Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick

Like many folks, or at least like the folks in my liberal echo chamber of the internet, I spent a fair amount of 2020 in lockdown unlearning everything I was taught in U.S. History class. Then I was, at some point, struck with the desire to take a somewhat-chronological deep dive into U.S. History and read nonfiction books from an array of perspectives. So, I started my journey with Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick. It’s a nonfiction novel that explores the national myth of the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock and the first Thanksgiving, the relationship between Native Americans and English colonists that degraded over time, and inevitably the deadly wars such as the Pequot War and King Philip’s War.

Continue reading Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick

How to Be Everything: a Guide for People Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up by Emilie Wapnick

In kindergarten, I wanted to be either a tiger or a cowboy-girl. Throughout elementary school and high school, I wanted to be a teacher, a librarian, a writer, a publisher, an actress (despite my crippling fear of public speaking), a website designer, some unnamed profession that would allow me to afford a loft in a New York City high-rise and eat carry out every night because I didn’t want to cook or do dishes. In college, I had no idea what I wanted to be anymore. I think I still wanted to be a teacher, but I refused to admit it because it was the expectation whenever I told someone I was majoring in English. Maybe I wanted to be a technical writer. Maybe I wanted to be a translator. Maybe I wanted to do it all but couldn’t quite figure out how to make it work, which is why I wish How to Be Everything by Emilie Wapnick existed back then.

There is no hiding it. How to Be Everything is a “self-help” book, but it’s not the kind of “self-help” book that you would be embarrassed to admit that you read…and appreciated. It’s full of personality, positivity, brainstorming activities, and challenges to help you put your dreams in motion. The book also presents four different models to help you take control and design your ideal career path that embraces your multipotentiality. Currently, I follow the Einstein Approach; it’s the idea that, for those who require stability, a person chooses a day job that is “good enough” but provides the means to pursue interests after hours– I’m an accountant by day and a book blogger/avid reader/writer/amateur cook/gamer girl/superhero by night. I’d love to take the Slash Approach though, which could mean having 2…3…4 different jobs but all of them embracing a different aspect of a person’s multipotentiality.

How to Be Everything would make a great gift for someone entering college or someone entering the workforce for the first time because they’re just starting to design their lives and their careers. I would also say this book is great for anyone who feels dissatisfied in their job; maybe it will plant the seeds of change in a person’s life. For me personally though? I’m not sure How to Be Everything influenced my mode of thinking drastically; it was empowering though and validated what I already suspected about myself. At almost twenty-nine, I follow the Einstein Approach (unintentionally) for a reason. While I wish I could take the Slash Approach to my career, I’m not comfortable with the thought of throwing caution to the wind, sacrificing stability, and changing my career (anytime soon). I’m not sure what Jon and I would have to achieve before I felt comfortable stepping back from a job that is “good enough” to pursue a career path that satiates my curiosity and desire for creativity.

About Emilie Wapnick

Emilie Wapnick is a speaker, career coach, blogger, and community leader. She is the founder and creative director at, where she helps multipotentialites integrate all of their interests to create dynamic, fulfilling, and fruitful careers and lives. Unable to settle on a single path, Emilie studied music, art, film production, and law, graduating from the Law Faculty at McGill University in 2011. Emilie is a TED speaker and has been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, The Financial Times, The Huffington Post, and Lifehacker. Her TED talk, “Why Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling,” has been viewed over 3.5 million times, and has been translated into 36 languages. She has been hired as a guest speaker and workshop facilitator at universities, high schools, and organizations across the United States and internationally.

Find out more about Emilie at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

How to Be Everything: a Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up by Emilie Wapnick

Released: May 2017
Genre: Non-Fiction
Age Group: Adult

[goodreads | indiebound]

What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a familiar question we’re all asked as kids. While seemingly harmless, the question has unintended consequences. It can make you feel like you need to choose one job, one passion, one thing to be about. Guess what? You don’t.

Having a lot of different interests, projects and curiosities doesn’t make you a “jack-of-all-trades, master of none.” Your endless curiosity doesn’t mean you are broken or flaky. What you are is a multipotentialite: someone with many interests and creative pursuits. And that is actually your biggest strength.

How to Be Everything helps you channel your diverse passions and skills to work for you. Based on her popular TED talk, “Why some of us don’t have one true calling”, Emilie Wapnick flips the script on conventional career advice. Instead of suggesting that you specialize, choose a niche or accumulate 10,000 hours of practice in a single area, Wapnick provides a practical framework for building a sustainable life around ALL of your passions.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

By Jove! Bryson, you’ve done it again. | The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson

I don’t remember how I discovered the author, Bill Bryson, but I do remember reading Notes from a Small Island during summer break following my sophomore year of college. Like most college, summer “vacations”, I spent my days working in a factory– this particular one a plastic injection mold factory that made bumpers for (foreign-made) cars. It was particularly grueling, and often I would come home saturated in water from gigantic, steam-powered machines as well as sweat because Michigan was experiencing record-breaking temperatures that year. That summer, I also read eleven books while at work because my machine often broke down. Maintenance wasn’t a priority because the factory was closing its doors at the end of summer anyway; this was the reality of Michigan in 2007-2008. Michigan’s economy was crumbling, but I was too caught up in living vicariously through Bill Bryson’s grand tour of the United Kingdom to notice. Little did I know that around this time, or at least shortly after, Bryson was beginning yet another grand tour around the United Kingdom in preparation for his recent release The Road to Little Dribbling. And, by Jove! It’s damn near perfect.

Continue reading By Jove! Bryson, you’ve done it again. | The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson

At Least They Didn’t Die of Dysentery? | The Indifferent Stars Above by Daniel James Brown

I guess you could say I’m fascinated by the Oregon Trail. Like many youngsters growing up in America during the 1990s, I was in love with the Oregon Trail computer game. My knowledge of survival was poor, of course; In Independence, Missouri, often the main starting place for the Oregon Trail, I would always spend too much money on salt pork (that’s practically bacon, right?), and oxen—mostly for lugging a wagon full of salt pork, but that would eventually run out… I also treated every scrape, gouge, and disease with turpentine—good for runny noses, not so good for dysentery. It’s a miracle my party ever made it to Oregon (most of the time they didn’t).

There was also that time in college when I would escape to the library on cold, blustery days and try to read the Lewis and Clark journals—not quite as engaging as one would think—wait, does anyone even think that?

Continue reading At Least They Didn’t Die of Dysentery? | The Indifferent Stars Above by Daniel James Brown

Book Report: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
May 1999
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
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The Appalachian Trail trail stretches from Georgia to Maine and covers some of the most breathtaking terrain in America: majestic mountains, silent forests, sparking lakes. If you’re going to take a hike, it’s probably the place to go. And Bill Bryson is surely the most entertaining guide you’ll find. He introduces us to the history and ecology of the trail and to some of the other hardy (or just foolhardy) folks he meets along the way; and a couple of bears. Already a classic, A Walk in the Woods will make you long for the great outdoors (or at least a comfortable chair to sit and read in).

My Thoughts

Good gravy! All I really want to say is, “OMG! GO READ THIS BOOK NOW!”. But, that doesn’t really make for an interesting review. Does anyone else find it challenging to write a review for a book that you absolutely loved?

There is no doubt that Bryson is a well-traveled individual, but he seems so out of his element on the Appalachian Trail. This makes for some pretty hilarious stories– his foray into a camping supply store, meeting other foolhardy hikers, his companion (Katz), crossing paths with a moose, and of course bears. If you’re familiar with Bill Bryson’s writing, then you know it’s never short on snark. Sometimes his style of humor can be exhausting, and it can make him seem pretentious. This is not the case in A Walk in the Woods. For every jeering remark he makes, it’s followed up by an anecdote of his own ineptitude. Hiking the Appalachian Trail seems like it was a humbling experience for Bryson.

Bryson’s account of the trail was satisfying enough, but the gem of the book was his discussion of human interaction with nature. The first half of the book, while it focuses on Bryson’s experience of hiking the trail, introduces the reader to the National Park Services. The NPS is a government organization created to preserve nature, though they have been known to single-handedly eradicate entire species of animal or plant. Oops! The second half of the book provides a more in-depth look at the human/nature relationship and on a broader timeline– from the European explorers first trek into the woods to modern-day ghost town made so because of a massive fire that’s been burning in a coal mine since the 1960s . You come away with the feeling that humans, who have always had a fascination with their surroundings, manage to destroy the beauty of nature out of sheer curiosity or their desire for recognition or monetary compensation.

A Walk in the Woods is the fifth book I’ve read by Bill Bryson, and I think it might be my favorite. It’s a perfect balance of everything that is typical of Bryson’s style. It’s equal parts breathtaking, informative, and hilarious. The landscapes he creates with his words makes me want to trek along over 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail myself. Then, he obsesses over bears and hantavirus-carrying mice, which immediately brings me back to reality. I am not a hardy person, and I am better suited to experiencing Mother Nature vicariously through others. Thank goodness for Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods.

Read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson if– OMG! JUST GO READ THIS BOOK NOW!

Book Report: Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson

Shakespeare: the World as Stage

Shakespeare: the World as Stage by Bill Bryson
November 2007
Publisher: Harper Collins
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At first glance, Bill Bryson seems an odd choice to write this addition to the Eminent Lives series.

The author of ‘The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid’ isn’t, after all, a Shakespeare scholar, a playwright, or even a biographer.

Reading ‘Shakespeare The World As Stage’, however, one gets the sense that this eclectic Iowan is exactly the type of person the Bard himself would have selected for the task.

The man who gave us ‘The Mother Tongue’ and ‘A Walk in the Woods’ approaches Shakespeare with the same freedom of spirit and curiosity that made those books such reader favorites. A refreshing take on an elusive literary master.

My Thoughts

If you’re not a fan of biographies, I challenge you to read Shakespeare by Bill Bryson. Bryson’s witty writing makes this book a fun and fast read. Well, that and the fact this book is less than 200 pages long. It may seem strange that a biography on one of the world’s greatest playwrights is so short; however, there are few records about Shakespeare and how he lived his life, and Bryson really emphasizes this point. He writes, “We are lucky to know as much as we do. Shakespeare was born just at the time when records were first being kept with some fidelity”.

Bryson explores the handful of times “Shakespeare” (or “Shakp” or “Shaksper” or “Shakspe” etc.) pops up in Elizabethan records. These records are legal records regarding fines owed, land ownership, or wills as well as the occasional dedication in pamphlets and Quatro editions of his plays. But, a name, a date, and a place hardly shine insight onto a person’s life. For the most part, Shakespeare by Bill Bryson is book filled with well-drawn assumptions rather than deeply rooted facts about the playwright’s life. For example, there is actually no record of Shakespeare ever attending school, yet it would be hard to believe that someone with a great control over the English language never received any formal education. So, Bryson shows what Shakespeare’s life as a grammar school student was probably like from the subjects he probably studied (reading, writing, reciting Latin) to what discipline was probably like (Bryson writes, “A standard part of a teacher’s training…was how to give a flogging”).

It doesn’t stop there of course. Bryson discusses how Shakespeare would have first gotten involved in both performing and writing plays. He discusses the famed Globe Theater, and how plays would have been performed there. He discusses Shakespeare’s relationship with wife, Anne Hathaway, from why they may have married and why Shakespeare only left her his “second best bed” in his will. Bryson also dives into a handful of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, although these chapters tend to read dryly compared to the chapters about Shakespeare’s lifestyle. And, no biography of Shakespeare is complete without a chapter that delves into the controversy over whether or not Shakespeare was really the author of the famous plays and sonnets. Some scholar’s declarations of who they believe to be the “real” Shakespeare may surprise you!

Interestingly, the parts of the book that interested me the most were the parts that focused the least on Shakespeare. I enjoyed reading about the tension between the Catholics and the Protestants during Shakespeare’s life. And I found Bryson’s descriptions of the layout of London as well as city life so vivid. Both of these set the tone, the scene for Shakespeare’s life and his plays.

My biggest complaint about this book is about the number of “five-point” vocabulary words Bryson used so frequently. I am glad I read this book on my Nook, which has a built-in dictionary. It made looking up handfuls of words every few paragraphs easy. If I owned a tangible copy of this book, I would have probably been annoyed by how often I would have to put the book down to leaf through a dictionary.

I enjoyed this book, but it didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know (okay, maybe a few vocabulary words). But that’s because I’ve had the pleasure of taking two classes about Shakespeare– one in high school and one in college. It is good to know that neither of my teachers led me astray! Still, Shakespeare by Bill Bryson is worlds more interesting than the textbook excerpts I read in either of those classes. Why couldn’t my teachers assign this book instead?