Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster

Bitter is the New Black : Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry A Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office Bitter is the New Black : Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry A Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office by Jen Lancaster

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have read Jen Lancaster's blog off and on for a while now and I like her snarky no holds barred sense of humor.

I was also a victim of post 9/11 layoffs so I could empathize with some of the things she went through. I also think this is a book a lot of people in our country's current economic situation could appreciate as well. I have to say though, I was impressed by Jen's industriousness. I did OK on unemployment until after graduation the next spring, but after that I'm pretty sure I was depressed and sleeping in while she was up at 7am making calls and applying to every job posted on Monster.

This book really could have been just one big funny rant, but I was pleasantly surprised at the depth of it. The earlier chapters cracked me up, but for me it was the balance of humor and the humility, the lessons she learned over the course of her unemployment that brought resonance to the book. Not that I didn't enjoy her 'fat girl at the Chicago Marathon Health Fair'episode and her commentary about the 'Russian Army' building the house next door. It was just that I also liked seeing how she and her husband Fletch supported and took care of each other in the hard times and the way she swallowed her pride and took a greyhound bus to see her mom when she was in the hospital.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and look forward to reading her other work.

View all my reviews.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Writing Angst


My level of frustration is reaching a frenzy at the moment and I am really tempted to just give up and go to sleep. I am being nominated for an Outstanding Teaching by Part-time Faculty award and my portfolio is due tomorrow. Everything is pretty much in order except for my Teaching Philosophy and Statement of Focus. Its wordy. Its filled with abstract mumbo jumbo. My sentences are too long. There's no conclusion to speak of. Blech! I just keep going over and over it and the words are refusing to bend to my will.

I am so steeped in it that I am having trouble getting perspective. And its way past my bedtime. I'm just praying that I'll get some divine flash of inspiration sometime in the next 5 minutes while I can still keep my eyes open.

On a happy note, it looks like this is my 100th post. At least there's something happy to boost my ego.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Geography of Bliss: One Grumps Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner

This is the first non-fiction book I have read in a long time and I think this is one I will go back to again and again. The premise of this book sold me immediately- Eric Weiner, a long time NPR foreign correspondent realized that he has spent the bulk of his career traveling to rather depressing, unhappy places and decided, for a change, to seek out the happiest places in the world. His journey first takes him to The Netherlands to meet with the world’s foremost happiness researcher and then on to Switzerland, Iceland, Qatar, Bhutan (where the government actually measures GNH – Gross National Happiness), Thailand, Great Brittan, Moldova, India and then back home again.

I bought this book over a year ago in hardcover (gasp!) because I just had to have it right this minute, but alas I got onto a big fiction kick and it sat on my shelf patiently waiting until now to find its way into my hands. However, I think my timing was serendipitous because it seemed that every time I picked it up, something I’d just been thinking about popped up in the pages. After my husband and I were watching Lost and discussing who the real Jeremy Bentham was (Jeremy Bentham was the name John Locke used after leaving the island) and who shows up in the book that very same night when I sat down to read? Yep, question answered. Bentham, incidentally, was famous for his utilitarian principle “the greatest happiness for the greatest number.”

One thing I loved about this book was that it was full of passages and observations that really gave me food for thought. My copy is full of dog-eared pages and lines I’ve gone back to and jotted down. My favorite section was the bit about Iceland entitled Iceland: Happiness is Failure where Eric explores the link between the act of creating and happiness. Apparently in Iceland there is not such a negative stigma attached to failure which encourages a culture rife with creativity. One Icelander quipped that they would probably erect a statue to the one person who in Iceland who had not written a novel or poem or song. Here’s a passage from that chapter that especially resonated with me:

“There’s no one on the island telling them they’re not good enough, so they just go ahead and sing and paint and write. One result of this freewheeling attitude is that the Icelandic artists produce a lot of crap. They’re the first to admit it. But crap plays an important role in the art world. In fact, it plays exactly the same role as it does in the farming world. It’s fertilizer. The crap allows the good stuff to grow.”

Imagine how much more we might achieve in America if we, as a culture, weren’t so afraid of the ramifications of failure. I could sure use some time in Iceland creative boot camp.

My one disappointment with this otherwise thought provoking and very well written book was that the section on America seemed a bit rushed. It offered stories only about Miami and Asheville, North Carolina which hardly seemed representative of our entire country. But then, I wondered if any city or state might have been able to capture the essence of America. Probably not.
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