I’m in Love with Knowledge

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I began my love affair with knowledge as a young child. When your mother and grandmother are both teachers, it’s easy to fall for knowledge. When you adore knowledge as I did and still do, it can be both a blessing and a curse. But I’m still very much in love.

My mom taught me to read before kindergarten. Her first years of teaching were to kinders so I had an early advantage. She also exposed me to all kinds of knowledge and history I’d never find in class. Even though we lived in a small town in North Carolina, my mom’s love of Europe and open mindedness toward what was not the norm, started a desire in me to learn, travel and grow.

She would often find me reading, not just the standard Nancy Drew mysteries or Babysitter’s Club, but also the encyclopedia and dictionary. This was before Google could tell you everything so if you wondering what an encyclopedia is, it’s like Google before Google.

I still have my mom’s college dictionary. It’s one of my most treasured books. As a child I would read through it and mark words I liked, or when I used a new word in my writing or in conversation, I’d put a mark by it. I fell head over heels in love with words, and I writer I became.

I wrote my first short story when I was five. I remember reading it to my mom. She gave me her attention, and I could see a light in her eyes. I don’t recall what the story was about, but I do know that I wrote a lot of mystery stories in my youth, being influenced both by the ghost stories my Pop would tell me and by Stephen King books that I read (maybe not the best genre for a kid, but my mom was pretty progressive) and Alfred Hitchcock.

In school, I did very well. That was the expectation set by my mom at an early age. We would talk about where I was going to college often and what I would study. My mom nurtured the writer in me and never said no to going to get more books. I will say she probably didn’t think I’d actually be a professional writer as an adult; she saw me as a future lawyer.

I had a public school education in a rural town in the foothills of North Carolina. And it was a great education. I remember being a bit bored in third grade but by fourth grade I was moved to AG (academically gifted) classes and was challenged to read more and grow. By middle school, I was reading F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Dickens, Faulkner and also still Stephen King!

The craving for learning was further propelled by some amazing teachers. My sixth grade teacher was very creative and crafty, which opened up lots of new ideas for me. I am not artistic; I can barely draw straw people. But I started to see how you could put together certain things; it was kind of a beginner’s course in graphic design.

In eighth grade, I had an incredible history teacher. The focus was on the state’s history that year. It was the start of realizing how important history is and to not look at it as just the past but as real stories of amazing and horrible things that happened.

Then high school, which was four years of heartbreak and achievement and challenges. My teenage years weren’t like most, as my mom got sick when I was 15. That changed a lot about me, but not my eagerness to learn and write. By this time, I had been writing for years, and it was and remains my best outlet. My junior year English teacher was one of the biggest influences in my writing life. She was a very gifted writer, and she really challenged me to shape my own voice. And the books we read! Everything from The Scarlett Letter to Sphere. I was able to take a creative writing course with her my senior year. I owe her a lot of gratitude because she’s one of the first people who believed that I could be a writer.

So I’ll be honest, college was not easy. It was a huge transition, and my mind wasn’t always on studying. But even after my mom died my freshman year, I never thought of giving up. I never thought that I’d be better off just to take time off. That’s not what my mom would have wanted. She would have wanted me to fill my head with thoughts and opinions not noise.

College exposed me to more new authors, and I was able to take classes beyond the general 101 classes in my studies of literature and history. I would never trade those moments and those interactions. They keep me grounded today and have provided a firm foundation of truth and reality. I don’t need to necessarily google things about Nazi Germany because I took a class on it in college. I don’t need a long explanation on 20th century British literature; I spent a semester immersed in it.

Once I was a college graduate, the learning didn’t stop. My first boss was an attorney and a very intelligent man. I absorbed as much as I could when I was around him. I’m better for it. After several years in the workforce, I decided I needed more knowledge. So I went to class at night for my MBA and worked during the day. Graduate school was different than undergrad. I was more focused, less prone to be at the bar on a Tuesday night. I studied more and was beyond challenged in the classes that were mostly math related. Math is not my forte. But I persisted and earned that MBA.

So I guess I knew everything at this point? Not even close. So much has changed since my grad school days. There weren’t any inbound marketing classes back then or social media or anything specific to digital marketing. I think a lot of the overall marketing concepts I learned still hold true and have influenced where the industry is now.

I just keep learning. I find new classes online on new and emerging trends and have taken certification classes on multiple topics. I read a lot – probably 25 or more posts about marketing a week, along with probably one book and maybe hundreds of other articles and posts.

I’ll love knowledge forever. We are bonded and unbreakable. When you love knowledge, there’s no fear of the unknown. However, I will say that the curse of knowledge is that I’m not naive to anything. There’s also frustration that comes with knowledge because not everyone desires it. Many would rather hide from it, especially if it doesn’t fit their perception.

I’ll leave you with these thoughts on loving knowledge:

  • Read a book; turn off reality TV.
  • Expand your vocabulary; stop writing in shorthand or acronyms.
  • Read Wikipedia – it’s an unbiased, factually based place to find quick facts.
  • Watch a documentary on a topic you know nothing about.
  • Have a conversation with a stranger, and listen to their story.

Love of knowledge is a beautiful thing. They say, “Knowledge is power.” But really knowledge is empowering.

Winter Book Review

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Books are my lifeline and always have been. I can disappear into the story and leave my worries behind. If you love books and are looking for an escape, here are some reviews of recently read books.

The Woman in Cabin 10 – Ruth Ware

There was a lot of hype around this book, calling it the next Gone Girl or Girl on a Train. It’s interesting that Ware uses woman in title, letting us know that her heroine, Lo, is no girl. I won’t give much away, but in a nutshell it’s about a travel writer who has the worst trip on a luxury boat ever. I really enjoy British authors, if just because when I hear dialogue, it’s in a British accent. The writing was strong, and the story evolved at a good pace. I wouldn’t give it high marks on character development. Other than knowing that Lo had a “breakdown” years before, we don’t really get to know her. Overall, I would recommend this book, but don’t expect it to be as good as its predecessors.

Wishful Drinking – Carrie Fisher

After Fisher’s untimely passing, I wanted to read some more about her life from her perspective. I am not an expert on Fisher’s personal life, but I was aware of her past battles with drugs and mental illness. I always thought she was a strong woman who spoke her mind and was pretty damn funny, too. The only negative thing I can say about this book is it was too short. I guess I’ll need to read her other memoirs to get the complete story!

The Circle – Dave Eggers

This book will find its way to the movie screen this year with stars Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. All I can say is I hope the movie is better. The Circle introduces us to Mae who happens to land a job at the Circle, which is something of a Google/FaceBook hybrid, intent on bringing transparency to the world. I liked the book at first, but then it just spun out to somewhere else, and it left me with not the greatest feeling. The writing is fine. The character of Mae is pretty well fleshed out, but I did not read her as an authentic narrator. The rest of the characters are thin wisps. And the ending didn’t really resolve anything or get to the heart of The Circle’s true intentions.

Kathy Griffin’s Celebrity Run-Ins

I really enjoyed Kathy Griffin’s first memoir. This one has exactly what you would expect from Griffin. The book is short glimpses into her meeting celebrities, some stories are really nice, others just funny while a few are WTF. If you like Kathy Griffin then this is a great easy read that will transport you to being a Hollywood insider. I finished it in one afternoon over the holidays.

The Widow – Fiona Barton

This is another novel trying to be a thriller with a female lead. I did finish it, but I hated it. A woman becomes a widow unexpectedly and must face the aftermath of the crime her husband may have committed. The narrator is naïve and weak. Not that you have to like a character, you just need to find her interesting, and I did not. The writing was well done. It felt like a cohesive story. There was no one to root for and by the end I didn’t care if he did it or not. I would pass on this one.

China Rich Girlfriend – Kevin Kwan

This is the sequel to Crazy Rich Asians, which was one of my top picks in my Summer Book Review. It continues the story of Rachel and Nick who finally marry in the beginning. The story continues with Rachel’s quest to meet her father and brother. Lots of characters return and new ones are introduced. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with all the players, but that’s about the only bad thing I can say. The writing is beautiful and paints a picture of many decadent locales. An absolute must read.

Scrappy Little Nobody – Anna Kendrick

I can’t exactly remember why I decided to give this book a try. I’m not a huge fan of Anna Kendrick, but I have liked her performances. The writing was very honest and really gives the reader insight into what her childhood and youth were like and how she made it in Hollywood. I found myself relating to parts of her personality, especially that she’s an introvert who must push outside her comfort zone to make it as an actress.

Hungry Heart – Jennifer Weiner

This is Weiner’s first non-fiction book. I’m a big fan of her fiction and have read all her books. But I didn’t know much about her personal life. Weiner gave me a full view into her life and how her childhood shaped her. She writes about the pain of her parent’s divorce and her father’s disappearance from her life with such skill and self-awareness. She also shares her journey to accepting her body, which I can also relate. Many of the chapters were specific to her role as a mom. I can appreciate her words but didn’t feel as connected since that’s not an experience we share. I am grateful to Weiner for letting me into her life and doing so with such vulnerability. She continues to be a woman I admire.

Good as Gone – Amy Gentry

A kidnapped girl returns to her family home years later. Is it really her or an imposter? That’s the set-up for this thriller, although the more I read, the less I cared about if she was the real daughter and sister they lost. I enjoyed how Gentry kept moving back through the main character’s different lives and names. The book goes back and forth between present and past, which is an approach that is effective at layering a character. Honestly, I can’t exactly remember the big reveal at the end (only so much room in my brain for stories!), but I did enjoy reading it.

A Little Thing Called Life – Linda Thompson

This is the memoir from the woman who was Elvis’ girlfriend, the former Bruce Jenner’s second wife and mom of Brody Jenner. She was also married to David Foster and was a prolific song writer. I really enjoyed this book. She tells a story very well, and it’s easy to see her evolution from naïve college student to formidable woman and mother. I admire Thompson for her strength and class. She is honest about her time with Elvis and Bruce Jenner but in a very respectful manner. These are people she loved and that is very obvious in the way she writes about them. Plus she includes lyrics to many songs she has written.

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo – Amy Schumer

Some people don’t like Amy Schumer very much. They think she’s brass, disconnected and crude. I on the other hand have adored her for years. I remember when she competed on Last Comic Standing. To me, she’s a great example of a strong women who doesn’t take any shit. And I like those kind of ladies. She is also hilarious, even when talking about tragic or sensitive matters like her parent’s divorce or her dad’s illness. She is able to be smart and interesting, which don’t always pair together. Be ready to laugh and possibly cry.

Top Picks for winter:

China Rich Girlfriend

A Little Thing Called Life

Hungry Heart

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

My Love Song to Sara Bareilles

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Dear Sara,

I finished your book a few weeks ago. I bought it when it first came out, but I was saving it like a long hidden Reese’s cup. I knew there would be a time I needed it, and that time arrived. I would probably prefer to read words by you every day, but then we’d need to be friends in real life (there’s still hope for that; I’m available!).

I have great admiration for you and your talent. Your beautiful words and songs have meant a lot to me over the years. After I bought Little Voice, I listened to it over and over. It was my refuge from a bad marriage. I’d put my earphones on at night, listen to your album and cry, tears of hurt, fear and hope. I didn’t know how to get out. I was in an emotional meltdown because for so many years there had been a ban on feelings (as in feelings will not pass go and be sent straight to jail). I had been solely in survival mode. I was in trouble. Your music made a difference in my life. They aren’t just songs; they are mantras, they are inspiration, they are as you might say, “satellites.”

I thank you so much for sharing your talent and for allowing us a glimpse behind the music in your book. As women, we often face more challenges than men, especially relating to our appearance and self worth. Your candid and refreshing stories cemented what I already heard in your music: you are someone who cares, you like all of us are human and flawed.

Your next album Kaleidoscope Heart helped me through heartbreak. It fed my courage. It made me believe that I would come out the other side. It helped me understand that love is a lot different than the notions we have in our heads. Thanks for keeping me steady.

I listen to at least one of your songs most every day. They are a friend and a comfort to me. Because some days are good, some are okay and some are really horrible. Something will happen almost every day that breaks your heart a little. It’s what we do with all those little cracks that matters. My heart has a lot of cracks, tributaries of fissures from one side to the next. But it’s still beating; it’s still strong. Maybe stronger than it would have been untouched.

Thank you for being a part of the fabric holding all those cracks in place and for reminding me to hold my own heart.

This, Sara, is my love song to you.

Summer Book Review

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If reading were an Olympic sport, I’d be on my way to gold this summer. I am beyond fascinated with books. I prefer them to most TV and movies. I think because I have such a vivid imagination. I like to imagine the characters in my mind. It’s often why I refuse to watch adaptations of stories I’ve loved. I do lean toward fiction, specifically literary and women’s fiction. I rarely read mass fiction or genres like mystery or science fiction – that’s just not my thing. I also love biographies and true crime.

I fell in love with reading early. My mom and grandmother were both voracious readers. I even used to read encyclopedias and dictionaries! I moved quickly from simple books to chapter books. I read a lot of stuff that probably wasn’t suitable for a kid, but I don’t think it corrupted me.

No one ever had to make me read, whether for English class or fun. I even liked the ones others grumbled about like A Tale of Two Cities or anything Shakespeare. Sometimes it wasn’t so easy to understand because we don’t really talk like that anymore, but I appreciate it nonetheless.

So as I said I’ve been burning through books this summer. I haven’t been to the beach or on holiday, but it’s been my escape from the heat. Here’s a quick review of my summer reads.

The Vegas Diaries – Holly Madison
She’s the former playmate who made her debut into fame on reality TV, but she ditched the mansion and headed to find herself in Vegas. I really liked Holly’s first book, which focused on her time at the mansion so I gave her second book a try. Holly has a really clear voice in this book; maybe more so than the first. There are certainly some funny stories, but what I loved the most was how she wove in Vegas history throughout the book. I could tell that the history of a place is important to her. I highly recommend both her books.

The Weekenders – Mary Kay Andrews
This is the first book I’ve read by this author, but she has been a bestseller for quite some time. It’s definitely a beach read. It is actually set in NC so I appreciated that. It’s a bit of mystery meets chick lit. It was somewhat predictable. Most of the characters were either not very developed or were straight from a recipe of how this type of person should be. I was more interested in the main character’s best friend, but she was just the sidekick role. Sometimes we don’t want to work too hard to be entertained so if you don’t this is a good book.

Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan
This is probably one of my all time favorites! A young professor accompanies her boyfriend for a summer vacation back to his home country of Singapore; only to find out he’s crazy rich. I had little exposure to Singapore or Asian culture before reading this, and I learned a lot while also being entertained. The characters are well drawn; the dialogue is spot on and the descriptions beautifully done. It’s a massive book, but so good, I finished in a weekend. The author grew up in Singapore so it’s truly authentic. This is the first in a series. Will be reading the next one as well. You must read this book!

We Could Be Beautiful – Swan Huntley
This is a debut novel. I read some good reviews so I gave it a shot. It features the ultra rich of NYC centering around a woman who lives off a trust, is unlucky in love and has a mother suffering from dementia. I was pretty turned off by the protagonist. She wasn’t someone I could with whom I could relate. I will say that in any good book, you don’t have to like the characters but be intrigued and interested by them. I was neither. But I’m a sucker for a twist. However, finding out who her new suitor really is wasn’t hard. I did finish the book. The ending tries to tie up everything nicely without making sense. It’s billed as a psychological thriller. I would say it’s more melodrama.

The Last One – Alexandra Oliva
The book starts with a survival reality show then something goes wrong. Something has happened in the outside world, but the main character isn’t sure if it’s real or not. This was a great read. Suspenseful but very character driven. The protagonist was richly developed, and I really empathized with her. I won’t give any more away, but I will say it ends on a bright note.

Truly Madly Guilty – Liane Moriarty
This is from the author of The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies, both of which were great books. The author is Australian and the story is set in Sydney and its suburbs. Three families are having a barbecue on a Sunday afternoon when something happens. You don’t know what that something is until about 300 pages in, but the back story and the development of the characters is worth it. What the characters do and how they react makes sense because you feel like you know them. This was probably my least favorite of the three books I have read, but the characters were real and flawed. It certainly made me think of the consequences of even the smallest mistakes.

Dark Matter – Blake Crouch
I first began familiar with this author when I watched the Wayward Pines last summer. I loved the show and thought I’d check out the books, too. I only read the first one in the trilogy. I preferred the TV show to the book. The book seemed to go on and on during this one scene where the protagonist is trying to make it up a mountain. Anyway, I decided I’d give him another try with his new novel. And I’m glad I did. This book was a definite improvement. It has tones of science fiction, but it is much more than that. The characters are the heart of the book. Also, the big ideas of quantum physics are explained simply so even an English major could understand! The story centers around a college professor who thinks about what his life would have been like had he not married and had a family. What were the other choices that he could have made? What if there are infinite worlds out there with many versions of ourselves that are different simply because of the choices we have made. This book was really well done. Highly recommend.

I also reread 1984 by George Orwell, which seemed fitting in these times. It’s a classic for a reason. Haven’t picked my next book yet. Thinking about non-fiction. I’m anxiously awaiting the publishing of one of my favorite authors Jennifer Weiner’s new book, Hungry Heart, which is a collection of essays. Have any suggestions? Would love to hear what your summer read was.

Happy reading!