All Aboard the ARC: Musical Tables: Poems by Billy Collins

***Note: I received a free digital review copy of this book from NetGalley and Random House in exchange for an honest review. I have not received compensation for the inclusion of any links for purchase found in this review or on any other page of The Voracious Bibliophile which mentions Musical Tables: Poems, its author, or its publisher.***

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Review

My first introduction to Billy Collins and his work was in my high school sophomore English class reading “Introduction to Poetry”. I’m including the text of it below, courtesy of Poetry Foundation:

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

© 1988, 1996 Billy Collins. Source: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46712/introduction-to-poetry.

Since that fateful day, I myself no longer try to “torture a confession” out of the poems I read. I simply spend time with them, ruminating on them. Some poems reveal all of their truths at once while others can take anywhere from years to never to come into the light. The best poems, at least in my opinion, are the ones you can’t explain but that make you feel something deep stirring within you.

The best poems, at least in my opinion, are the ones you can’t explain but that make you feel something deep stirring within you.

All of that said, I think that Musical Tables is one of his best collections yet. More than 125 new poems are contained therein and all of them are short. If brevity is indeed the soul of wit, there’s enough wit in these 176 pages to confound King Solomon. Don’t expect any of the poems in this collection to smack you over the head with their profundity. While some of them are indeed deeply insightful, oftentimes whimsical and playful, none of them are preeners. They simply stand in front of the reader naked and say, “This is what you get, like it or not.” Some made me chuckle. Others made me pause ever so briefly to think. It’s exactly that brand of self-effacing yet utterly winning that keeps me coming back to Billy Collins and his work through the years.

It’s exactly that brand of self-effacing yet utterly winning that keeps me coming back to Billy Collins and his work through the years.

While I can’t share the text of them here, not just yet anyway, I will tell you that my favorite poems from Collins’s newest collection are (in no particular order): “The Dead of Winter”, “Headstones”, “The Sociologist”, “Twisting Time”, “Eyes”, and “Orphans”.

Musical Tables: Poems by Billy Collins

Musical Tables: Poems is due to be released on November 15th, 2022 by Random House Publishing Group – Random House and is available to preorder wherever books are sold.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

One Year of The Voracious Bibliophile

I can’t believe I’ve been blogging for a whole year. I can’t believe my ADHD brain allowed me to *consistently* blog for a whole year. Shoutout to Adderall! Normally, I’d be of the opinion that self-adulation is a major faux pas (just kidding, I’m a borderline-narcissist) but I’m going to take a minute here to pat myself on the back and give myself a high-five. I feel like I’ve carved out a cool little niche for myself here on the blogosphere, a little space where I can talk about books, yes, but also anything else that tickles my fancy. I designed my own logo and create the majority of my own graphics. I’ve managed to steadily increase organic traffic to my site and keep growing my follower base all while working a full-time day job. I’m kind of a superhero. We’re all kind of superheroes.

Looking back and reflecting on the past year, I am incredibly grateful for everyone who’s given my blog a chance and for all of the other bloggers I have grown to admire for being the shining examples that they are. I hope all of you will continue on this journey with me and that I’ll pick up even more follower-friends over the next year. Thank you so very much.

Bonus

If you want to go back to where it all started, here’s a link to my first-ever blog post from one year ago today: Audiobooks Are Book-Books. Enjoy!

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

All Aboard the ARC: We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds

***Note: I received a free digital review copy of this book from NetGalley and Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review. I have not received compensation for the inclusion of any links for purchase found in this review or on any other page of The Voracious Bibliophile which mentions We Deserve Monuments, its author, or its publisher.***

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Review

You know who really deserves a monument? Jas Hammonds, for writing such a breathtaking, heart-stopping, rip-out-your-soul-and-stitch-it-back-together-into-a-magnificent-tapestry gem of a book. I have been struggling for something like a month now to write a review that would do this book justice and you know what? It’s just not possible. So I want you to take me at my word when I tell you that We Deserve Monuments is *the* book you have to read when it comes out later this year. Actually, go ahead and preorder it right now. I’ve already got my copy pre-ordered. It is a testament to Queer Black girls everywhere and a shining example of how love can bring people together, how it can heal the deepest of wounds even when the odds are stacked against them. Rarely does a book contain near-equal doses of mystery, romance, and adventure, but Jas Hammonds understood the assignment and got the mix just right.

Rarely does a book contain near-equal doses of mystery, romance, and adventure, but Jas Hammonds understood the assignment and got the mix just right.

Avery Anderson has a plan. That plan involves staying focused on her studies and getting in and out of her mother’s hometown of Bardell, Georgia as fast as she can. Her plan is to get into Georgetown and study astronomy like her mother, Zora. Moving from Washington, D.C. to Podunk MAGA country at the beginning of her senior year was not in the plan at all, but when her mom receives a letter from her old friend and neighbor Carole that reveals her Mama Letty is dying, the whole Anderson family uproots their lives to go and care for her in her last months.

Avery knows very little about her Mama Letty, especially since her mother never talks about her. Their first meeting doesn’t go very well. When Mama Letty nicknames her Fish after spotting her lip ring and questions whether or not she’s a lesbian now, Avery is ready to run not walk back to D.C. Mama Letty is cantankerous, gruff, and has her walls up so high not even Jericho could compare. How is Avery supposed to get to know someone who won’t even talk to her other than in grunts and monosyllables?

At the same time, Avery was hoping for a break from her old friends Kelsi and Hikari, but she didn’t envision the break being so permanent. Ever since her breakup with Kelsi, fueled by Kelsi’s racist micro-aggressions about Avery being “barely Black” (she’s biracial), things haven’t been the same. Now that she’s in Bardell, D.C. feels like a completely different galaxy. The rules are different. The scenery is different. The people are different. Who will Avery become if she lets all of it in—and who will she become if she doesn’t? The move throws Kelsi and Hikari’s lives into stark contrast compared to her own and there’s nothing that can be said or done to remedy that. And why should she even try to remedy it when they scoffed at her lip ring? When they begged her not to shave her head? When they minimized and tried to erase her Blackness from the equation of her identity? What’s the point of being friends with people who don’t want you to be the most authentic version of yourself possible?

Who will Avery become if she lets all of it in—and who will she become if she doesn’t?

It doesn’t help that something is rotten in the state of Georgia on Sweetness Lane. There’s something that’s being kept from Avery by Zora and Mama Letty, something they don’t talk about but which fuels their arguments and resentments. Avery has vague flashbacks back to when she was little. She can see things being thrown and hear raised voices. She can remember the dissonance of the family fighting while they were supposed to be celebrating Christmas. But neither Zora nor Mama Letty wants to talk about it. No one wants to rip off the bandaid so the wound can heal.

And then there’s Simone, Carole’s daughter. Simone stirs longings in Avery from the first time they meet, but they’re not in Washington, D.C. They’re in Bardell, Georgia, where anti-Black racism and homophobia are alive and well. Thriving, even. Should Avery act on her feelings or tamp them down? Catching feelings for someone new was not part of the plan, but Avery soon discovers that life cares little for our plans.

Catching feelings for someone new was not part of the plan, but Avery soon discovers that life cares little for our plans.

Avery befriends Simone and Simone’s friend Jade. She’s quickly initiated into their friend group and made a part of their rituals. She learns what real friendship looks like, the kind where you don’t have to separate the different parts of yourself out like straining something through a sieve. She also learns that there are weird connections between her family and Jade’s family, who are rich and white and own The Draper Hotel and Spa. In fact, everything in Bardell seems oddly connected to different parts of Avery’s family and their history. Learning hard truths forces Avery to accept that nothing is what it appears to be on the surface and that everyone has something to hide. Will the truths she learns help to heal the fractures in her family, or will Mama Letty die without things being set right? I lost all of my fingernails racing through the pages to find out.

Will the truths she learns help to heal the fractures in her family, or will Mama Letty die without things being set right? I lost all of my fingernails racing through the pages to find out.

It’s so hard for me not to give up too many of the plot details but I just want you to know that I will be talking about this book until it comes out and harassing everyone I know to read it when it finally does.

We Deserve Monuments is due to be released by Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group on November 29th, 2022 and is now available to preorder wherever books are sold.

We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

Film Review: The Lost City (2022); Directed by Adam Nee and Aaron Nee

The Lost City (2022); Directed by Adam Nee and Aaron Nee

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Review

Warning: Please note that the following review may contain plot spoilers for The Lost City. If you’ve not yet seen the film and don’t want any aspects of the plot to be spoiled for you, stop reading now. Actually, bookmark the page, go watch the movie, and then come back and read my review. Enjoy!

I think I really needed something as purely fun, entertaining, and heartwarming as The Lost City. It was like a bag of Skittles in movie form: full of color, variety, and sweet but with just enough of a bite to keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end. Movies like this give you a guaranteed HEA (Happily Ever After for the uninitiated among you) so you don’t have to worry about having your heart ripped out of your chest while it’s still beating. To be honest, that’s usually my schtick—sad mumblecore indie movies with little-to-no plot, lots of philosophical rumination on the human condition, and confusing endings that may or may not be happy. Sometimes they don’t even really end at all, they just sort of fizzle out until the credits roll.

It [The Lost City] was like a bag of Skittles in movie form: full of color, variety, and sweet but with just enough of a bite to keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.

The Lost City starts off with Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock), romance author extraordinaire, receiving a call from her publisher (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) about her upcoming book tour for the latest book in her wildly successful series starring Dr. Angela Lovemore and Dash McMahon, Dr. Lovemore’s hunky, dyed-in-the-wool-of-Fabio love interest. As part of the book tour, Loretta has to appear with the cover model who has portrayed Dash on all of Loretta’s book covers in the series, Alan Caprison (Channing Tatum).

Production still of Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum in The Lost City. © Kimberley French / Paramount Pictures

Loretta is not up for a book tour and hasn’t wanted anything to do with the limelight since her husband passed away. She’s much happier sinking into a bubble bath and sipping an iced Chardonnay, away from the rest of the world. Her publisher is insistent, however, and her reader-fans themselves are insatiable. During the first Q&A promoting the latest Lovemore adventure, it’s apparent that the fans are much more enamored with the cover model fantasy of Dash than they are with anything Loretta has to say about the book. Even Alan/Dash himself seems to have a hard time separating his actual self from the fictional representation made popular by Loretta’s books. He answers to Dash and poses for pictures with fans as Dash. Loretta sees him as nothing more than another obstacle keeping her from going back into seclusion and sinking into her tub.

Loretta sees him as nothing more than another obstacle keeping her from going back into seclusion and sinking into her tub.

When Loretta makes it out of the venue and has a car summoned to take her home, she’s instead picked up by the henchmen of Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), a madcap billionaire who’s discovered that a lot of the lore and events that take place in Loretta’s novels are based on research she conducted with her deceased archaeologist husband. He believes that a priceless treasure, the “Crown of Fire” mentioned in Loretta’s novels, is located in a lost city on an island in the Atlantic. He kindly asks Loretta to help him (by “help” of course he means he needs her to do all of the work) in deciphering the meaning of some words on a piece of old parchment. Fairfax believes that the message on the parchment will lead him to the treasure and bring him fame and accolades to surpass that of his favored brother. A tale as old as time really, with some minor adjustments. When she declines his request, he knocks her out with chloroform and takes her to the island against her will.

Fairfax believes that the message on the parchment will lead him to the treasure and bring him fame and accolades to surpass that of his favored brother.

Meanwhile, Alan/Dash (hereinafter referred to solely as Alan) witnessed Loretta being kidnapped. It is apparent to the viewer that he has somewhat of a crush on her and so intends to do anything and everything in his power to bring her back. After talking to Loretta’s publisher Beth and her social media manager Allison (Patti Harrison), Alan contacts Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt), a former Navy SEAL, for help. Jack is able to help them locate her whereabouts by using the “Find My” feature for Loretta’s smart watch on her phone, which Beth luckily has. Jack agrees to go to the island to rescue Loretta. In Alan’s mind, he believes this will be a cooperative venture in which Jack assists him in rescuing Loretta but he still gets to be the fabled knight in shining armor.

In Alan’s mind, he believes this will be a cooperative venture in which Jack assists him in rescuing Loretta but he still gets to be the fabled knight in shining armor.

When they meet up at the island, it becomes clear that Alan is more of an obstacle to retrieving Loretta than an assistant, but that doesn’t stop him from trying. Jack is able to breech the place Loretta is being held but is shot in the head before the trio can make it back to the airport and hightail it out of Dodge. Loretta escapes (still tied to a chair, I might add) with Alan and the parchment Fairfax wanted her to translate, and then off into the jungle they go.

Loretta escapes (still tied to a chair, I might add) with Alan and the parchment Fairfax wanted her to translate, and then off into the jungle they go.

You can only imagine the hijinks that ensue as Loretta and Alan are chased and tracked by Fairfax and his goons. The Lost City is both tenderhearted and hilarious in equal measure, and that of course can be chalked up in no small part to the incredible chemistry between Bullock and Tatum. My favorite part of the film has to be the scene where the pair wades through a river while trying to outrun Fairfax and Co. and once they’re out of it, Loretta notices that Alan is covered in leeches that she has to pick off from him, including several on his voluptuous buttocks. Yes, I said voluptuous. If you can look at Channing Tatum’s rear end and come up with a better descriptor, be my guest.

The Lost City is both tenderhearted and hilarious in equal measure, and that of course can be chalked up in no small part to the incredible chemistry between Bullock and Tatum.

As you know, I don’t really like to spoil endings here on The Voracious Bibliophile, but I do promise that this movie has a happy one. Loretta and Alan both learn that sometimes miracles (and love) come from unexpected places and that we don’t always know people as well as we think we do. People (and books, for that matter) are almost always more than they appear to be on the surface.

Loretta and Alan both learn that sometimes miracles (and love) come from unexpected places and that we don’t always know people as well as we think we do.

Before I leave you, I’d also like to note that I love the age-gap at play in this movie. Channing Tatum is Sandra Bullocks’ love interest in this movie and in real life he is fifteen years her junior. Way to go for making a big-budget Hollywood picture where the woman is significantly older than the man and it’s never even mentioned. How’s that for progress?

The Lost City was released theatrically in the United States on March 25th, 2022 and is available to stream on several different video on-demand platforms.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

Book Review: Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Nutshell (Audiobook) by Ian McEwan and Rory Kinnear (Narrator)

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Review

I’m being generous with three stars. I say this because while I love the way Ian McEwan crafts sentences, there are parts of Nutshell that could have been completely excised and the story would have been all the better for it. This makes the fourth novel by McEwan I’ve read. The first, Atonement, I hold in the highest regard as one of the most finely-crafted novels ever published in the English language. Likewise, On Chesil Beach and The Children Act were excellent reads with a lot to say about the human condition. These other novels had characters which were fully-human and expertly-drawn. In short, they were believable. When I was reading about them and their lives I felt as if I were spending time with people who were real and had something important to say. Not so with Nutshell.

He learns during the course of the novel of a plot concocted by Trudy and his Uncle Claude (Judy’s lover) to murder John Cairncross, his father and Judy’s estranged husband.

Nutshell, which reimagines Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a fetus in his mother’s womb, is narrated by the unnamed fetus. His (the fetus, of course) perception of events and knowledge of the world is based entirely on what he picks up from inside of his mother, Trudy. He also seems to inherently hold the opinions and worldviews of a conservative middle-class Englishman, but we’ll ignore that for now. He learns during the course of the novel of a plot concocted by Trudy and his Uncle Claude (Judy’s lover) to murder John Cairncross, his father and Judy’s estranged husband.

A poet without honor in his own home yet held in high esteem among his peers and acolytes, John lacks the financial success or critical acclaim that would elevate him outside of his own circle.

John Cairncross is a tenderhearted man, an Englishman of the most delicate sensibilities. A poet without honor in his own home yet held in high esteem among his peers and acolytes, John lacks the financial success or critical acclaim that would elevate him outside of his own circle. Claude, however, is John’s antithesis: a crude man of pedestrian tastes and baser instincts, with few concerns above money, sex, food, and drink. He’s a brute wholly convinced of his own virility, disdainful of all who don’t ascribe to his own particular brand of traditional masculinity.

Whether the reward is the inherent pleasure found in the act of reading itself, something worthwhile gained in the reading, or even something else less describable, we all read for a purpose.

We’re meant to dislike him and Trudy as well. But to be perfectly honest, Trudy is the only character in the novel I found to be redeemable. Her flaws are not those which provoke disgust in the reader, at least not this one. Claude and John, and the unnamed fetus, which is presumably male, are each dislikable in their own ways. This is not to say that literature is or should be a popularity contest, it’s just worth mentioning here. Another thing that I thought about while reading Nutshell is the fact that, while all fiction requires the reader to suspend disbelief to one degree or another, this is usually done so that the reader may reap some type of reward. Whether the reward is the inherent pleasure found in the act of reading itself, something worthwhile gained in the reading, or even something else less describable, we all read for a purpose. Oftentimes, we bring multiple purposes to the same text. Information, entertainment, leisure, it doesn’t matter. I didn’t really get anything out of Nutshell.

That’s it in a nutshell.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

Film Review: The Power of the Dog (2021); Directed by Jane Campion

Film poster for Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog (2021)

Review

The Power of the Dog was Netflix’s latest and greatest (so far) attempt to secure an Oscar for Best Picture. It had to sting to lose to another streaming player, Apple TV+, which took home the gleaming statuette for crowd-favorite CODA. In addition to Best Picture, CODA also won in the categories of Best Adapted Screenplay (Sian Heder) and Best Supporting Actor (Troy Kotsur, who is now the first Deaf man to win an acting Oscar). For the longest time in the campaigns leading up to the big night, it was The Power of the Dog’s night to shine. With 12 nominations across the board, how could it lose? But it did. In fact, Netflix’s powerhouse Western only took home one statuette on Oscars night — for Best Director (Jane Campion).

But let us not judge a film by its accolades. The truth is, The Power of the Dog is an incredibly powerful yet extremely subtle film, its brilliance easily overlooked if one isn’t paying close enough attention.

The Power of the Dog is an incredibly powerful yet extremely subtle film, its brilliance easily overlooked if one isn’t paying close enough attention.

Jane Campion’s searing portrait of toxic masculinity and repressed sexuality, set against the backdrop of Montana in the 1920s, is in my opinion one of the greatest films of the 21st-century so far, though it’ll probably be years down the line before the majority of cinephiles agree with me. In it, Benedict Cumberbatch gives what is perhaps his most unsympathetic performance yet. It’s arguably his best. As Phil Burbank, Cumberbatch is ruthless, sardonic, and haunted. Campion, who made history at this year’s Oscars ceremony for being the first woman to be nominated for two directing Oscars (winning this year), is a master at creating atmosphere. The vast and wide-open spaces of Montana make for an interesting canvas upon which she paints her tale. Each character, from Cumberbatch’s Phil Burbank to Kirsten Dunst’s beleaguered Rose Gordon, is given more than enough room to explore their respective neuroses, their own private darknesses that spill over into their interactions with each other and with the land itself.

Each character, from Cumberbatch’s Phil Burbank to Kirsten Dunst’s beleaguered Rose Gordon, is given more than enough room to explore their respective neuroses, their own private darknesses…

What makes The Power of the Dog so interesting as a Western is its multilayered exploration of queerness. Now, if you ask any historian worth their salt, they’ll tell you there was all kinds of gay stuff going down in the American West. Put frankly, cowboys were riding each other just as often as they were riding broncos. If you ask a heterosexual purist, they’ll tell you John Wayne would never. And Wayne probably wouldn’t have. But John Wayne wasn’t a real cowboy. He was mostly a fiction. An idealized idol. A paean to hyper-masculinity. Cumberbatch isn’t a real cowboy, either, but his portrayal of one is more honest than Wayne’s ever was. Sorry Duke.

Put frankly, cowboys were riding each other just as often as they were riding broncos.

The central conflict at the heart of The Power of the Dog is between Phil and Rose’s son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). In fact, the opening lines of the film (spoken by Peter) speak to this conflict, which the viewer has not yet been made privy to: “For what kind of man would I be if I did not help my mother? If I did not save her?” What kind of man indeed?

When we meet Peter, though, he looks ill-equipped to protect or save anyone. Lanky and effeminate, his first scene in the film shows him making paper flowers for table settings that Phil will soon sneer at. Looking more closely, the paper flowers could very well be a metaphor for Phil’s repressed homosexuality, which is why he views them with such disdain. Where Peter is delicate and precise, Phil is callous and bombastic. Peter moves through the world like every step must be taken gently, as if the slightest deviation may trigger an explosion or perhaps expose him to the world. Phil, however, revels in his contempt for all of humanity, but most especially for Rose, who ends up marrying his brother George (Jesse Plemons).

Peter moves through the world like every step must be taken gently, as if the slightest deviation may trigger an explosion or perhaps expose him to the world.

This isn’t the first mainstream Western film to address themes of homosexuality. The last really good Western we had that did so was Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005). But while Brokeback was at its essence a love story, The Power of the Dog is a story of an unhappy family in fractures. Don’t expect the spirits of Jack and Ennis to manifest in Phil and Peter, because that’s not the kind of story Campion is telling. In fact, a viewer not used to looking for queer subtext may miss that element of the film entirely, so subtle is its execution. While Phil’s queerness is thickly-veiled under layers of ostentatious brutality, Peter’s is as wide-open and hyper-visible as the plains which serve as the backdrop to Campion’s film.

While Phil’s queerness is thickly-veiled under layers of ostentatious brutality, Peter’s is as wide-open and hyper-visible as the plains which serve as the backdrop to Campion’s film.

I’m not going to do the film a disservice by spoiling the ending and telling you what happens, but it’s definitely a wow moment. It’s also calculatingly understated, like most of the elements in the film. I love a good film that doesn’t make an exhibition of itself. I like hints and silences and ruminations. Not everything has to explode in order to burn.

The Power of the Dog is available to stream on Netflix.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

Take a Break Already

Have you ever had one of those days where it felt like it was all you could do not to tear out your hair and scream at the top of your lungs? I’m sure all of us have felt like that at one time or another. For me, Monday was definitely one of those days. I woke up with a stuffy head and sinus drainage which soon morphed into one of those violent phlegmy coughs that seem to emanate straight from the pits of hell.

Being the good boss and coworker that I am, I didn’t call in. Some managers make it to the top of the proverbial scrap heap and see their lofty vantage point as a sign that they can take it easy, that other people can do the hard work while they sit back and relax a little. I’m not one of those managers. Since I took over my store as General Manager, I’ve been working harder than ever and sick days are all but out of the question. In a perfect world, lean payroll budgets wouldn’t exist and I could have enough wiggle room to accommodate about 20% more in labor that I currently do. But that’s not the world I live in.

In a perfect world, lean payroll budgets wouldn’t exist and I could have enough wiggle room to accommodate about 20% more in labor that I currently do. But that’s not the world I live in.

My store has also been undergoing one of the biggest resets we’ve ever done. We’re eliminating some product lines entirely while expanding others and making room for other high-interest product that our buyers predict will sell better. They even approved the capital for new carpet(!) which I’ve been all but begging for for years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about creating efficiency in my store and assuring that what we offer is what people actually want to buy, but there’s also a not-insignificant part of me that is change-averse. That’s putting it mildly, actually. I avoid change like the plague.

I avoid change like the plague.

Being a manager, though, especially one responsible for an entire store or division, necessitates that one be an agent of change as well as its champion. So let’s just say I’m working on it. Getting back to Monday, I knew that I had a bunch of markdown and repricing projects facing me so I wanted to get started on those when I first came in. I choked down some antihistamines and decongestants and soldiered my way in, hoping that God would see fit to give me an easy-ish day. No such luck.

Being a manager…necessitates that one be an agent of change as well as its champion.

First I ran out of some of the discount stickers I needed. I found some blank ones I could write on, and while not a perfect solution, it got the job done. Then I had an employee who didn’t show up. Now, this employee is usually (almost always) tardy. He’s great when he arrives so I try to give him the benefit of the doubt, especially considering his long commute. When he was over 30 minutes late, I called him. I’m glad now that I didn’t leave a sarcastic message in his inbox because he was in a car accident on the way to work. He’s fine, apart from a bloody nose and other minor injuries, but it shook me up. Out of all of my employees, he’s been at my store the longest, and I consider him to be a dear friend and not just a coworker.

I started writing this as I ate my lunch on Monday. I had to stop and get back to it at the end of my shift on Tuesday, which was my eighth in a row. Now it’s Wednesday, and while I didn’t have to work today, I was violently woken up from my late evening nap by my phone alerting me that we were under a tornado warning. I’ve spent the past few hours checking in on my employees and other friends in the path of the storms, and I’m exhausted.

Honestly, I just wish the universe would take a break for a little bit. Between everything that’s been going on with SCOTUS and the all-but-certain end of Roe v. Wade, to the ongoing pandemic most people are choosing to now ignore, and my own personal troubles, I am never not tired. And I know I’m not alone in that. I read somewhere once that even when life seems unbearable, the most important thing we can do, for ourselves and others, is to bear witness. To share.

I read somewhere once that even when life seems unbearable, the most important thing we can do, for ourselves and others, is to bear witness. To share.

Sharing what we’re going through shows other people they’re not alone in their struggles and the shared empathy created between people who make that connection makes the load easier to bear. And as much as I enjoy being a doom-scrolling latter-day prophet heralding the end times, I can’t help but be hopeful. There are so many good people out there doing good work and it’s always my goal to be among their ranks.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

All Aboard the ARC: HBR Guide to Crafting Your Purpose by John Coleman

HBR Guide to Crafting Your Purpose by John Coleman

***Note: I received a free digital review copy of this book from NetGalley and Harvard Business Review Press in exchange for an honest review. I have not received compensation for the inclusion of any links for purchase found in this review or on any other page of The Voracious Bibliophile which mentions the HRB Guide to Crafting Your Purpose, its author, or its publisher.***

If I’m being honest, I approach most self-help and/or personal growth books with a healthy dose of skepticism. It’s not that I’m a Negative Ned or a Pessimistic Paul, per se. It’s just that the market is so saturated with hundreds (probably thousands) of these titles that contain basically identical content that I can’t help but roll my eyes whenever I see a new one hit the shelves. Even the anti-self-help, cool, trendy, swear word-laden titles have started to reach critical mass. At first it was cool to read these because you could be like, “Look at me! I’m bettering myself but in a cool hipster way. F$&$ yeah!”

Even the anti-self-help, cool, trendy, swear word-laden titles have started to reach critical mass.

Even worse than the typical fare one finds in the Personal Growth section of bookstores are the ones that purport to help you find your true purpose in life. Purpose. Such a heavy word. Just listen to anyone who’s achieved a modicum of success in any given field and they’ll tell you all about how they found their true purpose in life. For the rest of us, these people serve as shining examples of our own glaring mediocrity. If only we could find our purpose, maybe we too could enjoy the level of personal and professional fulfillment that these people have.

Just listen to anyone who’s achieved a modicum of success in any given field and they’ll tell you all about how they found their true purpose in life.

The truth, however, is a little more complex than that. I recently got the opportunity to read and review the HBR Guide to Crafting Your Purpose by John Coleman, published by Harvard Business Review Press. In it, he managed to dismantle some of the skepticism I’ve accumulated over the years through the careful analysis of his own research, plenty of evidence from other reputable sources to back it up, and more than a few real-life examples to provide illustrations for the concepts he lays out in his book. All in all, I was impressed.

Coleman begins his book by discussing the “crisis of meaning” modern society is currently experiencing. Many (if not most) people go to work simply to earn a paycheck. They find no meaning in the work they perform and their days are filled with drudgery and the overwhelming sense that nothing they do matters or provides value. Because of the proliferation of information technologies which allows them to be accessible at all times, they also have no work-life balance. When life is all work and no play, misery quickly ensues.

When life is all work and no play, misery quickly ensues.

One of Coleman’s main assertions throughout his book is that purpose is not something inherent or static. It is fluid and malleable. More than anything, it is something that can be crafted by each individual to provide meaning and happiness in each area of one’s life. It is not always something that one finds, but rather something that can be designed to fit the needs and desires of each individual based on their backgrounds and values.

More than anything, it [purpose] is something that can be crafted by each individual to provide meaning and happiness in each area of one’s life.

Another thing I liked about Coleman’s book are the numerous exercises he included to allow the reader the chance and space to put to work the concepts which he discusses. Whether someone is fresh out of high school or college or already somewhat (or even mostly) established in their chosen career field, I can’t think of anyone that wouldn’t benefit from Coleman’s wisdom.

Whether someone is fresh out of high school or college or already somewhat (or even mostly) established in their chosen career field, I can’t think of anyone that wouldn’t benefit from Coleman’s wisdom.

The HBR Guide to Crafting Your Purpose was released by Harvard Business Review Press on January 11th, 2022 and is available to purchase wherever books are sold.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

Quote for the Day: March 30th, 2022

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

Quote for the Day: March 29th, 2022

It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.

Oscar Wilde

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.