Book Reviews

Monday, March 22, 2010

How Starbucks Saved My Life
by Michael Gates Gill

A former advertising big shot loses his job, his wife and finds out he has a brain tumor. In a moment of desperation he accepts a job at Starbucks and finds the work surprisingly satisfying. He writes about getting to know his new job, while flashing back to his fascinating life of privilege, which included run ins with Hemingway, Sinatra and Jackie O.

I enjoyed Gill's account of his time at Starbucks, but mainly because I worked at coffee shops for 7 years (through high school and college). So many of the details he talked about were things I remembered well. As a barista you really become a bartender of sorts for your customers. You get to know their drinks and names by heart and they tell you all about their lives.

I was glad that Gill took some responsibility for the fact that his choices had got him to the point he was at. He didn't play the victim. It's a light, uplifting book. It won't stick with me, but it wasn't too sappy. Reading about my former profession was definitely my favorite part.

Little Children
by Tom Perrotta

An educated stay-at-home mom, Sarah, and stay-at-home dad, Todd, meet on a playground. After an impulsive kiss, the two married parents begin an affair. At the same time a convicted sex offender, Ronnie, tries to adjust to life after prison.

My description of the book doesn't do it justice. It's an interesting plot, with very adult themes, but it's Perrotta's ability to draw such vivid characters, not the action itself, that makes this book so captivating. I found myself constantly wishing I could return to the book when I wasn't reading it.

Sarah's husband Richard has a strange subplot that only distracted from the real plot. I wish Perrotta had left it out or taken it another direction. Other than that I really enjoyed the book. All of the characters are selfish and deeply flawed, yet somehow I was still entranced. Each of them is so childlike in their desire to have a perfect life, though the "perfect lives" they picture are all very different. I finished the book feeling sorry for them, but also identifying with some of the feelings of desperation they expressed. I also felt Perrotta did an excellent job wrapping up the book. There's no easy way to end it, but he provides a completely satisfying and believable conclusion.

Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston

Janie, a young black woman in the south, has had a rough love life. One failed relationship after another eventually leads her into the arms of a younger man, Tea Cake. Janie is a strong woman, but she puts up with a surprisingly high amount of grief from the men in her life.

I noticed that in several reviews people said they struggled with the way the dialect was written. I read this via an audiobook and so that wasn't a problem. I really enjoyed the book and the descriptions of the south, but I didn't love the characters. I felt like Janie could have avoided some of her heartache by making better choices. At the same time I loved the message of following your heart even if it doesn't conform to society's ideals. I also liked seeing how Janie transformed over the course of the novel. All in all a good read, but one I wouldn't pick up again.

Waiting for Godot
by Samuel Beckett

Maybe it's because I've heard about this play for so many years. Maybe it's because I was expecting another Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Maybe I just didn't get it. Either way, Godot didn't resonate with me. The dialogue is quick and the characters are dull. It didn't have the same electric feel that some of my favorite plays do. That feeling that just draws you in and makes you want to participate in their conversation. I never really clicked with these two friends who spent their time waiting for a man who never came.

I understand that people say the undercurrent of their conversations is ripe with philosophical questions and ideas, but they weren't for me. They didn't make me think, they made me want the men to go do something productive so they wouldn't consider suicide out of boredom. The writing was good, I will give it that, but it just wasn't for me. I'm seeing the play in October, maybe it will make me change my mind.

What Was Lost
by Catherine O'Flynn

Kate, a curious 10-year-old, goes missing and causes the lives of others to spiral into strange directions. I loved Kate's voice in this book and wished we gotten more of it. Here relationship with her father was one of the highlights of the story for me. I felt the book lagged a bit once we got to know Kurt and List, which isn't surprising since their lives are intentionally at a standstill.

It's an excellent debut novel. It has an interesting plot and likable characters. Like most debut novels, this one contains many elements from the author's own life, including her frustrating experience in retail. Those elements get old fast, but it's forgivable, because the rest of the book makes up for it. O'Flynn does a wonderful job wrapping up the story and bringing it all together in the end and I found it very satisfying.

Photo by moi.


Jeanne said...

You might like The Abstinence Teacher, also by Perrotta.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I've read that (before my blogging days) and I liked it, but not nearly as much as Little Children. He has a beautiful writing style though. He has a way of creating characters that feel like people you've met.

Jeanne said...

Hmm, I like his characterizations, but don't have much of the feeling that I've met people like that. I was irritated by Sarah and Todd, not so much for what they do as for how passively they react to what happens to them.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I would definitely agree with that, but I recognized that quality of letting life happen and complaining about it, or being disappointed in it, without actually doing anything to change it.

I've seen too many people settle into a life and then wonder why they never did any of the things they always wanted to. It's much easier to complain than to make a change in your life.