"Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead"
By Sheryl Sandberg
When Sheryl Sandberg was pregnant with her first child, she was a senior executive at Google. She had gained a lot of weight - 70 pounds - and suffered nausea throughout the pregnancy. Google's parking lots were vast, and she would lumber across them, until one day she decided things had to change.
"The next day, I marched in - or more like waddled in - to see Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin in their office, which was really just a large room with toys and gadgets strewn all over the floor," Sandberg recounts in her excellent new book. "I found Sergey in a yoga position in the corner and announced that we needed pregnancy parking, preferably sooner than later. He looked up at me and agreed immediately, noting that he had never thought about it before."
Sandberg, now chief operating officer of Facebook, notes that she, and other pregnant women at Google, had suffered silently until she said something. "Having one pregnant woman at the top ... made the difference," she writes.
"Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead" is Sandberg's feminist call to arms to women. After watching women demur in meetings, suffer in silence, shrink away from grabbing promotions and drop out of the workforce when they become mothers, Sandberg had had enough. If this continues, men - who continue to lead most nations, most states, most cities, most corporations and most everything else except the home - will always run everything, she argues. That has to change if we truly want equality.
The answer, she writes, is for women to "lean in" to their careers. Of course, for many women, "leaning in" is easy until children come along. Most workplaces don't make it easy to be a pregnant or working mom, and society doesn't cheer us on either.
If a career is like a marathon, Sandberg writes, "male marathoners are routinely cheered on … but the female runners hear a different message. 'You know you don't have to do this!' the crowd shouts. Or 'Good start - but you probably won't want to finish!'"
These signals, along with workplaces that make it hard to run families with two working parents, cause a lot of women to ease up on careers as they have children. Some, if they can afford to, drop out altogether. A 2007 survey of Harvard Business School graduates found that only half of the women who graduated in the 1990s were working full time, she writes.
Most of the book is written to urge women to aspire to greatness, offering practical advice about how to do that. There are tips about how to negotiate your salary, ask for promotions, speak up, navigate your career and set boundaries that make it possible to have a life outside work. She also offers thoughts on how to get a partner to take on half of the housekeeping and child-rearing duties, essential ingredients to making it all work.
Sandberg describes negotiating her compensation after receiving an offer from Facebook. She was dying to take the job, she writes, and felt uncomfortable asking for better terms.
"But right before I was about to say yes, my exasperated brother-in-law, Marc Bodnick, blurted out, 'Damn it, Sheryl! Why are you going to make less than any man would make to do the same job?' "
She negotiated, got more money, a longer contract and was invited to buy into the company. Facebook went public. Asking for more paid off.
Trine Tsouderos, for Printers Row Journal/ Chicago Tribune
"The Book of My Lives"
By Aleksandar Hemon
Srebenica. Sniper Alley. Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. If memories of the Bosnian war are starting to fade, you'd do well to pick up a copy of Aleksandar Hemon's "The Book of My Lives."
The Bosnian-born Hemon, who came to America through a cultural exchange program and sought political asylum when the siege of Sarajevo blocked his return, is an elegant and funny writer who, amazingly, didn't write in English until he moved here in his late 20s, in 1992.
The title of the book comes from a chilling essay about a charismatic, Shakespeare-spouting literature professor with whom Hemon studied at the University of Sarajevo, who later became a confidant of Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader accused of war crimes.
Professor Nikola Koljevic tells his class how his 5-year-old daughter began a book titled "The Book of My Life," but "planned to wait for more life to accumulate" before starting Chapter 2. Hemon is charmed by the story but years later berates himself for falling under Koljevic's spell. "I kept trying to identify the first moment when I could have noticed his genocidal proclivities," he writes.
All of the essays in the book, Hemon's first work of nonfiction, were originally published elsewhere, accounting for its somewhat disjointed feel. But cumulatively, the pieces add up to a singular life - acutely observed, deeply felt and scarred by the savagery of the Bosnian war, the sorrowful journey from multi-ethnic Sarajevo to multi-ethnic Chicago and the death of a child.
If there is one weakness, it's Hemon's fondness for abstractions, as in, "The funny thing is that the need for collective self-legitimization fits snugly into the neoliberal fantasy of multiculturalism." The words "exteriority" and "interiority" show up more than once.
But far more passages sparkle with finely observed details of daily life in the waning years of the federal republic of Yugoslavia, turning darker as Hemon anticipates the tribal hatreds that would eventually tear apart his beloved country.
When, in the opening pages, an innocent joke at a children's birthday party about a fluffy wool sweater from Turkey is misconstrued as a racist insult, bringing the festivities to a crashing halt, you know with dread in your heart what will be coming next.
Ann Levin, The Associated Press
THE AVIATOR'S WIFE
By Melanie Benjamin
Lindbergh. The name conjures up the internationally famed hero and the "crime of the century." But it's also the name of the first woman to obtain a glider pilot's license: Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the Lone Eagle's wife for 45 years. During their early marriage, especially after the kidnapping and murder of their baby, the press hounded the Lindberghs, hoping for a shred of insight to share with a nation hungry for heroes in the thick of the Depression. That our fascination lingers is exhibited by the Lindbergh documentaries and books that appear each year.
Melanie Benjamin's historical novel "The Aviator's Wife" assuages that hunger with an intimate examination of the life and emotional mettle of Anne Morrow.
The novel begins in 1974, with Charles Lindbergh's final flight home to the Hawaiian island of Maui, where he wants to be buried. Anne has recently obtained letters he wrote to an unspecified number of German women who bore him a total of seven children. Angry at this betrayal yet guilty of her own infidelity, she sits beside his makeshift sickbed on the airplane, examining their lives and the nature of their love.
The bulk of the novel shows scenes from their past. Anne recounts learning to fly, and navigating and charting new routes around the world. She describes how Charles helped foster the burgeoning airline industry. The story also details the tragedy that spotlights Anne as a mother and compels a nation to mourn, while both parents grieve in incompatible ways. After the trial, the Lindberghs move to Europe to avoid the frenzied press and begin a pattern of renting houses that continues until after World War II.
The book is peppered with historical figures whose shoulders they brushed, such as "the Great Aviatrix" - presumably Amelia Earhart. There are glimpses of Joseph Kennedy, Harry Guggenheim, Henry Ford, Hermann Goering, Adolf Hitler and an amusing visit with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Benjamin also presents, through Anne's rationalizing eyes, Charles' interest in eugenics and his admiration of the efficient Germans, which results in his being labeled a Nazi sympathizer.
Benjamin efficiently jumps time, choosing segments that explore the tensions of Anne's marriage to a controlling, unexpressive husband. Charles encourages Anne's desire to write literature, and she succeeds with the bestsellers "North to the Orient" and later "Gift From the Sea."
"The Aviator's Wife" is an engaging novel, less so for the portrayal of Anne's often overwrought emotional journey than for its inherently fascinating record of all things Lindbergh. Benjamin's thorough historical and cultural research augments the authenticity of this intimate story and will probably draw the interest of book clubs.
Eugenia Kim, For The Washington Post