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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Why I Read YA (and you should too)

A girl walks into a bookstore and asks the clerk where she can find the newest YAL (Young Adult Literature).

Guy at the counter eyes her slowly up, then down.

Girl becomes instantly aware that she hasn’t showered for 2 days.

Guy at the book store sighs, rolls his eyes, then nods his head vaguely in an almost direction and pointedly picks up his Kafka book. Guy wordlessly continues reading.

Girl feels a blush crawling up her face then suddenly the blush changes into something else.  It becomes irritation. Then tight-lipped rage.

I was an English major, you know. Girl spits.  And Kafka’s so. freaking. dour.  

Girl leaves the bookstore and adds it to yet another place she’s going to have to avoid for the next few years.

This story about my friend perfectly illustrates the underlying disdain many avid readers (or even nonreaders) have toward YAL. In many cases, it’s a gut reaction, an instinct.  A similar reaction happens when people say they’re reading “Chic Lit,” which I have an entirely different issue with because the last time I checked there was no “Bro Lit” or “Dude Lit”–it’s just assumed to be literature.

Don’t go down that rabbit hole today, Alice.

The title Young Adult Literature is a misnomer. Yes, the books are about Young Adult experiences, but calling the works YAL assumes that only YAs are privy to reading them. This is simply not the case.

As a (kind of) grown up, I read YA because it’s a powerful reminder. It reminds me of things my job, my money, my experiences, my “adult” anxieties have eroded. I’m reminded of core truths about humanity and diversity, and, in standard YA fashion, I’m reminded of the intense passion (sometimes known as angst) I’m capable of experiencing. Yes, as a teen that passion was directed at things like pimples or Jr. High dances or Buckle jeans, but it’s funny how quickly we forget just how capable we are of feeling things. All the things.

I love it when The Washington Post agrees with me:

To simply give up on […] young adult literature as hopeless categories of fiction, fit only for the weak-minded or young and incapable of improvement, is to embrace a kind of  snobbery and rigidity about what is worthy and what is not. (Rosenberg)

Preach.

Believe me, I get it.  Many see books like Twilight or Divergent or The Hunger Games as wholly representative of the genre. Even though some of these books aren’t necessarily bad (yes, I’ve read them all), I think we shortchange the diversity present in YAL by believing YA authors are only capable of dystopian vampire romances.

If you enjoy the three books mentioned above, GREAT! I can recommend lots of otherworldly YA books that will knock your socks off. If you loathe them and find them shallow, No Problemo, there are YA books so deep and introspective, even the literati of the group won’t be able to resist them. That’s the beauty of YA, you can wade in the kiddy pool or dive head first into the deep end.

If you really give YAL a chance, you’ll find yourself immersed in a totally new, insanely unique library of books just waiting to be dusted off and devoured.

And that’s what we’re all looking for anyway, right? I good book that speaks to us.

Also, J.K. Rowling. *drops the mic and walks away*

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie is just the best. He makes you feel equal parts and elated and uncomfortable which is kind of a rush.  This book is no different. Absolutely True Diary is about Arnold Spirit Jr. (aka Junior), a Spokane Indian who lives on a reservation with his family and friends. When he is given an opportunity to go off the reservation and begin attending classes at a rich, all white school (where “the only other Indian is the mascot”), he must make a huge decision–stay on the broken reservation or leave and endure being called a traitor by basically everyone he knows.

Alexie unappolegetically tackles Native American stereotypes through shoving them in your face, allowing them to come to fruition, then forcing you to see past the problems and into their origin. The book is poignant, heartbreaking, hilarious, raw, and (as expected from the mind of a 14-year old boy) kind of filthy.  It’s no wonder it’s #1 of the top 10 books challenged according to the ALA. It’s been banned and burned and blasted by conservative moms and dads, so if you love drama and pictures (yep, its filled with Junior’s drawings…his funny, awful drawings) then try it the heck out already.

Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson

I’ve recommended this book to a few friends and when they return the book to me and I ask if they liked it, invariably, their eyes become wide as they slowly shake their heads.

This isn’t a good book. It’s not a fun read. It’s incredibly difficult. Ironically, after reading Speak, it’s tough to articulate how it’s changed you, but it always creates an impact. The book is told from the perspective of Melinda, an outcast in her high school, disliked by her classmates for calling the cops on an end of the year party the previous summer.  Slowly, subtly she isolates herself from everyone and basically becomes a mute. The book lulls you as a reader, and you long to know why Melinda, who is obviously depressed, refuses to speak up or speak at all.  Her art class is the one reprieve from her depression, which you find out, originates from an upperclassman raping her. It’s a heartbreaking, honest work that shines a light on a dark reality that many people face and underscores a truth everyone needs to understand–things aren’t always what they seem.

Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell

Gotta include a book with a ginger, people. It’s like in the handbook of earthtoginger blogging. Also, gotta write an earthtoginger handbook…

If you haven’t heard of Rainbow Rowell, then you’re welcome, because homegirl is amazing. She does a fabulous job of yanking on your heartstrings and tugging you back into the nostalgic, horrible, wonderful time in all of our lives–the time of young love (le sigh). In Eleanor & Park, Eleanor is a big-boned redhead who comes from a poor, broken home. She rides the bus and tries to avoid people since her clothes are kind of crazy, and her hair is straight up nuts. Park is a shy, half-Korean boy who loves music and comic books. The two meet and bond over rad 80s tunes (yes, this book is set in the hairspray-and-leggings-loving 80s, and yes, it’s wonderful) and share walkman listening sessions on their bus rides to school

Children, a walkman is a device from long ago. It played music from a thing called a tape which had tiny ribbons that you absolutely could not pull from their coil lest your older cousin discovered your sin and chased you down as you ran from him in terror.

The two find out that, despite their love for each other, sometimes a screwed up family, insecurities, and life get in the way and muck things up.  As Goodreads puts it, E and P are “smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.”

Oomph. My heart.

What are your favorite YA books? Why?

If you hate YAL, por qué

Image Sources:

Image 1: Alexie

Image 2: Anderson

Image 3: Rowell