Reading the Signs

There are several SxSW 2013 wrap-up posts being published this week and I am not about to repeat any of the supposed take-aways. Instead, I want to share three things I observed this week that have me rethinking my glass half-empty approach to life.

First Sign: Silver Linings Playbook

The week started off like any other. Busy. Conference call. Busy. Pack for SxSW (using a spreadsheet outlining what specs / Threadless tees I would wear each day). By Thursday, Boston was being walloped by a snow storm packing a bigger punch than predicted. Our plane was delayed on the tarmac, but eventually we were the last flight out before flights were cancelled at Logan. I had closed my eyes before take-off and must have dozed off because when I woke up, I noticed that Silver Linings Playbook was playing on the monitors throughout the cabin. Having not watched the film yet, I was bummed the movie had started, but decided to plug in my headset and watch what remained.

Pat: “I hate my illness and I want to control it. This is what I believe to be true: You have to do everything you can and if you stay positive you have a shot at a silver lining.”

The story is about two people trying to regain control of their lives and be positive as actions out of their control try to knock them down. The script is smart and tight, despite layers of social and philosophical complexity.  Each character is trying to read and interpret the signs of life events to determine their next step. Is our fate decided by superstitions or our how we choose to react to life’s challenges? The movie ended with me thinking how cynical I have become about everything…personal life and work. Am I waiting for my silver lining to drop into my lap? What am I doing to encourage positive life events?

Second Sign: Say Yes to the Mess

On Saturday, my friend and I went to feed our inner nerds with a session by Frank Barrett discussing his book, Yes to Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz. I am far from a mellow person. Jazz? Not in any of my playlists. (At least, not on Saturday. But as I write the post today, Kind of Blue is providing my morning soundtrack.) From the moment I walked into the session room, I felt at ease. The smooth sounds of jazz unwound my anxiety-ridden muscles.

For the next thirty minutes, everything made sense. Everything connected. Barrett, jazz pianist and Professor of Management and Global Public Policy at the Naval Postgraduate School, explained the eight principles to say yes to the mess of business and still maintain structure. This man understood me – Understood my problems and fruitless battle to maintain or create control. Needless to say, I walked straight out of the session and immediately bought the book. Less than a week later, I have devoured the text and cannot wait to put what I have read into positive action. The dog-eared pages and extreme highlighting are frightful, but the sign of one of the best business books I have read and highly recommend.

Third Sign: Fan Girl Moment

SxSW would not be complete without a fan girl moment. And yes, it was me being the fan girl. Complete with hysterical giggling for three hours and unable to spell my own name. I met Hugh Howey, author of Wool.

As I was at the SxSW bookstand in the Convention Center buying Yes to the Mess, I spotted Wool on the shelf amidst social media / business books. I was a bit excited to see the book I had read the week before (all in one sleepless night) –and raving about-in print. Now, Lauren, why would you be so excited to see this book in print? Well, technically, this book was not even supposed to be on the shelf until the 12th. Wool began life as an e-book and author, Hugh Howey, made history by signing a print deal with S&S, while he continued to maintain digital rights.

As I stood gushing over the book to my friend, a man leaned over and softly said, “I wrote that book.”

I may have snorted and continued talking. “No, really, I wrote that book.” Not arrogant. No attitude at all, the man holds up his nametag and I dissolve into giggles. It is Hugh Howey. He chatted with us, invited us to attend his panel the next day, and I got a picture with him. All the while I am laughing like a prize idiot. And did I mention, he posted about our meeting on his blog? Yes, I am still giggling.

I did attend the panel the next day. This man is smart and insightful. He sought his silver lining and found it. Also, I bought an additional four books for friends and a post card for my pal Matt Ridings (who recommended the book) – Hugh autographed them all.

I am reading the signs and I think the Universe is trying to tell me to stop and smell the roses. Exactly what is my cynical behavior and commentary serving me? Nothing. So perhaps, it is time to drink from the glass that is half-full. Every challenge is an opportunity.

Book DNA: February Gift of Love to Self

Work, family and everything in between is consuming me. Life happens…to each and every one of us. The one constant in my life (even though I have been a slacker about posting) is reading. When I crack open a book or my Nook flickers to life, the drama is no longer about me, but about the characters in the story. Those of you who know me, understand I am not good at relaxing. Escaping into the pages of a book is as close to Zen as I have achieved.

Book DNA was created to identify what books have influenced my character and discuss why some books I will never read again (for good or bad) or those books I will return to multiple times. Books are a gift to my soul. What better time of year to give a gift of love and appreciation to yourself than the month celebrating Valentine’s Day?

Until recently, I have despised the so-called holiday. It is too close to Christmas. I am broke. And for the majority of my life, the only person sending me a card and candy was my mother. (Very sweet, but still, far from the Hallmark romance advertised.) In 2007, after a particularly bad start to the year, I picked up a copy of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Whoa. Hold up. Don’t switch the channel. I can see your eyes rolling. Most folks have a visceral reaction to this book and either love or hate this book. Withhold further judgment and let me share with you why this story is the gift that keeps giving Valentine’s Day after Valentine’s Day.

(Oh, and please don’t break my heart and compare this book or base your judgment of the story on the merits of the movie. Please. I beg of you, do not.)

Everyone was buzzing about this book. I am not sure what enticed me to read the first chapter other than the surrounding hype. Memoirs are not numerous on my bookshelf. I read the first chapter in the Barnes and Noble café and I am not sure I even looked up at the person behind the counter when I purchased the book. I was captivated. My drama was someone else’s drama. I was contemplating a divorce and other difficult decisions. I did not have anyone I could really talk to and not feel as if I was letting them down or being judged. I felt very alone, but while reading this book, I felt Elizabeth was right there next to me. Together, we were sharing our ‘insider voice’ and I felt liberated.

I did get that divorce. And the following February, I opened the book again to refresh my spirit. It was at this time that I met my husband online (Twitter) – ironic that I found my own Brazilian man. We discussed all manner of books and I told him that if he read this book (Eat, Pray, Love) he would better understand me. He did. Maybe it was a bit too much crazy for him to digest, but he has managed the insanity for four years.

I did not need to jump on a plane and recreate the physical journey Gilbert endured. Instead, I accompanied her on a mental adventure. Like clockwork, on 1 February, I open my signed edition of Eat, Pray, Love and give a gift of love to myself with each chapter I read. I relive my sadness, learn a bit more about how and why I made the decisions I did, and accept. I have learned to love myself.

This may not be the book for you. This is OK. But don’t judge a book by the cover or hype. If you are interested in this book, I highly recommend complimenting the text with the audiobook read by the author, Elizabeth Gilbert. Her wit and charm are irresistible.

What book or books do you read seasonally? What place do they hold in your heart?

Book DNA: Year in Review

Rather than make resolutions I know I will not keep, I resolve to read new books that will push me beyond my comfort zone. Unlike other lists that determine the best books published during the year, this top five list is of books discovered. These books have changed me. The words haunt me. The text sticks to me and makes me stop to reflect. Some of these books appeared on my Holiday Gift List and others have been the source for conversation and past/future posts.

These are the books and authors of 2012:

  • The Art of Racing In The Rain: A Novel by Garth Stein – I did not want to read this book. My mother sent it to me and pestered me for months to read it. When I finally cracked the book, I could not close the book until I finished reading. It is impossible to determine if this is my favorite book of the year or the book on this list by Muriel Barbery . Do not read in public. You will cry. And if you are like me, keep a highlighter handy. This book will be the source of many 2013 posts and conversation starters.
  • Learning from the Octopus: How Secrets from Nature Can Help Us Fight Terrorist Attacks, Natural Disasters, and Disease by Rafe Sagarin – If you saw me speak about community management this year, you will know this book was my guide and has me practicing my craft using the lessons from nature. Adaptation is essential for the survival of any species. Businesses should stop looking to case studies glorifying only the positive and avoiding the sticky subjects or tougher times. Instead, organizations should look to a tide pool for inspiration of how to succeed and collaborate with others. Or perhaps look to the decentralized strengths of an octopus? The lessons are numerous.
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery – I could not sleep. It was the middle of the night and this book had been sitting on my shelf for months. I swear to you, the book was screaming for me to pick it up and read the first page. It could not be ignored. And so there I sat for the next four hours and read cover to cover. I cannot say enough good things about this book. You will either love it or hate it, but either way, I encourage you to dig past the surface level story and read between the lines. This book is polarizing, but forces you to think about perspective and apply in your daily life.
  • The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World by Wade Davis – I read this book in January and have yet to able to shake the underlying question of how our culture is evolving and squeezing out what is not mainstream.
  • Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World edited by Bill Adair, Benjamin Filene, and Laura Koloski – This book was on the syllabus for my second graduate class in museum studies. The essays, case studies, and interviews shed light on how museums are finding new ways to communicate with the public, invite the community into a conversation, and struggling with the digitization of history. Let these examples be a lesson to any size organization with any mission, that community engagement can be achieved no matter what the size of your team or budget.

These were not the only books to be added to my Book DNA this year. This was the year I conquered Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. It has taken me twenty years to complete this book, but I am so happy the book chose for me to read it at this particular age. I think I am old enough to understand the trials of love and yet young and naïve enough to believe such love exists. This year, I read text books galore and a plethora of non-fiction (actually read cover to cover because going to school as an adult is so different and serious) and became overcome with the power of the short story. Not every book required me to stop and think. Some books I read purely for the pleasure of escape.

There will be books published in 2013 that I will need to rush to purchase and consume, but I resolve this year I will read the following:

Each story is told in its own time. Listen for the call of a book. Forget the best seller list. Walk into a book store and wander around. Open your ears and eyes to the wonders and worlds surrounding you. Happy reading in 2013.

Book DNA: Holiday Wish List

It is no secret that I read a lot of books. Also, I give a lot of books to friends and family. It is the way I show how much I care. The connection with a book is a deep and spiritual experience for me that I try to share with others. I am quite particular about the books I give people because I want them to understand that I listen to them and connect to their essence. Sounds a bit hokey? Perhaps, but I am teaching my daughter it is important to read and give books that are meaningful. It is a rule in our house to always bring a book as a present to a birthday party!

So, it should come as no surprise that books will occupy a great deal of physical and virtual space under the tree. Over the past month, I have sifted through my Book DNA map, must-read lists and other resources to select the following books to give and to get. Please enjoy:

Honorable Mentions

Children’s Books

For additional recommendations, some of our favorite books are on the Brain Pickings: The Best of Children’s Books of 2010.

Stocking Stuffers

Dear Santa, if you are reading this please consider the following books to stuff my stocking:

This year, we are breaking down and getting the kidlette a Nook. The following e-books will be loaded for her pleasure on Christmas morning:

Next week, the vlog is back with another five selections from the updated Book DNA map (link to map). I am never without a book and have a must-read list a mile long. For additional recommendations, visit the Brain Pickings Bookshelf, check out the Books on the Nightstand Holiday Give/Receive List (yes, there is overlap with this list)  and listen to the Books on the Nightstand podcast. Your brain will never go hungry.

Book DNA: Literal Humor

For this edition of Book DNA, I thought I would go back to my childhood. One book, or set of books about the same protagonist, cannot be grouped with any other books. This character is independent. Amelia Bedelia. You know, the maid, who is constantly taking figures of speech literally and causing mayhem? Amelia is told to dress the chicken, so she puts clothes on the chicken. Or she is asked to dust the furniture, so Amelia throws dust on all of the furniture. I laugh and laugh. It is Friday, after all, you know you need a laugh or two going into the holiday vacation.

I often joke about how I am a book-smart person and I was not born with common sense. Perhaps this is why I find Amelia Bedelia so amusing. As an adult, I find the books a helpful reminder of how people understand phrases of speech differently and it is dangerous to assume people comprehend your meaning or perspective.

So, next time you see me in a Threadless shirt and I tell you it is an artistic interpretation of world record, or plaid-ypus, and I laugh hysterically, just laugh with me and not at me, OK?

No volg today-winter cold! Each week we will explore the next five all time favorite and impactful books that have shaped my book DNA. For additional reading recommendations, please review the Book DNA category.

Book DNA: Boston Book Fest Treasure Trove

Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend (child-free, thanks to husband) the annual Boston Book Festival. It is a free, annual event in Copley Square, bringing together readers, writers, publishers, book shops and other creative reading/writing resources, like Grub Street. My Twitter and Facebook status updates are evidence that I thoroughly enjoyed myself and inspired through Tuesday! Check out my Storify of Saturday events. I came home loaded with books meant to be Christmas presents, but went into the hands of two eager girls before I could even get through the front door.

So, is the book dead? Hardly. I bought nine physical books and three e-books. Here is what I purchased and have already added to the Book DNA mind map:


  • An Octopus Named Mom, written by Kathleen Flaherty and illustrated by Jennifer Caulfield Donehey – Both the writer and illustrator autographed this book for my 9yo daughter; She devoured the book immediately and loved that the dog illustrated in the book looks like our boxer, Tiger Lilly.
  • Lily and the Imaginary Zoo, written by Seneca Clark and Sandy Giardi and illustrated by Julie Decedue – Another Three Bean Press book signed by authors and illustrator for my youngest daughter, her first autographed book. The book takes the reader on an adventure of Boston landmarks. Kids at the festival could follow Lilly’s Trail and complete a passport to be eligible for a prize. I will need to create our own version of this activity for both girls.
  • Secret Seahorse by Stella Blackstone and Clare Beaton – This book is for my 2yo daughter and she was mesmerized by the mixed media illustrations. As a parent, I enjoyed the glossary at the end of the story to teach the child more about the creatures in the book and get them excited to learn even more.
  • World Atlas, written by Nick Crane and illustrated by David Dean – This book is for your budding explorer and has an accompanying iPad app.
  • The Snow Queen, retold by Sarah Lowes and illustrated by Miss Clara AND The Twelve Dancing Princesses retold by Mary Hoffman and illustrated by Miss Clara – Another Barefoot Books visual wonder! I was captivated by the artwork for these classic stories as interpreted by Miss Clara. I am tempted to keep these books on my bookshelf, but these two early reader chapter books were purchased for my 9yo daughter.

Adult Non-Fiction

  • A History of Vampires in New England by Thomas D’Agnostino – I am a sucker for a vampire book and could not pass up this book describing the superstition that gripped and shaped New England.
  • The Age of Insight by Eric R. Kandel – This book originally found its way on my must-read list because of a feature on Brain Pickings, but I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Kandel speak at the festival and was blown away by his in-depth (and funny) research about how the brain perceives art.
  • How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston – To be honest, I would not have gravitated towards this book, but after hearing his thoughts on the final panel, Future of Reading, and learning how he wrote the book with social / community elements, I knew I needed to read this book for myself.
  • How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain by Leah Price – After attending the session, Great Brits and Books, and hearing Price talk about how she teaches students Austen and Elliot, I knew this book belonged in my bag.

Adult Fiction

  • America’s Best Short Stories 2012 edited by Tom Perrotta– Until the Book Festival, I did not give short stories enough credit, but after listening to the brilliant star-studded panel including Junot Diaz, Edith Pearlman and Jennifer Haigh, I thought I should give short stories another shot. Well, I finished this compilation and I was blown away. Needless to say, it was added to my Book DNA mind map.
  • Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry, Ridley Pearson and Greg Call – This book was mentioned on the Great Brits and Books panel. I have a love/hate relationship with adaptations, but when you think about it, there is no such thing as an original story.
  • Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang – This short story compilation was recommended on the morning panel by Junot Diaz. I am a couple stories in and already captivated.

Also, guess what has started?! National Novel Writing Month! For thirty nights, you too can write like one possessed. This year, I am holding myself to the deadline. Taking a break from my historical fiction thriller to focus on a mainstream fiction novel. Add me as a buddy and we can motivate each other to write, write, WRITE! I begin the word count tonight.