Wednesday, January 23, 2008


I recently read two non-fiction books that were both entertaining and engaging in their honest depictions of transformational experiences. The first is; How Starbucks Saved My Life: a son of privilege learns to like everyone else by Michael Gates Gill. The author was born into a wealthy urban family, experienced the best education and grew up in the confidence that nothing was out of his reach. Upon graduation from Yale he went to work for a prestigious advertising firm in NYC. married, had four children and a mansion in the suburbs. Then at age 60 his life began to unravel as he was fired to make room for younger talent, has an affair with a young woman who becomes pregnant, his wife divorces him, he is alienated from his four children and he begins to experience some serious health issues. He finds himself without employment, income, family, friends, or health insurance. Then one fateful morning he finds himself at a Starbucks to indulge in a coffee he can't really afford and finds himself across the table from a young, attractive, professional African-American woman who is a Starbucks store manager. Unemployed as he was, Gill still looked the part of the wealthy and white professional male in his Brooks Brother suit and expensive shoes. Yet, perhaps jokingly, the woman asks him if he wants a job and to his surprise he says yes.
The remainder of the book describes how Gill's life is transformed by the culture of Starbucks and his relationships with his fellow employees who come from a very different soci-economic background then the author. With honesty and humor, Michael Gates Gill describes his new life as Mike the floor sweeper, table cleaner, bathroom custodian, cashier, and coffee enthusiast. This was an entertaining and at times inspirational read and I highly recommend it. It is really a story of the power of a community that accepts a stranger into its' midst and shares with him their values. Our faith communities would do well to learn from this story.
The second book is Steve Martin's memoir, Born Standing Up; A Comic's Life. Today's' teens and twenty somethings know Martin as a movie star and sometime author rather then the "Wild and Crazy Guy" that did standup in the 70's and until 1982. The author painstakingly describes those days as he shaped and tweaked and grew his act from six solid minutes to the 90 minutes of outrageous hilarity that would draw upwards of 50,000 people to his stadium performances. I found his story to be a testament to what happens when a person is committed to a dream and willing to make the sacrifices to bring the dream to a reality. Steve Martin began what we could now describe as post-modern comedy. L.A. Times critic, Erika Schickel, writes; "His legacy includes a lineage of self-reflecting comedians-culminating in the blowhard, Escher-like character of Stephen Colbert, who is perhaps the ultimate expression of what Martin started almost 40 years ago." This book is a good read and a reminder of the amount of work and sacrifice it takes to become successful in any field.

No comments: