I’m currently reading Douglas Coupland’s book The Gum Thief. I’m on page 53 and I’ve got 222 more pages to go before I finish the book. Why am I telling you this boring detail when I’m not even a 1/4 of the way through the book? Because I used to work for Staples in their corporate office for five years and the plot of this book is set in a Staples store and it’s simply brilliant! Each turn of the page either brings back a memory of buying office supplies or deep feelings I had about working in the office supply industry. It’s pure frosting on the cake that the book is written by one of my favorite authors.
The book has a fairly convoluted storyline that at times is a little hard to follow (again, only on page 53), but here’s what it’s about: Roger is a divorced middle-aged sales associate working at Staples. Bethany is a young goth woman also working at Staples who one day stumbles upon Roger’s diary in the break room. The weird thing about the diary is Roger is writing in the mock diary pretending to be her and he’s very accurate. What follows is the two of them developing this weird relationship because she ends up writing back to him in this diary, but forbids him from ever speaking directly to her about it. If that isn’t surreal enough, Roger is also writing a work-in-progress novel called Glove Pond that the reader (that would be me) gets to also read alongside the silently developing relationship of Roger and Bethany. Did I forget to mention that at one point Roger dated her drunk mother?
The references to working at a retail office supply chain are spookily accurate and ring true for any employee (former or otherwise) of Staples. Here’s just one of many inspired examples of prose from page 17:
And working at Staples is a career? I can’t believe the government even classifies what we do as a job. A job is something you can do for life. A job has some dimension of hope to it. Setting up fresh little sheets of white paper for people to use to test magic markers is not a hope scenario. All people ever draw is squiggles. It’d be funny if they wrote the occasional fuck or drew anarchy symbols. I can’t believe people even pay for pens. Talk about the world’s most shopliftable item. Staples must die.
Coupland has also come up with a great way to promote his new book: a viral video. If you have 8 minutes to spare, I suggest watching it below. This particular video merges several snippets of introductions to the characters via selectively placed words within a Staples store with actual text from the book. Some of the segments even feature bricks of staples made into words-very Michael Gondry if you appreciate that sort of thing.
It should come as no surprise that after a mere 52 pages in to this book that I recommend you run out and buy it. Or tell Santa you want it for Christmas. It’s available at Amazon or in your grocer’s freezer. (Sorry. I just wanted to make sure you were paying attention.)