Smile at Strangers: And Other Lessons in the Art of Living Fearlessly

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Overview

“Eat, pray . . . kick ass. Delivered with self-deprecating candor, Schorn's life lessons learned at the dojo will resonate with anyone who's ever tried to remodel a house, raise kids, cope with a health crisis, navigate office politics or hyperventilated—essentially anyone who's ever been slammed on the mat while testing for the black belt of life. Like the fighter herself, you can't put this one down.”—Mary Moore, author of The Unexpected When You're Expecting

Susan Schorn led ...

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Smile at Strangers: And Other Lessons in the Art of Living Fearlessly

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Overview

“Eat, pray . . . kick ass. Delivered with self-deprecating candor, Schorn's life lessons learned at the dojo will resonate with anyone who's ever tried to remodel a house, raise kids, cope with a health crisis, navigate office politics or hyperventilated—essentially anyone who's ever been slammed on the mat while testing for the black belt of life. Like the fighter herself, you can't put this one down.”—Mary Moore, author of The Unexpected When You're Expecting

Susan Schorn led an anxious life. For no clear reason, she had become progressively paralyzed by fear. Fed up with feeling powerless, she took up karate.

She learned how to say no and how to fight when you have to (even in the dark). Karate taught her how to persuade her husband to wear a helmet, best one bossy Girl Scout troop leader, and set boundaries with an over-sharing boss. Here this double black belt recounts a fighting, biting, laughing woman's journey on the road to living fearlessly—where enlightenment is as much about embracing absurdity and landing a punch as about finding that perfect method of meditation.

Full of hilarious hijinks and tactical wisdom, Schorn's quest for a more satisfying life features practical—and often counterintuitive—lessons about safety and self defense. Smile at strangers, she says. Question your habits, your fears, your self-criticism: Self-criticism is easy. Self-improvement is hard. And don’t forget this essential gem: Everybody wants to have adventures. Whether they know it or not. Join the adventure in these pages, and come through it poised to have more of your own.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Schorn lived a life of anxiety and fear until age 30, when she began training at the Austin, Tex., Sun Dragon dojo in Kyokushin, a “full-contact” form of karate. While detailing her journey from white belt to double black belt, she candidly examines the fear of harassment that many women deal with on a daily basis, and she dismisses frequently proffered advice that regards women as “feeble-minded children” and blames victims for supposedly failing to exercise caution. In its place, Schorn provides a slew of strategies for managing tense situations—she encourages women to make purposeful eye contact and get comfortable with saying “no,” and she runs through de-escalation and intervention tactics (as well as actual Kyokushin combat techniques). Schorn credits the philosophy and discipline of her martial art with helping her cope with everything from her sister’s cancer diagnosis, a particularly taxing home renovation, and parenting unruly children. Considering the gravity of the topics at hand, Schorn manages a lot of levity—she describes the melee in which she earned her first black belt as “like getting married, except you have to fight all the bridesmaids.” The tale of her journey to empowerment is an engrossing and inspirational read. Agent: Brettne Bloom, Kneerim, Williams and Bloom. (May 28)
From the Publisher
"Funny, feminist-minded, ferociously sane, it's a motivational rap, an informal memoir, a samurai manual for the streets, and a liberal guide to living without fear all wrapped up in one black belt."—James Wolcott, Vanity Fair

"A fascinating look at karate, fear, anger, physical discipline, mental toughness, Zen wisdom, and self-improvement."— Spirituality and Practice

"The tale of her journey to empowerment is an engrossing and inspirational read."—Publishers Weekly, starred

"Although karate may not be the right discipline for some people, Schorn's experiences encourage women to stand up and fight for what they believe in, despite the odds, and to smile and enjoy the process while doing so. Useful, perceptive advice on life found through the practice of karate."—Kirkus Reviews

"Funny, focused, and fierce with wiry wisdom, this memoir is a muscular meditation on living fearlessly. It’s a sort of ‘Code of the Samurai' for every 21st century person, written by a witty literature professor with a second-degree black belt and a keen eye for spotting human folly. Schorn breaks down our conventional understanding of confronting menace in the world with the same ease that she breaks planks of wood. A perfect, engaging read for tackling college, the workplace, marriage, or prison—basically anywhere humans congregate with complicated motives."
—Joe Loya, author of The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell: Confessions of a Bank Robber

“This book delivers a swift, lethal karate chop at pantywaistedness in all its forms. With huge amounts of wit and grace, Susan Schorn looks Adversity in the eye, and crushes that sucker's windpipe.”
—Henry Alford, author of Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That?: A Modern Guide to Manners

Smile at Strangers is an elegant, often hilarious, and very personal account of women who fight and the paths they take to fearlessness. If you’re anywhere on that path—and if you love someone who is—it might be your most essential read of the year.”
—Michael Erard, author of Babel No More: The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners

“Eat, pray...kick ass. Smile at Strangers is the ultimate self-defense guide—from the liberation of the word 'no' to protecting yourself from overzealous Girl Scout troop leaders—all the while cleverly disguised as an insightful, grounded memoir with bursts of hilarity that hit you like a roundhouse. Delivered with self-deprecating candor, Schorn's life lessons learned at the dojo will resonate with anyone who's ever tried to remodel a house, raise kids, cope with a health crisis, navigate office politics or hyperventilated—essentially anyone who's ever been slammed on the mat while testing for the black belt of life. In fact, Schorn's skill at karate is only outmatched by her mastery at prose. Like the fighter herself, you can't put this one down.”
—Mary Moore, author of The Unexpected When You're Expecting: Clear, Comprehensive, Month-by-Month Dread

"This is a memoir I’ll be thinking and talking about for a long time. To begin with, the voice is unique—trust me, you’ve never heard anyone talk about coping with fear and anger the way Susan Schorn does. The writing is hilarious at times, dead serious when it needs to be, and always brilliant. The insights into the psychology of martial arts training—with special emphasis on the experiences of female students and teachers—is sure to launch a thousand discussions about violence, gender, confidence, and how to deal with alligators. I enjoyed this book thoroughly, and I will make sure never to get into a fistfight with its author."
—Mark Salzman, author of Iron and Silk

"Susan Schorn is a badass black belt with a huge heart and generous wit. This inspiring, often funny tale of her journey—from a cowering, self-confessed "neurotic" to a martial arts master—is not just about the kick. It’s about how the lessons of karate can be applied to women’s daily lives to make us stronger and less fearful—as friends, mothers, wives, and professionals—no matter how we dress or where we go. Smile at Strangers is a power tool indeed. It’s a swift chop to the myth that women need to live like victims in order to survive. It made me want to take up martial arts too—and keep reading."
—Susan Jane Gilman, author of Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress

"Hey readers! Time to put on your karate pants and crush some imaginary trachea! In Smile at Strangers Susan Schorn urges us to confront our fears in an increasingly scary world. Who knew that the highs and lows of the dojo held superb—and often funny— lessons for life? Schorn never suggests that karate is the only path, or even the best path. She is reminding us that we have a choice. We all experience fear, but we can choose our response to it. Overall, reading Smile at Strangers is sort of like watching samurai chanbara, only with more safety helmets and female bonding. You wince, but you can’t look away."
—Rhoda Janzen, author of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

From the Publisher
"The tale of her journey to empowerment is an engrossing and inspirational read."—Publishers Weekly, starred

"Although karate may not be the right discipline for some people, Schorn's experiences encourage women to stand up and fight for what they believe in, despite the odds, and to smile and enjoy the process while doing so. Useful, perceptive advice on life found through the practice of karate."—Kirkus Reviews

"Funny, focused, and fierce with wiry wisdom, this memoir is a muscular meditation on living fearlessly. It’s a sort of ‘Code of the Samurai' for every 21st century person, written by a witty literature professor with a second-degree black belt and a keen eye for spotting human folly. Schorn breaks down our conventional understanding of confronting menace in the world with the same ease that she breaks planks of wood. A perfect, engaging read for tackling college, the workplace, marriage, or prison—basically anywhere humans congregate with complicated motives."
—Joe Loya, author of The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell: Confessions of a Bank Robber

“This book delivers a swift, lethal karate chop at pantywaistedness in all its forms. With huge amounts of wit and grace, Susan Schorn looks Adversity in the eye, and crushes that sucker's windpipe.”
—Henry Alford, author of Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That?: A Modern Guide to Manners

Smile at Strangers is an elegant, often hilarious, and very personal account of women who fight and the paths they take to fearlessness. If you’re anywhere on that path—and if you love someone who is—it might be your most essential read of the year.”
—Michael Erard, author of Babel No More: The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners

“Eat, pray...kick ass. Smile at Strangers is the ultimate self-defense guide—from the liberation of the word 'no' to protecting yourself from overzealous Girl Scout troop leaders—all the while cleverly disguised as an insightful, grounded memoir with bursts of hilarity that hit you like a roundhouse. Delivered with self-deprecating candor, Schorn's life lessons learned at the dojo will resonate with anyone who's ever tried to remodel a house, raise kids, cope with a health crisis, navigate office politics or hyperventilated—essentially anyone who's ever been slammed on the mat while testing for the black belt of life. In fact, Schorn's skill at karate is only outmatched by her mastery at prose. Like the fighter herself, you can't put this one down.”
—Mary Moore, author of The Unexpected When You're Expecting: Clear, Comprehensive, Month-by-Month Dread

"This is a memoir I’ll be thinking and talking about for a long time. To begin with, the voice is unique—trust me, you’ve never heard anyone talk about coping with fear and anger the way Susan Schorn does. The writing is hilarious at times, dead serious when it needs to be, and always brilliant. The insights into the psychology of martial arts training—with special emphasis on the experiences of female students and teachers—is sure to launch a thousand discussions about violence, gender, confidence, and how to deal with alligators. I enjoyed this book thoroughly, and I will make sure never to get into a fistfight with its author."
—Mark Salzman, author of Iron and Silk

"Susan Schorn is a badass black belt with a huge heart and generous wit. This inspiring, often funny tale of her journey—from a cowering, self-confessed "neurotic" to a martial arts master—is not just about the kick. It’s about how the lessons of karate can be applied to women’s daily lives to make us stronger and less fearful—as friends, mothers, wives, and professionals—no matter how we dress or where we go. Smile at Strangers is a power tool indeed. It’s a swift chop to the myth that women need to live like victims in order to survive. It made me want to take up martial arts too—and keep reading."
—Susan Jane Gilman, author of Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress

"Hey readers! Time to put on your karate pants and crush some imaginary trachea! In Smile at Strangers Susan Schorn urges us to confront our fears in an increasingly scary world. Who knew that the highs and lows of the dojo held superb—and often funny— lessons for life? Schorn never suggests that karate is the only path, or even the best path. She is reminding us that we have a choice. We all experience fear, but we can choose our response to it. Overall, reading Smile at Strangers is sort of like watching samurai chanbara, only with more safety helmets and female bonding. You wince, but you can’t look away."
—Rhoda Janzen, author of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

Library Journal
Schorn, who holds black belts in Kyokushin and Seido karate, addresses women who are tired of being afraid. She uses kowas (Japanese proverbs) as chapter headings that dispense advice, e.g., "Fall down seven times, get up eight." A substantial portion of her book is devoted to self-defense, but she also doles out tips for navigating family issues and taking control of one's career. VERDICT Only for those with a keen interest in karate.
Kirkus Reviews
One woman's journey to overcome fear through martial arts. Two-time black belt Schorn didn't always feel confident in her surroundings. In fact, before she discovered karate, she was often immobilized by either fear or anger. "I was angry at the way fear constrained my life; angry at the world for failing to obviate my fear," she writes. "I was angry that society seemed to think women should just get used to seeing themselves as victims. I was angry that a lot of women seemed to agree." When a colleague invited her to an all-female dojo, Schorn was able to vent her frustration and overcome her fears while "hitting things and yelling." Using karate as the background, the author shows readers how she overcame her anxieties and demonstrates how they can overcome their own fears: of the dark, of saying "no," of feeling like a victim. Schorn couples detailed descriptions of Kyokushin karate moves with statements that will build women's confidence and empower them to resist and reject the common perception that they are weaker and more vulnerable than men. She also discusses how looking down instead of at someone shows passivity and how finding one's center works in both karate and life. Some of the occasionally clichéd but often true axioms include, "parenthood is the most terrifying ordeal you will ever undergo, enjoy it," and "push yourself past your limits; then let your friends push you further." Although karate may not be the right discipline for some people, Schorn's experiences encourage women to stand up and fight for what they believe in, despite the odds, and to smile and enjoy the process while doing so. Useful, perceptive advice on life found through the practice of karate.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547774336
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 5/28/2013
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 591,547
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Schorn has taught writing and literature at the University of Texas, St. Edward's University, and the University of Hawaii-Hilo. She holds black belts in Kyokushin and Seido karate and is a member of the National Women's Martial Arts Federation and former chair of the board of directors for Sun Dragon Martial Arts and Self Defense, NFP, in Austin, Texas (where she still trains and teaches). She is currently working toward self-defense instructor certification through the NWMAF, and earned her nidan (second degree) black belt in Seido karate in 2011. She has written for radio and online publications, including McSweeney's and The Rumpus.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2013

    Excellent book. Easy read. Great humor and even better life less

    Excellent book. Easy read. Great humor and even better life lessons. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2014

    Enjoyable and Easy to Read

    I enjoyed how this author described using martial arts as a basis for her world view. Easy to read with a lot of real life examples.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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