Personal Days is a clever satire of office politics in the New York office of a company that’s shrinking under the influence of “The Californians” that bought the company and now run the show. The erratic and sometimes cruel path of the layoffs will sound familiar to anyone who’s lived through them. There’s a twist, and that’s good because the material is, after all, pretty light.
Dear American Airlines starts like a rant against the airlines but is, in fact, a no-longer-young man’s regrets about losing his daugher (and more) to drinking too much. Bennie Ford sits at O’Hare when he should be flying to his daughter’s wedding (to another woman), a daughter he has not seen since toddlerhood but whom he’s determined to walk down the aisle.
Many years ago I saw a training video that Federal Express had made of what they called “the golden package”. The idea was that we never know what people are shipping and how precious it is to them, and therefore that Fedex employees should do all that’s humanly possible to get every package to its destination on time. Dear American Airlinescould provide the training for all airlines employees (and TSA employees too!)
But off with my professional hat: it’s a sad and hopeful book about how we can mend what we messed up. Well done!
The Pixar Touch describes the rise of Pixar as a leader in the world of animated movies, ending with the Disney purchase of the company. The book is at its best at the beginning, when Pixar emerges as a company making… computer hardware! Who knew? The descriptions of the early years with unclear goals, massive work hours, and a band of gifted programmers straight from the local university sounds like many other startups, with the added bonus that we know it’s going to work in the end, even if they don’t.
The transformation from a geek-driven, computer-focused company to the world of storytelling and creative scripts feels like watching a butterfly come out of its cocoon. Too bad the author feels it’s necessary to recount boring lawsuits and business negotiations. The fun is in the birth of the movies and watching the creative teams marry technological advances with their imaginations. The publisher should include clips of the movies with the book.
Home: A Memoir of My Early Years is the story of Julie Andrews’ childhood and young adulthood — until she becomes famous. Born to an unstable mom who soon divorces her wonderful dad (or perhaps not-dad, but wonderful anyway), Julie Andrews tells about living through the London Blitz, haphazard theater bookings throughout the English countryside, and arriving in New York as a naive and determined young woman who would walk through a hurricane through rehearsals. The writing can be plodding (does she really need to explain what the London Blitz was?) and the narrative can be overly uniformly nice towards other performers but the (literary) voice of the plucky girl who supports her family on her earnings from a young age comes through perfectly — as does her special relationship with her dad. An interesting read for the fans of The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins.
[Short rant: Doesn’t anyone proofread books anymore. To the manner born?]
The Miracle at Speedy Motors is the ninth installment in the series of the Number 1 Ladies Detective Agencyand Mma Ramotswe is back for more mystery-solving, although we all know by now that solving mysteries is not the point of these books. The point is to be back in Botswana, with a traditional-size woman who understands the deep pleasure of a morning cup of tea and the intricacies of living in a community where everyone either knows you or will not rest until they discover a personal link between their family and yours.
Soothing and quietly happy, like all Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency books.
The Crowd Sounds Happy is a memoir of a happy childhood, albeit with a mentally-ill father and a financially struggling mother. The author describes how his mother sends him to a posh, good private school where he feels he doesn’t quite belong with his rich classmates — and repeatedly hurst his mother by wanting much more than she can ever provide. He also loves baseball, and that’s where the book lost me. Perhaps a baseball fan would manage to muster more enthusiasm for that boy…
Buying In talks about Marketing 2.0: what happens when marketeers no longer can or want to use standard advertizing and promotion techniques and instead highjack consumers’ counter-brand ideology to push their brands. Yes, big business can cleverly exploit the very elitistism of counterculture — and the author supplies a number of examples, all taken from brands that cater to young people. Perhaps it’s because old people are being sold the old-fashioned way? I hope young people realize they, too, are being sold…
The Middle Place is a memoir by a Bay Area woman who got breast cancer at age 36, and whose beloved father got bladder cancer about the same time. Talk about rotten luck. But the book is not about that, not really: it’s about the fantastic strength she got from her adoring and wonderful father, who could make a friend from anyone he met and who gave her unlimited support and strength. It’s about her family rallying around her. And it’s about her loving her children even more desperately because she is so sick.
A wonderful story of a family that works well.
Bright Shiny Morning is an official piece of fiction, unlike A Million Little Pieces by the same author that started out as a memoir and turned out to be fiction after all… and a great piece of fiction in my mind so why did it have to be misrepresented?
Bright Shiny Morning is not that great. It’s built around a number of characters, all in LA, some of which appear for only a short vignette and some endure, as well as a number of semi-random thoughts about LA that are pretty boring and forced in their randomness. James Frey has a knack for creating characters we care about and for putting them in improbable situations we somehow believe (like gang members hunting down a sweet Midwestern couple) but this is too much and too weird. Read A Million Little Pieces instead.
Prepare for an emotional experience when you read Final Salute, a carefully crafted description of a very tough job, that of the Marines who notify the families of deaths in combat, and who take care of those families through funerals and beyond. Perhaps the members of Congress who voted for the Iraq war should read this book so they can fully comprehend the human toll they unleashed.
The book talks about angry widows, very sad little boys, people that make mistakes and families that behave so nobly as to belong in some impossible Greek tragedy. It takes your breath away.