Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic”


Everyone wants to write the next mega- selling Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling or don beautiful heels and perform on stage like Beyoncé but very few know how to make the dream a reality. In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert provides the tools. She tells her story on the creative process, providing humor and wisdom on what’s essential in order to release the gifts inside you.

The author of best-selling books Eat, Pray, Love; Committed; and Signature of All Things, Gilbert is a widely celebrated author but is no stranger to hardship. Before her success, she was in her early twenties working as a waitress in diners, bartending, serving as a teacher at NYU and traveling, all the while writing—which came with its fair share of rejection letters. Gilbert understands the difficulties in pursuing a creative career, yet she also attests that there is great joy in it. This inspired her to write Big Magic.

In Big Magic, Gilbert breaks the steps to creative living in six chapters: “Courage,” “Enchantment,” “Permission,” “Persistence,” “Trust” and “Divinity.” Through personal anecdotes, wit and advice, Gilbert offers the tools needed to go after your creative passions.

Unlike other works written by Gilbert, in Big Magic, she not only allows the reader into her life, discussing the experiences she faced as an emerging writer but she also provides numerous advice and wisdom for those wanting to pursue their passion. In “Permission,” Gilbert lets the reader understand that waiting to be told when to pursue your ideal job is pointless. She made a commitment to herself at the young age of 16 that writing would be her job and she continues to be relentless in her pursuit.

Gilbert’s book is for all those with the burning sensation to go out and produce something, whether a “struggling writer,” “emerging artist” or an expert in your field, Big Magic provides inspiration to everyone. Inspiration to start and continue to do the work that fuels you.

Amanda Filipacchi’s “The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty”

At Dress for Success we put our weight behind the idea that a polished look can inspire confidence and empowerment professionally.  And since we believe appearance affects reality, we were completely taken by comedic writer Amanda Filipacchi’s latest novel, The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty. A satire, intertwined in a murder mystery, Amanda creates an adverse world that follows two best friends who struggle with the same concept of beauty from opposite ends.  Part of an oddball friend group, Lily and Barb are viewed respectively as “ugly” and “beautiful”. Barb, a natural beauty and blonde bombshell, is a successful costume designer who takes to dressing in a fat suit to find a man who will love her for her true self. Conversely, her other half, Lily is unfortunate looking in the “inoperable way.” Lily is a talented composer who wears a mask (made by Barb) to distract from her physical appearance and project a false allure, artistically through her music.

Using Barb as her narrator, Amanda juxtaposes witty prose with a flat tone to blatantly portray beauty as the end-all be-all in her contrived version of modern day New York City. Her humor is as sharp as her message, which reveals itself in a public unraveling of the girls’ charades.  When it’s explained that Barb guised her beauty to cope with the suicide of a friend, you’re left questioning just how “conventional” beauty truly is and why women are more subjected to its strict constructs.

Amanda poses these striking questions, but anchors her story in the strength of female friendship. The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty reminds us that physical appearance finds its limits in friendship and love. Through Barb and Lily’s companionship, we see the one sphere in Amanda’s exaggeratedly narcissistic society that is protected from the superficial.

Loosely inspired by her own experiences, Amanda is the daughter of Sondra Peterson, who was a top Ford model in the 1960s. She grew up in the shadow of the spotlight and self-proclaims she is the only “non-gorgeous” member of her family. In a personal essay appearing in The New Yorker, Amanda is as sardonic as her characters, explaining she stopped chewing gum after her father said her jaw was big enough already. A true contrast to her own observations, Amanda is stunningly creative and a real-life testament that beauty can transcend the physical and is sometimes found in spite of it. Spoiler alert: Contrary to her own assessment, Amanda definitely did receive some of her mother’s genes, but the writing is all her own.

Diane Muldrow’s “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book”

As an adolescent (or even as an adult!) you may have spent hours and hours pouring textbooks that offer little to no answers for the real world of your everyday life. This was Diane Muldrow’s thinking behind Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book.  If you were one of the two billion readers who learned the importance of hard work and honesty from The Pokey Little Puppy or The Little Red Hen, you were a Little Golden Books kid.

A children’s series launched after World War II, Little Golden Books has offered up life’s lessons through short stories and lovable characters for more than 70 years. As editorial director of the LGB series, Diane created a montage of vintage illustrations from 61 stories and paired them with some classic proverbs and modern advice to remind us how to live simply with contentment.

As part of an officially “plugged in” society, many of us now update our Facebook profile more often than our resumes.  We are inundated, daily, with information and media from all over the world. With this in mind, Diane prefaces her book, suggesting society’s overindulgence, and disregard for its consequences, calls for a return to the basics. Her advice touches on health, happiness, finances and relationships, playing on our nostalgia in an artful and innocent way that allows us to relearn, as adults, what’s really important in life.

Everything I Need to Know forms its own unique genre. Not directly fitting in any category, it’s a self-help anthology that echoes the legacy of the Little Golden Books, reminding us sometimes revisiting the past helps us to move forward with the future. Diane’s short prose offers much needed bedtime solace for adults, proving that life’s best advice can also be the simplest. Much like its genus series, Everything I Need to Know is a nightstand classic, meant to be passed up, down and around all generations.

Kate White’s “I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know”

For every woman who has ever lived The Devil Wears Prada nightmare of facing icy rejection or moral compromise to get ahead, we hold the roadmap to navigating the sharp curves and steep hills to career success. Writer, editor and boss in every sense of the word, Kate White has been on both sides of the office door and is now sharing her insight in her new book mockingly titled I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know.

Five publications after beginning her career as an editorial assistant at Glamour, Kate ended her run with the magazine industry after 14 years as the Editor-in-Chief of Cosmopolitan to focus on her work as an author and public speaker. Armed with sage wisdom, spunk and a refined swagger for navigating one of the most competitive fields for women today, Kate’s expert advice is practical and digestible at any stage of your career. Through some personal anecdotes, intrinsic wit and the occasional celebrity cameo, Kate explains how to get ahead and stay ahead, without losing your head.

Inside, she breaks down the career trajectory into three main parts: “How to Get It,” “How to Go Big,” and “How to Savor It.” Starting at that first interview, Kate is candid when she talks building confidence as a necessary step to progress. In the next chapters, she elevates the conversation, handing it off a few times to fellow power women as she shares secrets to guide  us through career moves like capitalizing on change, flexibility in your work-life, networking and building your own personal board of directors.

Unlike most self-help books that get you through a crisis and take their spot on the back shelf, I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This should be open from the time you send your first resume, to your retirement party– where you pass it on to the next gutsy girl. Kate does not just spout tips and wisdom from a pedestal, but rather gives the highlight reel of her journey to the top and how to continually evolve even through comfort and security. Perfecting her delivery through years as an editor, Kate gives us the facts, not only opening the door to the career we’ve always wanted, but also making sure we’re getting what we want from our careers.

Malala Yousafzai’s “I Am Malala”

If anyone knows the power of words, it’s Malala Yousafzai.  Nominated for a second time this year as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, you’ve most likely heard of the fearless girl who took a bullet for women everywhere while defending her rights to attend school. But you might not have known Malala has been an advocate on the international stage since age 11, putting the spotlight on girls and women amidst the longest, most exhaustive war in our history.

Penning her memoir at only 16, I Am Malala, opens with the day she was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban, an Islamic extremist group, who targeted her for spreading secular beliefs. For most of us who are only familiar with Afghanistan through the media’s coverage, Malala leads us through the war-torn region of Swat, once a lush, tranquil valley she called home, to offer a different view.

Here, we are introduced to Malala’s family, where she pays particular tribute to her idealistic father, Ziauddin, who raised her to be ambitious and curious in a culture that values sons over daughters. A hard lining advocate for education and leader in his community, Ziauddin founded the school that Malala attended around the idea of reinforcing human potential rather than gender norms.  Valued for his principles and conviction in a town terrorized by extremist ideology and repression, Ziauddin and the Yousafzai family were (and remain) constant targets for the Taliban as they spread their militant rule over the valley.  Amidst the senseless killings, school bombings and threats, Malala only grew more empowered: reading, studying and giving speeches her father helped her write to advocate freedom through education.

Throughout, I am Malala stays true to the author’s admiration for books and captures a unique view of the oppression that girls and women face in different parts of the world. An empowering piece of history, Malala’s memoir proves she is more than a poster child for the cause, but rather an active voice calling on all of us to realize our power. Admitting she forgives her own assailant, Malala’s perseverance and steadfast morals ascend hatred and fear. Her memoir is a physical testament that power and change are rooted in knowledge and serves as compelling reminder to never stop educating ourselves.

Nina Sovich’s “To The Moon And Timbuktu”

As smart, driven, career women we are constantly looking onward and upward. It’s been over a half a century since our mothers, grandmothers and maybe even great-grandmothers stood up from behind the typewriters, ditched their sweater sets and raised us to believe self-fulfillment could trump security and settlement. But as progressive as we are, most of us can’t help the guilt that comes with feeling a little boredom or insecurity in our lives. It’s a tale as old as time, right?

But author Nina Sovich’s travel memoir To The Moon And Timbuktu proves we are still dreaming and we’re not alone. The book shares her story of leaving behind a career, relationship and conventional life of security for a spontaneous journey in self-discovery. Certainly not the first woman to search for a life beyond front desks and white picket fences, Nina’s memoir is a fresh reminder for all women that it’s normal to wander and sometimes getting lost can lead to the greatest discoveries.

An American woman living in Paris, Nina found herself stifled in a premature marriage and depressed by the old-world monotony of her city. She longed to return to a life of spontaneity and adventure that she spent in the Middle East as a young graduate. Inspired by her mother, an idealist who traveled to escape the humdrum realities of a suburban housewife, Nina had an insatiable curiosity to explore. In an effort to save her marriage and rejuvenate her spirit, she left behind a career as a high brow reporter and set off on a pilgrimage through West Africa, with the ultimate goal of reaching the legendary region of Timbuktu.

Throughout the memoir, Nina’s raw description of the outside lands she encounters lets us escape and indulge in our wildest travel fantasies about Africa. Meanwhile, her experiences are underwritten by an internal struggle with contentment that not only allows us to relate to her journey, but become a part of it. Nina’s palpable approach to writing puts us in the landscape as fellow travelers who feel her nerves, excitement and awe. While she encounters cultural taboos and struggles with the preconceptions of a western upbringing, Nina offers historical insight, but keeps her tone real throughout. She speaks as the everyday woman facing the realities of culture shock, solo travel and self-realization.

Though she eventually returns to Paris to start a family, Nina never quite quiets her freewheeling spirit. To The Moon and Timbuktu is a necessary and refreshing read for anyone who has ever felt stagnant. Nina’s words serve as a reminder to all of us that taking time to ourselves is never wasted and finding true success means first finding self-fulfillment.

Alexa Von Tobel’s “Financially Fearless”

Let’s be honest.  We’ve all had a time when we’ve been guilty of trying to “keep up with the Jones.” And if you find that competing with Ms. Jones is more than just rare occasion, we have just what the doctor ordered—or in this case, just what the financial planner ordered! Financial planning is one of those concepts that we sometimes put on the back-burner in order to take care of our day-to-day responsibilities.  Alexa von Tobel, chief executive officer of personal finance website, LearnVest, struggled severely with this reality. As a certified financial planner and graduate of Harvard University, Alexa found that even after working a few years on Wall Street, she still didn’t know the basics of this important life skill.  Luckily, she turned her challenges into what could be major triumphs for you! Now at 30, she shares her answers and experiences in her book Financially Fearless.

Unlike most financial planning books, Financially Fearless is not only digestible, it’s also relatable. Alexa writes from a holistic view, but provides practical and engaging information that speaks to situations unique to a woman. Although the gap is slowing closing, women on average still make 77 cents to a man’s dollar and are not typically the target audience when it comes to managing finances and wealth. Alexa’s book changes this.

In a candid, but dignified voice, Alexa discusses how to build circumstances such as maternity leave, childcare costs, grad school and caring for aging parents into your long-term financial plan. Despite its playful chapter titles like “Therapy Sesh,” Alexa writes under the empowering assumption that women have careers, not sugar daddies.

Financially Fearless is meant to break down the barriers of intimidation surrounding finance with flexible, but effective methods based on Alexa’s core 50/30/20 philosophy. Her budget structures the division of your monthly pay into using 50 percent for essentials, putting 20 percent in savings and the other 30 percent is reserved for “happiness.” The plan is weaved into witty, easy-to-read steps, laced with narratives called “Money Mics” that provide real-life scenarios for inspiration. Graphs, charts and even worksheets are also spliced throughout the book so that you’re not just passively reading, but physically crafting a future plan.

All of Alexa’s advice is practical and adaptable to various lifestyles, such as how to choose the correct health insurance plan to fit your needs and budget. She even has a section that analyses the economics of packing a lunch. She shares the surprising brown bagging stats: brining your lunch to work four days a week saves on average $1,248 per year. Her quick tips let you weigh your “cost per happy,” as she calls it, helping readers cut out the frivolous extra cocktails or clothes that provide a short lived happiness return. A modern guide, Financially Fearless, takes the anxiety out of future planning and puts you on the path to financial freedom!

Want to win a copy of Financially Fearless? Tweet us your top money-saving tips at @dressforsuccess and we’ll pick three winters at the end of the month to receive a copy of Alexa’s book!

Karen Amster-Young and Pam Godwin’s “The 52 Weeks”

How many times have your weekdays blended together? Going to work on Monday and coming home to the same leftovers for dinner by Thursday. Most of us slip into routines unconsciously.  It’s completely natural. We are creatures of habit. Our cup of coffee and the morning paper after a hot shower is comfortable, familiar and we like it. But when does a routine become a rut?

Karen Amster-Young and Pam Godwin asked each other these same questions over drinks one night. Two New York City women, settling into their 40’s, accomplished what most consider the “American Dream,” contentment with their families, careers and home lives. But Karen and Pam still found themselves in a “state of stuck.” To break free, they challenged each other to try something new each week for a year and write about their experiences in a blog.

Their experiment took off and they began to receive phone calls from reporters and letters from followers who wanted to know more. Already overwhelming their small blog, Karen and Pam knew they has so much more to share and decided to turn their experiences into a book.

The 52 Weeks details a journey of simultaneous self-discovery and camaraderie, acknowledging it’s important to challenge yourself, but also necessary to have a friend in the cockpit for reassurance, accountability and the occasional extra push.  Navigating through the twos’ adventures the book details everything from incorporating blueberries into a healthy diet to racing Maseratis. Reading in a similar style to its original blog format, The 52 Weeks alternates between Karen and Pam’s voice, sharing their experiences and recapping each chapter with advice from experts and easy-to-follow tips for readers. Spliced throughout, are inspirational quotes including everyone from Dr. Seuss to Carrie Bradshaw.

The 52 Weeks challenges readers to always push boundaries, proving that no matter how small, change can renew spirit and keep you growing and learning at any stage in life! So if you’re looking for a little inspiration to recharge your motivation, this is definitely the book for you!

Book Shelf: Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail”

Life is an unexpected journey. Sure, this is a phrase we have all heard before, but sometimes it takes the unexpected to remind us to be grateful for the life we are fortunate to have.

It was the unexpected that sparked the most meaningful adventure Cheryl Strayed would embark on in her life and, lucky for us, she documented this journey in her biography Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Wild is a powerful memoir that tells the story of one woman’s eleven-hundred-mile solo hike from the Mojave Desert to Washington State and the way it healed her.

At the age of twenty-two, Cheryl thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, devastation caused her family to fall apart and her own marriage was inevitably brought to an end. At one point, Cheryl even turned to drug abuse for relief. Reeling from catastrophe and feeling as though she had nothing to lose, four years later she decided she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. With no experience or training, and dependent upon the kindness of strangers she meets along the way, Cheryl’s decision to travel alone through California and Oregon to Washington State was single-handedly the most impulsive decision she had ever made—and the best one at that.

Cheryl’s story is one of promise. With each challenge, bruise and blister from the trail, Cheryl relays how her determination allowed her to overcome each physical and emotional hurdle. While her journey broke her down, it also helps her come to terms with the overwhelming loss she’s endured and her unexpected reactions to it.

Yet the most surprising twist to Cheryl’s memoir comes after it was actually published. By checking Wild out in a local library, the half-sister Cheryl had never met was able to find the author. By giving her journey a voice, Cheryl was able to rebuild the family she once thought that she had lost for good.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is a reminder to be grateful for what we have and at the same time teaches us how to cope with the things we have lost. Told with remarkable honesty, Cheryl reaches women everywhere with her personal journey and encouraging tale of finding out that the strength she needed was within herself all along. We hope you enjoy reading this one as much as we did.