanely talented and creative people
  9. Under-promising and over-delivering
  10. Girlfriends
  11. Cream puffs
  12. My health
  13. Friends who take me to the theatre
  14. Aguachile
  15. Celia
  16. New office chairs
  17. Summer naps
  18. Having Mom back home
  19. The farmers market
  20. Ripe blackberries
  21. A new lamp
  22. My grill
  23. My amazing team
  24. Form D filing done!
  25. People who get it
  26. Katie
  27. Paige
  28. Great press headlines
  29. Investors who believe in me
  30. Privacy options on Facebook
  31. Bossy ladies
  32. New friends who skip the small talk
  33. Ignite talks
  34. Strategic partners
  35. Inbound sales
  36. Custom Slack icons
  37. Being able to afford a new roof
  38. Friends who inspire me to get in better shape
  39. Bikram Yoga Baltimore
  40. In season cherries
  41. Mango sticky rice
  42. Sore muscles
  43. Bourbon
  44. Honesty
  45. Good neighbors
  46. Bursts of creativity that feel like magic
  47. Moments of silliness
  48. Froyo on a hot humid day
  49. Kelly
  50. True professionals
  51. Cadbury caramellos
  52. Visits from faraway friends
  53. Women who support other women
  54. Productive meetings
  55. Dinner with Dad
  56. Memories of Pop
  57. Long drives with good views
  58. Picnics
  59. Crystal
  60. Family traditions
  61. My relationship with my father
  62. Poolside yoga
  63. Small favors
  64. Perspective
  65. Welcome home cuddles
  66. Fast friends
  67. A fresh notebook
  68. Erlinda
  69. The sleepy feeling after a full day
  70. Dunkin Donuts iced coffee
  71. A successful first webinar
  72. Laughs that make me cry
  73. A team that always raises the bar
  74. Working with people I love
  75. Scott’s questions
  76. Whiteboard sessions
  77. Team happy hours
  78. Friday night sleeps
  79. Finding new music I love
  80. Lazy Saturdays
  81. Food Delivery
  82. Berry season
  83. Fresh tomatoes
  84. Shopping trips with Mom
  85. Opportunities to help friends
  86. Partners who fill in the blanks
  87. Serendipity
  88. Work session with Steve
  89. Rendezvous and hugs at the train station
  90. A sense of humor

Women: Damned If You Do or Don’t

Lean in… but not so far that you become out of touch. That seems to be the critical response to Sheryl Sandberg’s new mantra to career women everywhere. Maureen Dowd’s op-ed in the New York Times this week, “Pompom Girl for Feminism” says:

“Noting that her Facebook page for “Lean In” looks more like an ego wall with “deep thoughts,” critics argue that her unique perch as a mogul with the world’s best husband to boot makes her tone-deaf to the problems average women face as they struggle to make ends meet in a rough economy, while taking care of kids, aging parents and housework.”

Elsewhere in the NYT this week, in “A Titan’s How-To On Breaking Glass Ceilings” Jodi Kantor writes: “Even her advisers acknowledge the awkwardness of a woman with double Harvard degrees, dual stock riches (from Facebook and Google, where she also worked), a 9,000-square-foot house and a small army of household help urging less fortunate women to look inward and work harder.”

For crying out loud. It’s not as though she skipped to the end of a rainbow and found a pot of Harvard MBAs and Google stock certificates. Sandberg isn’t an heiress to her wealth. She has earned everything she’s got – isn’t she exactly the kind of woman whose advice you should take?

At precisely what point in your career are you successful enough to have influence en masse, but not so successful that you have become out of touch with the everywoman? Sure, Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg “have it all” – including help, a luxury afforded by their self-made success, which ironically seems to strip them of their right to talk about being working women. Never mind the 15 years of their careers that led up to their C-suite positions – now they have stock options and huge salaries, so what do they know? 

“While she may empathize, does she really know what it is like for the single mom with a disabled child who has no choice but to work to put food on the table?” one commenter asks. If said-single-mom, by her own grit and brilliance, should find herself elevated to the sort of international soap-box necessary for a widespread audience and influence, it’s more than likely that her meteoric rise would be accompanied by the sort of paycheck that eliminates these economic burdens. Is she now forbidden to speak of her former struggles? On the path to success, does the arrival delegitimize the journey?

People seem to have forgotten that Sandberg and Mayer didn’t simply roll out of bed one morning and land in a giant pile of money. They both obtained bachelor’s and graduate degrees from top-notch schools (Harvard and Stanford), which means they have likely been busting their asses since grade school. And while Sandberg now has the luxury of leaving the office at 5:30, she undoubtedly pulled some all nighters earlier in her educational and professional career. Mayer has been famously noted for sleeping under her desk at Google and pulling 130 hour work weeks. (Side note: when I searched for that article to link, “Marissa Mayer, sleep_” auto-completed with “sleep her way to the top.”)

“Sandberg describes taking her kids to a business conference last year and realizing en route that her daughter had head lice. But the good news was that she was on the private eBay jet,” quips Dowd. Frankly, being trapped in an airtight space with a lice infestation seems like a nightmare, regardless of who owns the plane/train/automobile. Is the eBay jet equipped with professional delousers and a supply of RID and fine-toothed metal combs? Otherwise, it’s irrelevant, because all the Veuve Clicquot in the world couldn’t defeat those little demons. In another light, this might be seen as an example of how wealth and success do not immunize her to the common trials of motherhood, but instead, Dowd highlights her luxe mode of transportation. So what? She got an extra bag of peanuts while digging bugs out of her kid’s hair? Fancy.

Billionaire men throw money at cars, planes, yachts, hotels, casinos, and other obscure material luxuries, and people want to point fingers at Mayer for having a nanny? And Sandberg for having a cooperative husband? Does Jack Dorsey have a cleaning staff? Probably, but no one’s writing articles about how out of touch he is from middle-class bachelors everywhere.

Angela Benton wonders why more female founders are not accepting positions in the NewMe accelerator. Possibly, the sort of under-the-microscope analysis of “work-life balance” that accompanies female success gives women reason for pause.

Whether you marry or don’t, whether you have children or don’t, whether you hire a nanny or don’t, whether you breastfeed or don’t, whether you stay home or don’t, whether you have an “easy” baby or don’t, whether you speak up or don’t, whether you “lean in” or don’t, one thing’s for sure: you’re damned if you do or you don’t.