#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso
(Portfolio, 2014, 256 pages)
Who among us hasn’t made our share of life mistakes? Some of us manage to learn enough from our mistakes to find success – and in Sophia Amoruso’s case, multimillion dollar success! What differentiates her from other young screw-ups? Her book #GIRLBOSS will provide you with a reasonably good idea. Billed by her as part confessional, part business strategy manual, one hopes to obtain the secrets to becoming an indie business dynamo. The title itself clues you in that this book isn’t your average business manual, giving a nod to young women looking to start what’s not your momma’s company – which carries a certain twee sensibility. The book begins with an overview and chronology of Amoruso’s life events, then moving into her life philosophy. The chapters following elaborate on particular principles, including the character-building potential of crappy jobs, learning from sketchy life experiences such as shoplifting and hitchhiking, the importance of having and saving money, risk taking, and good life management.
The only real problem with this book is that it’s easier for some of us to live our lives and have our experiences than it is to articulate them in writing. What is sometimes more interesting in books than the text itself is the subtext, which is broader in this book than it needs to be for a book of this supposed purpose. Amoruso covers all the basics of being a good rank-and-file employee, but it’s easier for her to be the dynamo than it is to clue us in on how to get there. Also, while she elaborates on some of the more painful, less scrupulous aspects of her earlier life, there is a certain failure in her narrative to acknowledge the privilege that possibly allowed her to evade full consequences of her actions (such as shoplifting, which resulted in a run in with security, but not police), and an attractiveness that allowed her to be her own model for the vintage clothing she sold on eBay during its earlier days.
So go ahead, read this book. It is a fun and heady romp through Amoruso’s experiences from (not quite) rags-to-riches – but if you’re looking for comprehensive advice on how to do that in your own life, you’ll probably need to read between the lines, and find another book with more substantial strategies.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
(Riverhead Books, 2015, 323 pages)
I admit, I started reading this bestseller because I wanted to see what all the hoopla was about. The basic plot begins with a woman (Rachel) noticing a couple (she nicknames them Jason and Jess), who she sees daily through her window on the train. She invents a bucolic narrative of their life in direct contrast to her own unfortunate current reality. All is not well, though, when the woman (Megan) mysteriously disappears and the woman’s husband (Scott) becomes a suspect in her disappearance.
As the book progressed I became disturbed, disgusted, and disappointed with it (not necessarily in that order). Most of the characters were either vile, pathetic, or otherwise annoying – and though there were plenty of exciting plot twists, particularly at the end, I was glad to finish this book – both because I wanted to find out what happened, and I also simply tired of reading it. I enjoyed the actual writing; author Paula Hawkins spins a very vivid story in which the characters come alive. I grew so very tired, however, of “protagonist” Rachel’s alcoholism and mourning for her failed marriage with so little growth. (As I tend to read fiction for entertainment, I realize that my not being overly entertained doesn’t mean the book isn’t good – but if you read more for entertainment than for the literary experience itself, you, too, may be ready for this book to be done.)
Other reviewers have noted themes related to female empowerment throughout this book. The book tends to deftly paint some of those issues without offering much in the way of their resolution. I felt grief for the characters, particularly Rachel and Megan, as I kept hoping they would do something redemptive.
All the above said, The Girl on the Train is still an incredibly engrossing novel. I appreciated it very much for its great writing and skillfully-told story from multiple moments and points of view – but if you prefer your reading to have unambiguous characters and a story with just a little conflict, save this one for a day on which you feel you can be more at peace with humanity’s inevitable shortcomings.
You can also check out reviews of this title from Julia and Theresa.
Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief by Bill Mason, with Lee Gruenfeld
(Villard, 2005, 384 pages)
The thrill of a jewelry heist is, for those of us uninterested in prison or any other trappings that may come with that territory, one to be experienced vicariously. Lucky for us, Bill Mason (with Lee Gruenfeld) provides his readers with hours of excitement in Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief. In this page-turner, Mason generously lets us into his mind and life from his somewhat troubled adolescence on the wrong side of the tracks through to his harrowing moment of retirement as a notorious jewel thief. The book moves from the inner drama of what led him to his avocation as a jewel thief, to the outer drama of the heists themselves, from secret and elite Shaker Heights, Ohio clubs to equal parts Florida beaches and prisons.
Mason’s account of his life of sparkling crime tends to be more gritty and less glamorous than some fictional accounts of jewel thievery, though the amounts of money with which he deals may raise the eyebrows of some of us with less-well-padded bank accounts. Mason considers, however, the human cost of his exploits – mostly to his family, but also to those from whom he stole jewelry. Readers may find their moral hackles raised at some of what he writes, and some reviewers have remarked upon Mason’s willingness to take responsibility for his actions without necessarily working toward any type of repentant justice regarding his crimes. As a reader of this work, though, my interest in the story was primarily in the first-person perspective of a jewel thief, and less as a tale of redemption. While I may have had my own moral scruples toward his story, I appreciated the apparent candor with which Mason tells it.
Those looking for a redemptive morality tale won’t find it here – Mason, as many of us do, unabashedly rationalizes his actions. While apologetic toward those he relieved of their jewelry, one senses he has given up his life of crime more due to age and a personal need for peace than any idea of it being inherently wrong to rob people. With all that in mind, if you seek the kind of vicarious thrill that comes from reading about someone else’s bad behavior and want to learn more about what it really feels like to commit audacious crimes of this nature, this book certainly delivers the goods.
Haunted Webster Groves by Patrick Dorsey
(Factual Planet, 2015, 131 pages)
This book by Patrick Dorsey provides fourteen riveting accounts as told to him of unquiet spirits in and near the area of Webster Groves, Missouri. As a ghost agnostic, I am generally fascinated by and open to hearing people’s accounts of interactions with ghosts. This 131-page book is divided into two main section: “Legends,” being more a compilation of experiences that many people have had over many years, and “Firsthand Accounts,” in which Dorsey interviews several Webster Groves-area residents about their up-close-and-personal experiences with these spirits.
Regarding the writing style of the book, sometimes I was charmed by the way in which the author inserted his own editorial commentary into the stories; at other times, I wanted him to get out of the way a little more and simply let the stories speak for themselves. However, a book of this nature is at least in part personality-driven, and the playful treatment of this subject matter provides a bit of non-ghostly levity to the stories. Dorsey notes that he is “a storyteller and a writer, not a ghost hunter” (p. 10), and that the reader will thus find more story and less science. This book is good reading for the casual ghost hunter looking for an entertaining and spooky evening, particularly one familiar with or interested in the Webster Groves/St. Louis County area.
The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig
(St. Martin’s Press, 2013, 358 pages)
This novel was a fun romp between modern day NYC and early 20th-century England and Africa. It is the generally well-written story of lawyer Clementine Evans’ journey between romance, family, and career vis-a-vis an exploration into her grandmother’s story as she contemplates these things between trying to make partner at her large Manhattan law firm. I particularly enjoyed the rich historical details of life for children on Ashford Park, the large estate at which Clementine’s grandmother, Addie, and grandmother’s cousin, Bea, lived and the way the plot, rich with family secrets, unfolds.
Clementine (or Clemmie, as she is known to those close to her), is a likeable enough character. I both empathized with her hard work toward her career goals and felt sorry that she spent too much time working and not enough time inhabiting her life (a familiar struggle to those building their careers). While Bea and Addie’s stories were incredibly fascinating, I occasionally grew tired of the limited options available to them as early twentieth-century women, though Willig’s treatment of their stories was continually engaging.
I enjoyed this book because, whether or not I always liked the characters or what was going on in their lives, I cared about what happened to them. There is a lavish amount of romance and mystery through the generations to keep the reader engaged throughout the story. Those whom enjoy family histories and mysteries, movement between time periods, and attention to historical details, will likely appreciate this book.