Monthly Archives: July 2008

Personal Days by Ed Park

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.

Entertaining.

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Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles

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!

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The Pixar Touch by David Price

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.

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Home by Julie Andrews

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?]

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The Miracle at Speedy Motors by Alexander Mccall Smith

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.

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The Crowd Sounds Happy by David Dawidoff

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…

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Buying In by Rob Walker

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…

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Filed under Non fiction