How Starbucks Saved My Life
Michael Gates Gill
Don’t be fooled by its joking title. How Starbucks Changed My Life is an engaging memoir from Michael Gates Gill, the son of famed New Yorker writer Brendan Gill, who grew up in a mansion of 30-plus rooms, and who encountered many of the glamourous people and literati of his time in his youth: e.g., Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, Jackie Kennedy. He eventually became an artistic director at the J. Walter Thompson Advertising Agency. He had a good career there until it was deemed that, in his mid-60’s, he was too old and was fired. Divorced, diagnosed with a brain tumor, he ended up living in an attic apartment, desperate for employment that offered health insurance. By pure coincidence, he was hired at a Starbucks located in a “bad” part of town.
He progressed from cleaning the bathroom to becoming a barista, along the way learning to respect, and befriend, youth from a lower-income social strata that he normally would have crossed the street to avoid during his time as an advertising executive. One of these young people was a fierce-looking ex-gang member who protected Gill one night when he was threatened by a customer who refused to leave at closing and pulled out a knife. After working at Starbucks, Gill would conclude that he preferred the company of the staff there to the corporate executives he used to interact with while at J. Walter Thompson. This is a compelling, enlightening narrative about How a Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else that puts a human face, and experience, to what is essentially a scathing critique of socio-economic class differences.
College Writing Programs
This book is part of the 2022 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!