Category Archives: Reading Notes

>Reading Notes: Reading for work

>Most of the books I read that are work related are technical books, not the kind of material that one reads ‘just because’. A book with a title such as Managing A Software Development Project without Losing Your Staff or Your Cool isn’t something that you’d curl up with on a grey Saturday afternoon. When I have to, I don’t read these books, I skim them. I have such a book on the credenza in my office right now, something my boss ordered, for some sort of business intelligence software. Implementing that software will be one of my objectives for next year. Oh hum, boring!

Recently, the training manager offered a leadership class for employees, and is conducting the class as a book study. We meet weekly and there is an internal wiki page where participants can comment. Only once before have I been in any sort of book-related study at work. I’m finding it to be an interesting experience.

The book that we are reading is Leading from the Front: No excuse leadership tactics for Women, by Angie Morgan and Courtney Lynch, who are former Marine officers. We discuss one chapter each week. I have to admit upfront that I haven’t read the chapters when I’ve known that I wouldn’t be able to attend. When I do attend, I block out about 30 minutes during the week to read. That block is usually compressed into 15 – 20 minutes, right before the session. But, I’m finding that is enough time, because after the discussion, I usually re-read sections from the chapter.

One of the interesting things about this exercise is that, although the book is aimed at women, there are both men and women participating in the class. I work at a company (and in a field) which is predominately male. According to some statistics I’ve read, it is more male than any other field in the US (except perhaps, I guess, the Catholic priesthood).

I’ve found that by discussing the book, I’m seeing some of my colleagues in a different light. I’ve been surprised at how involved emotionally some of the men are with their work and their staff. (I don’t mean emotionally involved as in romantically involved.) Some of them seem to be much more caring than I thought, and others more tolerant of dealing with the foibles of the staff than I would have guessed. Reading the book is sort of an equalizer: everybody’s opinion is valid and there isn’t any org chart considerations given to the makeup of the group. Since schedules don’t allow all to attend each week, the wiki has been an welcomed adjunct to the weekly sessions, although I think the HR leader would have liked more people to participate in the online discussion. It’s an interesting exercise for me and I’m glad that I participated.

This week’s chapter was on crying at work. I have always worked to NOT do this at work. I was surprised that there was an entire chapter in the book about it. Who would think about crying at work? Sure, there have been times that I’ve been upset and have sought refuge in my car or a bathroom stall to shed a few tears, but crying in front of a supervisor or a colleague over a typical work situation would be humiliating for me. But, one of the interesting things about this chapter is that it also discusses how other emotional outbursts have the same effect as crying: one loses her credibility, is seen as weak, people avoid, or superiors pass you up for plum assignments because you can’t handle stress. Griping, whining, complaining and angry outbursts are in the same category according to the book.

I am sometimes prone to ‘vent’. This is something that took me a long time to realize wasn’t going to fly with my boss. When I was on a high-stress project that was not going well last year, he frequently had to “talk me down”. Some of it was understandable, but back in the office, I realized that it was important that I not be so negative when talking about my projects and the roadblocks we were experiencing. While I caught on that I wasn’t doing myself any favors, I never thought of it as being akin to crying. I don’t think that it is as bad, but I can see how women doing this can be perceived by men as something that it isn’t meant to be.

Interestingly, last year, the feedback I got in my review was that my team didn’t think that I was a very emotional person. It’s a tricky way, the tightrope that a woman manager needs to travel on between being too sensitive and emotional, and being seen as aggressive and cold-hearted.

>Reading Notes

>Off the Deep End, W. Hodding Carter, Alqonquin Books, 2008, (Advanced Reading Copy).

I received this ARC back in April as part of LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. The description of the book sounding interesting: middle-aged man decides to train for the Olympic Swim team, in part as a way “through a midlife crisis”. When the book arrived, there was a note that one chapter was missing and would be send later. The book was published 2 weeks ago, but I haven’t received the pages yet. Since the Olympic swim trials were this week, I decided to read this without the remaining pages. I’m not sure what has been left out — given the publication date, it doesn’t seem likely to have been an epilogue stating whether Carter made the Olympic team — but I’m not sure that the book would seem any more complete had the absent chapter been included.

This book is very uneven: there doesn’t seem to be a coherent arrangement to the chapters and the timeline is unclear. Some of the chapters were published previously. Those that haven’t been appear less polished. I realize that this is an ARC, but it seems to me that more substantial editing would need to happen. I’m not involved in publishing, but I always thought that ARCs were ‘almost ready’ for publication and that any substantive editing would have already occurred. Perhaps I’m wrong with this book.

Carter adopts a self-deprecating sense of humor in this book, but the book doesn’t seem to have an overall consistent tone. The result of the humor, then, reads more like arrogance than self-deprecation. I think that Carter wants the reader to see that he did have a certain amount of arrogance to think that he even had a chance to make the Olympic team, but I was left wondering if that really was his point. The approach of the book is also unclear: parts of it are memoir, parts training guide, parts sports travelogue when he writes about swimming from one Virgin Island to the next, or participating in an 8 hour swim around Manhattan. The audience isn’t clear. Is he writing to swimmers? If so, then he shouldn’t have included some of the explications about the sport (pool size, standards, etc.). But, if he wasn’t intending to target swim enthusiasts, why did he go into such detail (and assumptions) about certain swim personalities, not just on an Olympic level that a casual observer of the sport might know, but on the regional Masters level.

Overall, I found the book disappointing. It could have been so much more. Carter did not qualify for the Olympic Swim Trials. Despite the flaws of the book, I wish that he had. Along with Dara Torres, it would have been quite the story for 2 40-something swimmers to leave younger contenders in their wake.