Wednesday, March 21, 2012


By Gloria Feldt. Hardcover, 381 pages. Seal Press, 2010

Buy the book

This is truly a women's book. Its subtitle is 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. I was honored when Mrs. Feldt asked me to read it. I would love to see more women in positions of power; I think male and female leadership styles can balance each other out. This book is an instruction manual for women to claim their power. According to Feldt, the only thing stopping women from having more power is their reluctance to do so. Men have always taken power for granted, she argues. The time has come for women to do the same.

The book bears repeated reading, because it does so many things. It provides an outline of women's history. Feldt shares her personal history as an example of what can happen when a woman decides to take charge of her life. She critiques women's websites that purport to empower women by convincing them to buy things. She relays interviews with women who have founded companies, given money to charity, and brought about change.

The biggest lesson I took from this book is the difference between what Feldt calls power over and power to. Men in leadership roles typically have power over those under them. But women's power is the power to solve problems together. I prefer the latter, because power over always causes more problems than it solves. Since reading this book, I have tried to think and make decisions more like a woman, from a power to dynamic. This book is part of my training.

Although the book is meticulously researched, with an extensive bibliography, Feldt never lapses into dry academic language. Her voice is friendly, inviting women and men alike to question their assumptions. Reading this book has helped me understand women and their relationship with power a little better. I recommend it for women who want to improve their careers and relationships, as well as for men who are ready to redefine their gender roles.

Also, after reading this book, I am excited about the possibility of voting for Hilary Clinton in 2016. I hope she runs!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Book Review: Losing Clementine

By Ashley Ream. 306 pages, paperback. William Morrow, 2012.

Will she or won't she?

This question lies at the heart of many romantic comedies, and it usually has to do with sex. But for renowned, troubled artist Clementine Pritchard, answering that question is a matter of life and death. After years of mind-numbing medication, dubious psychiatric treatment, and the inability to form healthy attachments to other people, Clementine has decided to end her life. She tells us so in the first chapter, called "30 Days." Each following chapter moves us one day closer to Clementine's planned suicide.

Although she seems incapable of showing affection, there are people who care about Clementine. One is her assistant, Jenny. Jenny is an art school graduate who organizes Clementine's found art materials, cooks her meals, and tries to keep Clementine from self-destructing. She is not aware of Clementine's plans. Like everyone else, she thinks her employer has cancer. This is the lie Clementine spreads. Her ex-husband, Richard, reacts to the news by telling Clementine to fight. He accompanies her to Mexico, even though she will not tell him why they are going. They visit a funeral home, and in one darkly comedic scene, he tries to force her out of a coffin she decides to "test drive."

Clementine's last relationship, and the one that seems most damaging, is with her psychiatrist. Even as he violates every ethical rule by having sex with Clementine, he encourages her to talk about her feelings as if this will overcome the harm he causes her.

Ream does a good job of making us curious about Clementine. It would have been easy to portray her as self-pitying, selfish, and hysterical. She is certainly self-centered, but she did not ask for a mental illness. A subplot involves Clementine's efforts to find her father, who abandoned and traumatized her at an early age. She did not ask for that either, and Clementine deals with the fallout in the only ways she has ever learned.

Clementine's defining characteristic is her relentless pursuit of death. She makes a plan and follows it with almost no deviations. There is no sense that what she is doing is a cry for help; Clementine rejects help in subtle and blatant ways on nearly every page. Yet sensitive readers can empathize with her enough to hope she will, somehow, gather what she needs to go on living.

Will she or won't she? This question matters, but it is not nearly as important as learning how Clementine arrived at a place where taking herself out seemed the most sane and logical decision. Ream's exploration of that story is what will enthrall readers and make the book popular.

Friday, March 2, 2012


Monday, March 4th is National Grammar Day. Mignon Fogarty, aka Grammar Girl, invited me to write a post in honor of this special day.

As a Language Arts teacher, I am always on the lookout for real-world examples of good and bad writing that I can use in my classroom. One of my favorite bad examples is this photo, taken from an office door at the local supermarket. If you're having trouble reading it, it says "YOU DO I REPEAT DO NOT HAVE MAID SERVICE SO YOU WILL NEED TO CLEAN UP BEHIND YOURSELF!!!"

It's safe to assume a manager wrote and posted this notice. The door opens onto one of those narrow staircases leading up to a large office with a tinted window. This is where the store manager stands and watches everything going on in her realm. I think some of them rub their hands together and cackle with glee as they do this.

I doubt the store manager wrote this notice, though. She probably farmed it out to the Customer Service Manager or even the head cashier. In any case, this writer would receive an F in my class.

First of all, what part of a sentence is "I REPEAT DO NOT?" And why is "DO" underlined if the point is to say "DO NOT?" And isn't it redundant to tell people who are tasked with keeping the store clean that they do not have maid service? It would be more accurate to say "YOU ARE I REPEAT ARE THE MAID SERVICE!!!"

Secondly, I have never heard of anyone cleaning up "behind" her or himself. In the South, where I live and where this sign hangs, "behind" connotes a person's butt. So the public display of the phrase "clean up behind" creates an image with which I am not comfortable.

Lastly, Miss or Mr. Manager, let's talk about the tone of this sign. I know you wanted to show authority and perhaps frustration with people who do not always clean up after themselves. But was it really necessary to write in ALL CAPS? ALL THAT DOES IS MAKE YOU LOOK HOSTILE!!! AND THE EXCESSIVE USE OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!! IS UNWARRANTED BECAUSE THIS IS NOT A COMIC BOOK!!!!! IT IS REAL LIFE, AND THE PEOPLE WHO WORK UNDER YOU HAVE REAL EMOTIONS!!!!

Perhaps you have forgotten what it was like when you got your first job as a younger person. You were inexperienced and maybe a little nervous. Everyone else had been there longer. They gave you all the crappy jobs they didn't want, like cleaning the bathroom or baling the cardboard.

First jobs are meant to show people how to be responsible employees. Whether you like it or not, Miss or Mr. Manager, a young person's work ethic is usually still under construction. Your job is to mold them- not belittle them and breed resentment.

Seriously, the manager who wrote this sign is just like a teacher who brags about getting kids suspended. A little compassion goes a long way. If I don't do my job, and you have to fire me, you can even do that with compassion.

On the other hand, a grocery store does need to be clean. This is my question for my readers: How would you rewrite this sign so it is both grammatically correct and non-confrontational? Leave your revised version in the comments, and I will share the best ones on twitter.