Thursday, 4 July 2013

'Full Throttle' book review

It's been a very long while since my last post. Working full time takes its toll on doing other things. But here's a review, and I'm just starting a new book too. I'm hoping to get some more writing done in these cold winter months. For now, enjoy.

Book review:
Full Throttle by John Caldwell & Trish McLean with Paul Little
I don’t think I’ve seen or read a flipbook since I was in intermediate. This isn’t a criticism; with two slightly different covers, Full Throttle is a refreshing change to the auto/biography genre, especially in an Australasian setting.

Full Throttle gives the life stories of CEO’s Trish McLean and John Caldwell, and the history of Retailworld Resourcing, in New Zealand and Australia. Despite being New Zealand’s second largest employer, RWR acknowledges that retail often gets a bad rap, and provides an excellent service to find excellent employees for high-quality jobs in New Zealand, Australia, and The UK. Through John’s story especially, you can see where a career in retail can take you, especially after the childhood he had.

As a flipbook, you read Trish’s story, flip the book over, read John’s story, and then read their joint story of building the business and brand of RetailWorld in the middle. The book uses a mix of first and third person, which I personally didn’t enjoy (I prefer first person), but there really isn’t anything wrong at all with it, just my own crazy reading habits.

Being a business thriving to one hit dramatically by the Global Financial Crisis, RetailWorld morphed into a franchise to survive. And is still going strong today. Trisha and John managed to pull through, despite some incredibly tough times, and tell a story that really shows what amazing working relationships (especially with the bank) can do.

“If you go from running one café to owning 10 cafes, you are no longer someone who runs a café. You are a business owner and you have to step up to that role. We are now franchisors; we are not recruitment people any more.”

The section about the business itself contains really great information for anyone looking into launching a start-up, or just generally interested in the world of business. The section has ‘take-aways’ at the end chapter, giving tips and hints Trish and John have discovered during their time together.

One thing I really did enjoy throughout Full Throttle is the sheer love both Trish and John show for their business and the people who help them do their job each day. I’ve always worked in really great retail stores, but I’m aware of debacles that can happen within the industry, and it’s refreshing to see people in charge of finding high-end management are actually fantastic at their jobs.

My one major criticism of the book is really only one based on my own background in publishing – the final draft needed a really, really good proofread. I’m distracted easily by hyphens and en dashes used interchangeably, a lack of a fullstop, or basic grammatical mistakes. But this doesn’t take away from what is, in essence, a really interesting story that you may not have necessarily picked up off the shelf.

All in all, a fantastic and engaging read for anyone interested in the world of business, or just looking to read about two interesting and totally different lives that came together to create a recruitment agency which still thrives today.

Full Throttle
by John Caldwell & Trish McLean with Paul Little
Published by RWR IP Partnership
ISBN 9780473228279

Originally published on the Booksellers NZ blog

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

One month down, eight more to go.

Phantom. Incredible.
For those of you who didn't know, I've been overseas for the last month. I flew out of Wellington on March 18th, spent 18 days in London, and have been in Philadelphia for the last 10 days. In all fairness, my days have blurred, so this will have random highlights and some pictures.

England highlights:
1. Surprising an old high school friend in Brighton.
2. Seeing Louis CK at the O2.
David Nash at Kew Gardens.
3. Seeing Phantom of the Opera.
4. Visiting Kew Gardens.
5. Going to Yale University Press and doing work experience.
6. Watching the Cambridge-Oxford boat race.
7. People watching on the tube.
8. Walking around a city and remembering why I love history so much. History geek fo' life.

Central Park. 
Then I flew to America, the land of the free.
Highlights include:
1. Seeing Sister Act on stage.
2. Seeing Aziz Ansari perform stand up.
3. Visiting Hersheypark, and going 200 ft in the air, just to be slammed down at 75mph.
4. Going to my first ever winetasting at Tolinos winery in Bangor, PA.
5. Discovering the wonder of Netflix.
Phillies vs. the Mets.
6. Eating at PF Changs.
7. Just walking around Central Park.
8. Catching a Phillies game and singing 'Take me out to the ball game' in the 7th innings.

Lots of people said to me I wouldn't want to come home. But that's far from the truth. Travelling alone gets lonely after a while. Plus I miss my bed.

See you soon New Zealand.


Wednesday, 13 February 2013

'This is How You Lose Her' review.

So I wrote a review for The Lumière Reader. Usually I review for Booksellers NZ, and usually I stick to non-fiction because it's just what I really like. But I starting volunteering for Lumière, and when asked to review a book of short stories, I figured, why not? So This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz was given, I read, and I reviewed. And I found it harder than I expected. But it was finished, and it was published yesterday.

And here it is:
This is How You Lose Her
Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz on the power of love.
Take a professor from MIT, one who has previously won a Pulitzer Prize and was the recipient of a Genius grant, give him five years, and what will he produce? A collection of short stories based around the universal—and unexpected—theme of love, and an annoying feeling of wanting to know how much of this is based on his own life.
It’s been five years since Junot Díaz’s last book, the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and only his third book overall. The character of Yunior introduced in his first book, Drown, serves as the narrator in Oscar Wao, and Diaz has stuck with him again for This Is How You Lose her.
Comprising of nine equally fantastic stories, Yunior tells us about the power and impossibilities of the love he’s experienced. Yunior is a character we should hate; everything he does just makes us want to yell at him. And yet I sympathised with him, despite the voice in my head saying “he’s a dick.” Although the opening of the book sets up what is to come over the collection of stories, there’s still some great surprises to come. Yunior explains in the opening story, ‘The Sun, the Moon, the Stars’: “I’m not a bad guy. I know how that sounds—defensive, unscrupulous—but it’s true. I’m like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good. Magdalena disagrees though.” And sure, we probably shouldn’t be rooting for him—after all, he makes the same mistakes over and over—but as Yunior tries so hard to make things right, we can’t help but side with the underdog.
What struck me about This is How You Lose Her is the way Yunior lets us into his life as though you’ve been talking smack with him for years. “You know how it is,”, he says, as if nudging us in the arm after explaining his actions. Suddenly we’re complicit in Yunior’s crimes. But not just his crimes: his father’s, his brother’s. But then he turns, and Yunior bares his soul by imagining the relationship between his father and mistress in New Jersey while the rest of the family are back in Dominican Republic; and then again through the love/hate relationship with his brother. This intimacy Díaz creates makes us want to keep turning the pages, to find out whose crimes you’ll discover this time, and who’s going to be hurt.
This intimacy is fuelled by the changing narratives between stories. Díaz alternates between first- and second-person narrative seamlessly and without hesitation. I was in the shoes of Veronica when Yunior relays their love back to her in ‘Flaca’; I was Yunior in ‘Miss Lora’, trying to figure out if getting involved with an older lady is a smart idea, and then there I am again, the cheater, in ‘The Cheater’s Guide to Love’—I don’t want to be, but it’s too late.

I used the word unexpected to describe this theme of love because as we read, Yunior guides us through different types of love. And these aren’t just his female conquests; as the blurb explains, it’s about “passionate love, illicit love, fading love, maternal love.” Diaz’s characters are human in a wonderfully tragic way, from his descriptions of them, through to the way love makes them act. Yunior introduces us to Pura in ‘The Pura Principle’, and explains that she’s Dominican, “As in fresh-off-the-boat-didn’t-have-no-papers Dominican,” and so she ends up in New Jersey with a kid, free-loading off anything she can sink her claws in to. ‘The Cheater’s Guide to Love’ gives us Elvis, the committed-to-his-family best friend of Yunior who’s sleeping with anything else that moves on the side. While I’m not saying this is how the whole world acts, Díaz captures something real about these characters, which begs the question how many of these people feature, or have featured, in Díaz’s own life.

After such a defensive opening and the realistic characters that feature, the nagging question of what’s real and how much is dramatised is there. Yunior takes us into his life, makes us a real part of it. But how much of it is a fictional character’s life, or the author’s? Yunior has been referred to a quasi-autobiographical character, after first appearing in the early 1990s. Recently in an interview with the New York Times, Diaz stood for the duration of the interview due to major back surgery; in ‘The Cheater’s Guide to Love’, Yunior discovers he has a serious back problem. The more I researched Díaz, the more parallels I began to draw, and the more I needed to know what was real and what wasn’t. But after finishing the book, that feeling went away. While reading This is How You Lose Her, everyone’s going to make up their own mind about Díaz and Yunior, and their relationship. I like to believe it’s mostly real; I doubt I’ll ever really know. And ultimately, everyone’s going to come away from these stories knowing something more about themselves, their lives, their friends. I have.

It takes some seriously great writing to get me interested in fiction, and without a doubt everyone needs to be following Junot Díaz. But have a Spanish to English translator within reach while you read—it helps.

He's a rather facinating man, Díaz. Professor of Creative Writing at MIT, only written three books, two of which are novels, and still one of the biggest up-and-coming names in fiction.

I've been helping at Lumière with some proofreading and transcribing too. Check out the site, it's pretty choice.

I'm currently working on another review at the moment for Booksellers, will have it up in the next few weeks.


Sunday, 20 January 2013

"That's not writing, that's typing."

I would say it's noticeable I've been MIA for a little while, with the exception of reviewing. Life has been rather hectic the last few months, and then it settled, and now it's back up and busy. Unfortunately the work I've been producing recently has looked more like typing than writing, so hopefully things will settle soon. Bit of a rant below, you have been warned. 

So in November my year of publishing came to a close, and while it was one of the most fantastic years of my life, it was also the busiest ever. Four and a half years at university did not prepare me for how busy I would be this year. I spent the year editing copy, checking images in Photoshop, learning very quickly how to use inDesign, creating marketing and publicity plans, dealing with clients, and everything in between.
The year ended with a pretty sweet party, and luckily I was able to find a job before Studylink stopped lending me money. Until mid-March, you'll find me in the Tower building on Customhouse Quay in the offices of the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants. I'm helping out with proofreading, so you'll see me reading for eight hours a day, my eyes are loving me this summer. They're in the middle of publishing technical standards and needed some extra eyes to proof. NZICA has been a really fantastic place to work so far; while the content isn't the most riveting, the people I work with are simply great. They've been wonderful at making me feel welcome, and I'll be sad to be leaving when that day comes.

So I had from 21st December until 7th January off work. A nice decent break to spend with the family, and mostly just sitting around, reading and not doing much in general. Christmas was an adventurous time - drove to Taupo on Christmas Eve for the night, and come home to Wellington via Masterton on Christmas Day. My brother and sister-in-law were here from Philadelphia, the first time I've seen them since 2010, so that was pretty excellent. New Years was spent quietly at a friend's in Petone, having a BBQ, some cider and sitting on the island in the middle of the road waiting for the fireworks. They never came.

Oh, I did get to go and hang out with some meerkats at Wellington Zoo before New Years. That was choice. Here's a photo. 

There are more new and exciting things coming up: moving flats, some new reviews and adventures. Stay tuned.