Best Books

Best Books (aka What's on My Nightstand): Alpha Girls by Julian Guthrie

I've had nearly fifty meetings with investors over the past few months and most of them were men. So when I was invited to attend an event where I'd get to meet four of the most prominent female VCs in Silicon Valley I was all over it. The event was a book party for the newly released Alpha Girls: The Women Upstarts Who Took On Silicon Valley's Male Culture and Made the Deals of a Lifetime.

I started reading the book in the cab on my way home and devoured it in two days. The author, Julian Guthrie, is an award-winning journalist who spent twenty years at the San Francisco Chronicle and has the prose to show for it. Through mechanical research and vivid storytelling, Guthrie charts the course of four pioneers: Magdalena Yesil, Mary Jane Elmore, Theresia Gouw, and Sonja Hoel. These women helped define the high-stakes world of venture capital and made many tiny startups household names including Salesforce, Facebook, and Google. Reading about these women's influence, I hovered between shocked and infuriated that I had never heard their stories before. Whether it was workplace discrimination or personal tragedy, these women emerged from each fire more resilient and determined than they had been before. Alpha Girls is a must read for anyone who is pushing through any kind of adversity and needs to know without a shadow of a doubt: I can do this.

Best Books (aka What's on My Nightstand): Brave, Not Perfect by Reshma Saujani

Have you ever felt so much pressure to perform that it felt the world was caving in? If the answer is yes, stop reading this review and go order Reshma Saujani's book, Brave, Not Perfect: How to Fail More, Care Less, and Live Bolder, which launches today, February 5th!

I received an advance copy last year on the heels of launching The Cru, and it was one of the most important books that I read as an entrepreneur. First, Reshma demystifies the cultural socialization that explains why myself and millions of other women are perfectionists to begin with. Hard wired to please everyone, we often deliver for others at our own expense, leaving us depleted and unable to capitalize on opportunity. Furthermore, in an effort to demonstrate success we choose endeavors where we'll excel for fear of failure and disappointing others. Pleasing others and a fear of failure become the recipe for avoiding risks. And if you don't take risks, you don't get practice being brave.

What I appreciate about the book is that in addition to the research and theory, Reshma provides tangible tips for building your bravery. Some strategies are as simple as adding the word "yet" onto the negative declarations that come from our inner voice. For example instead of me saying over and over again, "I've never built a B2C company," I should say "I've never built a B2C company...yet." Some strategies are more labor intensive like taking on a physical challenge. All of her advice offers a path for building resiliency and steering your life offensively instead of defensively. More importantly, Reshma takes you on her own personal bravery journey, from losing two political races to founding Girls Who Code, so that you have the confidence to know you're not alone.

Best Books (aka What's on My Nightstand): The 30-Day Money Cleanse

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I'm normally not into books that are high on interactive exercises and short on prose, but Ashley Feinsten Gerstley hooked me with her dedication page: For anyone who has ever been stressed about money (yeah, that would be me). The cover of her debut book, The 30-Day Money Cleanse, promises to help you "take control of your finances, manage your spending, and de-stress your money for good." I didn't achieve this result after my first read but I plan to, which is why I'm recommending it.

The book has seventeen chapters that are divided into six sections including, "Getting Started," weeks one through four, and finally "Welcome To Your New Money Lifestyle." Since I was trying to review the book quickly I simply read it cover to cover. If Ashley is reading this post she is screaming at this point because she did NOT write her book to be consumed this way. She designed The 30-Day Money Cleanse as an online course three years ago and she's now brilliantly converted the course into a workbook that takes you on the same psychological journey she's taken thousands of her clients. She's your financial accountability partner whose toughness and empathy come through in the pages.

As a reader you have to trust her and reflect on each exercise as you go along. I didn't do this the first time around, but after reviewing the book I'm so convinced the program will work that I'm officially launching my money cleanse next week. I encourage all of you who made, "get my financial house in order" one of your new years resolutions to join me. I'll loop back to let you know how it goes.

Best Books (aka What's on My Nightstand): Becoming by Michelle Obama

I hit pause on social media, social events, and non-essential meetings for three days in order to carve out the time to devour Michelle Obama’s Becoming. It was a long anticipated read so I tried to tamp down my expectations for fear of disappointment. Little did I know that expectation management would be a theme of the book. From the opening line, “I spent much of my childhood listening to the sound of striving,” we’re made privy to the expectation that would most define her life: excellence. Courageously, Michelle Obama lets us in on the emotional and psychological journey of negotiating between what others want from her, whether it’s great-aunt Robbie wanting perfection at the piano or the media wanting perfection on the campaign trail, and what she wants for herself. 

In a tiny apartment on the Southside of Chicago in the 1960s, where her and her older brother Craig were raised by a city laborer and a homemaker, striving means proving. An early reader, she insists that her Kindergarten teacher allow her to retake a reading test that she failed the previous day by misspelling the word “white.” She passes and loves her gold star. But what she relishes even more is obliterating any doubt that she deserves it. By the time the former First Lady is moving out of 300 Pennsylvania Avenue in 2016 striving means evolving. A reluctant political wife, she learns to appreciate the privilege of advancing initiatives like Let’s Move and Let Girls Learn and the magnitude of serving as the anchor for the most powerful man in the world. 

Due to the beautifully intricate writing this book feels intimate. It’s as if Michelle Obama is curled up barefoot on your sofa cradling a cup of tea, telling you her entire story. This is not surprising given her authentic and accessible brand, but it’s still an impressive feat for one of the most popular and recognizable women of this era. The author doesn’t shy away from the struggles of being a woman, either. She writes about the resentment of being the primary breadwinner and caregiver while her husband prioritized his civil service (and workouts). She’s honest about her failing attempts at trying to meet the unrealistic expectations of being the perfect wife, mother, and professional. In the most stinging “indictment,” she realizes she’s got to cut back on fast food after the pediatrician warns her daughter is overweight. In keeping it real, Michelle Obama poignantly illustrates the dilemma of modern womanhood: it’s impossible to fully cater to the ambitions society fuels in you and to simultaneously execute the familial responsibilities society saddles you with. But she is also clear that feminism doesn’t exist within a vacuum. Michelle Obama’s female identity is inextricably linked to her identity as a descendant of enslaved people and the pressure that comes with being the embodiment of hope. Becoming is the memoir of one striving woman, the story of black America, and an invitation for us all to discover that no matter where we are in our path, we are always enough.

Best Books (aka What's on my Nightstand): Real American by Julie Lythcott-Haims

I'm one of those people who still buys paper books, but I downloaded the Audible version of Julie Lythcott-Haims', Real American, in order to cram before an event with her. As soon as I arrived at the reading, picked up one of the hardcovers and started flipping through the pages, I realized I had made a terrible mistake in consuming her words sight unseen. Her memoir is prose poetry, literally. 

Lythcott-Haims guides the reader through the wide, justified margins and the line breaks of her life as a the only child of a marriage between an African American father and a white British mother. Her family lives in New York, Wisconsin, and Northern Virginia, seemingly achieving the American dream, but Lythcott-Haims explores the price of the ascension. She delivers a biting account of how all of the tiny cuts of injustice can leave a gaping scar, and how a sense of community can lead to healing and self-acceptance. Real American is a powerful examination of race, identity, and citizenship that leaves you with hope for our nation's possibility. For anyone who needs a break from the false narratives and the vitriol that plagues our current discourse, Lythcott-Haims’ truth telling is breathtakingly beautiful.

Best Books (aka What's on my Nightstand): Keep Marching by Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner

The midterm elections are around the corner, and if any of you are interested in the most effective ways to ensure your voice is heard be sure to pick up Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner's latest book, Keep Marching: How Every Woman Can Take Action And Change Our World. I've been a fan of Kristin's every since she founded MomsRising, a community of moms (and people who love them) that want to build a more family-friendly world. This is her second book and it picks up where the 2017 Women's March left off, with a lot of people galvanized to advance women's rights but without a blueprint to show them how.

The book is organized into three sections: Our Money, Our Bodies, and Our Communities, and outlines key issues, along with various strategies for tackling them no matter who or where you are. For example, in the chapter Women against Violence, Kristin weaves together the painful barriers that compound women's victimhood like cynicism and blaming by authorities, economic slavery, and the lack of gun control. Then she outlines recommendations for battling violence against women at the local level. All of her tips are specific and actionable. She even provides scripts for phone calls to elected officials. But the most inspiring aspect of the book is Kristin's amplification of women across the country who are already doing the work. After finishing the last page I was reminded that we all have the capacity to create a sea change by throwing one tiny pebble. Keep Marching offers practical strategies for how we can make a difference without burning out, starting with the simple step of ordering the book, since 100% of the proceeds benefit MomsRising.

Best Books (aka What's on My Nightstand): No One Tells You This by Glynnis MacNicol

The most common critique of my book is usually lobbed at me in the form of a question: What about single women? I always smile graciously and reference chapter 13 where I write about two straight single women who become all-in partners. But my honest answer is that I've been waiting for a single woman with no kids to release her own #droptheball memoir. A mother of two who has been married for twenty years has no business telling that story.

I'm incredibly thankful to Glynnis MacNicol for answering my prayers. Her debut release, No One Tells You This, chronicles the journey of her fortieth year on the planet as a woman who is sensitive to but defies convention. The narrative is cradled by the recent death of MacNicol's mother who gives the author her original canvas, but MacNicol's paints a masterpiece that is wholly unique. She climbs the career ladder as a web writer, but ultimately opts to prioritize her health and well-being after she finds herself a slave to click bait. She never marries or has children, but is far from alone. In fact, any woman seeking a strategy for creating a life she is passionate about would do well to adopt MacNicol's prowess in nurturing a community of support. What I appreciated most about this book was the author's refusal to ask easy questions and give easy answers. The nuance forces you to read each page with your heart, not just with your head, so the insights burrow deeply. No One Tells You This offers a poignant glimpse into the joys and heartbreak of modern womanhood. It's a blueprint for redefining power. Ditch the tea and pair it with a martini.

Best Books (aka What's on My Nightstand): Weird in a World That's Not by Jennifer Romolini

It's hard to write a non-fiction book that's also a riveting page turner, but Jennifer Romolini has nailed it with Weird in a World That's Not: A Career Guide for Misfits, F*ckups, and Failures. The book opens with a memoir precursor to the direct advice that follows in the second half, reminiscent of Stephen King's On Writing. I appreciated this approach. I mean, if you're going to tell me how to be successful, the least you can do is outline your street cred. And Jennifer Romolini has plenty of it.

She had more jobs in high school than I've had in my entire life. There should be a picture of Romolini next to the word "hustle" in the dictionary. And she demonstrated impeccable grit through several tidal waves that would have wiped out most people: flunking out of college, being broke, getting divorced, battling addiction—all before the age of 30.

By the time she's slayed her way through New York media, leveraging her edge and extraordinary gift for writing to become editor-in-chief of Yahoo Shine and Hello Giggles, and finally chief content officer at Shondaland.com, you are ready to follow Romolini's instructions to the letter: Keep the resume brief, wear a bra, and show up as authentic you. By the end, it's obvious that Romolini's "curse" was never buying in to societal pressures telling us who we should be in the first place. A more apt title for this incredible debut would be Normal in a World That's Weird.

Best Books: (aka What's on My Nightstand): Born With Wings by Daisy Khan

I had the privilege of working with Daisy Khan years ago when she served on the board of a non-profit I ran. She's one of my sages, a staunch advocate for women's rights, and has risen as one of the most prominent Muslim voices in America. Her new memoir, Born With Wings: The Spiritual Journey of a Modern Muslim Woman, chronicles her ascent with beautiful intimacy. Throughout her journey—from her upbringing in the Himalayan mountains, her climb up the corporate ladder in New York City, her marriage to an imam, to her birth as an activist—you become first-hand witness to the emergence of a global leader. What's most fascinating is that while Khan is a force of nature, the book reads like a whisper in your ear.

It's the perfect book for any woman struggling to find her purpose or reconcile that purpose with her ambition. And in a world where ugly stereotypes about Muslims are rampantly fueled through animated sitcoms, advertising, and tweets from the Oval Office, Born with Wings breaks through the noise. Khan writes, "All Islam requires is that people believe in God; abide in truth, patience, and humility; give alms; observe the fast; guard their chastity; and remember God." I will always remember this touching account of one woman's journey to find hers.

Best Books (aka What's on my Nightstand): The Myth of the Nice Girl

The most fascinating part of reading The Myth of the Nice Girl by Fran Hauser was my experience on the train while doing so. More than a few women glanced at the cover and then said to me or someone they were commuting with, "Oh, I definitely don't have that problem." To them, being nice was clearly a bad thing, as was reading a book that made you feel better about being one. Of course, I wanted to snap at them, "You're totally proving the author's point!" since the book addresses how "nice girls" are mistakenly seen as weak. But I mostly smiled and kept my head buried.

As I was learning from Fran, disrupting gender stereotypes is best done with less emotional outburst and more thoughtfulness and precision. The Myth of the Nice Girl is measured straight talk from a big sister powerhouse who wants you to succeed. You won't find anything too dramatic, salacious, or provocative in its pages. The strength of the book lies in the real-life scenarios that offer effective strategies for responding in real time to challenging situations at work. Tired of getting interrupted? "Kindly but firmly say, 'Excuse me, I wasn't finished.'" Need to disagree? Use the phrase, "I completely respect where you are coming from on this, and..." or "It sounds to me like we both want..." 

After reading the final chapter I was convinced that The Myth of the Nice Girl is the most pragmatic playbook for professional women on how to manage tough conversations at work with fierce grace. Don't forget it in your beach bag, ladies. The Myth of the Nice Girl has earned its rightful place in the stack of books on your desk, always handy for easy reference after any stressful meeting or encounter.