Category Archives: Brainpower

This one small thing helped curb my procrastination…

Dearest reader – I must confess something to you. My whole life I have fallen victim to a pretty bad habit. PROCRASTINATION. I just love putting stuff off. Maybe you do too? Well today I thought I’d share something that has helped me drastically reduce my procrastination practice…

how to stop procrastinating

I started timing myself. Doing, like…all types of things. Things I didn’t want to do. (Like chores and lengthy email responses to clients.) Things I did want to do. (Like read a couple chapters of a book.) Stuff for work and stuff for this very blog.

I would start the timer. Do the task. Stop the timer.

Ok, ok. I know that sounds a little quirky…or maybe downright weird. Maybe you’re picturing me at my desk dressed like a high school gym teacher with an old school stop watch hanging around my neck. Well, a) phones and computers have timers so no need for a stop watch, and b) STAY WITH ME…

When I decided I wanted to curb my procrastination, I tried to identify what was causing me to put stuff off in the first place. And I found that usually it was because, in my brain, whatever I needed to do would just take too long. It would be a whole thing…an ORDEAL.

“Why start now? What if I can’t finish?”
“I’ll just edit this copy tomorrow when I have more time…”
“Oof, do a load of laundry?! That’s gonna have to wait until the weekend.”

For whatever reason, my conception of time was on the long side.  Like, for EVERYTHING. Mostly for things that didn’t sound appealing…but sometimes for things that did! (I’m lookin’ at YOU self-care!)

So I thought – “Let’s nip this temporal uncertainty in the bud once and for all!”

How long did it actually take to do the dishes and compile monthly analytics reports for clients and post fun Instagram stories? *Spoiler alert* Way less time than I initially thought! Suddenly there was less of a foreboding excuse looming nearby when I needed to get something done. I didn’t need to wait for that mythical 3 hour chunk of free-time later in the week. I had 10 minutes NOW.

how to stop procrastinating

Recently, I was doing some work for a client as I waited for a flight in the Lexington airport (free WiFi yay!). The gate agent came on the PA and announced that boarding was about to begin. A quick wave of panic washed over me because I still needed to create and schedule an email to go out to my client’s email list. My brain immediately tried to shift the work to later. “I’ll just have to buy WiFi at my layover airport, ” I thought. When I realized…WAIT. I know this will take me twenty minutes, at most! I’m in boarding Section 4… Let’s DO THIS!

Because I KNEW I could get it done in the allotted amount of time, I had no reason to procrastinate. I just banged it out and boarded the plane when I was done. (And subsequently spent my whole layover reading an awesome novel!)

Will this work for everyone? Maybe not. Your procrastination might be caused by a completely different thought-spiral than mine. But just in case you find yourself pushing things back in your calendar (and back…and back again…)–GIVE IT A TRY! The results may surprise you. Now, go be productive! You’ve got time.

How do you deal with procrastination? Tell us in the comments!

P.S. The one small thing I do every day to put myself in a good mood…

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Act Locally: 5 Ways to Make a Difference in Your Neighborhood

how to make a difference in your neighborhood*This post may contain affiliate links.*

Have you ever heard the phrase THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY? I’m a big believer in the idea that making changes on a global scale can (and should) start close to home. Do you agree?

Because we moved this summer, I have a whole new town to get to know. And with that, comes some responsibility.

I want to make a difference at this NEW local level…but how do I get started? 

You might be in a similar boat. Lately, I’ve been brainstorming ways I can “act locally” to make a difference in my new community. So I thought I’d share some of my ideas and I hope you’ll share yours in the comments below!

5 ways to make a difference in your neighborhood…

Support a Local Nonprofit

Do your research about local nonprofits who are working to make your community a better place. If you find one that supports a cause close to your heart, look into ways you can support the organization. Send in a donation or volunteer your time. Be sure to sign up for their mailing lists (or add them on social media) so you can stay in the know about their upcoming events and new ways to participate/show your support!

Volunteer Your Time

Along with volunteering for those nonprofits, you could also volunteer your time to help a local community service. There might be quite a few in your neighborhood that can’t afford to employ full-time staff and rely on the help of volunteers. Think: Staffing for your local library’s book sale, eating lunch with students at the neighborhood elementary school, or maintaining the walking trail at the park up the street. Whether you can offer an hour of your time or an entire day, the community will be grateful for your service.

Work FOR the Community, Not Just IN It

Re-frame your professional relationship with your neighborhood. Your community shouldn’t just be a location. Consider ways you can make the community a better place through your work. Network with other local businesses and professionals and brainstorm ways to lift up this place you all call HOME.

If you’re looking for a new career or are just starting out — there are lots of jobs and careers that focus on helping your community and the people who reside their. Social work, teaching, working in healthcare, and first-responders are all great options to explore. 

[Related: Wilfrid Laurier University now offers an online master of social work that you can work towards at home. Check it out!]

Be a Good Neighbor

Like it or not, you are in a relationship with your neighbors. So it’s best to do what you can to make that relationship a good one. Respect their property (and, honestly, their view of your property; ie. don’t leave your outdoor space lookin’ like a hot mess!), help them out when you can (without expecting anything in return), and treat them how you’d like to be treated (as in, don’t mow your lawn at 6am on a Saturday if you don’t wanna listen to their loud music at 1am on a Thursday–ya dig?). Also, check in on elderly neighbors and keep an eye on kiddos playing outside. It takes a village and all that.

Take Care of the Environment

No one likes a litter-bug! If your local area has a litter problem, consider organizing a clean-up or litter pick. Round up a few of those neighbors (who all love you thanks to the tips mentioned above) and head out with the aim of clearing up some of the mess. You could also lead the charge on setting up a community compost. Composting not only transforms waste into soil (which you could use for a community garden!), but it also cuts greenhouse gas emissions from the breakdown of organic matter in landfills. 

Other ideas for taking care of the environment in your ‘hood:
* Grow or make your own food and organize swaps with your neighbors.
* Advocate to make your community more walkable and bikeable.
* Shop local and join a CSA.
* Plant trees.
* Keep your lawn-care eco-friendly.
* Team up with local officials to create more green spaces (or preserve those that already exist).

Alright babes. What would you add? I’m all ears. How do you make a difference in YOUR neighborhood? What are the ways you act locally to impact the world? Tell us!

The 10 Most Recent Additions to My Reading List

what to add to your reading list summer 2018

I’ve talked before about my stupidly long reading list, so today I thought I’d share some books I’ve recently added!

Whenever I hear about a cool book on a podcast, read a great author review, or a friend recommends a page-turner they just finished; I’m quick to jot the title and author down. Now, if only there were a few more hours in the day that I could devote to tackling my list!

Here are the latest additions…

1. The Year They Tried to Kill Me: Surviving a Surgical Internship…Even if the Patients Don’t by Salvatore Iaquinta, MD
A follow-up read to my binge watch of ER.

2. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Seems right up my Downton Abbey alley!

3. Unshattered: Overcoming Tragedy and Choosing a Beautiful Life by Carol Decker with Stacey L. Nash
 The author’s interview on this blog post really struck a chord. 

4. The Idea of You by Robinne Lee
Another addition thanks to an author interview. This time on a podcast

5. Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski, PhD
Always down for a good pop-sci read and this one’s cover is especially cheeky. 

6. Night Moves by Jessica Hopper
Recently devoured a couple novels by Emma Straub and she recommended this book/author!

7. Educated by Tara Westover
EVERYONE is talking about this book.

8. The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky by Jana Casale
The way this story is structured sounded interesting to me. 

9. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Feels like an important read given the current state of things. 

10. Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith
This book is the most ME sounding thing ever and it is set in Kentucky!

[ Plus, just for fun, here are 10 non-book things I’ve recently added to my Amazon Wish List:

An air purifier,
This pillow,
Slouchy denim jacket,
A-line denim skirt,
Reusable straws,
This gorgeous blanket,
A cruelty free mascara,
Magnesium supplement that tastes like watermelon,
Handy-dandy water purifier,
and a straightening brush. ]

Where do you get your book recommendations? Any blogs or podcasts that clue you in to the best reads? (A Cup of Jo and Call Your Girlfriend usually knock it out of the park for me.) 

6 Reasons You Should Be Sleeping More

6 ways lack of sleep damages your personal and professional life*This post may contain affiliate links.*

Sleep is a lot like money; we all want it, it can help in so many ways, but it can be difficult to get. 

It almost seems like everyone I talk to is tired. A few years ago I put the kibosh on making small talk with co-workers about being tired because it felt so non-unique. After all, we’re ALL tired! Right? So much so that it’s weird when you see someone that isn’t yawning every other second.

Not getting enough sleep once or twice per week isn’t that much of an issue, but consistently sleeping under 6 or 7 hours per night will start to take its toll on your life.

Getting adequate sleep every night is high on my priority list but I know there are folks out there who balk at the idea of making it a priority. If you’re unconvinced, here are just a few of the ways your life can be negatively impacted by a lack of sleep:

how does lack of sleep affect professional life

You become forgetful

Are you falling victim to the mind-blank? This forgetfulness could stem from not getting enough sleep for the previous few nights. By not getting enough rest you’re working your brain too hard, and you start to forget things. The science speaks for itself

You start turning up late every morning

What happens when you wake up every morning feeling more and more tired? You turn off your alarms and go back to sleep because your body literally can’t wake itself up. As a result, you oversleep and show up late. You don’t need me to tell you that lateness isn’t a quality most bosses welcome. Hell, even if you own your own business, waking up late can cause you to spend your whole day trying to catch up! Falling out of love with your job is one thing, but persistent tardiness, even at a job you DO love, sends a message to your superiors and clients that you’re not fully committed. 

why you need to sleep more

You lose confidence

Not sleeping? Look out for the dreaded panda eyes. You know what I’m talking about, the dark patches of skin under your eyes that cause even random strangers to start remarking that you “look tired.” (Which, even when well-intentioned, can kinda sting!) Dark circles can leave you feeling pretty down about the way you look. Thankfully, the antidote is pretty simple (SLEEP, girl. Sleep!) and there are even things like the SiO smoothing patches to help counteract the damage that’s already been done!

Your concentration goes out the window

Have you ever tried concentrating on something when you’re tired? Honestly, it’s one of the hardest things you can do. All your brain is telling you is to close your eyes and get some sleep. (Or, you’re just thinking about how tired you are, which takes your focus away from everything else that you should be doing!)

This has consequences in your professional life, but also in your personal life. In a workplace, you can’t afford to switch off and lose concentration. A momentary lapse of concentration is all it takes to do something potentially catastrophic at work. (Not to be hyperbolic but f’real. Sometimes poorly worded emails are a catastrophe in MY book!) On a personal level, your relationships can suffer if you’re unable to pay attention during conversations because you’re so dang drowsy.

You become emotional

Another consequence of not sleeping enough is that you become more stressed and mentally drained. When you’re stressed, it’s almost like you’re living your life on a tightrope and any little thing can cause you to lose your balance. Alongside upping your nightly intake of sleep, work on relaxation techniques every morning and evening, and make time for meditation and deep breathing sessions to keep calm and centered.

You start exhibiting risk-taking behavior

Here’s an article that looks at sleep deprivation and how it affects risk-taking behavior. While the study discusses teen sleeping habits specifically, I think it’s an interesting look at the cause and effect lack of sleep can have on one’s life. Unfortunately, turning to stimulants, like caffeine, to get through a rough day, is certainly not a uniquely teenage behavior. Worth a read!

Convinced you should be sleeping more but not sure HOW? Here are some helpful tips from the article mentioned above:

  • Set regular bedtime hours.
  • Create a peaceful and device-free environment (screens off about an hour prior to turning in).
  • Take a warm bath or shower, not too hot though as that raises the body temperature and it can take a while to cool back down.
  • Keep the routine going throughout the week and weekend.
  • Both physical activity and eating healthy foods has been linked to a more zzz’s.
    From How Teen Sleep Deprivation Leads to Risk-Taking Behaviors, Psychology Today (Jun 1, 2018)

I’m curious, how many hours of sleep do you normally get each night? Do you find yourself falling victim to any of these issues when you start to sleep less? Or do you function just fine without a lot of zzz’s? Let me know! 

What Will Happen When You Start Reading More Non-Fiction

*This post may contain affiliate links.*

I’m a big believer that everyone should be reading more. Did you know, 1 in 4 Americans didn’t read a single book last year? For someone who has always considered myself a bookworm…this blows. MY. MIND.

Of the books out there, I think non-fiction gets an especially bad rap. They’re all like those school text books that put you straight to sleep, right?

WRONG!

In fact, besides the multitude of non-fiction books that are just as page-turner-friendly as their fictitious cousins, reading non-fiction can come with a lot of benefits…

You’ll Learn Valuable Lessons

When you read non-fiction, you can learn a ton of valuable life lessons. You could read about a specific time in history or read the biographies of interesting folk, giving you insight into both tragedies and triumphs. Reading non-fiction can help guide you when new opportunities come your way. They can offer you a powerful lens through which to view the world around you.

You’ll Improve Your Concentration

Reading requires a ton of focus. Increasing the amount of time you spend reading non-fiction each day can drastically help with concentration and productivity levels. I have found reading for 15 minutes before tackling a task that requires a lot of focus preps my brain to concentrate. Other times this may be of benefit to you? On a public transit commute, before you go to bed, or while you’re waiting for an appointment. 

You’ll Master New Communication Skills

Did you know that reading non-fiction can improve your communication skills as well? Your vocabulary will certainly expand, but you’ll also be able to begin mirroring how accomplished authors formulate their thoughts into words with the greatest efficacy. This can help you look more professional in the workplace and it can also help you gain confidence when expressing yourself.  You’ll find that many language learners practice English by reading aloud. Even as a native speaker you can take a page from their book (pun intended!) and brush up on your skills with a little at-home oration!

You’ll Gain General Knowledge

When you read non-fiction, you can easily boost your level of general knowledge as well as your intellectual level. (And if you’re still in school, actually doing the assigned reading will make sure you’re better prepared for those quizzes as well.) Regularly reading non-fiction will help you to better answer questions on the spot and give you fantastic talking points when you meet people who have similar interests to you.

If you’re convinced, here’s a reading list of some of my favorites to get you started —

A Few Non-Fiction Faves:

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Kitty Genovese by Kevin Cook (I blogged about this one HERE.)

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (I blogged about this one HERE.)

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky (I blogged about this one HERE.)

* * *

At the end of the day, non-fiction will expand your knowledge and increase your intellectual confidence. When you put the work in and set time aside for reading, you can easily reap these benefits. Reading non-fiction is such a wonderful way to learn more about new subjects and expand your interests! So go do it!!!

 

On the most beautiful work of all

Have you ever read the book Just Kid’s by Patti Smith? I read it years ago but it’s one of those books that sticks with you long after you’ve closed the back cover. In it, the renowned artist recounts her exceptional relationship with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe as they navigate New York City, specifically the Chelsea Hotel, in the 60’s and 70’s.  It is one of the most beautiful depictions of friendship I have ever read.

While the couple parted romantically, they remained close friends and it is clear they understood each other and each other’s art more than anyone else could. Truly artistic soul mates.

Recently, I stumbled upon the letter Patti wrote to Robert days before his untimely passing – a letter he was never able to read. It made my breath catch just as it had the first time I read it.

Dear Robert,

Often as I lie awake I wonder if you are also lying awake. Are you in pain, or feeling alone? You drew me from the darkest period of my young life, sharing with me the sacred mystery of what it is to be an artist. I learned to see through you and never compose a line or draw a curve that does not come from the knowledge I derived in our precious time together. Your work, coming from a fluid source, can be traced to the naked song of your youth. You spoke then of holding hands with God. Remember, through everything, you have always held that hand. Grip it hard, Robert, and don’t let it go.

The other afternoon, when you fell asleep on my shoulder, I drifted off, too. But before I did, it occurred to me looking around at all of your things and your work and going through years of your work in my mind, that of all your work, you are still your most beautiful. The most beautiful work of all.

Patti

Isn’t that so heartbreaking and extraordinary? What a lovely reminder to us all – amidst the pressures we encounter every day to do good and beautiful work, to create, and to leave something behind that’s bigger than us – that we can be the most beautiful work of all. That people will remember a smile or a kind ear or our unfaltering friendship before anything else.

Just something I’m sitting with and thinking about and wanted to share. xoxo

Beautiful Work:

If you’ve never read Just Kids, I HIGHLY recommend picking it up.

Here’s a great interview Patti Smith did about Robert Mapplethorpe.

Looking for another great read? I recently finished Some Girls by Jillian Lauren and it’s a really fun and fascinating memoir. In it, Jillian Lauren often asks herself, “What would Patti Smith do?”

What do you think? What does Patti’s letter bring up for you? Let’s chat in the comments below. Love y’all! 

5 Ways to Foster Creativity in the Workplace

*This post may contain affiliate links.*

When working, creativity is my most important tool. It guides me through the challenges of a complex project. It helps me refresh my approach to explore new solutions.

But, creativity doesn’t appear out of nowhere. It’s not the kind of thing you can summon into life as soon as you’re sitting at your desk. Creativity is not a skill; it’s a state of mind – but that’s not to say you can’t train your mind the same way you might train your muscles. So what are some ways we can foster creativity for better workplace performance?

Clutter-free offices free up your mind

The mind wanders when you sit at your desk. Imagine you’re a writer. You’re at your desk, your fingers floating above the keyboard as you wait for an idea to appear. Your eyes instinctively scroll past the contents of your office. The desk is filled with discarded coffee mugs, piles of documents and books that lie flat on top of it all. The shelf behind you spills contents onto the floor: More books, dusty knick-knacks, some stationery still in the packaging and an open bag of chips. Yikes! Messy offices lead to a clogged up mind. Conversely, a clutter-free workplace can do wonders for your imagination.

Sensory experiences improve the imagination

Sensory experiences enhance creativity. Listening to music can take your mind on a journey of self-discovery, emotional enlightenment, or merely melancholy – depending on your playlist. Similarly, the smell of fresh flowers or manipulating gooey playdough can open new horizons. Without senses, the mind doesn’t know how to experience its surroundings. Consequently, sensory deprivation, as a result of a health issue, can represent an obstacle. However, not all situations are without a solution. Perhaps, instead of a downfall, we can view hearing aids as a way to boost creativity. Glasses or dedicated eye surgery as a means to improve our view–not just literally but figuratively, too. 

Smile!

So, here you are, ready to work, but you can’t get your mind off an awkward conversation you had with a friend. You’re still angry about it, and somehow, it remains at the front of your mind. Or maybe it was an altercation with a rude client that occupies all your thoughts? Whatever happened, it’s time to let your mind break free. Take a deep breath and smile. Yes, you read that right: smile. Studies show that the act of smiling can actually trick your brain into thinking you’re happy. (Fake it ’til ya make it!) Consequently, you’ll find the anger, the frustration and all the thoughts about what you could have said will gradually disappear leaving room in your brain for those creative juices to start flowing.

Exploratory mindset and inspiration

If you don’t see or try anything new, it’s fair to say you won’t be able to create anything new. Same old routine leads to same old ideas. As a person seeking creativity, you need to push the boundaries of your comfort zone to explore what is happening on the other side. For some people, this might mean traveling abroad. For others, it could be trying out new activities or going to see films and plays you wouldn’t normally choose. The more you see what you’re not used to, the richer your mind becomes.

Don’t believe the unhealthy artist cliché

Finally, if you’ve been loving the idea of the recluse artist who lives only on coffee and the occasional cigarette, it’s time to reconsider the habits that foster creativity. Indeed, the food you eat affects your brain health. Avocados, for instance, improve cognitive function, both memory and concentration. Beets help with mental performance. Blueberries protect your brain from degeneration and stress. (An idea my mom espoused on a recent visit and now my husband says “PREVENTCHA DEMENTIA!” whenever I pull a tub of bluebs out of the fridge, lol.) In short, a healthy brain can process new ideas quicker and better! So, look after your main creative tool by feeding it right!

How do you deal when you’re in a creativity rut at work? I’d love hearing your tips in the comments!

Book Review: Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub

Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures 
by Emma Straub

When Elsa Emerson, the youngest of three sisters, is cast in one of her father’s plays at their family’s Cherry County Playhouse in Wisconsin, she is given her first taste of the limelight. This sets into motion her life’s trajectory — shooting like a rocket out of Wisconsin and into the warm allure of Hollywood. Here, she begins her transformation from small-town blonde to a sultry brunette named Laura Lamont — an Academy award-winning movie star.

What I loved most about this book was how authentic it felt. Elsa/Laura was largely fictitious (based loosely on this actress), her story an invention of Straub’s mind and careful historical research. However, having recently read a few memoirs of Hollywood starlets from this same era (Katharine Hepburn’s “Me: Stories of My Life” a couple years ago and Esther Williams “Million Dollar Mermaid” a couple months ago), I felt as though Miss Lamont could have been shooting on a sound stage just down the hall from either of these real-life ladies!

An interesting similarity I found in reading about Hepburn and Williams was the loss of a beloved sibling early in their lives. Both women experienced the death of a brother and in turn felt a heightened sense of responsibility and drive. Esther Williams explains in her book how her brother was the one who was supposed to “make it” in life and in Hollywood. After his death, she felt as though she was two people in one body — her brother Stanton and herself. Hepburn threw herself into her studies after losing her brother and even celebrated her brother’s birthday as her own.

Similarly, the eponymous Lamont loses the sister she deems to be the most talented and beautiful of the Emerson brood. I think this is a fascinating look at the sacrifice and loss that sometimes sits lurking behind a person’s fame and success. How many of Hollywood’s elite might point to a dark cloud they used to buoy themselves? How many have a tragedy that compelled them to succeed in place of, because of, or in spite of this missing piece?

The book also delves into intergenerational mental illness and suicidality as multiple branches sprouting from Laura’s family tree find themselves facing loss and depression. It’s no secret that mental illness, addiction, and all sorts of family problems (divorce, death, MONEY) have gone hand in hand with Hollywood since film started rolling. But looking at these issues over the course of an entire life, and within multiple generations of a family, is a more fitting lens for exploring the effects of our favorite tabloid fodder.

Who should read this book – Anyone interested in The Golden Age of Hollywood, film making during the studio system era, and intergenerational mental illness.

Add to your list if you loved – Any memoirs of Hollywood stars; like Me: Stories of My Life  by Katharine Hepburn and Million Dollar Mermaid by Esther Williams.

Other books by Emma Straub – Modern Lovers and Vacationers !

Book Review: The Binding Chair or, A Visit from the Foot Emancipation Society by Kathryn Harrison

The Binding Chair or A Visit from the Foot Emancipation Society
by Kathryn Harrison

In this historical fiction novel, we meet our main character May-Li at the turn of the last century in China. Early on in the book she experiences the trauma of foot binding at the hands of her grandmother. From here, the book charts May’s path from abusive marriage to her escape to Shanghai. Although she must turn to prostitution as a means of income, her astonishing beauty, bound feet, and quick study of languages allow for speedy upward mobility. Ultimately landing her a husband from Australia.

May becomes a fixture in her husband’s Jewish family and forges a special bond with his niece Alice. The expertly researched novel covers the pair’s journey from Shanghai to a boarding school in England and back to China. Along the way, readers are introduced to other women who have all, much like May, experienced some sort of physical or mental defacement. While at times I felt like the book was trying to cover too many characters, too many stories that didn’t help move the narrative along; this cast of women did serve as a relatable reflection of May’s bound feet to a Western audience perhaps unable to conceptualize the rituals effects.

Even so, The Binding Chair felt broad, both in setting and emotion, in a way that I thought unnecessary and left the narrative feeling incomplete. However, in reading some reviews and articles about the book, others have argued that the enormity of what Harrison takes on in this novel speaks to feelings of diaspora. In a story charting the path of a Chinese woman in a family of Jews this reading would make sense. Conceptually I applaud it but stylistically I found it challenging. 

At the end of the day, while the story was cluttered and the fetishistic scenes regarding foot binding felt a little gratuitous, Harrison does afford readers an amazing investigation into a different world.

Who should read this book – Anyone interested in Shanghai at the turn of the last century and the Chinese ritual of footbinding.

Add to your list if you loved – Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See or Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende.

Other books by Kathryn Harrison – The bestselling memoir The Kiss about her incestuous love affair with her father.

Book Review: Kitty Genovese by Kevin Cook

Kitty Genovese: The Murder, The Bystanders, The Crime That Changed America
by Kevin Cook

The story of the murder of Kitty Genovese is well-known by many. However, more urban legend than police blotter, the details of the story shift and change with each telling. Facts becoming murkier and then new research rising to the surface to make the waters of truth clear again.

Even folks for whom Kitty’s name was simply an answer on a Psych 101 exam can recount the basics of her demise: in the 60’s, a murderer stabbed a young woman in her 20’s over and over again as she walked home from a late night bar-shift. 38 bystanders watched from the windows of their Queens-New York apartments and did nothing to help her.

While Kevin Cook isn’t the first writer or scholar to sort through the details of Kitty’s case and posit that much of what we think we know, the story that exists within our public memory, is mostly contrived; Cook’s uncovering is so comprehensive that for me it completely changed what this murder meant in the context of life, and crime, in America.

Before reading this book I knew about the Kitty Genovese murder and the Bystander Effect. I didn’t expect it to unfold in the suspenseful manner I love when reading true-crime books. But Cook surprised me and managed to do just that. He peels back layer after layer of the crime we think we know, the assumptions we made about the urban human condition, and reveals new details at just the right moment.

The detail most often treated as fact in Genovese’s case is that 38 spectators were present while she died. Not acting, simply assuming that someone else would intervene. In fact, 38 came from the number of police interviews conducted at the scene of the crime. Not actual witnesses. Only a few folks heard Kitty’s screams and even less laid eyes on her in her final 20 minutes. The first-hand accounts of these few are revealed slowly within the book–the final encounter so heartbreaking and uplifting in equal measure. (It makes the whole book worth it so I won’t ruin it by revealing any details here.)

A few days after the tragic incident occurred, Winston Moseley confessed to the crime. But Moseley and Genovese aren’t the only key players Cook explores. Metro Editor of The New York Times, A.M. Rosenthal had a big part to play. After a meeting with the NYC police commissioner, Rosenthal took the 38 witness story and ran with it. And other media outlets around the world followed suit. Suddenly the crime became a viral sensation, inspiring a host of psychological and sociological studies. However, the most meaningful implication to all the publicity, in my opinion? The arrival of a 911 call system. Something that didn’t exist the night Kitty cried out for help.

Whether he knew the story would or not, Rosenthal struck a chord with Americans who were scared. Scared about the changing landscape of urban living, scared by new politics and ideas and neighbors so close who looked so different, scared because the assassination of their president was still so fresh in their minds. But he got his facts wrong. And, as a result, we all did too.

This book showed me that Kitty’s story isn’t about indifference or inaction on the part of bystanders. Quite the opposite. This true-crime tale is about our vulnerability towards stories that speak to our own preconceived notions. What each reader of Cook’s book does with this new information, is up to them.

Who should read this book – Anyone interested in true-crime, sociology, urban psychology, or how news media outlets and public consciousness interact.

Add to your list if you loved – Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker (which I talked about HERE.)

Other books by Kevin Cook – Electric October, Driven, and Titanic Thompson.