Wednesday, February 27, 2013

How Starbucks Saved My Life (Non-fiction Book)

Coffee. Mistakes. Second Chances. Famous Writers. Respect.

On one level, How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill is a feel-good book about a man in his sixties who is down on his luck and is offered a job at a local Starbucks. On another level, the book is a study in contrasts: a driving executive vs. a thoughtful barista, a life of privilege vs. a life of struggle, despotism vs. compassion and respect, opulence vs. simplicity.

Briefly, at the beginning of the book, Michael Gates Gill is a 63 year old man who is down on his luck. He was laid off from his job as a high powered executive ten years earlier and is now unable to support himself as a consultant. He is divorced with four grown children from his first marriage and a son by a woman with whom he had an affair. One day while having coffee, he is half-playfully asked if he would like to apply for a job at a Starbucks. Realizing that this might be one of his last chances, he jumps at the job. The book describes his struggle to master the job. It also describes his earlier life, complete with name dropping of the many famous writers he met over the years. He was a man used to giving orders and now finds himself taking orders from people he might not have treated with respect in his earlier life.

Carl Jung talked about exploring the less developed parts of our personalities in the second half of our lives. This seems to me what Gill describes in How Starbucks Saved My Life. We see a man who is very different from his younger self: more yin, nurturing, content, and sentimental. This is a lovely book that affirms what it is like to be a human being.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Happy Policeman (Science Fiction Novel)

Saying makes things so. What occurs is of no importance. What is important is perception. It is belief, not the act, that creates resonance patterns. You don’t have the right attitude. I try to make happy policemen. I don’t know why you insist on making unhappy ones.
Happy Policeman by Patricia Anthony is quirky and philosophical. This 1994 novel combines elements of science fiction, mystery, New Age thought, and odd small town characters.

Briefly, Dewitt, the policeman of a small Texas community, finds the Mary Kay lady murdered in an unusual way. Everyone is a suspect: the space aliens, who drive UPS trucks and furnish the town with all its needs; his own wife, an Avon Lady and a rival; the ex-husband; the doctor, an alcoholic; the mayor, a notorious pothead; the banker; the fundamentalist minister. The town has been isolated from the rest of the world since Bomb Day—when Reagan dropped the atomic bomb—six years earlier. The town has no idea what is on the other side of the line that the aliens have set up. By the end of the novel, the answer is revealed.  

Happy Policeman was a nice change of pace for me after I had read so many serious novels. Most of the time, I found it fun. At moments, I found it thought provoking: “Am I being ‘a happy policeman or an unhappy policeman?’” Towards the end, it raised questions of morality and justice. This is not your typical science fiction fare, and I was glad of it.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Dragon’s Teeth (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Nazism. Communism. Socialism. Feudalism. Politics. Art. Music. Spiritualism. Family. Duty. 

In Dragon’s Teeth, Upton Sinclair brings alive the history of Germany during the 1930’s. Through the fictional character of Lanny Budd, the reader experiences the events surrounding the rise of Nazism. This novel won the 1943 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel and is the third book in the Lanny Budd Series. The novel was written well before the end of WWII. 

Briefly, the novel opens with Lanny Budd’s wife Irma, an heiress, giving birth to their first child, Frances. Irma is a socialite and a celebrity. Much to his wife’s consternation, Lanny has a keen interest in Socialism. His half-sister, Marceline, has married into a Jewish family. Lanny has friendships that include Communists, Socalists, Capitalists, and Nazis. The first part of the novel describes various social engagements. In the second half of the novel, a number of Jewish members of the family are taken prisoner by the Nazis. Lanny uses his social connections and risks his life to try to get them out of Germany.

For me, Dragon’s Teeth did not get interesting until the second half of the book. The first part of the novel seemed like just another story about rich people, and I had to force myself to read it. Maybe I felt that way because I did not read the first two books in the series. The novel picks up once Lanny tries to rescue his Jewish family members. As far as I’m concerned, the novel would have been better without the first 200 to 300 pages.

At time, I found the politics and historical events interesting and at other times I found them boring. Sinclair describes the economic and social climate that provided a fertile ground for the rise of the Nazis regime. This made me think of some of the events in America and Europe these past few years. Knowing one’s history helps one more easily see the beginning of a potential repeat. Sinclair talks about Hitler being so mad that no one took him seriously. Sinclair says that the atrocities in Germany were so incredible that no one from the rest of the world believed what was happening. Reading the book helped open my eyes.