Tuesday, May 26, 2015

How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill

How Starbucks Saved My Life: 
A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else
By Michael Gates Gill

We recently began a thematic book club at our library and the first them was “beginnings.” I chose a memoir about starting a new chapter in life.

Michael Gates Gill seemed to be one of the good ol’ boys - the son of New Yorker writer Brendan Gill and a creative director at J. Walter Thompson Advertising for over twenty-five years. Then a new, younger, boss lets him go. Thus begins a lengthy journey of self-discovery that will take him places he’s been many times and yet never seen from his new perspective.

Gill starts his own advertising firm and things go okay at first but he slowly loses clients to bigger firms. He has an affair with a younger woman he meets at the gym. She gets pregnant and his wife divorces him. Now he’s living in a small apartment and trying to drum up business for his independent firm while spending time with his young child. Then he finds out he has a rare tumor affecting his hearing.

Gill is on a financial downward spiral but he loves coffee and the one treat he still allows himself is a latte. One day, in Starbucks, Crystal, a young African American manager jokingly asks “You want a job?”

He responds “yes, I do want a job.”

She’s skeptical but does the interview. She takes all his information and asks him “Would you be willing to work for me?”

He replies, “I would love to work for you.” To tell the truth, he still isn’t sure about this job but he knows he needs a job with a steady paycheck. The deciding factor for him is the full health benefits they offer, even to his children.

A couple weeks pass before she calls him.

For all his privilege at the opening of the book, Gill’s early life isn’t precisely easy. He gets beat up, doesn’t learn to read until he is ten and has lots of trouble with math. His father is very distant. He comes home unexpectedly during Gill’s 7th birthday party and says “My mother died when I was seven.” It’s the first and last time he mentions it.

Still, Gill goes to Yale and makes connections there that end up getting him job at J. Walter Thompson Advertising.

The writing has a very introspective style. Somewhat simplistic language but I thought it illustrated his simple thinking about how life was for him. Then when his good life falls apart he starts learning new concepts and learning that life isn’t as simple as his privileged life had previously taught him.

Maybe you already know all the concepts that he learns about in this book but I found the journey interesting and there were some good reminders for all of us in it. I would recommend it.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Sex, Murder and a Double Latte


Sex, Murder and a Double Latte
by Kyra Davis
Sophie Katz is a best-selling mystery writer in San Francisco, divorced and enjoying life with her cat, Mr. Katz. She’s looking forward to having one of her books turned into a movie fairly soon when the director/producer turns up dead, apparently having committed suicide in the exact same way one of his characters did, right down to the vanilla scented candles around the bathroom.
The only problem is, Sophie doesn’t buy it. She had talked to him recently and this was a man with plans, not one planning to check out.
Then Sophie gets an odd note in the mail saying simply “You reap what you sow.” She promptly throws it in the fireplace. She is disturbed enough to lose sleep but turns that to her advantage by using the time to finish her latest novel. Then the prank calls start.
Sophie’s friends include Dena, who runs a shop of products just for adults, Mary Ann, a make-up artist for Lancome, and Marcus, a hairstylist. Dena and Mary Ann also happen to be cousins.
Then she meets Anatoly at Starbucks, where she has gone to get a Grande Caramel Brownie Frappuccino with extra whipped cream in celebration of completing her book, when he swipes the last New York Times right out from under her hand. He was born in Russia, moved to Israel and has recently settled in San Francisco.
“Had he just insulted my coffee drink? Unbelievable! Everyone who had evolved passed the Cro-Magnon level knew that one should never make snide remarks about a person’s weight, religion or choice in caffeinated beverages, which meant he was most likely a Neanderthal. A Neanderthal with really good hands.”
But is Anatoly really who he says he is? It is going to be so much fun finding out.
I found this in our library’s Overdrive e-book catalog but I know it is also available in hard copy. If you’re looking for a thoroughly modern cozy mystery series, I recommend checking this out.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

I am a latecomer to the ranks of Malcolm Gladwell fans so forgive me if I am a bit overly enthusiastic. I found a copy of the audio version of David and Goliath on my desk just before Thanksgiving. I wasn’t sure if I had ordered it or my husband had but I needed something for the long drive home, on the day before Thanksgiving, when the weather had turned bad, so I popped it into the CD player. I was entranced by the end of the drive. (Graciously, I allowed my husband to have it first since he had ordered it, but then I listened to it morning and night on my drive until I’d finished it.)

“David and Goliath is a book about what happens when ordinary people confront giants. By “giants,” I mean powerful opponents of all kinds – from armies and mighty warriors to disability, misfortune, and oppression. Each chapter tells the story of a different person – famous or unknown, ordinary or brilliant – who has faced an outsize challenge…”

Gladwell begins the book with the titular story of David and Goliath but explains it a bit differently than you might expect. David and Goliath has long been told as a story where the puny underdog wins against the vastly stronger and more dangerous giant through a miracle.

Gladwell contends that “ . . . we consistently get these kinds of conflicts wrong. We misread them. We misinterpret them. Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness.”

Goliath was a giant warrior, well prepared for close hand to hand combat with mighty weapons. He didn’t expect a small and agile shepherd boy to fell him from a distance with a slingshot then dash in for the kill once he was down.

Gladwell uses stories from distant history mixed with modern history. He compares some seemingly disparate stories and shows us how the outcome can be explained by similarities you might not realize, as in the stories of Vivek Ranadive, who ran a successful software company, and decided to coach his daughter’s junior basketball team, and Lawrence of Arabia. In these two stories, not having the same advantages as someone else forces each protagonist to approach his challenge in a totally fresh way.

“Ranadive coached a team of girls who had no talent in a sport he knew nothing about. He was an underdog and a misfit, and that gave him the freedom to try things no one else even dreamt of.”

Likewise, T.E. Lawrence was a poet, not a military man, but he used what he had.

“There is a set of advantages that have to do with material resources, and there is a set that have to do with the absence of material resources – and the reason underdogs win as often as they do is that the latter is sometimes every bit the equal of the former.”

Gladwell covers so much in this book - the advantages of disadvantages (and the disadvantage of advantages) as well as the theory of desirable difficulty and the limits of power. He explains the U curve and class size. He talks about college choice and whether you will be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond.

One of my favorite chapters in the book is when Gladwell explains the principle of being a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond using the French Impressionists creating their own art show instead of sticking with the giant salon where they were lost in the crowd, and often laughed at. I think this is a great story which also illustrates my belief that we need to create the art we care about and then find the market rather than trying to conform to what we think others want.

I also particularly enjoyed his take on how dyslexia can affect how people approach challenges in a positive way and his points on how money makes parenting easier, but only up to a point, where it actually begins to make it harder.

I was absolutely fascinated by this book. There is a thread of persistence and audacity, being willing to face down the dreaded because you have nothing left to lose, that I have identified with at times in my life.

Gladwell’s reading was also particularly effective on the audio version. I recommended this to my writer’s group on the basis that the stories Gladwell tells are a great possible insight into character motivation, teaching you about the psychology of a possible character through stories. I think it’s also just fascinating insight into who people are and the way they function and thrive. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede

The Day the World Came to Town
by Jim DeFede

Most adults can tell you where they were when they saw or heard the news of the infamous day of September 11, 2001.  And the memory usually comes with a range of emotions including sadness and anger.

This book tells another story about that day, one that can bring a sense of healing and hope.

By 9:15 am on September 11, 2001, US airspace was declared closed.  All domestic airlines were required to land immediately at the nearest American airport.  All foreign airlines with US destinations were ordered to return to their countries of origin or to land in Canada.   This book is an account of how the people of Gander, Newfoundland, on the eastern coast of Canada (population: 10,000) generously opened their businesses, homes, and hearts to the 6,560 people (with a few animals, too) from around the world who descended upon the local airport during a time of great uncertainty, anger, and sadness.

The stories of the townspeople’s generosity and the response of the detoured guests are heartwarming.  My favorites include the respectful behavior of an executive of a high end clothing line who had to purchase underwear at Walmart.   And the Rabbi whose intuitive sense of purpose in this quiet place was validated by a visit with a local resident whose hidden past could now be shared.  And the man whose use of the local school’s computers to conduct a “little” business resulted in a large donation to the school. 

Soon after the last plane had left, the provincial government offered to fund a celebration for the townspeople, in honor of their service to the global community.  The townspeople declined, saying that they there was “no reason to throw a party just because they had helped a group of people who were in trouble…They did what they did for one reason only – it was the Newfie way.”

And what a wonderful way that is.

 Maryalice Little 14 October 2014

Friday, July 11, 2014

Halfway to the Grave: A Night Huntress Novel by Jeaniene Frost

Halfway to the Grave: The Night Huntress Series
By Jeaniene Frost

I’ve been on an Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance kick lately. This first book in The Night Huntress Series by Jeaniene Frost is more the former but there is a heavy dose of romance to it as well.  One description I heard said that if you could take the romance out and the story line still survived intact then it’s an Urban Fantasy. I’d say you could do that here but it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

Cat was going out to kill vampires, just a regular Friday night for her. (Most people don’t believe  vampires exist in this world.) Then a vampire named Bones captures her. When she comes to, she expects him to kill her but he wants information. He is quite convinced that she is human and must be working for a vampire to take out rivals.  Once he cottons to the fact that she is half vampire, he decides he’s going to train her and offers her a partnership. The other choice, of course, is death.

This is the beginning of a very interesting partnership. Bones has his own agenda and it is not quite what he tells Cat. (Once I got done with the book I had to go back and re-read the beginning, knowing what I now knew about Bones.) Bones trains her to fight better, toughens her up and they work together to kill the vampires who kill innocent people.

One complication, her mother, Justina, has always told Cat that she was the product of a rape by a vampire.  From the time she is 16 years old, Cat feels she has to atone for that by killing vampires, who must all be evil, as Justina tells her. It’s a good time as Cat unlearns some of her prejudices.

Just plain good old-fashioned vampire fun.

The series continues with several books, the second one “One Foot in the Grave” is another rollicking good time and I am currently reading the third in the series. I don’t want to give too much away but I am thoroughly enjoying them and I hope you will too.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones : Mad About the Boy
By Helen Fielding

Okay, I loved this book! I will say that I didn’t go into this book with many preconceived notions because it has been over a decade since I saw the first movie and I never read the second book. I wasn’t as invested in the characters as someone might have been if they read the second book and were eagerly awaiting the third.

All the friends are still around – Talitha, Tom, Jude and even Daniel though he seems to be on a downward spiral. I won’t tell you what happened to Mark Darcy. It’s sad and a large facet of the story but it doesn’t overwhelm the story.

There’s romance, humor and even some action as Bridget takes care of the kids and attempts to get back into the dating and work worlds.

Bridget is now a single mom of two small children. As a mother I could relate to so many of the sentiments. There’s a point where both kids are sick to their stomachs and in the midst of all the gross out, “Billy’s bewildered expression overwhelmed self with love for Billy.” I felt it when she said that. You can’t help feel sorry for and overwhelmed with love for the sick munchkins.

One bit of the humor is kind of over the top and does maker her seem overwhelmingly stupid.  She’s working on a screenplay adaptation of Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen but spells the title wrong and has the wrong author. If you’re adapting it, you must be referring to a copy of it so how do you get those things wrong? However, most of the time the humor is gentle or even a bit slapstick.

The format can take a little getting used to, mostly written in journal type entries with texts, emails, and tweets interspersed with regular prose. Hang in there and you do get used to it. I enjoyed it tremendously on audio CD.

There’s depth to this book, as well as humor. I highly recommend it. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby

By F. Scott Fitzgerald


This was not the book I thought it would be. At first, I thought it rather boring, with its description of the opulence of the parties. Then it got interesting when Gatsby finally appeared and you thought it was a love story. Then, I thought it was less about love and more about Gatsby obsessing about someone who was out of his reach. It was not a simple book and I have still not decided.


Illustrative of how World War I changed how people thought and felt, the narrator, Carraway, says of returning home after the war, “Instead of being the warm center of the world the middle-west now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe…”


The narrator’s shifting perceptions of Gatsby take us through the highs and lows of this book. He is not a one sided character, all good or all bad. As with life, it is in large part about perception. He is a self-made man who thinks that the end justifies the means and that he can get what he wants with money. Sound familiar?


 “Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!”


But no, no, you can’t, and the fact that he can’t or won’t see or accept that simple immutable fact tells you something about him.  He is fooling himself. He wants something so much that he is willing to lie to himself. Either that or he’s just plain crazy. Crazy in love? Perhaps, perhaps.


As I said, Carraway goes back and forth, based on events, thinking Gatsby a great guy or a jerk, by measures. His perception of Jordan, the girl he dates a bit, changes, as well as the husband Tom. Oddly enough, Carraway’s perception of Daisy, Tom’s wife, never changes. She is unscathed, though he comes to almost hate Tom.


It’s a short enough book, under two hundred pages, but I felt like I’d really been on a journey with this story. I hadn’t seen the movie and didn’t know a lot about it so I was surprised at every turn. I never saw the car accident coming or, honestly, what happened to Gatsby.


I highly recommend it for the aspiring writer. I learned so much from the most deceptively simple sentence, “As I tiptoed from the porch I heard my taxi feeling its way along the dark road toward the house.” "I heard my taxi feeling its way along the lane in the dark." Wait, what? Yeah, that is a beautiful sentence! The fact that the taxi is “feeling its way” is not possible and yet you know exactly what he meant, how a car moves slowly along a country lane so that the driver can see within the limits of the headlights. Then, the choice of “my taxi” instead of “the taxi” gives it a totally different feel than if he had chosen the other word. I was mightily impressed.


“Literary miracles are the work of writers who come closer than other writers to expressing what is in their minds through innate genius augmented by control, technique, craft.” Matthew J. Bruccoli, The university of South Carolina, 1992, in Preface to the 1995 Scribner edition of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Isn’t that the trick though?


Much like Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, I did not go into the book expecting too much and found a true classic of literature that I soundly recommend people read. If you read it before, read it again. It is the type of book where you will find something new at a different age.