The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss (Review)

The 4 Hour Workweek$1,000,000 in the bank isn’t the fantasy. The fantasy is the lifestyle of complete freedom it supposedly allows.
Timothy Ferriss

I’m not going to lie, Mr. Ferriss is kind of a smart-ass. However, he knew what he was doing when he wrote The 4-Hour Workweek. I mean the subtitle alone is enough to get you to pick up the book (“Escape 9-5, live anywhere, and join the new rich”). It just makes you curious even though I got some clear (and correct) signals near the beginning that this is a book oriented more toward young folks burning out on time- and energy-intensive corporate jobs.

What I liked most about The 4-Hour Workweek was almost all within the first hundred pages of reading. Not that I didn’t like the rest of the book, but it felt less relevant when it got into the nitty-gritty of planning your escape route from corporate drudgery. The first few chapters are all about visioning and thinking big (as well as alternatively) about your work life. Basically Ferriss is telling us to be creative about our thinking on what is “necessary” to succeed and do a good job at your work. And he helps with an important mind shift away from thinking about the money you make and more toward maintaining an adequate amount of money that you then use along with your biggest resource, time, to make the most of your life.

However, while I liked his framing, and Ferriss definitely seems quite happy with his “4-Hour Workweek”, I can’t help but wonder how the folks who have to work with him feel. I mean, here’s someone who refuses to have meetings (yep, pretty much at all), answers phone calls with emails, and only checks email once a week. If I had to work with him that would drive me crazy. As would the fact that I’d always be dealing with his horde of virtual assistants based halfway around the world who he pays to do his work, rather than Ferriss himself.

I can’t really see many of his specific suggestions being anything I would want to implement in my own work life, and something about the attitude of using non-Western countries as platforms for “mini-retirements” and off-shoring personal work left me a bit sour — I’m sure Ferriss spends very little time thinking about privilege and what it means to have even a basic income and an American passport. His idea of “hitting rock bottom” means that you could always take out a second mortgage on the house you own or cash out some retirement savings, but a lot of people are nowhere near that high when they hit their bottom.

Basically he gets positive points for creativity and minus points for self-centeredness. But if you’re approaching it for a few productivity tips or a visioning framework it’s a worthwhile read.

3Stars23/5 STARS

Why I Can Only Read So Many Slavery Narratives

slave shackles

National Museum of American History via Flickr

I read Kindred a few months ago and had a hard time functioning normally for a couple of days afterward. The book followed Dana, a black woman from the late 1900s who is involuntarily drawn back to time travel onto an American slave plantation. On the plantation she experiences or witnesses all manner of indignities and injustice – she must contort her spirit to a back-breaking system to stay alive.

I had a similarly strong reaction reading An Untamed State, which, while not about slavery in the 1800s sense, was about modern day sex slavery of a woman kidnapped in Haiti.

Many people have recommend to me A Known World by Edward P. Jones, which does look like a fantastic book and I happen to own it now, but at the same time I’m finding myself reluctant to actually pick it up and read it. Why? Because, the setting of the novel is slavery, and sometimes I just don’t feel up to the emotional toll of reading another book about slaves.

When I was a kid, I lived in a city of very few black people. Most folks were white, some were Asian or Latino, and just a couple were black. I remember in class when we’d talk about slavery and all of the kids would turn to look at me, to see… I don’t even know what they wanted to see, maybe how I was handling it or to try and imagine what it would have been like if I were a slave. The word “slave” was thrown around on the playground as a joke to any other kid, regardless of color. I’m going to make you my slave! The point is, as a young person it was pretty traumatizing to talk about slavery, which meant that I didn’t really decide to think about it or process my thoughts about slavery until I was much older.

As I grew up I came to think about slavery in the Ta-Nehisi Coates sense, of how this one period of intense oppression, of physical and mental hurt has lead to systemic poverty and perpetual criminalization and marginalization of black bodies. Books and movies like Kindred reminded me of the intense servility and subservience that slavery forced upon African Americans. While we’ve now had decades of black pride and racial justice movements to try and recoup some of what we lost, during the time of slavery’s peak and Jim Crow you didn’t have a choice – you had to be obedient and obsequious to whites. Living in Oakland, with the strong history of the Black Panthers grounding my feet, this past is sometimes hard to reconcile with. Quite simply, sometimes, I just don’t want to visualize that subservience.

It’s not that I want to ignore my history or that I don’t think slavery narratives should exist. To the contrary, they are ABSOLUTELY important and I firmly believe in studying the history of oppressed communities. White people in particular need to understand slavery and the legacies it wrought. But for myself as a black woman, there is a point where I’m not sure what more I get out of slavery media. Do I need to see a man getting whipped naked in front of his children one more time? To read about another black woman being raped by her white master? When these scenes and moments are literally a part of my family tree, at what point do I get to look away for a moment to catch my breath? There are times when I just need a little space before I’m ready to go through the trauma of re-visualizing my ancestry. Never ever to forget, only to keep moving.

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich (Review)

Love MedicineMy first introduction to Louise Erdrich was through her novel The Round House, which garnered a fair amount of critical acclaim, and which I think someone recommended to me. My second discovery of her was through Plague of Doves, which I read for a book club where everyone HATED it and I couldn’t have had a more opposite view. Recently I decided to read Love Medicine, giving myself a third dose of Erdrich.

What I love most about her books is her prose and story structure. She writes these sentences that come out like poetry sometimes — simple, but clear and metaphorical. As for her structure, Erdrich tends to write from multiple points of view throughout her work, invoking many voices of a single family or tribe to describe intertwined events and relationships. The only downside of that approach is getting a little confused between all the characters. I made liberal use of the family tree that she provides in the beginning of Love Medicine to figure out who was connected to who else and how. (A warning that the rest of the post contains some spoilers):

Love Medicine family tree

Several of the stories that Erdrich tells through Love Medicine called to me, but one particularly skillful section was her description of Marie Lazarre’s childhood. Marie temporarily joins a convent, and encounters a terrifying, yet magnetic mentor who changes how she views herself and the church forever. She later develops into somewhat of a matriarch of the Kashpaw clan on the Chippewa reservation, and Erdrich describes a fascinating relationship between her and Lulu Lamartine, another powerful female figure on the reservation who is involved at times with Marie’s husband.

Throughout the novel weaves the character of June Morrissey, who passes away in the first few pages of the work. We see her character expanded and nuanced through the eyes of those who loved and fought with her. Using June’s story to shape the rest of the work is another example of how well Erdrich is tapped into structure and metaphor.

The way that Erdrich dealt with gender was also interesting to me, as the Chippewa women in her work were in some ways bound to similar stereotypes as other women — seen as the ones to cook and clean, subject to being cheated on by men, etc. However, the strong matriarchal perspective complicated those truths with others, and reminded me of matriarchal strength in other cultures, as in many black families for instance.

So, while the threads of the different characters were challenging to keep track of at times, I’m glad to have read and enjoyed another of Erdrich’s works. I also want to push myself to read other Native American authors, and not rely on the voice of a single woman from one particular tribe as THE perspective on American Indian culture, as we are want to do at times. I look forward to expanding my horizons along those lines.

4Stars24/5 STARS

Novel Writing as a Woman of Color: My Inspirations for NaNoWriMo 2014

Shield-Nano-Side-Blue-Brown-RGB-HiRes

This month I embarked on a journey that I’ve set out upon only once before — to write an entire novel in 30 days.

Well, to be more specific I’m continuing a novel that I previously started. I had about 13,000 words sketched out on a story that’s loosely based on a period of my life in DC, and I decided to add 50,000 words to it during the month of November. Ambitious? Certainly. Achievable? Yes.

Two years ago I started a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) novel from scratch. I was impressed with myself for having made it almost halfway through — hitting the 22,000 word mark before losing the discipline and petering out for the rest of the month. I feel like I learned two things about myself through the trial: 1) that I have it in me to write a novel, and 2) that I have a need to write stories that connect to my direct experiences.

The second point is why I didn’t manage to finish my first shot at NaNoWriMo. I tried to write a story that was completely unconnected to race and gender struggles and had a hard time getting the words to resonate with me as I went on. This year, I’ve taken a different approach, talking about race, class, and gender issues through the lens of fiction.

I’m inspired by writers like Junot Diaz and Jesmyn Ward as I write — two authors who seem to draw heavily on personal experience and a strong sense of the cultures and geographies they represented or touched growing up. I couldn’t imagine either of them trying to write a story that wasn’t steeped in those personal backgrounds.

I’m also thankful as I write that I have the time and energy to be attempting something like a novel. I’m reminded why poetry, spoken word, and short stories are also really important mediums of writing to support. Many working class people of color may only have a few moments each day to write down a thought or a line they developed during the day, regardless of the untapped talent they might have. I also believe that poetry sometimes offers a means of expression that is gentler to the traumas that many people of color, and women and/or LGBTQ folks in particular might encounter. I’m thinking of the wonderful writing that Audre Lorde and Nikki Giovanni left for us to absorb, and I’m impressed with the bravery that so much of their writing required, particularly at the time it was published.

Finally, I’m happy about the ways writing a novel has helped me appreciate reading one. There’s nothing like trying to capture a scene with fresh and insightful wording to make me understand the talent and editing prowess of authors I read daily. Whatever I come out of this month with will certainly need a lot of love and editing attention, but it’s been a fun personal challenge, and I’m looking forward to reaching the finish line.

If anyone else is doing NaNoWriMo this year and wants to connect, you can find my profile here.

The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron (Review)

The Highly Sensitive PersonAll virtues have a shadow.
– Elaine Aron

I feel like I’ve given a lot of three-star reviews lately, but alas here’s another one. I thought the first part of Aron’s book was great. She outlines a personality type that has frequently been seen as a weakness, while showing that it actually holds quite a few strengths. It’s relevant not just to people who consider themselves to be highly sensitive, but probably anyone who lives or works with someone of that persuasion.

Aron explains how highly sensitive people (HSPs) are quick to feel “wound up” by stimulating environments — whether that means lots of people around to talk to, places with loud noises, or rooms with bright florescent lighting, to name a few examples. Whereas non-HSPs are able to stay in (and enjoy) such situations longer, Aron notes that the they are less perceptive at reading people and reading a room, which can be very important in both work and social environments.

So the framing for the book and the first few chapters were really interesting. Unfortunately, I felt like Aron lost a little momentum toward the end, where the conclusions and advice became a bit predictable or even strange (the chapter on HSPs and spiritual receptivity was a little out-there). I got a bit bored and found myself skimming a little, but I do still feel like I was getting value out of the book overall even if I didn’t love every part.

It’s interesting that both this book (about highly sensitive people) and Quiet (about introverted people) talk about similar experiences and reactions to a world that just seems overwhelming at times. Yet both works specifically stated that they were not speaking about the other character trait. Maybe some of that is about carving out territory (introverts were already a fascinating subject for researchers when Aron was writing her book), but I’d love to hear more about high sensitivity being juxtaposed with introversion. I’d also like to know more about how being highly sensitive affects your life depending on the circumstances you’re raised in – I’m thinking about a kid of color growing up in a dangerous neighborhood who has trouble dealing with that stimulating environment versus a more privileged kid who might have resources to help him or her cope with the pressure of being an HSP.

All in all, The Highly Sensitive Person definitely satisfied the part of me that’s interested in psychology, as well as my questions about who HSPs are and how they function in our society.

3Stars23/5 STARS

Nonfiction November – My Year In Nonfiction

Great Migration Mural

by Courtney Greene McDonald via Flickr

Looking at Kim’s nonfiction blogging challenge over at Sophisticated Dorkiness made me think back on the nonfiction works that I’ve read this year. I’m supposed to pick a favorite, but I’m really stuck between two books – The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, and Redefining Realness by Janet Mock.

Both involve memoirs of black Americans, and both are great examples of narrative nonfiction. Wilkerson’s work though is an examination of a whole set of lives throughout the Great Migration, when countless blacks traveled from the South to the North in the mid-20th century to start new lives. Mock’s book is a deeply self-reflective story about her journey from being born into a male body and growing up into the woman that she knew she always was, amidst a set of challenges stemming from her race and class. Both book are superb stories, and I really couldn’t pick a favorite.

While I read those two works of nonfiction and several others, I do wish that I’d gotten through even more nonfiction books. This was certainly a year heavy in fiction for me (but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing). I’m particularly interested in expressive memoirs, like Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah by Patricia Smith, a work of memoir-poetry that I read earlier this year, as well as branching out into more stories by non-black women of color. Next year I might even pick out ahead of time the nonfiction books I want to read.

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (Review)

The House on Mango StreetOne day I’ll own my own house, but I won’t forget who I am or where I came from. Passing bums will ask, Can I come in? I’ll offer them the attic, ask them to stay, because I know how it is to be without a house.
From The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

The House on Mango Street is one of those books that I’m surprised to have gotten so far in life without reading. It seems like every elementary and junior high school assigns it at some point – but apparently not the classrooms I was in. Anyway, this was an interesting experience for me not just because I listened to the book on recording, but also because I listened to it in Spanish to brush up a bit. However… that also means that I might have missed some critical plot points as my brain tried to get back into the groove.

From what I understood, The House on Mango Street is both a coming-of-age story for a young girl up to the edge of her teenage years, as well as a voice for growing up on the less-than-perfect side of life. The main character, Esperanza explains how she her family is first able to buy their own house on Mango Street – a big achievement – but that at the same time the neighborhood that Mango Street sits in has a lot of poverty and strife, and is clearly a majority-minority area, with white folks as “others” to the area.

Until I looked it up I didn’t catch that Sandra Cisneros herself was the one to read the audiobook. She does a good job not only of writing in the voice of a child, but capturing a young tone and character in her recording. I felt like I got to really sense how important Esperanza’s family is to her, and how some of the things that happen in her neighborhood are things that she doesn’t quite understand yet but clearly will later in life. I like that there is also a clear feminist streak throughout the book as Cisneros seeks to point out the differences between how Esperanza experiences the neighborhood and how the boys and men in her life navigate Mango Street and its environs.

Given that this was such a fast read (or rather fast listen – at about 2 and a half hours), I wouldn’t mind going back someday and reading it in English to get more from the story. I’m glad that this book is out there for teenagers and young adults of color to access, even if it wasn’t something that I got to until now.

3Stars23/5 STARS

October Book Finds

What’s next up on my bookshelf? Not quite sure, but I did find these awesome books this month that I’m excited about reading:

When My Brother Was an AztecWhen My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz.
Someone in my book club messaged me the other day and asked about reading this book for one of our next meetings. I’d never heard of it, but went to look it up and was excited to learn that it’s a work of poetry. I haven’t been reading nearly enough poetry in my opinion, and I always welcome poets of color to my shelves. I’m excited to compare this one with the works by Louise Erdrich, another Native American author that I’ve been reading lately.

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae.
I know everyone likes to say this, but I knew about Issa Rae before she was popular. Yep, that first web series had the same name as her book Citizen An American Lyricand was HILarious. I remember pretty vividly laughing my ass off as her character jams away to ratchet music in her convertible and then tries to get away from her stalker coworker who pulls up next to her at every stop sign. Rae’s book won’t be out until February of next year, but I can’t help but hope that it’s just as funny as her shows.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine.
Last, but not least, I was excited to learn about Rankine’s work through a reference on The Rumpus’ email list. Another work of poetry, it looks like Rankine is making an unabashed exploration of all the ways racial rhetoric and stereotypes have impacted her life. Brand spanking new, it already has almost five-stars on Goodreads, which seems pretty tricky to achieve.

Uncertainty by Jonathan Fields (Review)

Fear of judgment stifles our ability to embrace uncertainty and as part of that process delivers a serious blow to our willingness to create anything that hasn’t already been done and validated.
 --from Uncertainty by Jonathan Fields

You know that thing that you’ve been wanting to do forever, the passion that pushes you to get up a little early or stay up a little late to work on? Jonathan Fields is here with his book Uncertainty to tell you to just go for it with whatever it is you want to accomplish.

While this is certainly a quick read (I got through it in about 2 days of less-than-furious reading in my spare time) I really appreciated Fields’ enthusiasm and understanding of both the opportunities and challenges that arise in striking out in uncharted waters. Fields himself is a several-times-over entrepreneur who has hopped around from blogging to yoga to starting several companies and much more.

While start-up terminology and a focus on creating your own business is present, I was happy to see that it isn’t all that the book is about. Fields goes out of his way to make sure to appeal to the artists and writers and other multi-passioned people who might pick up his work – probably a smart move for him financially.

Another thing that I like about Fields is that he doesn’t try to sugarcoat the process of doing something new. He’s the first to admit that it’s hard work and that other people may very well judge you as rash or irresponsible or simply out-of-touch with reality. And he’s not going to tell you that everything you do will succeed. To the contrary, Fields provides a few exercises to help you work through what it would look like to “fail” and why it still might be worth pursuing your dreams in spite of that.

He understands that uncertainty and fear about the outcome of our work is the main barrier to really doing the work to move forward your creative ideas. As an aspiring writer who often deals with writer’s block it was quite a refreshing to hear Fields’ encouragement. Still, since the reading was so fast and I find it hard to give top stars to a self-help book, I’ll leave this work with at three, but it is a three I would recommend to any of my fellow creator friends.

3/5 STARS

A Welcome and A Bookish Update

Bookmark BookstoreThanks for joining me here at the new home for the Keep It Wordy book blog! I’m excited to have a self-hosted home for the blog and to be integrating all of my interests into one site. You can find my full list of book reviews and the review policy as dropdown menus in the Keep It Wordy tab above. Currently, I’m planning on releasing a book-related post every Tuesday, as well as a new book review each Thursday. Welcome to the old readers and new!

Besides reorganizing the website, I’ve been frequenting way too many bookstores these days, but really it’s not my fault… The Friends of the Oakland Public Library bookstore, Bookmarks, was having a 30-50% off sale this past weekend – and their books are already only $3-5 dollars usually so of course I had to drop by. I found Still Writing by Dani Shapiro, which looks like it will be a great book about the writer’s life, with various witty meditations and advice. I also picked up a completely silly book, Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, which I’ve wanted to read for a while and promises to be an entertaining mix of ridiculously drawn comics and wit.

But after this I’m staying out of bookstores for a month, honest! (*crosses fingers*)