Monday, February 25, 2019

Hustle & Float (Rahaf Harfoush)

We live in a world where the 5 AM emailer, the work warrior, and the “always on” manager get celebrated. While there are individuals who can pull that off and not feel any signs of burnout, most of us have struggled with the work version of “Keeping up with the Joneses’” on more than one occasion. If you belong to the “gig economy” or the creative space of work and have struggled with work stress and balance, Rahaf Harfoush's Hustle & Float may be the book you are looking for to help you in your career journey.

I appreciated the author’s candor in sharing her personal struggle with achieving her own sense of balance. The struggle for many of us, whether in the gig economy or not, is real given we feel the need to be on even when we’re scheduled to be off. For those who aren’t regular 9-5 types and work in the freelance world, that switch sometimes can be on way more than it needs to be. Harfoush shares what she decided to do as a counter to those external forces that push the seemingly endless drive to work hard.

If this were solely a book about balancing work and life and the world’s struggle to navigate through that minefield, Harfoush makes some good points. A chunk of the book successfully advocates for you doing it your way: living the night owl life or taking naps throughout the day to recharge. However, the author spends over 150 pages (far too long) discussing how we got to where we are with the concept of work. While historical context is important, brevity can be a real asset. Second, the author delves into political aspects. This "policy point" approach feels disjointed and out of place with the main idea of focusing on creative workers.

Hustle & Float hustles hard to promote valid ideas, but floats too far from focusing on its main target. I really wanted to like it more, but the struggle for coherence and brevity takes this book away from what should be a stronger set of ideas for the modern worker to find balance in a busy world.


Friday, February 22, 2019

The Printed Letter Bookshop (Katherine Reay)

In June 2017, I reviewed Veronica Henry's endearing How to Find Love in a Bookshop. My exact words at the end of the review stated that this book "is the novel that people need right now...period." It's no surprise to me that "bookshop" books are practically their own genre now. People long for an escape from negativity and derision to a place where the characters are like long-lost friends and there aren't really a whole lot of surprises. That, in a nutshell, is a bookshop book.

Katherine Reay's The Printed Letter Bookshop is all that and more, with three women brought together by circumstance and changed forever. Madeline is a young lawyer, and yes, she is making a lot of money but has all the stress that comes with it. When her aunt passes away, she leaves everything to Madeline, including the beloved bookshop that she owns. Madeline gives up her high-powered lifestyle and meets Claire and Janet, two women who work at the bookshop but who are far more than employees. Along the way, she finds what she has been missing all along -- love, as well as a sense of purpose.

I especially enjoyed that the reader sees many events from all three perspectives. While I didn't think the characters were as well developed as they could have been, I still devoured The Printed Letter Bookshop. Want to feel better after a bad day? Brew up a cup of tea, cozy up under your softest blanket, and read a bookshop book!


* I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Empty Planet (Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson)

The United Nations estimates that the world could have around 11 billion inhabitants by the year 2100, an increase of over three billion from our current tally. In Empty Planet, authors Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson argue a much lower peak in population and predict a decline in the world’s population occurring sooner rather than later.

In a globetrotting book that takes readers from Africa to America to Asia to Atlantic Canada, the authors argue that those who reside in greater numbers in cities often yield fewer children compared to those who live in rural areas. Add to our increasing urbanization a better educated and more affluent world (two other factors that often yield fewer children per family), and the authors theorize that our world will likely not reach the aggressive population predictions that the UN has pegged for the coming decades.

According to Bricker and Ibbitson, such a scenario offers several distinct positives and risks for various parts of the world. The book breezily brushes through some potential impacts without delivering any distinct predictions, simply listing a few scenarios that could come to pass over the next hundred or so years in areas ranging from the climate to military to food.

The theory the authors put forth is certainly interesting and has factual backing. However, adding “what may happen if” scenarios without any substantive discussion or simply breezing through a few scenarios hurt what is a relatively interesting demographic book.


Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Writer's Map (Huw Lewis-Jones)

The power of maps and places has captivated us for centuries. From Ptolemy’s ancient work Geographia to the realm of fantasy and science fiction, we not only need to see where we are in the real world but also see where an author takes us in a fantasy domain. Huw Lewis-Jones edited a collection of short essays into The Writer’s Map, a large book that takes readers on a journey through Narnia, Medieval Europe, and everywhere in between.

Lewis-Jones collects short essays from over a dozen authors and illustrators to discuss the magic of maps, the importance they play in shaping a story, and how they themselves were captivated by the role maps played in literature as they grew up. Each essay tackles the connection differently, but all center around the common theme that maps are critical, necessary tools in storytelling.

Full of wonderful illustrations and reproductions of maps through history, The Writer’s Map is well worth the time of anyone who enjoys geography and literature.


Friday, February 8, 2019

Circe (Madeline Miller)

Before I read Madeline Miller, I had about as much interest in mythology as I did in sweet potatoes -- that is, none. Last year, a friend of mine told me that I simply "must" read Miller's Orange Prize-winning The Song of Achilles, so reluctantly, I did. I have to say I was shocked by how much I liked it, and most of that is because of Miller's writing style. You can obviously tell she is passionate about this field (and her impressive credentials show this), and she makes what could be a jarring topic totally accessible to her readers. While I did not like Circe quite as much as The Song of Achilles, I still appreciate what this author does very much.

Circe is the goddess daughter of Helios, and let's just say, she is completely misunderstood by her family. She uses her witch powers in a way that is not allowed by Zeus, and so is banished to a deserted island. Everyone thinks this is a punishment, but they don't quite know Circe. Legends and monsters of mythology come in and out of her immortal life: Athena, Odysseus, Hermes, Scylla, the Minotaur, and the like. Miller provides a thorough glossary at the end for those of us who are less than knowledgable on this topic.

Circe is unputdownable until she gets to her island, and then for me, it gets quite dry. But that should certainly not take away from Miller's prowess in making mythology something that everyone can relate to. For who among us hasn't felt like an outsider at some point in our lives?


Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Presidents of War (Michael Beschloss)

In case you forgot your Constitutional history, the power to officially declare war resides within Congress. In Presidents of War, author Michael Beschloss has chronicled the history of war and the US Presidency. This book focuses on the increasing source of power within the Presidency to execute war (or actions of war) while Congress has steadily become less and less engaged over the course of American history.

Beschloss starts with the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair, which occurred in 1807, and featured Thomas Jefferson’s reaction as a precursor to the first declared war since independence in the War of 1812. The two events set the stage for a gradual evolution in the power of the Presidency from merely executing war upon approval of Congress to actively engaging in it as we did in Vietnam, even without the official declaration. All throughout the book, the reader will see the evolution of power...and the conniving, scheming and occasional dishonesty and civil liberties infringements that went along for the ride. Beschloss relates that one can appreciate the thought that if the Founding Fathers were to appear today they’d be surprised at how far the Presidency has come in its scope of power.

This is a very sound, well-researched book that shows the story of leadership and human nature through the eyes of several Presidents and their supporting cast. It is essential reading, regardless of which party or whoever is in the office.