George W. Bush: Decision Points

Seventeen years ago I voted in my first presidential election, I was nineteen. For as long as I could remember politics were a passion of mine and my opinions and ideals always aligned with the Left. So, when I watched the election of 2000 unfold, my heart was crushed. Then, in 2004, it was crushed again.

But, 2016 provided a completely new perspective. 2000 and 2004 were nothing compared to the devastation and disappointment I experienced in 2016. It was with this new perspective that I was inspired to listen to George W. Bush’s post-Presidency book, Decision Points. And, let me tell you what a difference eight years makes.

The premise of Decision Points is essentially a full dissection of the critical decisions Bush made during his eights years in office. Everything from stem cell research to his HIVA/AIDS work in Africa to Iraq and 9/11. While, I don’t agree with a lot of the decisions made during his presidency, particularly on Iraq, I now have a better understanding of how he came to the conclusions he did. This is especially true when it comes to Iraq, which accounts for almost half of the book. As he walks through the intelligence he received and the rationale behind the decision to invade Iraq I was able to walk away with a clearer picture of the how and why. I still disagree with the decision he and his administration made, but I understand it.

What struck me the most was his passion and compassion. His storytelling is clear and concise and made his deep love of American and its people apparent. More than eight years have passed since his presidency came to an end and in that time, history, and I, look upon his time with more appreciation than contempt.

Malala Yousafzai: I am Malala

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban is a powerful story of a young girl fighting for the things she believes in: peace and education for all children. Malala’s story delivered the kind of inspirational tale that I was expecting – a strong, brave, intelligent and outspoken young woman who fought for her education. What I didn’t expect? The detailed insight into how the Taliban came to power in her valley in Pakistan.

What also came as a surprise? The parallels I was able to draw between the current regime in America and the way in which the Taliban was able to draw in supporters.

As I listened to this young girl detail the history of the Taliban in Pakistan and the way they moved into her home in the Swat Valley, my jaw dropped. From the man who came to power by promising to release his taxes and drain the corruption from the government to the Taliban leader who took to the radio airwaves to spread fake news and false narratives while calling out those he felt didn’t follow the Islam that he deemed to be correct. Every step they took rung true as I thought about Donald Trump, the alt-right and those that follow them religiously. It was eerie how similar these tactics are.

What struck me the most as I listened to Malala’s life story was how important it was – not just her plea for education and rights for girls – but to story of how the Taliban and other extremists have perverted the Islamic of religion. Malala and her family are passionate about their faith and they are adamantly opposed to the message of the Taliban. She offers a perspective that all Americans and Westerners need to hear. It is something I’ve said for years, but that her book reinforced, extremists do not represent the Muslim community and those in the community are as appalled by their actions as we are.

Malala’s story was eye opening and provided me with a perspective that one could only get from someone who lived through it.

Sheryl Sandberg: Lean In

When I started listening to Lean In I had no idea that it would take me on an emotional journey into self-realization and ultimately self-reassurance.

I know I am a few years late to the Lean In movement, but the timing could not have been more perfect for my life. Being a working mom is still fairly new for me and having a career with goals and a ladder is almost equally as new. The combination of the two – motherhood and career – is an ongoing struggle for me. The mere mention of the words working, daycare, child, mom, etc. will almost always bring immediate tears to my eyes. So, listening to this book made me incredibly thankful for waterproof mascara.

Sandberg is an expert in both being a career woman and a mom and her words were incredibly powerful. Her message? Was like an atomic bomb. So many of the self-inflicted issues women face in the workplace and in life struck me right where I needed to hear it. I found myself nodding in agreement almost every other sentence.

Whether your career is in or out of the home, Sandberg’s message of Leaning In is important. Women often place themselves inside imaginary boundaries when it comes to our roles and though they may make us unhappy or unsatisfied, we don’t push back against the norms. It is up to us to redefine the norms and roles for our generation and future generations.

Gloria Steinem: My Life on the Road

Gloria Steinem’s name is one I’ve heard most of my life – from my mother, from the news, from other political leaders and activists – but, until I read , I didn’t really understand who she is. I knew she was a powerful voice and force during the women’s movement and I also knew she was still active in organizing and campaigning. What I didn’t know?

How powerful her words were.

In My Life on the Road, Steinem doesn’t just tell her story, but she also tells the stories of the people who influenced and impacted her throughout her life. She weaves these stories into lessons of American history, whether intentional or not. In this collection of life experiences and personal stories, she brings these often static moments to life – from Vietnam to Civil Rights to the assassinations of JFK and Bobby Kennedy.

These stories made me laugh out loud, but many brought me to tears. The courage and fight held in these pages showcases the very spirit of America … and they are just the words we need to hear right now. Steinem reminded me that We, The People, have the power to use our voices and our actions to enact real, impactful change.

Paul Ryan: The Way Forward

I live in a self-created liberal bubble. I have intentionally surrounded myself with like minded or a-political friends, with few exceptions. Rarely do I seek out those with thoughts different from my own, unless I am looking to prove a point or start a debate.

After the disaster that was 2016, I realized I needed to expand my horizons and widen my thought bubble. In doing so, I sought out to find a book that was from a current thought leader on the Right. I chose Paul Ryan because I cannot stomach a Donald Trump book. While I know Ryan is not a true representation of Trump’s Republican party, he is a leader and one I would consider to be more representative of the Conservative way of thinking.

My goal was to listen to this book with an open mind to gain insight into Ryan and the Conservative agenda. I knew there would be liberal bashing and expected harsh words on President Obama. I was not disappointed. However, I was disappointed in the tone taken. The criticism of President Obama was done in a manner that appeared to be whining. He called POTUS a bully and a heartless politician pushing an agenda, which isn’t unique to POTUS. Ryan didn’t come across as a man offering constructive criticism of the president. Instead, he sounded like a child whose big brother didn’t let him ride along on his date.

Digging deeper into the book, Ryan did address the Conservative agenda and provide his ideas for solutions. A common theme, privatization. Rather than work to fix government institutions and alleviate the bureaucratic problems, his goal would be to have all government agencies and citizen safety nets outsourced to private companies – education, Social Security, Medicare, Healthcare, etc. I don’t disagree with his assessment of the issues we face, but I don’t agree with his shortsighted approach to solving them. We cannot, as a society, in good conscious send all of our public programs to private entities where profit will become the driving factor. Our citizens deserve better.

Herein lies the key difference in the Right and the Left. The Right focuses first on finances and second on people. The Left focuses first on people and second on finances. Which one is the correct way to run our country? The answer isn’t a clear cut right or left answer and we have to find balance. Ryan discusses this in his book, but in doing so he asserts that the Conservative agenda is the only clear choice to solving America’s issues. He doesn’t seek to understand the Left and he doesn’t care to incorporate its beliefs and values into his plans.

Ryan is also a devout Catholic and he inserts his beliefs very heavily into the book. I feel he may have missed the separation of Church and State portion of the Constitution. And that whole First Amendment piece on freedom of religion. I can respect a man’s beliefs, but I cannot respect his desire to impose those beliefs on a free nation.

My final takeaway -Ryan is clear in his mission, push the Conservative agenda at all costs. He does not believe Liberals have anything to offer. He does clearly have a passion for his country, but falls short on compassion for people. He talks about the poor and minorities in an abstract way. He brags about going out on tours to visit poor cities and talk to the poor. His solutions are about bringing back the dignity of work and he does address the issues that for some, getting ahead isn’t as simple as pulling up your bootstraps. But those rare moments of understanding are overshadowed by his simplistic solution of privatization.

I still have a great deal of work to do on expanding my bubble. I often found myself arguing with the narrator. Listening to Ryan’s book was step one. Step two is researching some of the works he referenced as the guiding principles of the Conservative movement.

Cory Booker: United

My post election hangover/funk deepened a little as I dove into Bernie’s book. I wanted to continue my path down political awareness, but also wanted something inspiring and positive. Enter Cory Booker – the eternally positive US Senator from New Jersey. I’ve followed him on Facebook for a few years and his posts are always a bright spot in the sea of news and depression.

His book did not disappoint.

Booker grew up in a solid middle class family with both him mom and dad. They fought to buy a home in a white suburb in New Jersey so he and his brother could attend good schools and his parents could commute to their jobs at IBM. He went on to get an Ivy League education and became a lawyer. His faith and personal beliefs led him to a desire to work in an impoverished community where he could make a difference.

His book details the stories of his experiences living in Brick Towers in Newark, his journey into politics and to the US Senate. The stores, while originating in Newark, are not unique to the city. All across America, minorities and those living in poverty face these realities on a daily basis. Booker offers insights and hope through his passion for helping others. He weaves in some politics as he discusses his ideas for solutions, but the majority of the book is nonpartisan, as we can all relate to and see the need to address these struggles facing Americans of all walks of life.

At times, the stories brought me to tears. But, Booker always brought hope back into the fold, not matter how depressing or solemn the story. Booker is the kind of politician America needs – passionate but pragmatic. He is idealistic, but he also takes and calls for action – a thinker and a doer. He sees people for who they are and his desire to help isn’t just a facade, it is genuine.

Bernie Sanders: Our Revolution

This may not be a popular POV, but I was and always will be a Bernie supporter. I was vocal about my support during the primary and am still following him. For me, there was always something missing in the straight democratic platform. Sure, I’ve been a democrat for as long as I can remember … I think Dukakis was the first I remember voting for in our school elections. But, I knew my ideals were far more left than even the most liberal democrat … and then Bernie came along. As did the terms Progressive and Democratic Socialism. It was then I realized what was missing in the platform of the DNC. And, while I voted for Secretary Clinton and was a fierce supporter of hers after the Democratic National Convention, I still find myself asking “what if.”

In the days and weeks following the election, I found myself sinking deeper into the what if narrative and started stalking Bernie on social media. I was delighted to see he had released a new book that outlined his platform in detail and provided a postmortem on his campaign. So, I quickly downloaded and have spent that past two weeks listening to the audio production (narrated by Bernie himself and Mark Ruffalo) during my commute.

The first half of the book provides some back stories on Bernie’s life and career and then dives straight into his presidential primary campaign. One thing I have always appreciated about Bernie is his honesty – no matter how brutal the truth is. He assigns sainthood to no one (except, perhaps himself at times, my only complaint). To be perfectly honest, this was likely my least favorite part of the book. I had already lived through the campaign process and this was like ripping open a closed wound and pouring salt into the now fresh wound.

The second half of the book, read by Mark Ruffalo, was a complete outline, in detail, of the progressive platform. It contained statistics, solutions, causes and, did I mention actual solutions to the problems faced by every day Americans. Real solutions … such a novel idea.

Several times in the book I was moved to tears. Why? Because Bernie gets it. He truly knows and understands the real struggles that ordinary Americans face every single day. He writes with passion, compassion and empathy as he tells stories of single mothers, coal miners, fast food workers – the under paid and under represented.

What he also knows and understands is how corporations and the 1% are guiding American politics. He discusses, in detail (shocking, I know), just how destructive their lobbying and political activism is to American democracy. If you don’t know the details of how Walmart is the largest recipient of government welfare, you are in for a shocking and rude awakening.

In Our Revolution, Bernie takes corporate America to task and he doesn’t apologize for his hard stance and definitive defense of working Americans. Most politicians today are so far removed from Middle America and the working class, but not Bernie. He took the time to listen and he actually paid attention to their stories and struggles.

I doubt many reading this are on the Right, but if you are and want to understand where Progressives are coming from, I recommend this book. Further, if you are one of the members of the DNC who attack and bemoan the “Bernie or Bust” voters, take the time to check out this book, at least the second half. The policies and positions he outlines are important and they are crucial to rebuilding the democratic party.

Happiness for Beginners

Happiness for BeginnersThe first Katherine Center novel I read was the Bright Side of Disaster. I immediately fell in love with her writing style and wit. Her characters were engaging, relatable and I wanted to be their friend. The stories sucked me in every single time. So, when I saw her new book, Happiness for Beginners, I knew I had to read it.

Those that know me know that when I pick up a book it is either impossible for me to put down and I devour it in a matter of days or it is impossible for me to finish and I struggle through to the last page over a month or two. In the case of Happiness for Beginners, I devoured it in a matter of three bedtime reading sessions. The night I finished it, I ignored my exhaustion (this little human I am growing is a tiny energy sucker) and my husband’s tales of his work day and eagerly turned each page. Two hours past my (admittedly lame) bedtime, I finally finished. It’s been a while since I read a book ending as satisfying as this one.

Helen’s (and sometimes Ellen, depending who is addressing her) character was another one of Center’s highly relatable and engaging characters. She isn’t perfect, but she is trying to find out who she is and to take control of her life. As she embarks on her journey on a highly dangerous wilderness survival trip – the kind that has been known to cause deaths but is under new management, so it’s all good – Helen is determined to make every step of her journey count. 

Along the way, Helen slowly starts to open her eyes to those around her and her past. Whether it’s the wilderness hike or her new found appreciation for Jake, her little brother’s annoying best friend, that finally opens her heart and mind up, is up to the reader to decide. I’d like to think it’s a little of both and Helen herself.

Either way, Happiness for Beginners was both entertaining and satisfying. I highly recommend not only checking our this novel by Katherine Center, but also checking out the rest of her novels.

Your Perfect Life

yourperfectlifeLisa Steinke and Liz Fenton crafted the perfect summer read with their debut novel Your Perfect Life. I have been a fan of these two writers and their blog for many years and have been eagerly awaiting this book for what felt like an eternity. As soon as it was available for pre-order, I hit my favorite button on Amazon (Buy Now) and counted down the days until the release date.

Between Casey’s celebrity hobnobbing and party-girl, single life and Rachel’s suburban fairytale turned modern day bored housewife, readers get to enjoy both sides of every woman’s fantasy – being single, wild and free while also being super mom and wife.

When I first started reading Your Perfect Life, my eyes may have rolled a little at the switching bodies storyline, but it was the well-developed and relatable characters that truly drew me into the story. I loved Casey’s attitude and drive and Rachel’s deep love for her family and could totally relate to her need to control everything without ever asking for help.

After about 3 or 4 chapters, I was hooked and could not put the book down. The more I read Casey in Rachel’s life and vice versa, the less I wanted them to switch back. Through the switch, each got to experience the one thing they longed for but were both too scared to try. For Rachel, it was having her own career and following her passion for journalism and for Casey, her deep, long-hidden desire to be a mother finally bubbled up to the surface.

What I loved most about this novel was that I was able to truly connect with both characters. As a driven, type-A person, I could put myself in Casey’s shoes and as a dreamer who is often far too rooted in reality, I was able to truly understand Rachel and the choices she made along the way.

For me, the hallmark of a great book is how sad I am when I turn the page and instead of finding more story, I instead find acknowledgements. A great story is one you don’t want to end and start to crave to know more about the characters and their stories. Your Perfect Life did just that for me – seriously Liz and Lisa, I need more!

Check out Girl in Nashville on Facebook to win an autographed copy!

Emily Giffin: The One & Only

TheoneandonlyWe’ve all been there – feeling your heart flutter just a little too much for someone we should absolutely not be having heart flutters for. While most of us feel it, few of us actually act on those flutters – especially when the flutters are for your best friend’s recently widowed father. Emily Giffin tackles this very topic in her latest novel, The One & Only.

Normally, I can devour Giffin’s novels in a matter of days. However, The One & Only didn’t go down quite as smoothly as her others. I found myself both disgusted by and rooting for Shea Rigsby in her unraveling of her feelings for Coach. But, a good story has the ability to make us feel all sorts of feels … discomfort, anxiety, happiness, confusion, fear and all those other complicated human emotions that we strive to avoid. Shea felt every one of these and then some and through Giffin’s writing, I too went through all of these emotions.

Aside from feeling emotionally uncomfortable by Shea ‘s love her for recently widowed mentor, the only other thing that bothered me was that at times it felt as if part of the story line was forced – Shea’s entire relationship with Ryan, for example. I felt the way it started and ended was contrived just to drive the point of Shea’s feelings for Coach home more so than necessary.

Discomfort aside, The One & Only was a great read – not an easy, comfortable read, but a great one. The writing was on par with Giffin’s previous novels and the characters were well developed, for the most part. If you are looking for an emotionally challenging and interesting read this summer, check it The One & Only.