Lately I’ve been enjoying period-specific historical fiction—especially anything that takes place in the early to mid-1900s. This led me to my latest find: Rules of Civility by Amore Towles. It was published in 2011, so it’s not a brand new release, but I loved it all the same.
What pleasantly surprised me about this book was the strong female lead. An independent woman in her early twenties, Katie Kontent is a native New Yorker making Manhattan her own in the post-depression era. Like any young woman starting out, she works hard and is doing her best to make ends meet. Katie’s partner-in-crime is Eve Ross, a fearless beauty from Indiana trying to take the city by storm after leaving her country roots behind.
This is a glimpse into the very early days of freedom for women; the beginning of a time when it was possible for them to work and take care of themselves. Together the girls take on the city as they swap dresses and hunt down the bars with the strongest martinis and the best jazz.
But this is just the beginning.
After meeting Tinker Gray, a handsome and wealthy stranger, one New Year’s Eve, the two girls embark on a life-altering journey vying for his affections. Although it’s clear that he’s interested in Katie, a sudden accident one night leaves him devoted to Eve and Katie is left in the rearview mirror.
The tragic situation leaves Katie confused—but she genuinely wants to be happy for her friend. She becomes determined to take control of her own life, forgetting the feelings she felt for Tinker and the reliance she had on Eve.
Katie moves into her own apartment. She quits her stable secretary job to pursue magazine editing. She makes new friends and begins to climb the social ladder on her own.
All the while, the reader joins Katie in her journey to stay true to herself despite the glitz of Manhattan and the desire she has to move into the upper echelon of New York society. Eve and Tinker move in and out of Katie’s life and offer mixed signals of what their relationship means, yet Katie never loses her poise and is careful to keep her distance. Only when Eve runs off to California, leaving Tinker behind, does Katie begin to let her feelings for Tinker take over.
Every page of this book is a treat. It examines several important themes: independence, honesty, friendship, determination and honor. I adored Katie Kontent for her honest approach to life and her strength. While Katie considers herself flawed, I found her to be the truest character in the story and it’s hard not to admire her. I loved reading about a strong female character in an era when many women were simply expected to give in and get married without the chance for a life of their own.
Rules of Civility will not disappoint. It whisks the reader quickly into 1940s New York and wraps her or him up with a mix of compelling characters and surprising situations where most would wonder what they’d do if they found themselves facing the same thing.
The best advice that I received during college: when on an interview, ask which books you should read before starting your new position. Self-help books written by CEOs and professional in your industry can be incredibly helpful when starting your new career. Books, such as Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office and Who Moved My Cheese?, are classics for those entering the workforce. Whereas a mentor can share their advice from personal experiences and answer questions, a book can offer a breadth of knowledge on the do’s and don’ts when you’re taking a leap from the classroom to the office. Welcome to the Real World, by Lauren Berger is a perfect example of a book to read when you are getting started.
Reading Welcome to the Real World is comparable to having lunch with one of your younger mentors on a sunny day with a glass of lemonade in hand. Berger’s conversational tone is notable and vibrant, and her advice is easy to implement.
The book takes a holistic approach, explaining what it takes to have a successful career. This includes how to roll calls, prioritize your work, build relationships in the office, manage your personal finances, schedule your time on and off the clock, and dress the part. Berger recognizes that the goal of the reader is personal success and this success is only possible when life is balanced and progressive. She also clearly educates her readers on office etiquette -- advice that may not be readily available on the job.
Berger’s advice is specific to today’s modern woman entering the workforce. For example, Chapter 4, “How to Work Your Personal Brand,” includes how to use social media to your benefit, including how often to post to Instagram, who to follow on Twitter, and how to define your Facebook audience. It also gives helpful advice on how to combat the “generation Y” stereotypes and how to navigate through relationships at work.
All of the advice that Berger gives her audiences is based on her personal experiences and the experiences of the interns she helped guide with her company, Intern Queen. She has made a career out of her passion to advise those entering the workforce. She frequently references common workplace mistakes with specific scenarios and effective solutions— all very helpful! Berger has a background in the entertainment industry, and most of her clients work in similar fields. So, most of the examples are based on common occurrences in entertainment, and readers in other fields may not be able to relate to every situation. Berger’s workplace rules, however, apply to any entry-level position.
When I started my first full-time job after graduation, I experienced a culture shock. Everything I did and said in the workplace had to be premeditated. I was no longer on my own time and as one of the youngest staff members, all eyes were on me. Like Lauren Berger, I dropped the ball a few times, as is expected, but I may have avoided these small failures if I had Welcome to the Real World by my side. Berger’s vast experience working with entry-level employees makes the book well worth the read, and helpful to the ambitious women that are just getting started.
Happy Spring Reading!
I am not typically a reader of self-help books, but when I finally closed the pages of Celia Ward-Wallace’s A Woman’s Guide to Having it All: Life Lessons to Live By I somehow felt stronger. With 30 life lessons divided into 30 chapters, there’s a lot to learn from this certified life coach and inspirational speaker. Whether you are seeking a healthy relationship, a better job or just want to be lifted out of rock bottom, this book is full of ways to find balance.
Not only a light and airy read, A Woman’s Guide to Having it All is a source for your own journaling, documenting--basically a “figuring it out” guidebook. Perhaps the greatest source for learning comes within the blank lines at the end of each lesson where you can fill in your own thoughts. I, for one, felt Life Lessons 20 and 21 in particular spoke to me: “You Teach Others How to Treat You” and “Ask for What you Want.” Listing ways to spend a few hours taking care of myself really made me re-prioritize my life for the better.
The book opened with Celia’s own unique story. She details her upbringing as a white girl in a very diverse Los Angeles neighborhood. Her parents were organizers, supporting the labor movement and the people around them. Ultimately, it was the loving home where Celia was brought up and the appreciation and acceptance her parents showed for others that led her to a life of helping others, herself. She went on to study intergroup conflict and prejudice as well as civil and women’s rights at UCLA and the People’s College of Law. After college, she spent several years directing a community center offering programs and services dedicated to helping people discover a better quality of life. Even when times weren’t rosy in her own life, Celia pushed through, kept learning and took nothing for granted. If that’s not being Made, I don’t know what is.
As you read the book it shifts focus further and further from Celia’s life to the reader’s own, as all self-help books should do. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the tidbits Celia shared about her own life to illustrate an example in each chapter. I felt I really got to know Celia by the end of the book. Her warmth radiates beyond the pages and her support of you and your own goals is genuine. The interplay between author and reader is what makes readers want to ultimately explore more and more about themselves.
What did I learn about myself after completing this book? Sometimes it’s OK to seek the help of another through the published word. This book is an easy read, not preachy and makes you feel like you are sitting down to chat with a good friend. Lesson learned, indeed!
Most of us stay busy--it just comes with the title of Made Woman. But as Made Women we have to make time to read. It’s fundamental. Here’s a list of must-read books to check out next time you have some time on the train, in the salon chair, or (if you’re lucky) lounging on the beach:
The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant – This is an incredible tale dating back to biblical times of women and the sisterhood that they shared. It puts a fictional spin on the women in the Old Testament and makes them very human. It's such a powerful story of how important women are and always were. ~ Jessica Dumont
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot – I don't think it's only a must-read for only women--everyone should read this. It provides interesting commentary on medical ethics. ~ Brook Turner
For Women Only, by Shaunti Feldhahn – This is a book EVERY woman should read if they are or ever want to be in a relationship with a man. It’s a great book about understanding men and how they think as well as understanding ourselves and what we can do to make relationships work. This book has worked wonders for my fiancé and I. There is also a For Men Only version which is equally great. ~ Lindsey Eilse
Women and Money, Suze Orman – This book discusses money in a way that speaks to women. Before I read this I didn't realize how backwards my understanding of money was. I think gaining a better understanding of money and a better attitude toward money management is the first step toward gaining wealth. ~ Serena Watson
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald – It's not my favorite book, although it is up there. Fitzgerald's writing is ethereal, deliberate, beautiful and heartbreaking all at once. For me, it opened my eyes to the effect a few sentences could have on the imagination, and I've wanted to be a writer ever since. ~ Erica Crespo
What are your personal must-reads? Let us know in the comments below!