Month: August 2016

Lean In (or be pushed in)

This is my review of Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg.

I ought to start with a disclaimer- I have a whopping 14 months of experience in a full-time job, so it’s entirely possible that my youthful optimism (ha!) is influencing my opinions on this book.

I’ll start with the good:

  1. Sheryl Sandberg is unquestionably a very successful woman. She has proved her worth in more than one leadership position. Any kind of advice she gives is definitely invaluable to anyone looking to climb the corporate ladder.
  2. She is open about her flaws and the compromises she has made to get ahead of her career- how many mothers would admit that their kids are more attached to their nannies than their parents?

Now for the criticism:

  1. Most Several of the obstacles she describes facing are, quite honestly, first world problems. She describes being late for a morning meeting when pregnant because of the long, slow walk from her car to the office. She then walked into the CEO’s office and demanded that special parking spaces be assigned to pregnant women- a request that was immediately addressed. Maybe it’s my third world mentality, but this does not really seem like a problem- it was an inconvenience that was removed promptly, without any sexism involved. Most women in the world face much bigger struggles, ones that cannot be so easily overcome.
  2. She is frequently condescending. She wants her mentees to be like a patch of sunshine in a busy day- think about how that would sound coming from a middle aged man. Creepy, no? Yes, being mentored by someone as successful as Sandberg would be an amazing opportunity, and she is definitely not obligated to spend time guiding clueless 22-year-olds. But if she does, it seems wrong to expect anything but gratitude in return.
  3. She expects everyone to make the same sacrifices as she has. I have no sources for this apart from my own observations, but there are lots of women out there who have different family structures. Their husbands may have demanding careers. They may have lower earning potential than their partners. They may be single moms. They may need two incomes just to make ends meet. They may not want to miss out on their children’s formative years. There are dozens of very valid reasons why a woman might want to ‘Lean Out’ or make different choices, but still she urges all women to put their careers first.
  4. While women have their share of societal pressure and constraints to deal with, men aren’t exempt. It is less ‘acceptable’ for them to seek a work-life balance or take time off to bond with family. They are inherently expected to shoulder financial responsibility. They are under-represented in certain careers like nursing and teaching. The list goes on. Women cannot always play the victim card.

All in all, this is a good mix of anecdotes and statistical analyses of gender bias and the Glass Ceiling. It also provides some insight into how the people at the top get there- and what they are forced to give up. As someone just starting out in a tech career, I think this was a worthwhile read. As an Indian woman, it was frustrating to read about the privileges some people take for granted. We’ll get there…


Coming Up for Air

This is a review of Coming Up for Air, by George Orwell.

832138-_uy200_On the book cover, a reviewer comments about how this is possibly the prequel to Animal Farm and 1984. It thus proves that most book jacket reviews are misguiding. At least, I didn’t see any of the depth that characterised the aforementioned books. Heck, I didn’t see the main theme of Animal Farm or 1984 in this book. Nevertheless, Coming Up for Air holds its own.

Coming Up for Air slips dangerously into being a comedy. On Goodreads it is described as a comedy. I’m not sure all readers will agree.

The book also tries to be a journal of an awfully bored and pensive man, George Bowling. It is set in the late 1930s in England, a time when everyone expected war and large scale poverty.

The constant theme is a lamentation of change that seems to have been constant. Bowling immerses himself into warm nostalgia about fishing and a quietness that defined villages back in the day, before the war. The Boer wars, Bowling believes, will repeat itself in some form in the years to come; and that the post-war losses and darkness in the future will be the same as after the Boer wars.

As predicted, England announces war. Bowling sees bombers flying over him, and is overwhelmed into revisiting his past. When he goes back to his village to escape what he sees as inevitable, he realises that the village is no more the same. Everything he remembers about it has changed beyond recognition. A void is created in him, which is further widened by his family and the society he lives in.

Despite the overall dullness of the storyline, it does not predict dystopia (unlike the more famous Orwell books). But it drops many hints on why war is an abomination. It is also one of those books that does not help you to relate to, or to feel any kind of affection towards the protagonist, and despite that, it makes you wonder if he will be okay.

The book is lively with respect to the imagery it conjures up. Sometimes it makes you shake your head at the wry and subtle humour, especially when Bowling describes the society and his family.

In sum, it’s a good read on a long weekend if it’s raining and you have nothing else to do. This Orwell book is also recommended if you like fishing. George Bowling loves fishing. So much so that it made me wonder if it was a metaphor for something more significant. Did I miss something here?