Professional/Personal Development (gross) Books that are Great for 2016

Hello all, I’m back at it with a few more book recommendations. This post is dedicated to that necessary evil we all love to hate—Professional/Personal Development.

I’ve written on the subject of self-help books before, though “Personal/Professional Development” sounds a little sexier, if not creepily hormonal.  Wouldn’t you know, there’s a brand new batch of great books for 2016 just waiting to be devoured. I’ve always been open to various genres (turning my nose up will likely result in me walking into something). So I’ve tried it all—from trashy romance novels to horribly angsty YALit to some really dry, difficult classics, and they’ve all taught me something valuable.

The thing about Personal and Professional Development books is they aren’t sly about their teaching—there’s basically a big ol’ neon sign flashing “this is going to teach you something” above each work. In our fast-paced society, it’s easy to feel bogged down, unmotivated, and overwhelmed, especially when you evaluate your career and life and come up wanting.

The thing is, everyone is a work in progress. Everyone could use a little extra boost. 

I’ve always been kind of obsessed with the topic of improvement. My shelves are lined with notebooks filled to the brim with neatly scripted to-do lists and goals and inspirational phrases painstakingly transposed from Google (is that endearing or just sad?). I’m a big believer in setting attainable goals and working my arse off until I can contentedly slide my pen across one less item on my ever-changing life list. No matter if you’re a CEO of a major corporation, a stay-at-home mama with a brood of lovely rascals, or a fresh-faced college grad with a little too much pluck, these books can help you and your  career develop (yuck).

1.) I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of their Time

Laura Vanderkam

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I enjoyed this book so much I read it twice. Seriously, I did. Though I will say this book isn’t exactly the most beautifully crafted—Vanderkam’s turn of phrase won’t make you sigh with metaphysical understanding or laugh out loud. However, her advice is practical and her approach is pragmatic, and I love the book’s underlying theme. In the book she interviews hundreds of “mosaic women,” females who have young children but also have a career that earns them over 100K.  She simply asks these women how they manage their time without delving into the archaic, dried-up “how does she do it all” narrative. She discusses practical ways women can truly engage with family and grow their career while not falling prey to the harried, scary business mommy trope. She reminds us that we actually have 168 hours a week, and those hours can be spent catering to a hectic job, raising a loving child, engaging in meaningful connection with a spouse, and facilitating truly beneficial “me time.” She writes:

You don’t build the life you want by saving time. You build the life you want, and then time saves itself. Recognizing that is what makes success possible.

and this little gem…

In life, you can be unhappy, or you can change things. And even if there are things you can’t change, you can often change your mind-set and question assumptions that are making life less good than it could be.

She also takes on the narrative we tell ourselves about how “busy” we are. In society business is a status symbol in the same way a lack of sleep seems to represent a life well-lived (more so, at least, than someone who happily clocks 7-8 hours a night). Vanderkam takes these assumptions to task and upends them, asserting that it’s okay to have leisure time and to be well-rested.

2.) The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

Marie Kondo

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Okay people get ready to have your world rocked. I understand that this book is very “in” right now. It’s very “buzzy.” It’s all the “rage.”

Unnecessary quotations are wonderfully awful.

Marie Kondo is a self-proclaimed tidier who has spent her whole life looking for efficient ways to store, manage, and enjoy her belongings. It’s kind of impossible to continue living in clutter after reading her engaging work. Yes, my purse is still a madhouse of fools and my car is kind of an embarrassment to the human race, but my cabinets…my cabinets are truly lovely. The same can be said for the majority of my house, although my closet tends to build up with clothes and puppy toys faster than you can say clutter. However, Kondo’s two-point approach to getting rid of stuff and filling your space with things that truly bring you joy is really compelling.

In a review of the book an author sums up her approach quite nicely:

First, put your hands on everything you own, ask yourself if it sparks joy, and if it doesn’t, thank it for its service and get rid of it. Second, once only your most joy-giving belongings remain, put every item in a place where it’s visible, accessible, and easy to grab and then put back. Only then, Kondo says, will you have reached the nirvana of housekeeping, and never have to clean again.

When she says put your hands on everything, Kondo means everything. And she means do it all in “one sitting,” or a cohesive space of time, not spread erratically over a year or a few months. She divides up your tidying into different categories based on their degree of difficulty, with the last category, personal memorabilia, allowing you to put off throwing away your love letters and kindergarten poems until the end. Kondo’s method comes from a worthy place—according to her, your home should only contain the things that bring you contentment and joy.

I will say that her section on books was hard for me—she requires you get rid of books that no longer bring you joy. I must confess I didn’t go through my books as I should have because it is so hard for me to give away books. One day I may need them! Or worse, someone else may randomly need my extra copy of Southern Women Writers and I will be able to fill that void. I know I have a problem and I’m working through it, but I digress.

Kondo asserts that the things you don’t absolutely love are taking up the space that the more joy-bringing items could occupy.  She encourages people to toss or donate these misfit items. Donate and toss I did. By the end of my tidying I had 6 garbage bags filled with stuff I no longer needed. And as Kondo promised, I felt a lightness I could only describe as declutter detox.  The feeling was so strong, I told about 7 of my friends they absolutely had to read the book so we could talk about it at length.

The Life Changing Magic, is much more than a cleaning book. It’s a book about taking stock. It’s a book about assessing the life you have and how it measures up to the life you want, and adjusting accordingly.

So there you have it. Two books to fill up your brain and your Kindle, that will also help you professionally and personally. Happy reading!

 

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3 Kiddie Pool Classics or 3 Easy-to-Read Classics that Shouldn’t Scare the Pants off of You

Hey all! Today is the day you’ve been waiting for. The day I offend literati all over the inter web by comparing books that are stained with their (AND MY!) tears of adoration, to the shallow end of a pool. It’s going to be a ball. If you’ve made it this far, I assume the pitchforks aren’t quite sharpened and the torches only dully glowing, so please hear me out before things get cray.

I think reading is one of the most powerful things you can do.

I think opening a book, diving into it, feeling the feelings of the characters,and empathizing with people and situations outside of your narrow world is noble and brave.  I fall at the feet of the writers of classics.  I’m not worthy of cobbling the shoes of Austen, Faulkner, Dostoyevsky, and O’Connor. Though if they asked me to cobble, cobble I would (man cobble is a fun word).  Calling one of their works a “Kiddie Pool Classic” may not confirm the respect I feel, but it might entice someone to crack open a great book, which I feel is a grand effort all the same.

A Kiddie Pool Classic is an approachable classic. It’s a read you can’t help but devour like chips and queso on a Friday night. It’s a classic that won’t make you feel like the zit faced redhead swaying alone by the punchbowl at the high school dance. I’m a ginger so I can perpetuate this stereotype.

Taking a bite (or nibble) out of the classics is an admirable goal, but sometimes their language, context, and character development (or lack thereof) is difficult to swallow and even more difficult to understand. Especially if, say, you have a full time job and barely any time to water your (dying) plants, let alone tuck in to chapter 797 of Anna Karenina.  These three Kiddie Pool Classics are by no means shallow, but they are approachable and un-put-downable (sry I’m a scholar with my made up words).  Think how great you’ll feel once you read the last page of your first Austen book and finally, finally understand what all the fuss is about.  So here are three classics I absolutely adore and recommend if you want to take a walk on the Wilde side (see what I did there?)

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Whoops, Wilde isn’t on this list, but the joke was worth the lie. 

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

K, predictable right? It’s an American classic, one often referenced and lauded, and it’s a slim lil’ book.  The story is thick with drama, heartbreak, and love (all things I prefer with my afternoon tea). Fitzgerald’s language and glitzy then grimy 1920s setting is downright addicting. The famous characters of Daisy, Nick, and (le sigh) Jay are what will help you battle that 4 o’clock desire to mindlessly scroll through your Instagram feed, and instead tell your lazy self No, today I choose culture. Today I choose Literature with a capital L…or something like that. Gatsby contains themes of living in the past and the broken American dream, themes that are pretty stinking relevant today.  After reading Gatsby you’ll also be able to do what all great readers of literature love–snootily comparing the book to the movie. This time, you’ll be able to honestly say the book is better, because it seriously is (even though I love me some Baz Luhrmann and muh boo, Leo)

Emma, Jane Austen

I’m going to come right out and say it. If you “love” (yes, I’m putting the word in hostile quotations) Jane Austen because of her romantic words and general appreciation of the weddin’ things, then talk to the hand. That’s not my Jane…sorry.  Good ol’ Austen was a complicated broad, one that loved snark almost as much as I do.  She was a master of satire, irony, and slamming her society, which means (GASP) she actually didn’t get all googley eyed when suitors came to call. People kind of freak out when you tell them that most of the time Austen was making fun of the air heads of her society rather than gushing over just how much baby’s breath belonged on their wedding centerpieces. With this in mind, reading her works is a little more fun. The novel Emma is about the main character, Emma (see easy!) a”handsome, clever and rich” matchmaker who doesn’t need anyone or anything because homegirl has. it. togetha. Because she has money in the bank, she doesn’t see much need to marry. Instead she (badly) plays matchmaker with her friends and at times acts like a total brat who simply cannot understand how people do not totally agree with her.  The book is lively and funny and brimming with interesting characters. And it comes with the benefit of saying you’ve “read” (insert watched Kiera Knightly version) something besides Pride and Prejudice.

The Color Purple, Alice Walker

Ok, ok, ok, I know, a story of racism, rape, incest, and heartache isn’t exactly what you’d expect in the Kiddie Pool Classic section. The Color Purple has many moments of ugly, but that’s because we as a society experience many moments of ugly. This truth was no different in the 1930s. It’s a Kiddie Pool Classic because once you start, once you grasp Celie’s rural Georgia and get a feel for the language and her struggle, it’s damn near impossible to put down. The book is structured as an epistolary novel or a book of letters (Literary buzz words for $100, Alex.) from Celie to God. They are personal and heartbreaking and powerful.  Against all odds (abuse, bigotry, loneliness) Celie holds onto her dream of being reunited with her sister which seems to make such deep, dark moments bearable. Walker’s writing style is cutting and unapologetic, which I think we all need a little more of every now and again.

What is your favorite classic?