The Swans of Harlem

The Swans of Harlem book cover, yellow with black text and 5 dancing ballerinas.

The Swans of Harlem by Karen Valby tells the story of five Black ballerinas, and their time with the Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH).

Predominately a character study, and a recount of the triumphs and trials of the featured five Black ballerinas, Swans also touches on history, racism, and AIDS. DTH was created in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell, and was one of the first all-Black ballet companies.

Capturing a forgotten history, The Swans of Harlem is a powerful narrative, and a reminder of how easily we can all be forgotten.

I enjoyed learning more about ballet, the history of DTH, and the ballerinas themselves. My only complaint about the novel is that it switches the narration and time abruptly, so I often felt lost as to whose story I was reading at a particular moment and when that story was taking place.

Recommended for fans of ballet or with an interest in history, both Women’s history and Black history.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Thanks to NetGalley and Knopf, Pantheon, Vintage, and Anchor for an advance copy in exchange for sharing my opinions. All opinions in this review are my own. Links in this review are affiliate links, and I may earn a commission from qualifying purchases.

Succeeding as a Solopreneur

Given that I’ve been thinking about how to expand my career options beyond the traditional tech job, when I saw Succeeding as a Solopreneur: Six Keys to taking the Leap, Winning Clients, and Building Wealth by Liz J. Steblay offered by NetGalley, it seemed very timely.

Overall, it was a quick read, and I definitely learned some stuff.

First, I do not know enough about running a business to know if I need to be an LLC, get a business license, or file for “doing business as”. I have some research to do! The book provided more questions than answers for me here.

Second, I am not sure if I’m ready to take the leap into being a solopreneur just yet, so I’m not giving up on my job search. Rather, I’d like to explore both in parallel.

I also need to learn way more about marketing, making a brand for myself, and start doing more networking.

Overall, Succeeding as a Solopreneur was a bit of a mixed bag for me. The author talks early on about defining herself as a consultant/entrepreneur, later flipping it, and then ultimately dropping consultant to become simply an entrepreneur. However, the work she does as an entrepreneur, to me, seems like consulting work. So, I spent a lot (too much) time wondering what the difference was, why it matters, and if this book was really for me.

Some of the book seems pretty relevant for anyone looking to work for themselves. Is self-employed the same as solopreneur? What about gig workers? It’s all still a little murky for me. And this is where I felt the book was a let-down. It wasn’t clear to me if I was included in the definition or not.

Also, she spends a lot of time on networking and selling yourself. But this, again, felt geared towards people working in a similar “consulting” line of work. If you are, for example, a website developer, or a graphic artist, how much does your LinkedIn profile photo really matter?

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Thanks to NetGalley and Greenleaf Book Group for an advance copy in exchange for sharing my opinions. All opinions in this review are my own.

Talking to Strangers

I recently listened to Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell on Audible. Unfortunately, this is my least favorite Gladwell book so far. And actually, I don’t think I care for Gladwell that much. His work feels highly overrated, and his application of research to his chosen topics seems forced and on thin ground in some places.

Talking to Strangers is a weird mix of scientific research and experiments laid over sensational news headlines to explain how/why everyone “got it wrong.” Gladwell covers Jerry Sandusky, Larry Nassar, Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM), Brock Turner, and others. Then, he uses these to tie together a theory about police and what happened with Sandra Bland.

This book should come with some trigger warnings. Gladwell goes into graphic details of sexual assault, including cases involving children. These are mainly related to Sandusky and Nassar. I wasn’t expecting so much about sexual assault and abuse, and this came as an unwelcome surprise to me.

Here are the bits that stood out to me as interesting and that I would have enjoyed in a 30-minute TED Talk:

  • Humans are adapted to default to truth. This means we generally believe we are being told the truth, and it takes a lot to tip the balance. This behavior is essential for a functioning society but comes with a cost when people are untruthful.
  • Kansas City Police and their model of preventive patrol does work–but only when police officers are aggressively looking for crimes, physically present, and do not default to truth. This may be what has led to current police situations we’ve seen occurring all too often lately.
  • Suicide is often a coupled behavior, meaning it is tied to a method or location. Removal of access to the coupled method can prevent suicides. (He cites some research on suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning and the reduction in deaths when British “town gas” was replaced with natural gas, containing far less carbon monoxide.

And that’s it. I would probably not recommend this book to anyone.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Nothing Like I Imagined (Except For Sometimes)

Most of my friends and co-workers know I’m a huge fan of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. What fewer people know is that I’m also a huge fan of Mindy Kaling.

Ok, ok. I’m sure you’re thinking, “what the heck do Dwayne Johnson and Mindy Kaling have in common?” The truth is, they are both amazing people. I think they are remarkable role models in a time where that’s a really awesome thing to be and something we all need right now.

I won’t go into all the many, many reasons I love Dwayne Johnson since this post is about my girl-crush Mindy.

Mindy recently published a collection of short essays titled Nothing Like I Imagined (Except For Sometimes). I listened to them all within a few days. Audible is the way to go since Mindy narrates them all herself.

In these essays, Mindy primarily focuses on recent events in her life and being a single mother. So… I knew Mindy had a daughter, and it had briefly crossed my mind in the last year or two to wonder who’s the father. However, I did not spend any time trying to find out the answer to this. And guess what? In her essay collection, Mindy talks about not being married, about being a single mom, and such. So I googled it. The paternity of her daughter, Kit, is a big fat secret, AND NOBODY KNOWS WHO THE FATHER IS. Not even her close friends. Mindy says until Kit is old enough to be told, no one else needs to know. Kit should know first. I respect that.

On top of that, I learned that Mindy recently announced that she gave birth to Spencer in September. NO ONE EVEN KNEW SHE WAS PREGNANT. Again, secret baby daddy.

I follow Mindy on Instagram, and I recall seeing all these great photos of her looking glamorous at home during quarantine. Turns out 99% of the photos are old, and of course, that’s why Mindy is clearly not pregnant in these photos.

Now, obviously, secret pregnancies and secret baby daddies are not the reason I think Mindy is amazing. She’s a woman, a person of color, and she’s freaking awesome. She managed to work her way from The Office writers’ room, to a role on the show, to her own show. And now she is “mostly producing.”

Hollywood needs more female voices. We need more women in power and more women of color. And while Mindy is obsessed with Instagram, her posts are also usually down to earth. She may look glamorous and beautiful, but she is also open about her struggle with weight and the fine balance she has achieved between her love for running and her love for cheeseburgers and fries. You have to admit, the woman has got style!

I also identify with Mindy a lot. I too love running and struggle with my weight because I love food. And in her essays, she talks about her social anxiety. I’ve never thought to use that term for myself before. However, the way she describes it sounds so much like me! I used to say “oh, I’m an extrovert, but I’m shy.” Now, I’m thinking social anxiety is probably a better description. If only I were 1/4 as funny as she is.

My favorite line from Mindy’s essay collection is (paraphrasing here) “If my choices are 15 minutes of boring sex every night with the same man, or fifteen minutes on Instagram, I choose Instagram.”

I think Mindy is setting a great example for women: you don’t need a man to be happy, rich, successful, raise a child…

Also, she is hilariously funny. Just watch the Mindy Project. You’ll see. If you watched the office, and you hated Kelly Kapoor, and you’re not a Mindy fan because of that… please, please give Mindy another chance. Watch the Mindy Project. Follow her on Instagram. Or check out one of her books or her collection of essays. You won’t be disappointed.

Oh and a funny coincidence? My first dog was named Mindy.