Mar 8, 2011

How Starbucks Saved My Life

How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill

My rating: 4 stars

Overview from goodreads: There is no denying that Michael Gill's Starbucks application was atypical. For 25 years, this 63-year-old Yale alumnus had been a creative director at the prestigious J. Walter Thompson advertising agency. The privileged son of New Yorker writer Brendan Gill had grown up amid cultural elites, rubbing elbows with James Thurber, Ezra Pound, and Ernest Hemingway, among others. But now Gill's marriage, his six-figure job, and his own business were gone, and he was seeking a job at the local coffee shop. His account of his apprenticeship in cappuccino making and race relations are instructive and ultimately ennobling.

I wanted to read this book because of where the mister now works. I'd heard it was good, but I like to be honest in my reviews so for full disclosure's sake, I have to admit I went into reading this book with a little bit of an attitude. I wasn't very sympathetic in the beginning when the author was talking about how he made it in advertising - he kept throwing around names of people who helped him, and it seemed like he really didn't have to do anything to get into college and then find a job afterwards.

I felt a little twinge of sympathy when he described how he was laid off, because regardless of who you are, it sucks when it happens. But still, I was irritated when he applied to Starbucks out of desperation because while he was definitely willing to take any job (again, I understand that mentality), it irked me that at 63, this was the first time he'd ever had to know that feeling. I know on some level that probably makes me a bad person, and I know I'm bringing my own issues into this book, but that's how I felt.

However, slowly but surely, I started to change my mind. It was Gill's candor that really won me over. He was upfront about being raised as privileged - getting anything anytime he wanted, and not really thinking about it - and he was just as upfront about the realizations he experienced while working at Starbucks. There were times when he was ashamed of himself for how he had treated his employees, and he was so appreciative of Starbucks' take on respecting him and his co-workers, because he admitted he hadn't always had that in his former career.

I also liked how a few times he openly referred to the "good old boy network." This is something that is pretty relevant in the field I work, and (without going into details) I've seen it working, but it seems to be something no one ever talks about or owns up to - I appreciated his honesty.

One of the things that stuck with me from this book was a quote Gill referenced, that simply said, "Work is dignity." I don't think there's much more to say than that.

A theme of the book (without meaning to be), was how we grow up having one thing (a lot of money, not enough money), and somehow end up achieving or wanting the exact opposite. Gill talked about how he'd met some amazing people in his lifetime (Muhammed Ali, E.B. White, T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Jackie Kennedy), because of the connections of his father, and while he took something away from each of those experiences, all he really wanted was a little more time with his father.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book. Like I said, I brought an attitude with me - but sometimes that's what I bring to the table as a reader, and I think it's the mark of a good writer who can take that, turn it around, and have me rooting for him by the end.

Have you read this book? Do you ever bring your personal experiences into the stories you're reading?

(Photo: Walking Around)


Kelly (She Wears a Red Sox Cap) said...

I heard about this and it sounds really interesting.

I wonder if our generation is likely to experience that feeling of taking any job at a young age vs. his generation. I feel like when the economy was better people were able to find a job, maybe not the PERFECT one but not to the point where they were thinking they could take any job. Now it's a different story all together.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

I am glad you liked this since I recommended it! We read it for our Diveristy Book Club a couple of years ago at work and it was very popular with people throughout the organization. I felt the same way that you did in the beginning, but I slowly came to like him more and more and I thought it was great how honest he was about how difficult he thought the job was.

Great review!!

Nora said...

I have heard nothing but amazing things about this book though I haven't read it (perhaps because the people who have read it told me the story more or less so I feel like I know it if that makes sense!). Maybe I'll pick it up one of these days :) Thanks for the review!

Amber said...

I have heard great things about this book and definitely want to check it out soon!

Sarah Jio said...

Great review! I'm tempted to pick this up now. I worked at Starbucks in college, and it was a wonderful experience. The education I got on coffee-brewing was priceless. I still have fond memories of arriving at 5 a.m. to warm up the machines and the store, putting the pastries in the case and making myself a quick dopio con panna to fuel my sleepy self. I'm a little nostalgic for that time in my life now! xoxo

Carly Anne said...

This is an excellent review. In fact, I was totally sticking my nose up at this book until I read said review. I guess I actually have to check it out now!

And, it was interesting to hear you use the term, "the good old boy network." While I have not heard it before, I instantly knew what you were referring to. One of my secret shames is anticipating the exit of the "good old boys" from the workforce. Ha.


All This is Grace and Charm

Mandy said...

I've added this to my TBR list. It sounds like a really great read, I would probably have the same attitude going into it too.

Darcie said...

I'm glad you liked it. I really liked this review. I'll have to borrow this sometime.

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