The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker

Posted on October 20, 2011. Filed under: Books, Personal Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Every once in a while I find myself in a non-fiction kick. During those times I tend to go a bit overboard on biographies, memoirs and inspirational/self-help titles. An advice columnist that I really enjoy following, Carolyn Hax, recommends this book to many people for a variety of reasons. After hearing it time and time again I finally trekked to the library and put in the request to borrow it, and I am so glad that I did. I have recommended this to quite a few people since reading it, the impression it left on me is definitely a lasting one.

I personally feel that every young woman, going to college, in college, living on her own, moving to a new city or living in the same city she has lived in her entire life should read this book. This book teaches life lessons and life skills that many of us girls are lacking. This is not about self-defense and not meant to scare women about the dangers of the world but it is educational and excellent. There is no substitute for learning the information provided in this book – I wish I had read it years earlier.

Gavin De Becker is a pioneering advisor on navigating dangerous and risky situations involving assignation, stalking and basic survival fear. De Becker owns an agency that protects public figures including politicians and celebrities. Through reading his book you can tell that he is the leader in this type of knowledge. He is smart, he is confident and it shows throughout the book. Additionally, De Becker is confident that with this knowledge we can also be safer, which makes your confidence rise as well.

De Becker gives us some of his back-story on how he ended up in this field and goes through some difficult stories about his childhood. Hearing about his childhood helps us really understand how he was able to hone in and fully develop the heightened awareness he has for survival skills. We also get an excellent glimpse into the mind of someone whose sole profession is protecting others. Getting in on that thought-process is enlightening and helps us better understand how we can start to think that way and protect ourselves better.

The main topics in this book are female safety focused. While De Becker doesn’t want to stereotype, it is fact that many of the situations he describes in the book are female based problems. While men can be victims in the same scenarios, the truth is that women find themselves as the victims more often, focusing on what really is occurring is helpful to us to better prepare ourselves. Topics explored are stalking, trusting our instincts and learning to how to listen to the guidance our instincts are providing, public figure attacks, intimate violence, occupational violence, threats, and violence from children. There are many situations described in the book that we may never ever encounter, but having the knowledge in us ready in case we are in that situation is invaluable. We will never regret teaching ourselves what to do in the rare case we find ourselves there.

The best take-home message for me was learning how to trust our instincts. This book is not meant to make us more afraid or allow fear to take over our lives, it is rather about learning how not to be fearful because we have the ability and knowledge (after reading this) to safely navigate dangers that are presented to us. De Becker really focuses on what biology has given us and how we are ignoring it. Part of us ignoring these survival signals are culture – we are being taught to act in ways that go against this biology and are putting ourselves at risk. De Becker is helping women to break through that culture to put our personal safety first.

As I said before I think this is a book that every young woman should read, most likely more than once. It helped give me courage and strength and after reflecting on what I had read it also did make me feel less freightened and more in charge. I wouldn’t put myself in danger on purpose just to prove that I am in touch with my intuition but I did learn how to trust my intuition more and have thought of some ‘plans’ that I would carry out in a variety of situations, mentally preparing myself ahead of time should I find myself there. I also reflected back on previous encounters where I put many of these biological tools aside in an effort to just ‘be nice’ and I can recognize how I purposefully ignore bells and whistles and warnings and I’m ready to make different choices in those some situations in the future. Excellent read – don’t be scared, fear truly is a gift!

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Second Chance by Jane Green

Posted on February 25, 2011. Filed under: Books | Tags: , , , , , |

Jane Green – one of Chic-Lit’s finest! Every once and again I need a book that just requires me to sit back and enjoy, I want it to be light and easy to get through quickly. In one of these moods I settled on Second Chance. If you enjoy light books with easy story lines and characters or chic-lit then this would be a great choice for you!

The cast of characters in this tale is a group of friends scattered between England and the US that were originally united in High School. They have similar backgrounds but have all changed, and grown distant over the past few months. They are very protective of each other but have made life decisions that have left them out of touch. Many of this group are famous, and the ones that aren’t famous are well-off and would claim to have a wonderful life. There was one person in the group consistently united them and brought them together, that was Tom. Tom is described to be a well-liked, handsome, smart and successful person. He lived in the US but kept his ties to his friends in England and his family still living in England strong. Tom is at the center of this story without being much of a main character, which is a really interesting reflection.

It is clear from the start that Holly starts as one of the true centerpieces of this tale. Some of the other group members such as Paul and Olivia are a bit more of a distraction to the Holly saga but she is one of the true centerpieces. Holly is in what she feels at the beginning of the story to be a wonderful life. She has two fabulous children and a wealthier husband with a house she loves. As the story moves on it becomes more and more clear that Holly is unhappy. It starts with her resurfacing feelings for Tom and then more obvious to her admitting it may be possible her choice in spouse was her settling. Much of the story is focused on Holly and how she decides to change her life.

Another main plot is Saffron. Saffron is an actress in hollywood. She is living what seems to be the typical hollywood lifestyle, including having a relationship with an A-list celebrity. Saffron does have skeletons in her closet and when they come crashing out her newly rediscovered friends are there to help her piece them together.

This story focuses a lot on how true friendships can be put back together in an instant, even if it has been years, but I think this story also has a lot of focus on how friends can influence you especially in a true way. Old friends know who you were and can see your changes, it may be an old friend that is the one to help ‘bring you back to Earth’ if you stray from your true self.

There are many tragedies in this story and many points for growth for each of the characters. I didn’t find there to be anything shocking about the plot, and there were few twists. Green lays the story out and develops the characters in such a thorough manner that it is easy to see where they are headed. It is a light-hearted story with some deeper emotions laid underneath. It shows us that even adults do stupid things and make bad choices but that a truly strong person can do what is right in their heart and stay by their friends.  It would be a lovely beach read!

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Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Posted on February 14, 2011. Filed under: Books | Tags: , , , , , , , |

I’m a little behind the curve on reading this book but if you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it! This was such a thought-provoking and insightful book. Colleagues of mine had recommended this book to me a year or so ago and I put off reading it, what a mistake! The final push to read this book came after I saw Malcolm Gladwell deliver a keynote speech at a conference I attended. It was a medical conference and Gladwell has very limited medical knowledge but he didn’t try to shape his speech to match the conference exactly and that was what made his speech so perfect. He chose to discuss leadership, leadership strategies, failures and development. The way he spoke and delivered the speech was unbelievably gripping, I truly was at the edge of my seat and was completely engrossed in his speech. Once I left that ballroom I knew it was time to pick up one of his books, Blink happened to be the one available at my library, and so my journey into the subconscious with tour guide Malcolm Gladwell began…

Blink focuses on the decisions made in the blink of an eye that many of us don’t even realize occur. It touches on a few different aspects of our subconscious reactions and thoughts. Gladwell eases us into the book by recounting the story of the J.Paul Getty Museum’s acquisition of a priceless statue. The museum was eager to acquire such a rare statue but in their decision to purchase this piece they overlooked important initial reacts that critics, scholars and art historians had about the statue. This was Gladwell’s first proof that not dismissing unexplained feelings is a good thing. The gut reactions are reactions we have for a reason, there is an emotional and psychological reason behind these feelings and they shouldn’t be dismissed.

Gladwell takes us through card games and our bodies reactions, sports misconceptions, miraculous predictions, famous police investigations and the cliff notes version to couples counseling. The chapter about the couples was one of the most intriguing to me. Gladwell explains that with a fairly high success rate certain people can predict whether couples will remained married or are likely headed for divorce based on small body language clues presented during short, everyday conversations recorded between the couple. The body language clues barely last a second and are so subtle that Gladwell doesn’t even pick up on them at first. Trained professionals see these clues and can confidently predict where this couple is headed. Most of the couples did not even realize that they were giving off these clues, especially since the topics they discussed during their short, filmed conversations were about their pets, family, and other innocuous topics. The facts of how these trained professionals identify these clues are presented to you in a manner that makes you want to study yourself in the mirror and your partner, or family at your next opportunity. In no way is Gladwell suggesting that you will be able to have equal success, quite the opposite, Gladwell is certain that without extensive training our brains won’t even pick up on giving us these cues or on noticing them when others exhibit them.

Blink if filled with facts, figures and lively examples to keep you involved in each chapter. Historical examples give you pause and a moment to reflect and the entire book truly makes you think about all of the snap judgements that we discount on a daily basis. After I finished this I felt that his lesson was truly delivered to me, and did not fall on deaf ears. I want to pay more attention to my initial reactions and instincts but he also preaches throughout the book that this is something that yes common people can learn but it is harder than it seems. It is not going to be an overnight change and while there are steps to learn how to trust, feel and recognize these subconscious behaviors and reactions they all happen rapidly and can be easy to dismiss.

Part of the art of Gladwell’s storytelling is that he weaves lessons and stories throughout the book, making each chapter you read important and reinforced. There are some chapters that you read at the edge of your seat because you are just waiting for him to tell you the critical ah-ha moment in the story, but he has a plan and doesn’t want to spoil the ending too soon. He keeps our appetites ready for more stories and more examples.

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Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

Posted on December 13, 2009. Filed under: Books, Personal Reviews | Tags: , , , , , |

I’ve heard that Dave Eggers was an excellent writer so I thought his newest book would be a great way to get introduced to his work. Zeitoun is the last name of the family his book is focused on. This book is a non-fictional account of Hurricane Katrina through the eyes of the Zeitoun Family. What really makes this book stand out is that part of the Zeitoun family saw Katrina from the eye of the storm, while the rest of the Zeitoun family watched the storm and aftermath unfold from various parts of the country. Having both of these perspectives displayed really gave a better overview of the full impact that Katrina had across the Country, and even in certain parts of Europe.

Abdulrahman Zeitoun was a hard-working immigrant from Syria. At first that seemed like an irrelevant fact but it became relevant within the last half of the book. Zeitoun found love with Kathy, a southern Christian woman who converted to the Muslim faith later in her life. Kathy and Zeitoun seemed to be the perfect couple with a picture-perfect American life in New Orleans. They loved their neighborhood, had a strong business built upon hard work and morals, healthy children and a devout love for each other and God. One downfall to their life was that Zeitoun could be too hard-working and was also known to be very stubborn and set in his ways, which led him into trouble during Katrina’s aftermath.

Eggers did a great job really painting their New Orleans life – I’ve never visited Louisiana but after reading the first few chapters I had a great image in my mind of what their neighborhood and neighbors looked like. The early stages of the book really paint the scene for disaster. You can feel the winds change and you can taste the severe weather that is looming through radio and television reports. As a reader you feel the nervousness of preparing yourself and your belongings for the storm, and wonder if you will truly make it out in time. Eggers makes you feel like you are there in the path of Katrina days before it is ready to barrel down on you.

Kathy and her children flee the city at the last-minute and board up with family only a few hours from her home. As I mentioned before Kathy was  Baptist but converted to Islam later in life. It is clear that Kathy’s choice to wear a hijab was hers alone, but in a post 9/11 America that puts people at unease, and her own family makes it a point to let her know that they would prefer her not to wear it. Kathy’s family leaves her and her children unwelcome and unsettled in her home to the point that she flees to Phoenix to wait out the aftermath of Katrina with a dear friend who also converted to Islam later in life. There is a beautiful undercurrent that Eggers weaves, whether intentional or not, in this book about the unconditional support and love that can be found in people. When Kathy’s family could not deliver that support the Islam community unconditionally reached out their hands and hearts to help the Zeitoun family.

Zeitoun remained in New Orleans to watch over the family home as well as the rental properties he owned throughout New Orleans. With his second-hand canoe he was able to traverse the flooded New Orleans streets after the Hurricane had done its damage.  Zeitoun made it his mission to feed abandoned dogs, maintain his family home as leaks sprung in the roof, and rescue elderly stranded residents that weren’t able to evacuate in time. Zeitoun had a daily routine in place and was sure of his choice to stay being the right one. Through all of Kathy’s protests for him to evacuate Zeitoun reassured her that he was safe and needed in New Orleans.

Kathy heard continuing reports of violence and theft in the city and she eventually started to break down Zeitoun’s resolve to stay in the city. Zeitoun called both Kathy and his brother in Spain at noon daily to give them updates on his safety. While making a call a few days after the storm he was arrested with no mention of the charges, no phone call, and no Miranda rights. Zeitoun was processed, strip-searched and placed in a cage with no mention from the Police of why he was being arrested or held. At this point in the book Zeitoun effectively goes missing. Both the reader and his family are not clear on what happened to him – he just disappeared after 6 men arrived at the door. Eggers keeps us in suspense and we truly feel Kathy’s desperation at not knowing if her husband is safe.

It was clear at this point that Eggers was changing the story from the effects of Katrina on residents and people across the country to how the post 9/11 world dealt with Muslims in America. It became a portrait of the struggles Muslims have to deal with in 9/11 and maybe it will serve as a way to get non-Muslims to offer open eyes and hearts to Muslims in America. Zeitoun’s arrest was due to Terrorism; terrorism in New Orleans during a category 5 hurricane is pretty hard to believe but FEMA believed it and removed this good-hearted man from his canoe and helping others to lock him in a cage. Eggers makes you feel the anger Zeitoun and his family feels about his arrest because you have ‘talked’ with his brother, learned about his family, seen his good-hearted actions across the devastated New Orleans landscape post-Katrina and truly have come to know him for all his goodness. Seeing Zeitoun in this situation is almost unbearable and the anger builds within you. I had heard of FEMA horror stories but never through this lens before, it was eye-opening to say the least.

This book was addictive and a page-turner. I thought I knew about Katrina but this really opened my eyes to what Katrina really brought out in people in New Orleans. It’s important to keep in mind that Eggers is a journalist and this book is meant to evoke certain emotions in the reader and it definitely does. I’d like to believe that there were aspects of New Orleans that ran like clockwork in New Orleans post-Katrina but unfortunately none of the accounts seem to portray that. Eggers gives us a tale of corruption, stereo-types and prejudices that go on in America every day. This is the land of the free, but not for everyone even when they haven’t committed any crimes. Zeitoun left me feeling hope that the more people to read this will open their eyes and give people the benefit of the doubt in the future. It is a great expose into the many wrong-doings that people had to fight through after Katrina devastated New Orleans.

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Debriefing: Climbing High by Lene Gammelgaard

Posted on September 9, 2008. Filed under: Books, Personal Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Last year I picked up a memoir/non-fiction recap of the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air). As I began to read the very technical climbing memoir I was struck with the Everest Fever; I wanted to climb. Since reading that book I closely follow all Mt.Everest happenings, including Sir Edmund Hillary’s death last summer and have recently begun to take the plunge and read more about that fateful, disastrous climb of 1996. I just finished up a quite interesting spin on the disaster by the first Danish woman to climb Mt.Everest, Lene Gammelgaard.

The first Danish woman to ascent Everest – that is quite a challenge and in itself a great accomplishment. Not only did Gammelgaard make it to the top, and photograph multiple banners for her financial backers, but she also survived the descent.  A little known fact is that most fatalities atop Mt.Everest actually occur during the descent. This leaves climbers in quite a predicament; the joy of reaching the top only heightens climbers’ awareness that the hardest part of their journey is yet to be faced. 

In 1996 two teams, among many others, set out to conquer Mt.Everest for the first time during the 1996 season. The teams were lead by Scott Fischer and Rob Hall. Gamelgaard was on Scott Fischer’s expedition, and was a close friend of Fischer’s prior to the expedition. Fischer’s expedition, appropriately named Mountain Madness, was comprised a handful of eager climbers ready to set personal records and triumphs on their way to the top of Everest. This book focused mostly on Gammelgaard’s personal achievements and difficulties in climbing Everest.

I may be overly critical, but I anticipated more of a documentary, and an overall recollection of the expedition to the top of Everest. This book focused merely on Gammelgaard’s achievement of climbing and her personal struggle during the storm that claimed so many lives atop of Mt.Everest. She is the first Danish woman to climb Mt.Everest, which is a great accomplishment, but I felt the book focused on her feelings and read like a diary of how she was feeling and how she was conquering her fears and how she was succeeding slowly up the mountain. She became friendly with some of the other members of the expedition and did touch on their highs and lows throughout the journey, but again the focus remained on her. This diary-style of writing was not bad in any way, it was just different. The ‘diary’ didn’t have the same pull and didn’t offer as much insight into Everest or the climb that they were encountering.

Finishing up the book is almost like a dream; you wake up and realize that its over, and wonder how long that actually took? The book is quick, non-technical and a light-read on a difficult subject. It is interesting to see the types of people she bonds with, being that she is a European trying to make this accomplishment. In the end though, I felt like something was missing. The drama and the details that Everest demands to have written about it simply were not evident in this memoir. You are left with a sense of pride for Lene Gammelgaard, that she accomplished what no other woman from her country had previously done, and she broke gender barriers.  It is a great accomplishment for Gammelgaard, and she should have the utmost pride for not only reaching the top but suriving the storm both on the mountain and when she returned to live through her personal losses.

If you are looking for a mountain climbing adventure and a story as epic as Everest itself, then this may be an appetizer but not the main course. Hearing the story and the events as told by a member of another expedition from a European nationality is a different spin, but it doesn’t fulfill the appetite as a more technical, in-depth memoir or documentary would. If you are interested in the 1996 Everest climbing disaster this will surely wet your appetite, but don’t expect this to cure your Everest fever.                                                                                                Grade: B-
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Please don’t take my negativity toward this book as a reason not to read it, if you are an avid pursuer of Everest it is an interesting side of a story, but I felt that there was much more that Gammelgaard could have contributed within her story, it was a selfish recap of the accident in which she lost many loved colleagues, but only brief mention of other expeditions was ever made and even more brief and vague mentions of other fatalities during that climb were made as well, I did not feel she truly respected everyone who had lost their lives during that climb or gave accolades and praise for those around her that also survived.
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