Wednesday, May 29, 2013

LEAN IN: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

Lean In  is author Sheryl Sandberg’s  handbook for contemporary women, to guide us in the 21st century work force.   A graduate of Harvard, Sandberg's own resume is impressive: she was the director of global sales at Google, and is  currently Facebook's COO. 

In the book, she reveals her own challenges in the workplace.  For instance, Lean In begins during her second pregnancy, while  at Google.  She had to  “waddle” from the parking lot to her office.  When she learned that Yahoo had special parking for pregnant staff members, she  requested special parking at Google.  She got her request.  (Google has a reputation for being a  phenomenal  place to work at: free food from several scrumptious menus; you can bring your pet to work; and first-rate child care.  So it’s surprising that no one anticipated the parking lot issue.)

Lean In is the  expanded version from a TEDtalk speech Sandberg gave in 2010. Some of the anecdotes she shares  are of how she settled her Facebook contract, her first  “formal review,”  and an episode of sexual harassment.

The book, Sandberg says, is a “feminist manifesto.”  She asks women to  “lean in”—or assertively pursue—their careers, since women tend to be less comfortable with leadership positions.  As a result, fewer  go on to become leaders.  She argues that women should be less fearful to take on career challenges—despite  issues of  “gender-bias,” sexual harrassment, and work/family balance.

Sandberg  acknowledges that we have made strides, but that we need more gender  equality in a wide array of industries.  In addition, the job market has changed so that, as  her Facebook colleague says,  “Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.”

Moreover,  she advises women that  “adopting two concurrent goals: a long-term dream and an eighteen-month plan” is a good idea.  Both young and mature women should establish goals and learn new skills.   Also, they should get feedback; build relationships;  get good advice; and reach out by offering to help.  

For women, the problem of getting a mentor is especially challenging, according to Sandberg.   She also addresses the issue of honest communication in  the workplace:  to illustrate that point, she cites another Facebook colleague, who told CEO Mark Zuckerberg, “My manager is bad!”

“Communication,” she concludes,  “works best when we combine appropriateness with authenticity. . .”

On finding a spouse, she writes:  “When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is to date all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the committment-phobic boys, the crazy boys.  But do not marry them. . . .  When it comes time to settle down find someone who wants an equal partner.   Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated, and ambitious.”

Lastly, Sandberg shares  the anecdote of the little girl who wanted to be an astronaut  when she grew up.  The boy she liked, however, also  wanted to be an astronaut.   Even this five-year-old girl recognized an ever-present  issue adult women grapple with every workday:  "When we go into space together, who will watch our kids?"

--Yolanda A.  Reid

For more info, visit these websites:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

AT HOME IN THE WORLD by Joyce Maynard

At Home in the World is the mesmerizing memoir by Joyce Maynard that chronicles her devastating, all-consuming relationship with  renowned novelist, J. D. Salinger.

On the surface, it seems inexplicable: why would an eighteen-year-old girl 'fall in love' with a fifty-three year-old man?  But now, having read the book, I feel  I understand.

Salinger’s  first letter seems innocent—he was a fan of  her New York Times essay, "An Eighteen-year old Looks Back on Life" and "cautions that a glimpse of fame can distract a writer."

The letter‘s sentiments made  her feel as if he saw her spirit, gave her a feeling of value, validated her talent and herself.  This is intoxicating.  In a sense, too, Salinger  tries to save her from—to quote Lady Gaga—"the fame monster" (of which he knows plenty).

But Maynard also had much in common with Salinger—both writers, both from New England, both felt like outsiders.  Moreover, "this stranger . . . seems to know me," she writes.  Brilliant, thoughtful, charming Salinger was an artist and a devotee of alternative medicine and vegetarianism.  He had a sophistication and knowledge of the world he wished to  bestow on her.

As for Maynard, she had a precociousness and a maturity beyond her years, along with her sense of alienation.  She is also needy (who among us does not need or want love?).  She is anorexic and bulimic.  Yet she wins prizes and accolades, writes magazine articles; gains kudos from New York intellectuals.

All that said, Salinger—the grown-up—should not have allowed this ‘friendship’ to go further.

One wonders what Maynard's parents (her mother, especially) were thinking.  She wonders, too, in the scene before her first weekend trip to Salinger's home: "I have tried to imagine what was going on in my parents' minds. . . .  Nobody suggests this is a bad idea or questions what might be going on in the mind of a fifty-three year old man who invites an eighteen-year-old to come and spend the weekend."

Perhaps they were naive or, as Maynard says, filled with pride.  This was in 1971.  As a society, we now more quickly recognize child abuse or the potential for it.  

As a reader, I am fascinated by the poetic symmetry in Maynard’s life, which can only be regarded as fated.  For instance, her description of her father might also describe Salinger in the early stages: "courtly and dapper and charming."

In its essence, theirs is a father-daughter relationship:  Salinger gives young Joyce advice about her writing career, about life.  He makes suggestions.  Then, later, they are commandments—he controls what she eats (very little), wears, writes, whom she befriends.  Everything is subject to his approval.

When he abruptly  ends the relationship, Maynard desperately tries to convince him otherwise.  (In truth, I read of the break-up with relief.)

Add to the mix, a flirtation of sorts between Salinger and Maynard's mother—which may have contributed to the "dissolution" of the relationship—and you have a sad, distressing situation for all concerned.

At fifty, Fredelle Maynard—an author  and “a Harvard Phd”—was at “an age more appropriate for receiving the attention of a fifty-three-year old."  Years earlier, when she was nineteen, Mrs. Maynard had wed a man who was twenty years her senior.  Slim, tall, and blond, Max Maynard was "courtly and dapper and charming." That marriage was now also headed for “dissolution.”

The writing is in the present tense, which heightens the book’s intimacy.   This tense—the historical present—also gives a sense of immediacy, of overwhelming understatement.    Once you begin to read At Home in the World, however, you will not stop.  The book is so engrossing.  It is a cautionary tale young girls/women ought to read: the lessons related in this book, we may all benefit from.

In the afterword, Maynard states that she auctioned off J.D. Salinger's many letters to her.  But, I wonder, what happened to her letters to him?  Does she know?  Or can we guess that Salinger burned or destroyed them?

At Home in the World forever links Joyce Maynard's name with J. D. Salinger’s.  We can perceive it as tarnishing his literary legacy; or that the book provides  a more complete portrait of him

"If I tell what I do, nobody else can expose me,” Maynard writes.  “If I live my life in a way I'm not ashamed of, why shouldn't I be able to talk about it?  I am surely not the only woman who made herself throw up every day, or flew into a rage at her children, or felt abandoned by love.”

--Yolanda A.  Reid

For more info, visit these websites:

Friday, May 17, 2013


Reading Domestic Affairs by Joyce Maynard is like being enveloped by a big warm blanket for the duration.  The book is based on Maynard's essays written for her then-syndicated newspaper column.  She writes about her children, diapers, potty training, the time her mother knit a miniature sweater--with toothpicks--for a toy bear.

Her writing is amicable, soothing, warm--as if we were seated in a kitchen, nibbling on a Sunday brunch of warm cocoa and orange marmalade on French toast, as we chat about our lives.  And yet, it is cogent and cohesive; her themes, perceptive, well-developed.  Her writing is a bit wordy. But I like it.  She writes that her writing is just about her life.

“Now,” she writes, “I document  ordinary daily life.”

But it is charming and absorbing, to peek into Maynard's life. She grew up in a small New England town, more rural than suburban.  Making pie crusts was both a hobby and a passion.  (“I know by heart the Joy of Cooking recipe for blueberry muffins and the names of all the seven dwarfs and eight reindeer.”)

Maynard writes about the births of her  three children, the perennial balance of work and family, and  her childhood home.  A few of the chapters include other topics, such as "Babysitter Problems,"  Christmas in her household, tomato sauce, dolls and doll-houses, "How I married Steve," "Baby Love," and a wistful look back at her sixteen-year old self.

In an iconic anecdote, Maynard describes her first meeting with Peg, the woman who was to make her slipcovers: “.  .  . Because I was still pretty busy getting the children out the door to preschool and second grade, getting the lunch boxes packed, the library books gathered up, I had to ask Peg to wait a minute.”

Once the kids were dispatched to school, she said to the slipcover maker, “I'm sorry. . .  It's pretty hectic around here in the mornings.  Getting three children dressed and out the door. . .”

To which Peg replied, "I know. . . I had nine."

 A precocious child, Maynard first published at age fourteen.  At eighteen, she wrote the celebrated  New York Times Magazine essay, "An Eighteen-year Old Looks Back on Life"--to be perceived thereafter as the ‘voice of her generation.’

Later, her memoir At Home in the World revealed she had lived with renowned novelist J. D. Salinger for almost a year.  He was fifty-three years old; she was nineteen!

Domestic Affairs is a lovely, likable book that “validates”—to use Maynard’s word—mothers, babies, children, family life—all things domestic.  The anecdotes are endearing: when she makes tomato sauce, or spends an hour readying the kids to play in just-fallen snow only to return indoors after “exactly eight minutes.”  Or when she reads the story of Babar the elephant to her young son.  The book feels warm, cuddly, comfy—like a teddy bear or like “the Lazy-Boy” recliner chair she once coveted.

Whether unconventional or traditional, Joyce Maynard’s life is full, rich, interesting.

--Yolanda A.  Reid

Check out this article by Joyce Maynard:

And her website:

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


"Bound feet and Western dress do not go together," said Chang Yu-i, the author's
grand-aunt, to her husband the day he asked her for a divorce. She was speaking, of course,
of his girlfriend.  Later, Chang Yu-i, her husband and yet another girlfriend co-existed in a modern relationship.  But that unravelled tragically, except that Chang Yu-i persevered and survived it all.

The story in Bound Feet and Western Dress is poignant and bitter, when I think of what Chang Yu-i suffered and endured and still "did her duty."  She had wed at age fifteen to a man she met on her wedding day!

Furthermore, during their years together he barely spoke to her.  He was, I think, not only rebelling against his parents (who had chosen Chang Yu-i for him) but also against archaic Chinese customs ("the old ways").  Ironically, it was only  after the divorce that they became close friends who discussed everything together.    

Chang Yu-i's  husband, the brilliant poet and scholar Hsu Chih-mo, reminds me of another Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who also left his wife for 'true love'.

In fact, strong parallels exist between Hsu Chih-mo and Shelley.  Both were Romantic poets.  (Most of us are more familiar with Shelley’s great poetry; but Hsu Chih-mo’s poetry, quoted in the book, is also stunning and beautiful.)  Both took girlfriends while married, for they believed in "free love".  Both  rejected the "old ways": society and convention.  Both hobnobbed in Europe with famous writers, poets, artistes, and intellectuals of their day; both embraced modern/post-modern ideals; and so on.

At first, I felt Hsu Chi-mo was the 'bad guy' but by the end of the book, I had  a more complex conclusion: He had done the right thing in divorcing Chang Yu-i. His timing was unfortunate, however, having left her when she was with child. An intellectual eager to introduce “Western ways” and thinking to China, Hsu Chih-mo released her so that they both  might pursue more authentic lives, founded on "free choice".

Bound Feet and Western Dress is written by Chang Yu-i's grand-niece, the author Pang-Mei Natasha Chang.  It weaves masterfully the stories of both women.  Chang Yu-i lived a long life enmeshed in difficulties.  She was lucky, however, that her feet had not been bound.   A traditional woman, she tried to be modern.  Life circumstances obligated her to be independent and self-sufficient, in a time when China was being transformed.

"In China," Chang Yu-i said, "a woman is nothing." 

China pervades Bound Feet and Western Dress  with its culture and traditions (such as how foot-binding began) and in the lives of Chinese women--both modern and traditional.

This memoir is beautiful and artfully crafted.  I loved this book!  And although there are no villains, Chang Yu-i was heroic, a woman of  and  ahead of her time.

--Yolanda A.  Reid

For more info, visit these websites: