Books of the year:
‘Beyond the Label’ offers inspirational message for women
By Charlotte Seton
Photo courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers
Maureen Chiquet’s memoir, “Beyond the Label,” stuns with its exposé of her career failures. As the international CEO of Chanel, Chiquet’s utter honesty is what makes this book a very compelling read. “I’m just asking you to stop, open your ears, and hear what people have to say,” Mickey Drexler (CEO of The Gap) admonishes Chiquet after a particularly rocky business meeting. Scenes like this pepper the narrative, providing vivid detail of how Chiquet learned from the career and family challenges she faced to become a highly successful businesswoman.
Chiquet’s story is less about her job as head of Chanel than it is about the path of self-discovery that led to her high-ranking position. Her entertaining tale first describes the impact of the various Midwestern, Jewish and French experiences of her youth. Chiquet then shares her experiences as a marketing trainee at L’Oreal in Paris, her rise through the ranks at
The Gap and Old Navy and her stints as president of Banana Republic and Chanel.
Along the way she redefines the labels attached to women - wife, mother and CEO - in ways unique to herself. Chiquet was an introverted literature major, but she is also a living example of how such a background can make you an effective CEO. On the other hand, juggling a full-time career while bringing up two daughters amply demonstrated that there is no way to have the perfect work-life balance. Chiquet readily admits she wasn’t the mother of the year, although ironically the National Mother’s Day Committee awarded her the title of “Outstanding Mother.” A major theme of the book is that optimal work-life balance is something each woman has to define for herself based upon her own circumstances and available resources. This story inspires women to be true to themselves in all life choices, both professional and personal.
Besides encouraging honest self-reflection, Chiquet also gently motivates young women to question the norm: how should we think about our intellect, feelings and even our bodies? For example, Chiquet describes her newfound appreciation for French open-mindedness during her junior year abroad in Paris. She questions why we shouldn’t use intuition and gut feelings, as well as the traditional decision-making characteristics of judgment and logic, to resolve business issues. She shares her career successes (she developed The Gap’s first C-buckle belts) and failures (being “a train wreck of a mother”) in equal measure.
Ultimately, Chiquet’s sincere and fascinating narrative inspires women to embrace femininity as one of their greatest sources of strength and to pursue “what really makes your heart sing.”
‘Walkaway’ expresses social change through a different lens
Photo Courtesy of MacMillan Publishers
By Verenice Palczynski
Cory Doctorow’s “Walkaway” is set in a near-future dystopian society. Human interaction has been replaced by machinery. Those who still have a creative mind and disagree with the way that society is run ‘walkaway,’ living past the city limits in hopes of finding a better society.
“Walkaway” is odd and creative, all the way down to the character names. One of the protagonists goes by the nickname Etcetera, due to the fact that his true name is Hubert Vernon Rudolph Clayton Irving Wilson Alva Anton and the list goes on. Etcetera, Natalie and Seth are the three main characters. Seth is witty and sarcastic while Natalie is a privileged, intelligent woman. Etcetera, on the other hand, acts as a neutral party to balance both.
Across the country, especially in the Bay Area, people feel more open to self expression of all kinds. This is true of the novel as well. It is refreshing to see that Etcetera is bisexual. It’s extremely rare that this sexual orientation is represented in any sort of media, and even more so in the portrayal of a man. Natalie chooses not shave her underarms, which is a recent social movement and mode of expression in today’s time. There is also a transgender character named Tam, another underrepresented identity in the media. Often when novels have this much diversity in their text, it becomes such an overpowering theme that it detracts from the plot, as if the author is doing all he or she can to prove they too can be diverse. However, in “Walkaway,” diversity is simply mentioned in a natural way and treats it as nothing new.
The technology in the novel, though extremely advanced, stays in the realm of possibility. However, there are inventive and odd concepts, such as uploading someone's conscience to a computer to create immortality. When a mind-boggling piece of technology is introduced by the author, it is eloquently described through narration and dialogue, which keeps the futuristic theme of the book plausible.
The characters in “Walkaway” are also extremely intelligent. Most of the people in the ‘walkaway’ society joined because they believed they were skilled enough to create a better system. The discussions between characters are always witty and arguments have real intellectual tension that is almost tangible. These discussions happen between females, males and everyone in between.
This book, however, is not all intellectual discussions and technology talk. There is romance and sexual tension, as well as friendships and rivalries. The interconnectedness is simultaneously complex, well described and fairly easy to follow. The book can definitely get steamy at times, but it is realistic and doesn’t sensationalize sex.
This book made me laugh, become frustrated and intellectually challenged me. Though it may not be a relaxed, lazy Sunday morning read, it is engaging and thought provoking. “Walkaway” is dystopian, science-fiction, romance, humorous and profound. “Walkaway” truly is a book filled with, and for, all walks of life.
'Beneath a Scarlet Sky' showcases forgotten history
Photo courtesy of Mark Sullivan Books
By Emily Sweet
Mark Sullivan delivers a heartbreaking and exceptional commentary on human nature in his 18th novel “Beneath a Scarlet Sky.” Based on the true story of Pino Lella’s life, Sullivan spent weeks with Lella in Italy working through his tale of death and destruction as a teenager during World War II.
Set in various locations throughout Europe during WWII, the novel follows Lella, a 17-year-old Italian boy from Milan, as he witnesses his city fall under the Nazi regime. Lella’s journey leads him to a job as the driver of high-ranking Nazi General Leyers, the seemingly humane man who commits inhumane atrocities. Lella begins working as a spy against the Nazi party, and finds himself swept in a whirlwind romance with Leyer’s housekeeper, Anna.
Though Lella is shocked to discover that the Nazis are transporting prisoners to horrific camps, his love for Anna is unwavering. The evolution of their relationship as developed by Sullivan, though slow, displays the vulnerability, emotion and passion of romance from the eyes of a young man.
The relationship between Lella and General Leyers serves as an inside account to war horrors, revealing the overlooked perspective of a Nazi general who is unsympathetic to the forced labor of thousands, yet willing to save a sick child from a concentration camp minutes before the trains left. By far the most complicated character, Leyers is written beautifully—to the point where I was surprised to find myself facing the same confusion that Lella faces in his own life—sympathizing for the very man who brings about many of the novel’s most agonizing moments.
Though because of graphic first-hand war stories, it is a difficult book to read, “Beneath a Scarlet Sky” is a reminder of the obstacles we each face as humans. Before reading this, my knowledge about Italy in WWII was mostly limited to the overarching concept of fascism. However, Sullivan brilliantly turns a sensationalized war into a personable viewpoint, once again reminding the reader to view not only history, but the world with an emotional, heartfelt mind.
Though it is unlikely you will make it through “Beneath a Scarlet Sky” without tearing up, the tears are worth the read and are furthermore a sign of Sullivan’s effective message in his harrowing masterpiece. This novel is an exquisite choice for fans of historical fiction, heartbreak and a deeper meaning to the decisions we make that remain with us for life.
Albums of the year:
Getting personal with distinct new sounds
By Lily Baldwin
2017 brought many changes and while not all were positive, the incredible new music that came out this year provided an escape from everyday chaos. This year was one that brought revolutionary new rap albums and unique new artists and songs that shed light on lesser known genres, such as “R&B psychedelic funk” and “neo soul jazz.” While there were many amazing tracks composed by talented artists this year, here are just four of 2017’s best albums.
Flower Boy by Tyler, the Creator
In Tyler, the Creator’s stand-out 2017 rap album, Flower Boy, the curt rapper’s vulnerable side is bared to fans with a grain of comedic salt and sarcasm. The lyrics of tracks such as “911/Mr. Lonely” delve deep into the personal feelings of the rapper, a new frontier for Tyler, the Creator to explore in comparison to his last album, Cherry Bomb, in which lyrics are hardcore and blunt. The lyrics, written by the artist himself, reveal much about his perceptions surrounding his own life and emotions, with the acceptance of loneliness and solitude being an overwhelming theme in the album. Cohesively self-produced, the beginnings and ends of the tracks blend into one another. This style of production prompts listeners to go straight through the album without pausing, letting them experience an uninterrupted story about growing up from 26-year-old Tyler Okonma’s painful perspective as a young rapper who gains fast fame. Infusions of jazz and R&B in tracks such as “November” and “Glitter” give the album a streak of sophistication and airiness, contrasting Tyler’s deep, cold-cut vocals. The album sports an impressive list of features, including Frank Ocean and up-and-coming artists like Rex Orange County. Flower Boy, released in July, is nominated for Best Rap Album at the 2017 Grammys.
Recommended: “See You Again” ft. Kali Uchis and “Boredom” ft. Rex Orange County and Anna of the North
Ctrl by SZA
Best New Artist Grammy nominee, 28-year-old Solána Imani Rowe (known as SZA), released a powerful, neo soul R&B album this June, titled Ctrl. The widely popular track “Love Galore,” featuring rapper Travis Scott, was released in April and heightened anticipation for the release of Ctrl with its enchanting vocals over bassy hip hop beats. Injected with sounds of symphonic strings, synths and recordings of SZA’s own grandmother, this album is a deeply personal confession of the singer’s trials and tribulations with love. In songs such as “Normal Girl” and “Drew Barrymore,” SZA sings about her insecurities and troubled relationships, often apologizing for not being the perfect image of a woman. This album is a collection of femme-strong I-don't-give-a-sh*t songs (like the track “Go Gina”) that empower listeners with feelings of self-confidence. Rightly so, SZA is the most nominated woman this year for the Grammys, sporting five nominations, with Ctrl (now certified gold) nominated for Best Urban Contemporary Album.
Recommended: “Prom” and “Garden (Say It Like Dat)”
Melodrama by Lorde
In Lorde’s unapologetically emotional album, Melodrama, released in June of this year, the 21-year-old combines her whimsical voice with heavy-hanging percussion and blanketed harmonies to create an ethereal tracklist that topped charts in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and Australia. The album’s genre is hard to define, with tracks ranging from emotional ballads like “Liability” and “Writer in the Dark” to upbeat dance songs like “Green Light,” and “Homemade Dynamite (Remix),” which features Khalid, Post Malone and SZA. The indie-rock vibe of “The Louvre” appeals to more light-hearted listeners, while the heavy “Sober II (Melodrama)” goes deeper with a slow-moving beat and darker tones. The personal lyrics behind each and every track in Melodrama strike the hearts of all listeners, telling a story of the artist’s heartbreak through beautifully mixed audio and unique use of instrumentals. Slow piano serenades can quickly transition into pounding drum beats, and the passion of the singer’s unwavering voice can be heard clearly through each track. Lorde’s ability to connect with her listeners is perfectly showcased in Melodrama, along with her unmatched lyrical and vocal talent. This impressive combination earned her a 2017 Grammy nomination for Album of the Year.
Recommended: “Perfect Places”
A Moment Apart by Odesza
Electronic duo Odesza released their third studio album this September, titled A Moment Apart. This chillwave tracklist consists of layered beats and major chords that uplift every listener, with songs like “Higher Ground” featuring Naomi Wild, that can take anyone back to that summer sunset you miss so much during finals week. The track “Late Night” was released as a single in April (along with song “Line of Sight”) and quickly became the anthem of everyone’s summer. In its first week of release, A Moment Apart reached #3 on U.S. charts. Considering its complex and high quality production value and wondrous array of electronic and vocal workings, it’s no wonder this album is nominated for a Grammy for Best Dance/Electronic Album. The heavenly use of vocal samples can be heard in tracks like A Moment Apart, the first song on the album after “Intro,” the calm opener that tells the whispered story of a cosmonaut who falls in love with his surrounding sounds. Inspiring feelings of adventure and carefree youthfulness, this album pairs perfectly with an evening drive over Mount Tam and a couple good friends.
BEST MOVIES OF THE YEAR:
Diverse protagonists, stories dominate theaters
By Alexander Lieberman
2017 was a year of great movies. From blockbuster superhero films to long-awaited sequels of science fiction classics to incredible war films and smaller comedy-drama films, this year in cinema featured movies for everyone, from determined film buffs to casual movie fans. Several of this year’s best films featured strong female protagonists - from Amazon warrior Diana of Themyscira to the Sacramento high school outcast Christine McPherson. Here are just four—of the many deserving—best films of the year.