A few things I think I’ll always remember from recent books:
The Hills are Alive … with the Sound of Nazis
If the von Trapp family had continued in the direction they were headed at the end of The Sound of Music, they would have “inadvertently landed in the hornet’s nest” of Nazi strongholds, recalls Christopher Plummer in his memoir, In Spite of Myself (Vintage; 656 pages; $17.95). Hiking toward Germany rather than Switzerland was the more picturesque escape route for the movie, he recalls.
This detail-packed charmer of a book gives us many a delicious glimpse behind the scenes. For example, Plummer writes that he and Julie Andrews had to shoot the famous gazebo scene more than 30 times because whenever they started to kiss, an off-camera device sounded like someone emitting gas. This threw them into such fits of laughter that the director finally gave up and filmed their faces only in silhouette.
A stirring event in Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir, My Beloved World (Knopf; 302 pages; $27.95) reveals the brainy Assistant District Attorney (ADA) becoming a full-fledged street warrior during New York’s wild 1980s.
To nail the charge in some robberies, Sotomayor writes, ADAs had to accompany police at the time of arrests. In this scene, the future Supreme Court justice is wearing a bullet proof vest with a walkie-talkie screeching in her ear as she hangs onto the back of an NYPD motorcycle that’s racing after a truck full of counterfeit goods. The chase leads Sotomayor and her driver into the parking lot of Shea Stadium during a climactic 10th inning in the 1986 World Series. Then, just as the crowd’s roars explode above them, the truck pulls ahead:
We’re doing fifty, then sixty, circling the lot like a racetrack, when the truck dodges around a corner. It’s a dead end, a concrete cul-de-sac, and in just a moment he’s spun around and is barreling straight for us. My driver’s about to bolt, but I tell him, “Stay put, he won’t hit us. We’ll stop him right here.” This guy’s not crazy, I’m thinking. But he could be, or maybe just panicked. Whatever the case, he’s speeding up. Next thing I know, he’s got half his wheels up on the concrete wall beside us, like a stuntman riding the wall of death — can you even do that in a truck? Before I know it, he’s slipped past us, doing almost ninety in the opposite direction.
It’s one of the few times in the entire book that Sotomayor doesn’t nab the culprit.
Sex Appeal on Meet the Press?
At the end of Anna Quindlen’s essay collection, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake (Random House paperback; 199 pages; $15), the author has a talk with her friend, actress Meryl Streep, about changes in society they’ve experienced as women. At one point, Streep mentions the “concurrent” pressures today on women of all ages and professions to be taken seriously and yet to dress in a sexually alluring manner:
Meryl Streep: (It means they) are saying, “I might take your job, but I’m still a girl, I still want your attention.” Even on the serious Sunday political shows — do you remember [the TV program] What’s My Line? Dorothy Kilgallen or Arlene Francis — those women would appear on a game show in a suit. But (today) I’m watching the Sunday political shows: these are people who are there for their informed political opinions, and all these women are sitting there in November wearing little summer sheaths, with their arms out, and I thought, What if, you know, Steve Schmidt and George Stephanopoulos —
Anna Quindlen: Oh, please don’t make me picture Steve Schmidt in a sheath dress!
Meryl Streep: What if they are all in sheath dresses and the women have their jackets on? Because what are these women saying, by coming on a show that’s about ideas? What is it about us as women that we need to say, “By the way, I’m talking about credit-default swaps but I’m talking about it dressed in a way that I hope you will think is attractive.”
Sheryl Sandberg on Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been portrayed by the media as a dorky and obsessive man-child with zero social skills over and over (and shame on you, Aaron Sorkin, for making Zuckerberg a monster in The Social Network). So it’s refreshing to see Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg refer to Zuckerberg in her book, Lean In (Knopf; 228 pages; $24.95) as a sensitive and intelligent boss who likes working with strong women.
Mark was 7 years old when Sheryl graduated from college, but instead of lording his power over her or saying stupid things like “young people are smarter” (geez, did he really blurt that out a month or so ago? you know the media won’t let him forget it), he appears in this book to seek out women like Sheryl for feedback and suggestions he can’t get anywhere else.
For example, Mark and Sheryl met every Friday to talk frankly about what bugged them, and when it came to the old feminist dictum, never let them see you cry, Sheryl developed a different idea:
I had been working at Facebook for almost a year when I learned that someone had said something about me that was not just false, but cruel. I started telling Mark about it and, despite my best efforts, started to cry. He assured me that the accusation was so untrue that no one could possibly believe it. And then he asked, “Do you want a hug?” I did. It was a breakthrough moment for us. I felt closer to him than ever before. I then recounted this story publicly, figuring that it might make it easier for others who have faced unwanted tears. The press reported the incident as “Sheryl Sandberg cried on Mark Zuckerberg’s shoulder,” which is not exactly what happened. What happened was that I expressed my feelings and Mark responded with compassion….
Maybe someday shedding tears in the workplace will no longer be viewed as embarrassing or weak, but as a simple display of authentic emotion. And maybe the compassion and sensitivity that have historically held some women back will make them more natural leaders in the future. In the meantime, we can all hasten this change by committing ourselves to both seek – and speak – our truth.
More soon about Lean In and also Wonder Women, another book many of us oldster feminists may have been avoiding (okay, I did).