What We’re Reading

Each week we bring you a sample of the books we’re reading, the films we’re watching, the television shows we’re hooked on or the music we’re loving.

Annie is reading The Woman Upstairs

Claire Messud has been in Australia recently for the Sydney Writers Festival, and her novel The Woman Upstairs gripped me immediately. The protagonist, Nora, is a 42 year old primary school teacher. She claims to have made no demands on anyone (she has no partner or children) but has nursed her mother through debilitating illness and an undignified death. Her roles as a daughter and teacher mean that she has served others and not given time to her dream of becoming an artist.

When she meets the Shahid family – in the USA for a year while husband Skander has a fellowship at Harvard – her life changes. Reza enters her third grade classroom and she finds the boy both gentle and luminous. She is further intrigued by his Italian mother Sirena (even the name is appropriate in this instance – Sirena’s influence is like a siren going off in Nora’s life) who is a large-scale installation artist. Nora becomes entwined with the family, and her connection leads her to rent an artists studio with Sirena.

The ongoing relationship with each member of the Shahid family means that professional and personal boundaries are blurred and Nora’s self-image is changed forever.

This is such an interesting book because it is propelled by plot but also full of ideas. I particularly liked the questions raised about how women can create art and be mothers or carers – what must give? It reminded me of the very pertinent questions asked in Rachel Power’s book The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood. And made a re-read of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own very much on the cards for me…

I predict this book will be on the literary awards shortlists in 2014.


Nina is reading Lean In

A lot of friends have recommended [Lean In](http://(http://www.readings.com.au/products/16427131/lean-in-women-work-and-the-will-to-lead) to me over the past few months (some even assuring me it has helped them get promotions and pay-rises), so it has been on my to-read list for awhile. I finally started reading it this week and now I can’t stop raving about it. It’s the kind of book you want to give to everyone you know. I wish I could have read it when I was younger – this is the perfect book to give as a 21st birthday present or a university graduation gift or as a congratulations on a first job, or a second job, or a third. (Look, just find a reason to give this book to someone in your life!)

Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook, and before that she worked at Google. Lean In is part memoir, part manifesto, part business book, part career guide. It is packed with Sandberg’s intelligent, practical and useful thoughts and ideas on how to best navigate today’s workplace as a woman.

Sandberg draws on research as well as her own experience. She shares mistakes she’s made and tips that have worked for her personally. Her passion to see women succeed at the highest level is evident throughout and that is what makes this book so inspiring and energizing to read.

Lean In grew out of Sandberg’s TED talk on the subject, which you can watch below.

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