Books to Watch | April 27, 2021
April 27, 2021
Each and every week, our marketing team—Editorial and Marketing Director Dylan Schleicher (DJJS) & Creative and Social Media Manager Gabbi Cisneros (GMC)—highlights a few new books we are most excited about.
This week, our choices are:
Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most by Greg McKeown, Currency
Greg McKeown’s first book, Essentialism, begins with the story of him leaving the hospital just a few hours after one of his daughters was born to go to a meeting. The meeting itself turned out to be inconsequential, but he realized that even the most important client meeting shouldn’t have trumped being with his wife and newborn daughter. He had allowed himself to be pressured into it, and the experience led him to the discovery of the important, life-changing lesson at the heart of that first book, that:
If you don't
prioritize your life,
someone else will.
His new book, Effortless, ends with a story that brings that point home—describing a mysterious medical condition one of his teenage daughters has struggled with, and how it inspired him to write this new book. The lesson is tied in many ways to that of Essentialism, reminding us that we have a choice to make in every moment. This time around, his primary lesson is that “life doesn’t have to be as hard and complicated as we make it.” Even at work, where problems can seem intractable and the effort needed to address them seems endless, we can choose a lighter, simpler path—a more effortless way.
He opens with the story of someone who believed they’d truly “made it”—a person in the upper echelon of a major multinational finance and insurance outfit, jet-setting all over the world. All the compromises they had made—the long hours worked even on weekends, vacations, and holidays, the sleep sacrificed, the lack of exercise and eating habits undermining their physical health—had been more than worth it. It was, in fact, a kind of proof that they had succeeded. As McKeown writes:
He didn’t just think that working endless hours would lead to success, he thought that it was success. If you didn’t stay late at work, you must not have a very important job.
This is a mindset so many of us fall into. We wear our busyness as a badge of pride, believing it is proof of our importance, and wonder why every little thing seems so hard. But what if that job—and the very company that you worked all those late nights and long weekends for—suddenly collapsed? Would it have been worth it? In this opening story, I can tell you, it demonstrates the shattering of an illusion larger than the one held by the person being profiled. And it prompts us to wonder if it is worth it under any circumstance, especially considering the clear evidence that there is eventually going to be a diminishing return in productivity on the number of hours worked (many studies have shown that consistently working excessive hours actually makes us less productive).
McKeown insists it doesn’t have to be this way, that we can make “the most essential activities … the easiest ones.” And his new book shows us how. (DJJS)
Man Enough: Undefining My Masculinity by Justin Baldoni, HarperOne
Both of my picks this week, coincidentally, assert the importance of and strength in vulnerability. While You are Your Best Thing provides many voices who speak on the Black Experience, Man Enough speaks man-to-man in a much more progressive way than that phrase may imply. Justin Baldoni (who famously plays Rafael in the CW series "Jane the Virgin") opens the book with a thorough explanation of his identity (straight, cisgender, white man), his beliefs (registered Independent of Baháʼí Faith), and his purpose for the book:
I believe that more than anything right now, we must find a way to stop the 'otherizing' of our friends, family, and neighbors due to ideological and lifestyle differences, and instead find the common, human ground of empathy, respect, and love. It is from this place that I believe, as it relates to this book and masculinity, that we have to separate the masculinity conundrum from political agendas to do the nuanced self-work and necessary healing to successfully create space for the conversations to be had. The victims of masculinity, when it becomes unhealthy, as it has for so many of us men, are not just our friends, wives, girlfriends, and partners, but also ourselves.
Embracing vulnerability will make anyone feel uncomfortable in the short-term, but if more of us practice it, the long-term benefits for ourselves and our society are endless. Baldoni gives us glimpses into his life—bullied by childhood classmates, objectified by TV viewers, falling in love, and learning a lot from his affectionate father—and by looking back, he highlights the importance of being present and taking inventory of your thoughts and actions. (GMC)
What We Owe Each Other: A New Social Contract for a Better Society by Minouche Shafik, Princeton University Press
We often think of those who work in big bureaucracies—in government or the private sector—as being the most detached from the daily life of people. But I’ve found over and over again that it is just the opposite: those who dedicate themselves to working on policy issues in large institutions do so because of their fundamental empathy for the people and desire to improve conditions for all people. They are the ones thinking the most about how to help people, especially in moments of crisis like the one we find ourselves in now. And a crisis, as they say, is a terrible thing to waste. As Minouche Shafik writes:
Moments of crisis are also moments of opportunity. Some crises result in decisions that change society for the better—such as the New Deal measures introduced to counter the Great Depression or the rules-based international order that emerged after World War II. Other crises sow the seeds of new problems—such as the inadequate response to World War I or the 2008 financial crisis …
Decisions can lead to drastically different outcomes even in similar circumstances. The Great Depression that led to the New Deal in America was similar to conditions that led to the rise of Naziism in Germany. The rise of the international order after World War II coincided with the rise of the Iron Curtain constructed by one of our wartime allies. Circumstances differed, of course, but not nearly as much as the reactions of different societies to those circumstances did.
“Society,” Shafik writes, “is everything.” And that brings us to the topic of a social contract.
Who is ‘we’ in the question ‘What do we owe each other?’ To whom do we feel mutual obligations? This is a complex question that has personal, cultural and historical dimensions.
It is the work of policy makers to answer those questions and many others—or at least to shape our collective answers into policies that make up our social contract. The answers determine our access to basic needs, what opportunities we have in our economic lives, how accountable governments are to their citizens, and how united we are across our differences.
Minouche Shafik is currently Director of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Before that, she worked in some of the poorest countries on earth and in some of the richest, and with politicians of every stripe from every corner of the world for the IMF, the World Bank, and the Bank of England. All of those positions make her eminently qualified to write this book, but it is her obvious empathy, and her understanding of people as well as policy that, in my opinion, is most valuable of all. (DJJS)
You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience edited by Tarana Burke & Brené Brown, Random House
Tarana Burke is best known for starting the Me Too movement in 2006, an ongoing conversation across the world that is centered on and led by survivors. Her "empowerment through empathy" approach works perfectly with Brené Brown's guiding belief that "you have to walk through vulnerability to get to courage" in this co-edited collection by the two.
While Brené Brown is best known for her bestselling books on shame, vulnerability, and courage, the way that she most inspires me is through her podcast "Unlocking Us." She expertly sets the stage and makes the space for open conversations, something that we've all got to work on amidst the struggles for diversity and inclusion. This new essay collection feels similarly like an open conversation, with plenty of insight, vulnerability, and self-reflection. In You Are Your Best Thing, Burke and Brown lift up the voices of Black artists, activists, justice workers, therapists, educators, filmmakers, and more as they all work from various perspectives to explain and explore the very topics that the editors have studied their whole lives. What makes this collection so important is that, as Brown explains in the Introduction:
It's not like if you're Black, you don't need vulnerability to experience joy, belonging, intimacy, and love. It's that we've created a culture that makes it unsafe for you to be vulnerable.
The collection is for those who have experienced similar injustices and shame to see themselves, but it is also for others to understand the depth of racism in individuals' lives. The intense pressure of the everyday. In Burke’s concluding essay “Where the Truth Rests” she writes to herself:
We tell the world they don’t have to be anything but themselves to be worthy, and then we work until the stress is about to kill us to prove our worth.
It’s not just you. It's the paradox of deeply melanated women.
It gives me hope seeing people make room for those who are regularly shut out, and the essays themselves are such powerful reflections of individual healing that, despite the many hardships in the book, there is overall an overwhelming sense of hope. (GMC)