Student Picks: Burg, Mann, and Robbins


Arun Chittur-- I train technical instructors and study teams large and small, so lately I’ve strayed from my regular selections of fiction and narrative nonfiction in favor of books that illuminate some part of the puzzle that is humanity. My wife recommended The Go-Giver; we were waiting to board a plane from the East to West Coast when I started reading the Foreword. I finished the powerful, yet concise story before we landed four hours later.

The Go-Giver is advertised as a parable, 150 pages written by two businessmen-turned-writers inspired to craft a story from decades spent observing the world. They rely on a diverse cast of characters but focus on two: Joe, a salesman struggling to meet his upcoming quarterly quota, and Pindar, an otherwise hard-to-describe “Old Man” who acts as mentor and coach to many in town. Desperate for counsel on how to meet his numbers, Joe meets with Pindar and is soon absorbed in a week-long lesson on the “Five Laws of Stratospheric Success.” And so ensues an adventure of sorts, a story that follows Joe’s rapid evolution from stereotypical salesman to someone who adds value to others’ lives.

It’s easy to get lost in the narrative, and to forget that it’s mainly fiction designed to make accessible one of life’s simplest but often overlooked principles. I’d recommend this book to anyone, not just for its ability to help provide focus and direction, but for the example it provides in the instructive power of story.


Phil Lemos-- Good Friday is known for its executions. But Gwendolyn Mati, squeaky-voiced stockbroker and protagonist of the Tom Robbins novel Half-Asleep in Frog Pajamas, wishes she had already been sentenced to death when the stock market crashes the day before.

It’s bad enough Gwen is sweating out whether she’ll have any clients left when the market re-opens the following Monday. But she also has to spend the weekend searching the streets of Seattle for her missing 300-pound psychic and her slacker boyfriend’s missing pet monkey, while also avoiding a creepy stranger with mind-altering substances who wants to rock her world and take her to Africa with him.

Half-Asleep in Frog Pajamas is notable not only for Robbins’ signature irreverent humor and bold use of metaphor, but also for being written in second-person. The use of second-person in fiction is always a gamble, as it can backfire spectacularly. It works here, though, as we’re dropped into an immediate crisis - the stock market crash - and the subversion lends itself well to taking chances with characterization and style. Robbins is known more for other novels, but Half-Asleep is a hidden jewel any fan of comedy in fiction would enjoy.