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Smile at Strangers: And Other Lessons in the Art of Living Fearlessly Hardcover – May 28, 2013

4 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This curious book—part personal journey, part karate tutorial—explores how Schorn changed her approach to life through the study of karate. She first took up karate because she felt both powerless and fearful in her life. Through her experience at a women’s-only karate school, she finds personal empowerment and a strong and supportive community. Schorn writes about how she is able to apply the lessons she learns in the dojo to her daily life, thus enabling her to negotiate more successfully with her husband and to help establish boundaries in her career and at home. Yet Schorn’s transformation comes slowly; this is not a self-help book that delivers easy answers. Instead, in following Schorn as she pursues her two black belts, the book quickly makes apparent that transformative change comes with extensive work and no small bit of pain but brings with it the ultimate satisfaction of finding inner strength. --Eve Gaus


"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


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (May 28, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547774338
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547774336
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,066,366 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is an interesting combination of memoir and exploration of the author's deep and abiding love for martial arts and all the ways it has helped improve her life. I think any woman who has contemplated whether martial arts could benefit her, been personally violated or has issues with fear should read this book. Schorn makes an excellent case for how practicing martial arts has ramifications that go far beyond your belt level and how powerful your roundhouse kicks are. Simply put, martial arts became the guiding force in Schorn's life ... informing everything from motherhood to career. Besides being a memoir, the book provides practical advice and guidance on how to live your life fearlessly. This isn't just about self-defense (though that is one of Schorn's passions). It is about being confident, embracing the unknown, learning from our mistakes and having the courage to embrace and seek the unknown. Each chapter begins with a lesson that Schorn learned ("Self-criticism is easy. Self-improvement is hard. You're here for the hard stuff." "Fall down seven times, get up eight.") and then discusses how she used martial arts to get through challenges in her life (ranging from her sister's cancer diagnosis to putting an addition on her home). Even if you have no interest in martial arts, I think you can find value in this book. It is one of the more realistic and honest explorations of "woman power" I've ever read.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Smile at Strangers, written by Susan Schorn, is a book that, I think, is easily relatable and believable. It is well written and easy to read. The tenets of this book are universal and apply to everyone.

As we read this book, we re-live parts of the author's life - her fears, loneliness and the feeling of being an outsider even in a crowd of people. We can almost feel how her fears gripped her when she was very young; those vague childhood terrors that creep into a child's mind - those vague "what if this happens" thoughts. Then, we can sense the progression of those fears when the mother of one of her friends was murdered. She was 14. This tragedy moved her vague fears and insecurities into the "it did happen" category. All of the dangers and uncertainties became vivid!

In our own lives, when we are crippled by childhood fears and unanswered questions that, at some point, become real, we are challenged with finding a way to keep those real-life dangers and insecurities under control so we're able to reach out to life and be our best selves.

This book reminds me of another book, Eat, Pray, Love, written by Elizabeth Gilbert which was also brought to the big screen in the 2010 movie of the same name starring Julia Roberts. In the movie, Julia Roberts went on a travel quest to find herself. She found three countries that opened her mind and changed her life. In one country, she learned to enjoy food. In another, she learned to pray and in the last, she learned to love without reservation.

In Smile at Strangers, the author tells us that she found living in fear was not living at all. Something was missing. She tried many ways to start living, including psychoanalysis. Ultimately, the keys for her were karate and meditation.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There are so many self help books out there, especially geared towards females. Susan Schorn writes one from a different point of view, a woman who took her experience learning karate which is much different than sitting by the side and hope somebody will show up to rescue you.
M's Schorn has a black belt in karate and looks at how her life changed as a result of learning karate. Before, according to her own report that she was "neurotic". After the karate class, she becomes "fearless". Not recklessly fearless, but more settled in her own body, she knows what works and why it works. I have to admit, I had to check out exactly what each move looked like to get a better idea of what was being discussed. She believes by learning a skill such as karate when help prepare a woman (or a man) for the unexpected. Obviously, that's helpful to know, whether it is a physical attack or perhaps a verbal assault.
I recommend this book for anybody seeking help on changing their lives.
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Format: Hardcover
Though I am not a prolific book reader, I could NOT PUT DOWN THIS BOOK. I related to Susan's humor. She wrote this book in such a manner that I felt I was right there with her throughout all her experiences. After nearly dying from complications of failed breast reconstructive surgery following a double modified radical mastectomy, I was very angry about fighting for my life for nearly 18 months against a serious infection. It was 100 times worse than the cancer treatment. Afterwards I was informed I was no longer a viable candidate for reconstruction. I was very weak and depressed and angry. So at 57 I started karate at a dojo that accommodated my limitations as I built strength. It was a physical outlet for expressing my anger. The anger & depression dissipated. Gradually I became stronger. Like Susan describes, I too have lived my life filled with fear for whatever reason. All my life I wanted to take a self-defense course for women, but was too afraid. Go figure. I completely enjoyed every page of this book, but my favorite chapters were "To fight fear, you must also fight ignorance. And occasionally, argumentative jerks" and "See yourself clearly, and you won't dread the scrutiny of others". As I read, Susan took me through every conceivable emotion. I laughed, I cried, I contemplated, and I laughed some more. The book is absolutely delightful. It was everything I hoped it would be and more. Ample encouragement and wisdom is intertwined throughout its pages.
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