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I wrote this for my work blog, Read @ MPL. Additionally, this review is based on an ARC I got from netgalley.

Jessica Lamb-Shapiro is well-versed in the language of self-help. Her father is a psychologist, parenting expert, and self-help author. In Promise Land she explores the culture of American self-help, trying to find why self-help has such a strong appeal and how the self-help industry became so huge. She goes to conferences, walks on hot coals, makes a vision board, attends lectures, takes a class to deal with her fear of flying, and volunteers at a camp for teens dealing with grief.

Promise Land starts with Lamb-Shapiro and her father attending a workshop/conference by Mark Victor Hansen, co-creator of the Chicken Soup franchise. The conference focuses on how to write and market the next big self-help book series. Her father has written numerous books, but none have been best-sellers. His setbacks don’t seem to matter, because he is still relentlessly, endlessly, annoyingly positive. In addition to writing books, he makes and sells educational/therapeutic games and toys (the Ungame, anyone?). She experiences the world of self-help first-hand by helping him sell his products at conferences all over the country. At every turn she counters her father’s boundless positivity with a healthy dose of cynicism.

Her relationship with her father is a constant thread throughout the memoir. He provides a way into a lot of self-help communities, but more than that Lamb-Shapiro uses the time spent together and the self-help world to explore their relationship and her upbringing. They have an interesting rapport because her mother died when she was very young. They never talked about it, and all the knowledge of her mother comes to her secondhand. After that rather traumatic event, he remarried, moved around, got divorced – lots of change at a time when people often recommend stability. In this book she looks at the legacy of self-help within her own family, how that has shaped her, and how that can help her deal with her unresolved grief.

The real strength of this book is that it is a memoir: it is not a full-scale exploration of the culture, but her journey through it. She acknowledges that self-help can be really helpful, but that it also might be total hokum. It depends on the person, and it also depends on the self-help. She starts the book with cynicism, but in the end she learns to open herself up. That’s not to say she tried a miracle cure and it totally worked, but instead that she saw that holding all her emotions in might not be the best way for her to be healthy. That was her journey through self-help, and I enjoy being there with her.

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 31 books toward her goal of 100 books.
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This year NCECA’s annual conference was held in my hometown of Milwaukee! It happened last week/weekend and it was a total blast. The last time I was fortunate enough to attend was the 2010 conference in Philadelphia, PA. It was so incredible! This conference was just as fantastic. There were so many amazing shows all around town, including one at my library!

NCECA Milwaukee: Material World

This is a bit of the graphic design used for the conference. I like it quite a bit. Image via: NCECA.

I was really worried people wouldn’t like my town. Milwaukee can be rusty and weird. We’re so close to Chicago, which is clearly a bigger better city to go to. Milwaukee often gets bypassed. Who can blame people? I’m glad NCECA wasn’t fooled by Chicago’s mass transit, cultural icons, museums, etc. and decided to come to Milwaukee. We have a lot to offer! Judging by the conversations I had during the conference and all the great photos on Instagram, I think people really liked my city! As usual, my worry was unfounded. The theme of this year’s conference was Material World, which is very fitting for a city that was once a beacon of industry and is now… not. A lot of the downtown/third ward gallery space is former industrial space. Milwaukee is lousy with defunct warehouses and factories. Clay is such a long-lived medium, and a conference of very serious clay folk seems like a great place to talk about some of the bigger issues of clay. Cities are constantly in flux, and the world of clay is as well. I think a city like mine, which is a weird mix of old and new, is a perfect fit for a meeting of the clay community.

There will certainly be a post to follow about HIDENSEEKAH, which was so insanely fun. There were a few really good lectures I attended that I want to write about as well! Lots of fodder!

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 28 books toward her goal of 100 books.
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This review was written for my work blog, Read @ MPL. Enjoy!

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey is incredibly fantastic, offering a peek into the lives (and perhaps minds) of great cultural figures. The project started as a blog, so it has that same short, easy-reading format.

The book covers authors, composers, poets, artists, scientists, mathematicians, inventors, and filmmakers; and the huge variety in how different people create. Some toil waiting for inspiration, others chug ahead day after day. There are early risers (like W.H. Auden who said, “Only the ‘Hitlers of the world’ work at night; no honest artist does.” Harsh!), night owls (Jackson Pollock said, “I’ve got the old Eighth Street habit of sleeping all day and working all night pretty well licked. So has [my wife] Lee. We had to, or lose the respect of the neighbors.”), and nappers (Buckminster Fuller practiced “high frequency sleep” where he slept for 30 minutes after every 6 hours of work). There are many parents who write while their children are napping (Alice Munro and Sylvia Plath are two) and civil servants and blue collar workers who work after a full day on a job (like Anthony Trollope and Joseph Cornell).

And their eating habits! Holy moly, their eating habits! Soren Kierkegaard would pour sugar into his coffee cup so it was piled to the rim, and then slowly pour coffee in until it dissolved. He would down that concoction swiftly, then chase it with a sherry. Beethoven counted the beans in each cup of coffee (60, if you’re interested). Patricia Highsmith didn’t care much for food – an acquaintance remarked that “she only ever ate American bacon, fried eggs and cereal, all at odd times of the day.”

Currey focuses on the ritual, not necessarily the product. All of these individuals produced great work, but with wildly varying levels of productivity. People have quested for the perfect routine since the beginning of time, and this book is evidence that there are as many productive ways to work as there are people getting work done.  This book can also serve as inspiration for people looking to change up or tweak their routine.

As a sneak peek, here is Benjamin Franklin’s daily routine as outlined in his Autobiography.

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 27 books toward her goal of 100 books.
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Insty

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