Antof9's Reviews > How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else

How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill
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's review
Jul 12, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: 2011-read, americana, made-me-think, nyc, biographies-memoirs
Read from July 12, 2010 to January 05, 2011

So ... as I suspected, I did "care" about this guy by the end of the book, and he clearly learned something, which made him much more sympathetic. However, the tangents of someone asking him a question and it reminding him of meeting some famous person or going on a trip or something (impressive) he did in his previous career got old as the book went on. I found myself thinking, "is that person standing there waiting for an answer while he goes on and on about Thurber?" And in fact, at one point, the person is still staring at him, waiting for an answer, when he comes back from the tangent. I guess the tangents were interesting and provided good background for the story in the first half, but once the book got going I just wanted to know about the "working at Starbucks" stuff. The other stuff seemed rather self-indulgent, frankly.

On the other hand, he clearly lived a rich and ... interesting (for lack of a better word) life. He ran with the bulls, he met Hemingway, he met Brooke Astor, etc., etc. But isn't that sort of the point of the book? That all those things didn't really get him anywhere or do anything for him? Or at least, that he didn't capitalize on them properly. And the people he worked with were far more interesting to me than those names he kept dropping.

I was more interested in what he learned about himself, honestly. When it hit him how he had quickly dismissed, with none of the mentoring he was supposed to have done, the young African-American girl who was hired in an affirmative action sort of scenario, THAT was the kind of thing I wanted him to learn. I was much more interested in that than the Hemingway anecdote.

That said, Once I picked this back up, I couldn't put it down until I read the last page, whereupon I cried. So it obviously touched me a little :)

I loved Crystal and Kester and the district award meeting. I think I'd like his kids, too, although the youngest one made me want to smack him (Mike; not the kid). Actually, I think it was the youngest one that made me say when I first started reading this that there was nothing sympathetic about this guy. What made me keep reading when I was sort of disgusted with him at the beginning? This section:
My Puritan ancestors would be raging at me. Yes, I thought to myself, maybe there really was a vengeful God whom I had offended.

Yet I had to admit that my reality was more mundane, and sad. I could not pretend that I was living out some kind of mythical biblical journey. I was not a modern Job; I was looking for a job. And I had to face the brutal yet everyday fact that I was here because of my own financial mismanagement, my sexual needs that had led me to stray. I was not some special person singled out for justice by God. I was, and this really pained me to admit, not even that
unique. It was hard, terribly hard, for me to give up my sense of a special place in the universe.

It's interesting to me that a man of that age felt as entitled as so many of the 20-somethings I know today. It also opened my eyes a bit more to the real world.

I'm sure I read this differently today than I would have a year ago. I was laid off last March, after working at the same company for just short of 20 years, and have been working at a part-time job and free-lance things ever since. Ironically, for probably the last 10 years of my life, I said (in seriousness) that if I ever lost my job, I would go to Starbucks the next day. Funny that I haven't done that yet, as I really do like Starbucks. Perhaps because my benefits package hasn't run out yet? I don't know. Anyway, one of the things of note I really liked in the book was a Fitzgerald quote, "She realized too late that work is dignity." This resonated with me, and I'll be thinking about it for a long time.

One of the comments he made, early on, was that the majority of Starbucks employees in NYC are African-American. I've been to a lot of the Starbucks in the city, and he's right, but I'd never "noted" it before. It's also interesting to me because the Starbucks employees in other cities aren't, necessarily. Regardless, what I think is so interesting is that they were willing to bring him in, train him, and befriend him far more quickly than he was willing to see them as peers. Even for all his comments about "the man" and oppression, and how he wouldn't have given them the time of day in his old life, he is still the recipient of their good will long before he views them as real people.

And of course, the cynic in me wonders if he gave any of the profits from this book to Crystal or her store :)

In re-reading this review, I sound more critical than I really feel about this book. I liked it, and I also like what it says about Starbucks, about which I'm a fan. But I did read it with a grain of salt, and perhaps that's why I sound more critical about this one than I intend.
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Reading Progress

01/04/2011 page 34
13.0% "Interesting that so far I do not like this guy at all. I'm assuming that will change. I guess I have to respect him for not trying to make himself sound sympathetic. ..."
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Maria (Ri) (new)

Maria (Ri) I'll be interested to hear what you think of this one. It is on my soon to be read stack of Mt TBR. ;)

Celina You're right, he doesn't sugarcoat himself at all in the beginning and comes off as a total waste. Stick with the book a little longer though. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Antof9 Ri, I recommend it :)

F3 I was :)

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