Friday, April 22, 2016

Life by Committee: Corey Ann Haydu

 I’m not sure if it’s that my brother is now working for the company that services the Ohio Digital Library’s e-book app and is screwing with my account, or if the makers of OverDrive use some kind of crazy psychic algorithm for book recommendations, but for some reason I’m being presented with an assortment of crazy ass novels every time I log in to choose a new ebook or audiobook.  On one occasion I logged in to see two books recommended to me, one was “What’s Going on Down There” and had some youths on the cover looking down towards their crotch areas, and the other was “The Chocolate Wars.”  Given that this recommendation popped up on the first day of my period I was understandably spooked, and also a little crampy and hungry for chocolate.  
        “Life by Committee” popped up under the mystery/suspense category and while there are some elements of mystery inside, I don’t know that I would categorize it as either a mystery novel or a suspense novel.  The premise is that Tabitha, a 16 year old, is going through a period of depression after her friends all drop her the moment she starts becoming attractive and developing an interest in boys.  As she is feeling socially isolated, she turns to a website where you can vent your deepest, darkest secrets, and you are given assignments or challenges to help you act on the desires that drove you to those secrets in the first place.  The website has a small number of members and they all encourage each other through their challenges.  This provides the emotional and social outlet she needs as she becomes increasingly alienated from her parents and her few acquaintances at school.
        Now those of us who are a little older and wiser will immediately see that right off the bat, expecting people from the internet to help you manage your life is not generally a great idea.  I mean, look at Boaty McBoatface.  I hear that the English government is forcing a re-name of the boat that was initially named through totally legitimate voting, and that’s a crying shame.  I mean, if a country won’t even allow the results of a citizens’ vote to stand when it comes to boat naming, what other results is it ignoring?  The people of England should protest and also make lots of comical signs for my amusement!
        Very few YA books can keep my interest for too long because I find the main characters to be nauseatingly sweet and good.  I feel like many YA authors writing female protagonists feel obligated to write Mary Sue style role model characters, and we all know that this is complete BS.  I believe this trend started with Jane Austen writing about Fanny in Mansfield Park.  Fanny needed to grow a pair, fam, and I don’t know why our culture insists that we have to keep making our female girl characters these austere models of purity and moral decorum. Teenage girls are awful.  I was awful, you were awful, your daughters and your sisters were probably awful.  It’s just how teenage girls are.  This book sparked my interest immediately because the main character is so real.  I read several reviews online where people said that they liked the book but hated the main character, and I have to question why.  Sure, she chose to pursue a boy who had a girlfriend.  Sure, she was a terrible listener to her best friend, because she was too wrapped up in her own drama.  She’s sixteen.  That’s what sixteen is.  And if you sanctimoniously think “I wasn’t like that when I was sixteen!”  you are lying to yourself.  Seriously, go ask your family.   If you think you weren’t an ass at sixteen, you’re probably still an ass now.
        There were some things in this book that were not standard for YA novels, and that’s what sets this one out from the crowd.  First, Tabitha is attractive.  She’s not one of those quirky charmingly clumsy girls who can’t understand why boys like her because she thinks she’s super unfashionable and plain and blah blah false modesty.  Tabitha has developed early and well, and she doesn’t apologize for it by dressing down or pretending boys don’t like her.  She loses her high school friends because they’re jealous of her and the attention that she’s getting, and they’re very sneaky and catty.  They slut shame her so subtly, telling her that they think she’s boy crazy and that she’s demeaning herself with the way she’s dressing.  They pretend they’re so concerned for her, all that typical crap plain or slow developing girls say about the ones who grow up the fastest.  Tabitha knows immediately that this is sour grapes and I like this.  Sure, she struggles with wondering why people don’t like her, but she also takes their words with a grain of salt, and is realistic about what’s probably going on.
        I also love Tabitha’s family.  Her parents are youngish (32) and her mom is pregnant with another baby.  They are a wonderful family and it’s clear that Tabitha’s angst and feelings of separation from her parents have nothing to do with her parents being inadequate or unfair or uncaring, but from her parents having their own lives outside of Tabitha’s immediate day to day actions, and from their own problems within their marriage.  In so many books the parents are used as a foil for the teenage protagonist, and in this book her parents are dealing with real issues, such as a dad who is refusing to take on responsibility because he doesn’t want to grow up, and a mom who has enabled this sort of behavior for sixteen years.  The storyline that plays out between the parents is almost as interesting as Tabitha’s storyline.  
        The way Tabitha stumbles onto the Life by Committee website is mysterious and fun, too.  Tabitha is a voracious reader and loves to read used books with notes and personal musings in the margins.  I googled this and it’s called “marginalia,” and I’m totally going to do it next time I read an analog book, before passing it on to someone else to share and mark up with their own notes.  She mentally makes friends with the people who are commenting in the books and so when one of the books has a URL for the Life by Committee forum in the back, of course she follows the link and signs up.  This appealed to the mystery lover in me.  Will she find her mental soulmate/best friend on this forum?  Is it fate?  How is it that this appears at the time she needs it most in her life?  Will Tabitha finally find some friends and some people who truly understand her?
        Even the concept of the forum where Tabitha becomes a member so she can start sharing her secrets seems fairly realistic and I could see many people becoming swept up by the concept.  This is how it works: your membership beings when you enter a secret on the website and are assigned a challenge, something related to the secret to help you live your best life.  If you don’t complete the assignment, your secrets are publically revealed.  This is an ongoing, thing, one secret per assignment, meant to help you overcome your fears and limitations and live your life without rules.  How romantic is this crap?  It’s like that therapy style where you overcome your phobias by immersing yourself in them.  Only with more boys and fewer spiders.
        Tabitha’s initial secret is that she kissed a boy who has a girlfriend.  She and this dude stay up all night chatting on the internet, developing strong internet romance feelings for each other, but they generally keep their distance at school during the day.   As things escalate, they begin to get bolder in real life, culminating in a kiss.  Tabitha knows that she’s screwed up, because this boy has a girlfriend.  She sends him an email telling him he can’t continue to pursue her unless he cuts ties with the girlfriend, but then she signs up for the website and spills her secret.  Of course her first assignment is to kiss him again.  She feels some moral pangs, but the members of the group encourage her to pursue the relationship.  After all, not all boyfriend/girlfriend relationships end up in a marriage, and many marriages are the result of someone leaving one person for another, right?  They justify this until Tabitha does it, feels a rush of power and control, and posts another secret.  
        The thing about being challenged to confront the things that are deeply secret to you is that sometimes those things are secret for a reason.  The challenges become gradually more and more horrible, and in fact, some of them seem downright wrong.  The group leader insists that there is no “wrong” or “right,” and that the goal of the group is to help them live their best lives – that doesn’t always happen from doing the “right” thing all the time.  He encourages selfishness and even as the group members argue about the method, there are some who insist she has to stick with it, and that it will work out in the end.  It’s a little cult-like.
        As is bound to happen, things fall apart both at school and at home.  Tabitha becomes even more isolated because she can’t talk about the group with anyone, and her activities are now isolating her even further from her family.  She’s being pushed to pursue activities that she knows are wrong, but she’s operating under the principal of “I know I should do this but I waaaaaaant so baaaaaaaadly,” which is how I feel when I’m confronted with large amounts of dairy.  Of course because this is fiction, bringing the problems in her personal life to a boil results in them rapidly cooling off and eventually everything falls into place.  Tabitha finally confronts her biggest fear – that no one will like the real her -  not because she’s a crazy boy chasing slut (according to her former friends and classmates) - but because she’s not a likeable person.  She reveals all of her secrets in a public school assembly and, miraculously, everyone else in the class gets up and follows suit.  Her biggest fear is that deep down she is unloveable, and she learns that EVERYONE does bad things from time to time, or thinks horrible thoughts.   She makes peace with her arch rival, and finds a respect she didn’t believe she deserved.
        This is precisely why I don’t understand how some reviewers can hate the main character so much.  The whole point of the book is that everyone is a little awful, some of the time.  We’re all hypocrites.  We all have secrets.  We all act on impulse.  We need to do some of those things to learn and grow.  
        I really liked this book.  This may actually be one of the best books I’ve read all year, and it was a total left-field recommendation from my crazy OverDrive app.  There were times I identified with the sixteen year old main character and times I identified with her thirty two year old parents.  I even understood the bullies.  There was some great character development and the whole thing was just very real.  I will certainly be reading more from Corey Ann Haydu.  Well done, lady.  You’ve written something that even I can’t snark about.  

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Lois Duncan Book Dump: Daughters of Eve, The Third Eye, and Down a Dark Hallway

 I know this is a book blog and not a personal blog, but I must admit that sometimes the lines blur.  Last night my best friend asked me if I’d considered journaling as a way to experience some relief from some recent personal sadness.  I told her that I’m awful at personal blogging for the same reasons I’ve outlined a number of times already on this book blog, and that I’d been seeking a creative outlet in fiction.  She was pleased to hear about this particular blog, but I don’t think she really considers it “journaling.”  If only she knew that part of my fiction refuge has been teenage thrillers written in the 70s and 80s by Teen Thriller Queen Lois Duncan.  These books have everything a woman in her thirties could want, provided what a woman in her thirties wants is a strong female lead and some spooky drama that eventually gets wrapped up in a pleasing way by the end of the book.
        I picked out Daughters of Eve based on an OverDrive digital media recommendation, and until I was part way through the audiobook I didn’t know that the author was the same woman who wrote “I Know What You Did Last Summer.”  In fact, there were things about Daughters of Eve that seemed incongruous and I later realized that it’s because the book was written in 1979, but the audiobook version had been updated to include things like texting and the internet.  I hate when publishers do that.  Most of us are smart enough to know that time existed before technology.  Reading is a way to get in touch with the past, and sneaking in modern technology just ruins that.  
        If you can remember the moment that you realized that women, no matter how far we’ve come, are still held to the idea that our REAL work is just popping out babies and getting dinner on the table, then this book will fill you with rage.  Obviously, it’s hyperbole, and yes, it’s filled with some over the top preaching on a subject that’s made some progress since 1979.  Still, if you’re a woman, or if a woman you know has ever been told that the thing that’s “wrong” with your life is that she doesn’t have a baby to “put things in perspective,” or that she’d be less confused if she stuck to her traditional role (both things that have been said to me, by the way) this book will make you want to set everything on fire.  
        There’s also a flip side to the gender norm bucking trend here. As the teenagers in this book rebel against old fashioned notions, they slip too far to the other side.  They assume sexism where none exists, and they take action in ways that are vengeful rather than productive.  I’ve read that some people think the mixed ending of this book is anti-feminist but I don’t think that’s the case.  I think it’s a book about using your brains to take appropriate action to rise against injustice.  The characters who crossed the line paid the consequences.  Those who kept their heads down and proved people wrong by improving themselves rather than trying to change others had happy endings.  Sure, you may want to murder someone who has made your life completely miserable, but you’re going to get caught.  Ladies, take it from me.  Murder isn’t the answer.  What you want to do is make this person’s life a living hell. Drag it out, day by day, for the rest of their lives. The best way to do that is by educating yourselves and grabbing little personal power.  If these girls had relied on things like blackmail and damage to their boyfriends’ and dads’ credit scores, they’d have gotten much further ahead.  Or would they?  I mean, obviously I would never encourage anyone to do anything illegal, but…well, crimes have to be proven, don’t they?  

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Maisie Dobbs: Jacqueline Winspear

   For those of you who live in Ohio, we have a wonderful lending tool called the “Ohio Digital Library.”  It’s linked to your local library, and if you have an active account, you can rent digital media through their app.  It is wonderful, and although they don’t have every book in the library in electronic format, it’s still a great resource for those of us who need to always be reading, but who are too lazy  busy to go to a physical library.
        The Ohio Digital Media app will recommend books to you based on your checkout history, and its algorithms are slightly more accurate than Netflix’s selection process, but slightly less accurate than that of Amazon.  I have a long history of reading period mystery novels or novels featuring strong female leads, so this book popped up. I didn’t expect much, haven been given some pretty sketchy selections recently, but I was about to start my commute to work and I was pretty tired of screwing around with the app in my driveway and figured I’d give it a go.  For the record, the “screw it, I’m done with this” approach to decision making is also how I’ve selected a number of haircuts and delightful winter work ensembles.  I recommend it for its emotional freedom, but not so much if you don’t want to look like a hobo prostitute.  
        Anyway, the audiobook started out with a pretty standard exposition.  A young woman, pretty, with fancy eyes, is starting up her own detective agency after the first world war.  Our main character, Maisie Dobbs, sounds like your typical Mary Sue character trope for much of the first part of the novel.  She’s got deeply blue eyes.  She was a fabulous nurse who saved many men’s lives.  She has above average intelligence and worked her way up from the most humble surroundings.  She even has flashes of psychic power, something she learned from her brilliant mentor.  She’s like the Mozart of Space and Time!  No – wait – that’s Wesley Crusher.  My bad!
        One problem I sometimes have with audiobooks is that I’m incredibly easily distracted and my mind tends to wander.  Add a subtle change from present tense to flashback, and if I’m trying to navigate around an 18 wheeler while driving into the sunset on a Friday afternoon, I will not be paying attention to the intricacies of the plot.  It’s not the author’s fault that I was completely confused at the flashback into Maisie’s backstory, where we learn of her sad beginnings, her work in service, her intellectual talents and her decision to become a nurse.
        Suddenly what started out as a folksy English historical detective story – my favorite! – turned into a book about the absolute horrors of World War I.  There’s even an attempt to shoehorn a love story in here, something that the reader/listener could tell was going to be ill-fated in the first chapter.  I allowed myself a few mental eyerolls at this, because I’d much rather read or hear about poisoning and fake alibis than hands meeting and lingering across the injured legs of an English soldier, blown partly to bits on a French battlefield.  I mean gross, right?  Sorry, I mean how romantic, for those of you who need some kind of hearts aflame subplot to maintain your interest.        
        I was not expecting the turns this story took.  Reading about the loss of friends and family during the war and the conditions for medical staff on the battlefield was not my intention.  I was hoping for a murder mystery wrapped in fun costumes and descriptions of delicious food, but what I got was a mystery surrounding the treatment of physically disabled and disfigured veterans during a time when plastic surgery and bionic limbs just weren’t an option.  And that love story?  My God.  It was ill-fated all right, but not in the way I expected.  It was gut wrenching.  Very well done, Jacqueline Winspear.  I forgive you for your previous mushiness.
        I often turn to books as an escape from reality.  I have an active imagination, and at times my personal and professional lives can become very stressful.  I usually avoid books about the horrors of war.  When I downloaded this story I did not expect to find myself sobbing in rush hour traffic.  But I did.  And it was OK.  For me, anyway, not for the terrified kids in the van next to me, watching me blow my nose into Dunkin Donuts napkins with both hands, leaving no hands on my steering wheel.
        I really enjoyed this story.  I may have enjoyed it more as an actual book because of the flashback confusion I suffered.  Also, there was a fair amount of singing required of the actress, and while she did a great job with her character voices, listening to long songs in character voice is pretty tedious.  I’m the person who skips the songs in books, so I can at least blame the author for this one.
        When I downloaded this book it had been given a low star rating on the app, and I’m surprised by that.  I suppose it’s OK to classify this story as a detective story, even though it just barely contains a mystery, and it’s really not that much of a mystery as it’s wrapped up in the reading instead of at the conclusion.  It might have fit better into the historical fiction category.  Either way, I’m glad I listened to it, and recommend it if you’re looking for a story that’s a little tragic.  
        This book is the first in a series of novels about Maisie Dobbs, and I’m going to give the next couple a try.  I’m still not sure how I feel about Ms. Dobbs herself, but if she becomes a little less of a Mary Sue and the plots stay twisty, you may be seeing more of her on this blog in the upcoming months.  

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Witches of Eastwick - John Updike

“You must imagine your life,” Alexandra confided to the younger woman. “And then it happens.” – The Witches of Eastwick, by John Updike
The full title of this book, according to Kindle, is “The Witches of Eastwick: a Novel.”  What the hell else would it be, a pony, amiright? I was a much younger woman when I first read The Witches of Eastwick, and I decided to revisit it after reading an article on the internet wherein the author claims that that John Updike was brilliant and that every word he ever wrote was pure gold.
        The topic of said article was how to make yourself appear smarter, which is interesting because I should know that following random advice from the internet is a pretty quick way to make prove quite the opposite.  For example, I just read (on the internet!) about an online company that is selling herbal sachets for feminine hygiene purposes.  Women are supposed to insert these sachets for “detoxification,” which makes me wonder exactly what the makers of this product think women have been doing that their most intimate and protected parts need detoxification.  Smoking crack, perhaps, or soaking in water from Flint, Michigan.  Regardless, we see what happens when we listen to the internet.  I offer WebMD as exhibit B, never once having visited it without receiving an alarming diagnosis such as Bubonic Plague, or Anthrax.  
        I’m not going to disagree with the article’s author about Mr. Updike’s writing skills.  He uses words quite well, and I enjoyed reading a book where descriptions of people are made briefly, and pages aren’t dedicated to descriptions of the Mary Sue protagonist’s perfect body, brain, or personality.  I also enjoyed the way the more salacious parts of the book were written.  I knew what was going on without feeling like I was reading a romance novel, and I felt comfortable reading the book in public.  
        I even think the basic plot had a lot of potential.  A group of women, divorcees in a time when divorced women still faced social criticism, develop magical powers while living in a small New England town.  They meet a mysterious stranger who stirs their powers, and they attempt to find what they need to fulfill themselves in life.  Sounds great, right?  Don’t we all want that?
        Hell no, I don’t want that, not if “finding myself” means fitting into John Updike’s idea of how women feel about themselves, men, and each other.  
        I believe it’s dangerous for a writer to attempt to write from the perspective of a different gender.  Sorry – I think I mean sex.  Apparently the gender v. sex debate is quite hot right now, to the point where you can’t even see a baby announcement on Facebook without a fight breaking out in the comments section, like it’s a Browns v. Steelers game combined with ten cent beer night all in one.  I would never write something from the perspective of a man and assume to know what men are looking for.  Now, I have written stories from the perspective of a man.  I also wrote one from the perspective of a woman with multiple personality disorder whose other identify is a man – how’s that for progressive sex v. gender thinking for you, hah!  In both instances, I did not attempt to describe the struggles of men, or what men want, or how men relate to each other.  I wrote about people, who want universal things that many other people want.  I wouldn’t presume to know what men feel like in their gender (sex?) norm societal roles, and I don’t really care how they feel in their roles in the whole baby-making process.  Frankly, I don’t care what anyone feels about their roles in the baby-making process.  It’s complicated, messy, and involves tiptoeing around too many of peoples’ feeeeeeeeeeeeeelings.  
        What was I talking about?  Oh yes.  Updike being presumptuous.  So the book starts with Alexandria, our main witch, making spaghetti sauce.  It’s a typical housewifely task, and she’s thinking about her Italian American lover.  She thinks about her weight and how it’s so typical of Italian Americans to love fat women, and how it was sooooo lazy of her to have an affair with him and accept her fat, rather than just diet.  Huh.  She also compares the red sauce to her period, which is disgusting and not something any woman I know would ever do.  We’d make the spaghetti sauce because we like it, and not think twice about it.  Already Mr. Updike has displayed a depth of knowledge about women that he may have acquired at age 11.  Women think about their weight!  They think about boys all the time!  They love to cook!  They have periods!  “Yes, this is all women” Mr. Updike may have thought.  “Also, my name is totally a euphemism for a penis.  Heh.”  I’m guessing, of course.  He’s been dead for some time, so I can’t ask him what the hell he was thinking.
        Alexandria has two friends, Sukie and Jane.  They are characterized pretty harshly.  Jane is angry, mean, a brilliant musician but full of hatred. Sukie is cute, perky and girly.  Updike compares her to a monkey about five thousand times.  Alexandria is somewhere in the middle.  She’s shown as compassionate and sensitive, and is the most fully realized of the characters.  Alexandria has good qualities and bad, and you can’t love or hate her.  She’s just a person.  If Updike had removed all of the talk about fertility, she’d actually be a pretty well written character.  
        The three women are friends, a coven, as they’ve all developed magical abilities.  Later in the book we realize these powers come when a women is left by, or leaves, a man.  They use these powers for small personal gain, but initially it doesn’t seem like they do anything too noticeable or offensive.  The town is most offended by the fact that they all like to take married lovers.  They like married lovers because they don’t have to worry about relationships. The lovers go back to their wives, and the woman can live their own independent lives.  Kind of smart, right?  I mean wrong.  That’s what I should say.  Maybe it would be better if they just took commitment phobic lovers?  I think this would have been easier for them in 2015.
        They live this way quite happily, if bored, until a stranger comes to town.  Daryl Van Horne.  If you’ve seen the movie, Jack Nicholson plays Daryl, and he’s portrayed as a devilish figure.  In the book he reminds me of Mr. Shaitana from Agatha Christie’s Cards on the Table.  He’s an outlandish character who recognizes the bizarre in the women, and invites their friendship in such a way that the woman all fall in love with him. A collector.  A collector of women.  BINDERS FULL OF WOMEN!  Wait…no.  
        They meet regularly at his giant mansion and engage in quite intimate bath times together.  The town is outraged by the goings-on at Daryl’s place.  Three woman and one man!  Imagine!  We do have to use our imaginations quite a bit, actually.  Mine must be boring, because I imagine them eating pizza together in the bath.  That’s what I’d do!   Daryl is thought of by the women as someone who is wealthy, desirable and smart, while at the same time the facts on paper show him as fraudulent, pathetic, and a bit of a dilettante.  
        Of course, the friendship of the women starts to splinter the moment a man is involved.  The whole time they’re cavorting naked together they’re starting to resent each other.  When two new people, a brother and sister, join the mix, the situation becomes downright ugly.  Gradually the witches use their powers for evil, until eventually a series of deaths has occurred, and the witches are barely speaking.
        At the same time other coven is arising, and the women of the conflicting factions speak of each other the way teenaged girls might trash talk after school.  Again, Updike displays a breadth of knowledge about women that seems to have peaked in junior high.
        When the final conflict is removed from the women’s lives, they’re not really even friends anymore.  Sad and lonely, they use their powers to conjure up ideal husbands, then move away.
        So what we have here is a book about women, friendship, their desires, ambitions, and the gleeful shanking of societal norms turned a book about women who bicker with each other, get jealous, physically harm other women, and then are only happy when they find men to marry.  How, exactly, is this progressive?  
        Taken as a whole, it’s not.  I can enjoy the writing style, and the small nuggets of universal wisdom.  I can appreciate women who come into their personalities and personal power only after failing at their first attempts to confirm to society in their first marriages.  I especially love how the women are all mothers, but the children really only have about two lines.  They’re almost absent from the book, mostly used as a foil for the opinions of the townsfolk.  For a guy who has his characters go on and on about babies and fertility, the women sure hate the business of actually being moms.  I also appreciated the casual way he blended protestant religion into the story, where people attend services but aren’t crazy religious fanatics.  It’s rare to read a book where religion isn’t either the thing that personifies supreme good or supreme craziness.  
        While I enjoyed the writing style and I always love fiction that blends into the supernatural or sci-fi realms a little, ultimately I was disappointed with the message of this book.  I think in terms of witchcrafty fun, the movie is better.  Also there’s Jack Nicholson, who makes a pretty good Daryl and who is at once both comedic and frightening.  Also, there’s a scene where Cher, playing Alexandria, wishes that she could turn back time.  Brilliant!  That’s what I call clever writing.
        I fear this review may have delved into personal territory again, to which I say: tough shit.  Really, you can get and forget and then suddenly remember your own blog.  Really!  It’s a lot of fun.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Who Moved My Blackberry - Lucy Kellaway

 At the risk of sounding unpatriotic to my flag waving, “’Murica” shouting countrypeople, I have always enjoyed English authors more than their American counterparts.  I stumbled upon Who Moved my Blackberry by Lucy Kellaway without knowing anything about the author, or the backstory behind the fictional co-author, a character named “Martin Lukes.”  Apparently, if you’re in England and you read the Financial Times, you’ll be familiar with Lucy’s column, which features a Marketing Director Named Martin Lukes, and his updates about his life at a fictional corporation called A and B Global.  I just know that I really liked the cover of the book, which featured a fake coffee ring and a blurb declaring the novel to be an epistolary tale.  I thought “I don’t get enough emails during the workday.  I should totally read more at night in the form of this book. “ I’m glad I made this seemingly foolish choice.
        The entire book is written as a series of emails and text messages from Martin Lukes, and they detail his desire to be a big hotshot in his industry.  We never learn what that industry is, or what, exactly, Martin really does all day.  This may sound boring, and at this point in my life I don’t know that I would have enjoyed it as much as I did initially.  However, when I first started the book I was working for someone who did all of his communicating through email, and who was extremely pedantic and neurotic.  The person I worked for had applied to be partner about ten thousand times and kept getting rejected because he’s pretty much a giant doofus.  He was about the same age as Martin Lukes, and I definitely enjoyed reading about the downfalls of a character who so hatefully parodied many of the qualities I couldn’t stand in my then boss.  
        If you’re a giant bitch, as I am, and also enjoy snickering at people who use terms like “cross-functionality” and “facilitate corroboration for best practice,” you’re going to enjoy cringing with delight as Martin Lukes decides he’s going to try to take his career to the top. I think that’s called schadenfreude, which sounds so much nicer in German than it does in English.
        The plot of this book is pretty simple, but because of the nature of the narration, anything more complex would have just been lost.  Martin decides he wants to run his company so he hires a life coach, and we watch as he tries to incorporate those lessons into his rapidly disintegrating life.  In the book, Martin is the world’s biggest hypocrite.  He encourages his wife to work alongside him in another department, then criticizes her for wanting to develop her own career.  He says he’s competent and professional, then starts an affair with his secretary.  He constantly tries to kiss up to his bosses for promotions, then immediately throws them under the bus when dirty doings are revealed.  The company and his personal life are crumbling around him, but he lacks the ability to see beyond his own personal desires.  Basically, Martin is an idiot, he speaks entirely in management terms, and he’s hilarious.  Lucy Kellaway paints an incredibly accurate picture of every irritating, useless, untrustworthy person you’ve ever worked with, and it’s delightful.
        Rather than outline the simple plot, I thought I’d end this review with some life lessons I’ve learned from Martin Lukes.  These may seem obvious, but haven’t we all violated our own rules of common sense in the past?  I mean, that’s how I ended up breaking my tailbone, and it still hurts 22 years later.  
Lessons I Have Learned from Martin Lukes:
  1.  If you must shag your assistant, don’t do it on your desk.
  2. ESPECIALLY don’t do this if your wife works in the same company.
  3. Work emails are not personal emails, and they are not private.  This may seem obvious for things like job hunting or conducting clandestine affairs, but I’m actually really surprised how many people are shocked by this revelation.  Both in the book, and also in real life.
  4. February is the best month to give up drinking, because it’s the shortest month.
  5. If you’re going to email some gossip or trash talk about someone to someone else, just go ahead and double check that “to” line in your email.  
  6. Don’t introduce your hormonal teenage son to your business colleague’s overly mature looking yet still underage daughter.
  7. White chocolate and most lattes are SOOOOO not Atkins friendly.
  8. Life coaches are total BS.  
  9. If you surround yourself with people who are just as incompetent as you, you might look comparatively smart.  
If you’ve violated any of these lessons and would like to share in the comments section, please do so, so that we may all laugh at your misfortune.