(Elizabeth Perle McKenna)
PERSONAL: Married first husband (divorced); married second husband; children: (first marriage) son; (second marriage) one; stepchildren: three.
CAREER: Writer; editor and publisher for twenty years. Harper & Row, New York, NY, marketing department; Bantam Books, New York, marketing department and associate publisher; Prentice Hall Press, New York, publisher; Addison-Wesley, Boston, MA, vice president and publisher of general books; Hearst Book Group (William Morrow/Avon), New York, vice president and editorial director, 1991–93, publisher of general book division, 1993–94, vice president and publisher, 1994–95; Common Sense Media (nonpartisan media watchdog organization), San Francisco, CA, editor in chief.
(As Elizabeth Perle McKenna) When Work Doesn't Work Anymore: Women, Work and Identity, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Money, a Memoir: Women, Emotions, and Cash, Holt (New York, NY), 2006.
SIDELIGHTS: Liz Perle worked in the publishing industry for twenty years before leaving the corporate world behind. She ultimately left her executive job as vice president and publisher of the Hearst Book Group (the parent company of prominent publishing houses William Morrow and Avon) because she felt that by defining herself through her job, she was denying herself happiness. In a panel discussion led by Barbara Jones and published in Harper's magazine, Perle stated that her corporate experience taught her that it "was more important to act right than be right. I had to look as if work was everything. Long hours are a requirement. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can appear to be more important than what you do." As a woman, and as a person, Perle went on to explain, "these rules don't make sense." Perle felt so strongly about these issues that she chronicled her decision to leave her career in When Work Doesn't Work Anymore: Women, Work and Identity.
In addition to sharing her own experiences in the book, Perle interviewed 200 working women and surveyed over 1,000 in order to illustrate that her encounters are not singular, but are instead part of a greater cultural phenomenon. Perle then argues that because women derive much of their identity from their work, they adhere to the demands of a "success culture," thus causing an imbalance between work and the rest of their lives. Perle goes so far as to advise women on how to reclaim that balance, namely by first recognizing that they are not their jobs, and by learning to redefine what they see as success. Indeed, a Publishers Weekly critic noted that Perle's approach is "so provocative and convincing … that it is likely to motivate many women to move from a culturally approved value system to a more personal one." Although Time contributor Jill Smolowe felt that "only well-paid women, like those in her survey, may be able to heed" this suggestion, Smolowe conceded that "such prescriptions for redefining worth and success are not abundantly simple, but they are abundantly sane."
Some time after Perle left her career, her husband decided to end their marriage. As a result, Perle lost her home, and she was left with only 1,500 dollars. Perle then found herself and her four-year-old son sleeping on a friend's couch. In an effort to make sense of this surprising turn of events, Perle wrote Money, a Memoir: Women, Emotions, and Cash. Much like her first book, Perle speaks of her own experiences and attempts to place them in a larger context based on the experiences of other women—a Publishers Weekly reviewer called the methodology a "sociological study-cum-memoir." Not surprisingly, Perle finds that women cheat themselves financially for several reasons, including not asking for an equitable salary at work, out of a fear of being resented or disliked. Indeed, Perle notes that many situations tied to women's finances are also tied to their emotions; take, for instance, retail therapy—the idea that spending money will make one feel good.
The book received somewhat mixed reviews. Although a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that Perle's "memoir is frank and unflinching," the contributor also felt that "it falters when she tries to apply her own experience with money to women in general." Nevertheless, commented Anne Fisher in Fortune, the author "tackles some intriguing and important questions." The Publishers Weekly reviewer similarly observed that Money, a Memoir "raises more questions than it answers," but went on to conclude that this is "part of its allure."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Perle, Liz, Money, a Memoir: Women, Emotions, and Cash, Holt (New York, NY), 2006.
Perle McKenna, Elizabeth, When Work Doesn't Work Anymore: Women, Work and Identity, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Fortune, February 20, 2006, Anne Fisher, review of Money, a Memoir, p. 140.
Harper's, December, 1997, Barbara Jacobs, "Giving Women the Business: On Winning, Losing, and Leaving the Corporate Game" (panel discussion), p. 47.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2005, review of Money, a Memoir, p. 1177.
Library Journal, September 15, 1997, Barbara Hoffert, review of When Work Doesn't Work Anymore, p. 92.
New York Times, January 29, 2006, Ariel Levy, review of Money, a Memoir.
Publishers Weekly, June 16, 1997, review of When Work Doesn't Work Anymore, p. 51; June 30, 1997, Judy Quinn, "A Few Words with Elizabeth Perle McKenna," p. 18; October 31, 2005, review of Money, a Memoir, p. 41; December 19, 2005, Lynn Andriani, "Expense Account: Liz Perle's Memoir Is about What Money Can Do to Women" (profile and interview), p. 34.
Time, August 11, 1997, Jill Smolowe, review of When Work Doesn't Work Anymore, p. 56.
Women's Review of Books, February, 1998, Ann With-orn, review of When Work Doesn't Work Anymore, p. 15.
Common Sense Media Web site, http://www.commonsensemedia.org (March 27, 2006).
Money, a Memoir Web site, http://www.moneyamemoir.com (March 27, 2006).