Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

I had a great time with Ashley North as we discussed Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes for The Stacks Book Club. You can listen to that full episode here. The book is an exploration of what happens when you start changing your habits through positivity and affirmation.

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If you don’t know about this book here is more information on the premise.

She’s the creator and producer of some of the most groundbreaking and audacious shows on television today. Her iconic characters live boldly and speak their minds. So who would suspect that Shonda Rhimes is an introvert? That she hired a publicist so she could avoid public appearances? That she suffered panic attacks before media interviews?

With three children at home and three hit television shows, it was easy for Shonda to say she was simply too busy. But in truth, she was also afraid. And then, over Thanksgiving dinner, her sister muttered something that was both a wake up and a call to arms: You never say yes to anything. Shonda knew she had to embrace the challenge: for one year, she would say YES to everything that scared her.

This poignant, intimate, and hilarious memoir explores Shonda’s life before her Year of Yes—from her nerdy, book-loving childhood to her devotion to creating television characters who reflected the world she saw around her. The book chronicles her life after her Year of Yes had begun—when Shonda forced herself out of the house and onto the stage; when she learned to explore, empower, applaud, and love her truest self. Yes.

This book is written like it is straight out of the mouth of one of Shonda’s characters from her TV shows. It moves between short quick sentences to longer rolling monologues with tons of repetition of phrases, its very Scandal. It is conversational and performative. It feels like Rhimes is acutely aware of her audience and isn’t fully comfortable with us being let in. This approach to writing sometimes got in my way of enjoying the book, and trusting that it wasn’t all an act. I felt like I was consciously being entertained, which I rarely feel in memoirs (unless it is a comedian’s memoir).

The first part of the book was slow for me, it took a while for Rhimes to get into the actual “year of yes”, and getting used to the style of writing also slowed me down. However, once she gets into her story, the book picks up pretty quickly. The middle of this book is really great. Her struggles with anxiety, and guilt of being a mother who works, and her commitment to getting fit were all thrilling to read about. The topics felt universal and also uniquely Shonda. Its a hard balancing act to get people to relate to the most powerful woman in TV, and she pulls it off.

This book felt like a practical application of an earlier The Stacks Book Club pick, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. The Power of Habit uses scientific studies and examples from society to explain how habits work and how we can change them. It was a pop-psychology approach to changing behavior in businesses and individuals. Year of Yes was one woman’s account of how she changed the way she approached the world. I found myself noticing keystone habits and other ideas that came up in Duhigg’s book, which made me enjoyYear of Yes in a whole new way.

The ending of Year of Yes fell a little short for me. She loaded the earlier sections of the book with the most powerful transformations, and the ones that came toward the end felt less meaningful and crucial to the story. Just as the book started off a little slow, it also fizzled for me toward the end.

I have to admit, I was inspired to start my own year of yes, after reading about Rhimes’ journey. I think there is a lot to be learned from her experiences. Her perspectives are thoughtful and she does a superb job of extrapolating her lessons and stating them clearly for her reader. That is no easy task, especially when one is reflecting on their own struggles and successes. I think anyone could benefit from this book, while the style of the writing may not be for you, the content of the book is worth thinking about.

Don’t forget to listen the The Stacks with Ashley North discussing Year of Yes.

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (September 13, 2016)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Year of Yes on Amazon

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