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How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else Paperback – Bargain Price, September 2, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
The son of New Yorker writer Brendan Gill grew up meeting the likes of Ezra Pound and Ernest Hemingway. A Yale education led to a job at prestigious J. Walter Thompson Advertising. But at 63, the younger Gill's sweet life has gone sour. Long fired from JWT, his own business is collapsing and an ill-advised affair has resulted in a new son and a divorce. At this low point, and in need of health insurance for a just diagnosed brain tumor, Gill fills out an application for Starbucks and is assigned to the store on 93rd and Broadway in New York City, staffed primarily by African-Americans. Working as a barista, Gill, who is white, gets an education in race relations and the life of a working class Joe . Gill certainly has a story to tell, but his narrative is flooded with saccharine flashbacks, when it could have detailed how his very different, much younger colleagues, especially his endearing 28-year-old manager, Crystal Thompson, came to accept him. The book reads too much like an employee handbook, as Gill details his duties or explains how the company chooses its coffee. Gill's devotion to the superchain has obviously changed his life for the better, but that same devotion makes for a repetitive, unsatisfying read. Photos not seen by PW. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* Yale graduate, prosperous ad exec: Gill has it all. Then he turns 60 and finds himself precipitously bounced from his job and saddled with the triple threats of a ruined marriage, an unexpected newborn, and a brain tumor. Despairing at the prospect of looming poverty, he stops at a Manhattan Starbucks to comfort himself with a latte. By chance he sits down next to Crystal, a young African American woman recruiting new workers for the coffee giant, and she offers him a job. Almost as an act of desperation, he accepts, and he dons the uniform of a barista-in-training at an Upper West Side Starbucks. This son of privilege who had hobnobbed with Queen Elizabeth, T. S. Eliot, and Jackie Onassis, now keeps daily company with a diverse crew of brash young New Yorkers for whom Starbucks' progressive employee benefits and demanding, inspiring standards of public service offer hope. Gill starts at the bottom, cleaning the bathroom, and he has trouble mastering the cash register. Over the months he learns to deeply respect Crystal, to appreciate the mutual support of his coworkers, and to genuinely cherish the passing parade of customers, each unique. To his own astonishment, he realizes that he actually looks forward joyfully to every hectic, exhausting workday. Other corporate giants can only envy the sheer goodwill that this memoir will inevitably generate for Starbucks. What a read. Knoblauch, Mark --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Gill tells his story well and doesn't hold back on the self-deprecation, not at all. His divorce came about for the understandable reason that he met a single, 40ish woman into the arts who lived alone. Mysterious enough for you? So, intrigued and feeling emotionally unmoored with no job, he has an affair and fathers a child. His family is understandably devastated, and the scenes in this memoir of them are wrenching.
Thrown out of the house, with no job, his money runs out and he must learn to be middle class from nearly scratch. He decides Starbucks would work when he reflects how he spends times there and when the local manager and him have one of those conversations blacks and whites have that sound mistrustful but are actually seeking closeness and racial harmony.
From there, Gill confronts all the things that he'd never learned to do; like the simple self-satisfaction of work, independent living, how to handle solitude, and getting to know people unlike himself. Time and again, Gill points out how his pre-fall opinion of someone and how wrong he was, and his post-fall new, more mature appreciation of them. He does it in a way that is tender and loving, and he allows for the sizable resentment some readers may feel at hearing someone used to limos talk about not wanting to walk on 96th Street. 96th Street for god's sake! My first day living here I went to 96th Street to people-watch! I once had a girlfriend who got fired from a publishing job and worked at Barnes and Noble for three weeks, until she couldn't deal with being 22 and being so "common." I thought of her as I read this book.
The PW editorial review is totally misleading, by the way. He talks about as much as you'd expect about the Starbucks job. For a book dealing with his new life, that is expected. Plus, for all the talk about how great Starbucks is, you never really hear about how the place works.
One thing - I didn't realize that the baristas are supposed to talk to you and make conversation. My whole lifetime of going to Starbucks, it's happened once, I see in retrospect.
Definitely get this book.
I found the book to be delightful. The only issue I had with it were that the people that worked at the Starbucks were so friendly! I have not experienced this at the majority of Starbucks I've been to. And, having worked in retail most of my life, I could relate how nerve-racking it can be to run a register for the first time (remember the man is 63) and I can't imagine what it would be like to make drinks with people shouting things at you - let alone trying to be friendly to the customers.
I found this book to be a heart-warming story about a rich man who finds that there is another side to people & how they live their lives besides what he's known his whole life. I found the writing to be normal- just like a guy who hangs out at the Starbucks - and I found the editing to be well done. The book gives you hope in people & how an ordinary day can change your life for the better.
In the acknowledgements the author gives a thanks to Tom Hanks who played his character in the movie version of the book. I Googled it & it currently sites the movie as in development. Tom Hanks would be a perfect person to play Michael Gill. I just hope that the movie sticks to the books' facts.
At Starbucks, Mike had a low income but learned self-respect, respect for others and respect from others. It has to do with the meaning of work. It signals to us the vision of work in the post American Consumer World: low income with much more respect and a connection to something greater than oneself.
Our future economy is not expected to support nearly so many high-paying jobs again in our lifetime. To save ourselves from mass depression, jobs will have to offer much more respect. That is one of the two subtle ideas of "How Starbucks Saved My Life."
The audio version is far superior to the print version, both of which I used. Dylan Baker, a superstar reader, was well-chosen. Baker set the bar high for Tom Hanks (who is supposed to play the author in the movie) by delivering profound emotions through his articulation, cadence and a mix of intangibles that top readers artfully add. Dylan Baker makes you feel as if you're really there in the store but also really there in Mike's head, grappling with emotional depression and holding onto your Starbucks job for dear life. The CD version is 7 ½ hours long and held my interest the entire time.
Separately, I suspect the decision for the Tom Hanks camp to buy the movie rights so soon after the book was released was influenced by the Starbucks brand. Mike's work is the best commercial Starbucks or any company could have. Mike knew what he was doing although it must have been difficult. I'm betting Starbucks bucks are funding the movie somehow.
Like many other reviewers, I looked askance at the volume of name-dropping that occurs throughout the book. I looked up Mike's father on Wikipedia, Brendon Gill, and found that he really did know and regularly meet many famous people, so Mike's encounters with the rich and famous are believable if annoying.
Mike always portrayed himself humbly in his constant name-dropping. For example, his having sat near Queen Elizabeth was a disaster when he reached over her for food and was then literally pushed away. Mike's many encounters with famous people, including Hemingway, were in the context of his "self-talk" as he fought emotional depression. He had always derived self-importance through encounters with the rich and famous.
Mike shrewdly kept a journal, resulting in the book. His journal shows how he learned to defeat his negative thoughts. He didn't belong anymore since encounters with famous people were in his past, not his future. What Mike did is make a substitution. This is the second important theme of the book.
Mike transferred his admiration of and connection to famous people, which had given him a sense of belonging to something greater, to Starbucks. Mike was now intimately associated with Starbucks, a famous, innovative and important company. All Mike's negative thoughts of having lost so much were defeated by all things STARBUCKS. Throughout the book, Mike cites Starbucks products, policies, employees (called "Partners"), customers (called "Guests") and stores in the most uncritical and gushing manner. He opens each chapter with a quote taken from a Starbucks paper cup. Each negative thought is defeated by a positive thought about Starbucks.
How Starbucks Saved My Life, which is far better on CD than in print form, is a very entertaining story and certainly a good candidate for a successful movie - especially with Tom Hanks playing Mike. It's good entertainment but also provokes deep thought about the meaning of work.
First, the future of work in America may hold that a most jobs will be low-paying with no hope for ever achieving a high income. Therefore something else must substitute for the loss of income. Mike shows us the way. There is meaning in work besides income. Perhaps "respect" is even more fundamental, once we have enough to survive. "Respect" in this story equates to (1) great healthcare benefits even for part-time workers, (2) immediate supervisors taking responsibility for the success of employees, (3) working as part of a team where each member is essential to the team's success, and (4) reducing the income gap between management and workers.
Second, it is in our nature to need to belong to something great and we really want to get it through work. This again has nothing to do with income. There is evidence of the need all around us. Why else would so much media space be taken up with trivia about celebrities? People seek this constant stream of trivia to feed their sense of belonging to something greater.
Most people feel better when thoughts about themselves include connections to high-status people or at least a successful sports team. Mike showed how this can work for companies. Mike felt part of something greater, namely Starbucks. But this can only work if the company plays the part, providing the props to make the connection believable and encourage the employee to internalize it. That is why the movie is going to look in many ways like a commercial for Starbucks - because it is.