Once, someone told me I was the most interested person alive. "Thank you!!" I told him, astonished that finally someone else realized what I've known...moreOnce, someone told me I was the most interested person alive. "Thank you!!" I told him, astonished that finally someone else realized what I've known all along - that the Dos Equis guy is lying. It is, in fact, I who am the most interesting person alive!*
"No, no - not interesting...interested," he said, shattering my dreams without even realizing it.
Shit. So much for that.
But then I thought about it, and being the most interested person alive is pretty cool, too. I can get sucked into ANYTHING because I am fascinated by EVERYTHING. I might be the only person on the planet who enjoyed Yann Martel's 14-page description of a pear in Beatrice and Virgil, and I have yet to encounter a subject that can't even pique my curiosity a little bit.
Soo, I felt pretty good when I started with Alexandra Horowitz's On Looking as I was anticipating having an obscure-fact party in my brain, but alas, there was no party to be had. Boo.
First off, the book is one giant LIE.
Okay so that may be a slightly extreme way of putting it, but I don't seem the be the only one who thought she would repeat the same walk with 11 different experts, thereby casting 11 different points of view on the same space. Wouldn't that have been infinitely more interesting?? (Spoiler alert: Yes.) I thought the entire point of the book is "look how much you're missing in everyday life" - so shouldn't these alleged** experts be able to illuminate one walk in 11 different ways? Oddly, some of the walks were in fact the same, whereas the others were in entirely different states. Huh?
There was also a problem of content. It often seemed the Horowitz didn't sponge enough information out of her experts to fill the whole book, so she resorted to bolstering each chapter with marginally relevant filler content. Example: In one chapter, she scours the streets with a doctor who's adept at diagnosing illness based on peculiarities of gait and appearance. Unfortunately, probably because people were bundled up against the cold and thereby hiding their sickly complexions from inspection, there were only about two people the doctor was able to size up on their walk. Rather than scrap that doctor idea and come up with a new expert to walk with, Horowitz is like, "hey guys, let me also tell you about this physical therapist I know from when my back was out, which I may have mentioned before because my back was out for like half of this project which probably was an ominous way to begin a book dependent upon my ability to walk but anyway this guy also knows some things about gaits, like let's see well usually you walk with your hips in synchronous rotation which thereby forces the legs forward via kinetic propulsion [yes, I made that up] and...what was I talking about again?" Right, like that.
By far my favorite chapter was her walk with her toddler son as I myself have an almost-toddler son, and I am endlessly fascinated by what he finds fascinating. We take him to the aquarium to see the bright, colorful fish and silly penguins, and the kid stares at, say, the bolt holding the tank together. Horowitz was smart to start the book with this little man's walk, though, since it hammers home the point that really, nothing is intrinsically more interesting to look at than anything else (except faces, according to science - babies are born to respond to faces). Everything provides an opportunity for investigative study, when you think about it, but in this day of constantly being "on," we too often forget that. Horowitz's book is a nice, if slightly off-target, reminder to slow down and look at the world around you.
I can think of no better ending to this review than the immortal words of one Mr. Ferris Bueller:
"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."***
*I pride myself on being a grammar nerd, but this is tripping me up. Do I say am or is there?? Calling Jess, help please...both sound wrong.
**I don't know why I said that. They're clearly well-established in their fields and are fully deserving of the "expert" title.
Interesting that I chose to read this book right around the time when I decided to lean OUT big time.
Prior to March 2013, I had a great job doing int...moreInteresting that I chose to read this book right around the time when I decided to lean OUT big time.
Prior to March 2013, I had a great job doing interesting work for (mostly) wonderful people, but that job happened to exist in NYC - aka the most expensive city in the country - and for all the job's plusses, "financially rewarding" it was not.
Post March 2013, everything changed. I had my first baby - a sweet, adorable bundle of baby boy joy - and upon crunching the numbers, I realized that post-tax and post-nanny, it didn't necessarily pay (financially, at least) for me to work. I knew we could live on my husband's salary alone without changing our lifestyle significantly (yes, my salary was that paltry), and I knew that if I were to continue to work, the cost of a nanny would have eaten all but about $5,000 of my post-tax income. Would you work full-time for that amount of money? Would $5,000 get you out of bed every day and help you overlook crowded smelly subways, meetings with people you kind of want to punch in the face, losing PowerPoint presentations when your computer crashes, having no flexibility to your life from M-F, 9am-6pm...$96 a week. $13 a day. No thank you.
That, paired with a rather inconveniently timed move to Boston, left me a stay-at-home mom who now spends her days singing "The Wheels on the Bus" at baby music class, playing with the parachute at baby-and-me class and doing downward dog while blowing kisses at baby yoga class instead of going to meetings, writing proposals and managing budgets.
It'd be nice to end that previous paragraph with a "...and I wouldn't have it any other way," but the truth is, I miss work. I miss the brain power involved, I miss being around adults, I miss solving problems...but the flip side of that truth is that if I were at work, I would miss my boy. What's a young professional gal to do?!
Sandberg acknowledges that having approximately $1,000,000,000 in the bank makes it a little easier to cover the childcare and other household help that greatly, greatly simplify the life of a working mother. Still, her message isn't one of an out-of-touch, idealistic celebrity boss - she's not Gwyneth, and this isn't Goop. The stats in Lean In aren't anything that someone with an interest in women's studies wouldn't have encountered, but they're upsetting to read, particularly given how numerous they are. (Most interesting to me is the case study where a successful woman was profiled, and a focus group gave her horrendous ratings on things like "would I be friends with this person," "I'd like to work with this person," etc. The exact same profile was given to another focus group, only this time the woman's name was changed to a man's. You probably aren't surprised to hear that this fictitious man got rave reviews for his business savvy, his drive, his success...all the things the woman was critiqued for.)
I think Sandberg's admonishment to "lean in" is exactly what women need to hear, and her book should be required reading for anyone in the workplace, particularly for those who think being a feminist is bad and/or that things already are equal because the women's rights movement already happened. (These are also the people who don't think racism is a problem anymore, either.) This book made me imagine what my life would be like if I don't go back to work - and if I do.
So, while I can see myself running board meetings and accepting Time's Person of the Year award, I - and millions of others - struggle with the reality of what life would be like with two parents working, and the thought of it makes me hyperventilate. The chaos! I am emphatically not a fan of chaos. After a long day of work, household duties still would need to get done, and while it's not glamorous, someone has to be sure that a healthy dinner is on the table every night and that all members of the household are bathed on a somewhat regular basis and that the dirty laundry gets washed and folded. Since my husband works crazy long hours, that someone would be...me. How some people do it, I have no idea. One of the women I respect most from my job is a C-level executive, has three great kids, works out, always looks impeccable in super chic clothes, cooks AND reads (and is on Goodreads!). For the life of me, I don't know how she does it.
I'm no closer to arriving at the answer - my answer, the one for me and my family - than I was when I started this "review," which is more a blog entry than an actual assessment of the book. I suppose, being a businesswoman, Sandberg can appreciate that economics necessitates that either choice - staying home or working - will result in the diminishment of something else, be it family time, a skyrocketing career, sleep...something's gotta give. I'm just not sure what I want that something to be yet. (less)