Sunday, October 14, 2007

Those Are Some Big Grains You Got There, Girly

Did a quick spin through the memoir section of the bookstore yesterday. (Just cannot go into a bookstore without checking out the memoirs.)

Of course, a book jumped off the shelves and insisted on going home with me, a book that turned out to be my biggest reading disappointment since My Friend Leonard. (You remember James Frey's second book, right? The "memoir" that opened with scenes of him coping with 80 days in jail, a sentence he never received for crimes he didn't commit? MFL feels to me like a bigger travesty than MLP. By the time he passed a second book off to his publisher, James had enough time and toured enough to know, to absolutely know in his bones, what he was doing was wrong and hurtful.)

But I digress.

The hitchhiker was How Starbucks Saved My LIfe. When I turned the last page last night, I googled around a bit and found that many others readers felt as I did: manipulated and used.

Michael Gates Gill stayed in one high-profile ad agency for 25 years. Takes some big smarts to do that. Here and there in the book, he describes some strategies that could only have come from a pretty savvy character. Then he asks us to believe that making change and cleaning toilets was a major challenge for him.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying it's easy to keep a register straight when you're working under the pressure of lines of people impatient for caffeine. I'm not even saying it's easy to maintain a public restroom. I run the register and clean the bathrooms at the salon enough to know better than that.

But Gill describes his struggles with these tasks in a way that made me wonder if the slow-growing tumor he claims is threatening his brain may have impaired his faculties. Googled video shows a very different sort of man than the book: confident, smart, articulate. Not a guy who would struggle with setting out sandwiches in the right order.

Google also turned up the news that Gill sold the book (and the movie rights) on the basis of a proposal. He didn't turn his life around and then write a book to tell the tale. Before he'd worked at Starbucks long enough to get the lingo down, he sold Penguin and Tom Hanks on the idea of a high-flying, ego-driven overachiever getting his come-uppance and then discovering the value of hard work and regular people. Then he lived the life he needed to tell about.

Miss Snark taught me the importance of a good hook. She even ran a crapometer on hooks (December 06, I think) to drive home the point (or stomp it home with a stiletto heel, as she might say). Gill created a shiny, pointed, I've-got-to-read-this-book hook.

His book did not live up to his hook. Worse yet, it feels like he backed into the hook (when a Starbucks manager offered him a job almost as a joke) and then contrived a story to hang on it.

I'm a sucker for people who find hidden meaning in difficult circumstances. I'm not above being a tiny bit satisfied to see a guy who cheated on his wife and fathered a child with another woman hit the proverbial wall. (Sorry. I'm working on it.) Gill admits his mistakes, I have to give him that. But in the end, that feels more like part of the set up than genuine growth or remorse.

Tom Hanks will probably make a feel good, heartwarming movie out of Gill's story. I may even go see it, but if I do, I'll view it with plenty of salt on my popcorn.


holly said...

Had this one in my hands a couple weeks aga.

So glad I put it down after reading this!

Terry Whitaker said...

I HATE being duped! Especially by a book--it just shouldn't happen. You SHOULD be able to judge a book by it's cover; or at least by it's jacket. Thanks for the insight.

kario said...

Ooh, thanks for the warning. Don't you just love the power of the internet? Hopefully, more people like you who have been duped will get the word out and this guy will get what he deserves.

Michelle O'Neil said...

Wow! Great review Jerri. Thanks!

Suzy said...

I have to say, with the James Frey-
A Little Million Pieces, that I really felt bad that we all had been taken, but the writing was amazing. He just lied about it being a memoir.


Suzy said...

A Million Little Pieces..
it's Monday folks, cut me some slack...

Deb said...

I liked your version of the title, Suze!

Thanks for the heads up, Jerri. I had looked at the book also.

I'm wondering about men's memoirs - if it's harder for them to get to the truth in general. As I think about all the memoirs I've read in the last few years, I can't remember a man's story that has stuck with me. Can you?

For the record, I know that when Roger (from Sisters in October) writes his, it will be dynamite.