Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Pursuit of Happyness by Chris Gardner

I will be honest with you...I did not want to read this book.  If I could have avoided it, I would have.  However, a friend of mine asked my opinion on the book and recommended I read it so we could discuss certain aspects of the story.  I borrowed it from her and after two months I had only read the first chapter and didn't want to continue reading.  After just reading that first chapter, I found that I disliked Gardner's writing style and I wasn't too eager on reading his story.  It always irks me when reading personal stories like this.  I love the honesty that people put into them but Gardner, like many who write their own "biographies", seemed to want me to feel sorry for him right from the beginning and I just didn't.  I felt nothing but annoyance since there were so many other books I wanted to be reading.  But I still wanted to comment on the novel and wanted to see what it had to offer so I bought the audio book.  Best decision I could have made!
Chris Gardner grew up without a father.  Although there was a man in his life, he was degrading and unpredictable.  This man was his stepfather who constantly reminded him that he was not Chris's daddy.  At a young age, Chris vowed to never be like this man.  He vowed that if he ever had a child, he would constantly be by his/her side and in his/her life.  Growing up in a variety of places and with a variety of people, Chris had a challenging childhood.  As an adult, he entered the medical field even though he never went to medical school.  After a colorful array of circumstances involving marriage, sex, and cheating, Chris had a son and was soon left homeless after his wife left him, taking their son with her.  When his son is finally returned to him and his wife leaves once again, Chis doesn't have a steady amount of pay to provide housing for the two of them and so they must live homeless - sleeping at the park, at work, or at the airport terminal.
When I was literally reading this book, I expected it to be one of those crappy and cheesy American Dream stories.  That idea quickly left my mind after a while.  You may be wondering about now why listening to this book was better than actually reading the book, right?  The best answer I can give you is this - the narrator.  The audiobook is narrated by a man named Andre Blake and he did a fantastic job!  I can tell you right now that I am not a fan of audiobooks and try to avoid them but this was a special case.  I'm so glad I listened to this book.  I believe that the reason I enjoyed listening to someone competently read this book was because I didn't quite enjoy Gardner's style of writing.  It annoyed the hell out of me to tell you the truth.  His sentence structure was awkward and confusing in that first chapter.  Listening to the book made me realize that Gardner's style is much better spoken than read.  It was as if I were sitting at a campfire and someone was telling a story...not a very happy story but you get the idea.  Anyway, I really sympathized with Chris.  There were a lot of moments were he acted on innocent notions and ideas and I felt I could relate because I too will often speak my mind about things innocently and my words come back and bite me in the butt.  I also enjoyed the central theme of this book - a boy searching for a father figure.
Now, I have seen the movie but I don't remember it much.  If my memory serves, the film definitely pushes the American Dream and only captures a quarter of this book - and adds a rubix cube into the picture.  Pssht.  I looked at a few reviews on Good Reads and I am a bit turned off at how many people are complaining in the first line of their review about how the movie was so touching and then they read the book and were let down.  I mean, if I watch the movie tomorrow I may agree with these reviewers.  But c'mon, are people really expecting a Hollywood adaption to be like the book?  Hollywood always takes the liberty of making things truly their own - which isn't a bad thing necessarily but I won't go into the details of that argument. 
While this story was very heart wrenching and moving, I can't say Chris is the most likeable of character's.  I have a hard time saying that because this isn't some fictional character I can critique - he is real dude and he exposed himself a whole lot in this book and I respect him for that.  At one point though, he pretty much murders a guy...or at least, it seemed to imply.  I'm still not sure how I feel about that.  I don't recall him ever saying if the guy was dead or not but regardless, I'm surprised there isn't more discussion about that event. 
Is this book quality?  Yes, this book is quality!  What made it a quality read was the insight Gardner provides into growing up in a racist America and struggling to make ends meet.  What made the novel excel in my opinion is seeing all the nice things people did when least expected - particularly the scene where the prostitute's give Chris's son, Chris Jr., five dollars almost everyday.  Out of all the people Chris passed by daily, it was the ones people call dirty that did the nice thing and I think Chris sharing this with his readers is enough to call this a quality novel!
Do I recommend the book?  I recommend you check out audible and listen to it...although I must tell you, it is the abridged version.  I feel a bit cheated in that regard...

RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

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