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SPEAKING FRANKLY

A SOUTHERN BOY’S JOURNEY FROM SLAUGHTERHOUSE TO CREATION OF THE WORLD’S TOP HOT DOG BRAND

A hot dog memoir that ultimately isn’t juicy enough.

Riley details his ascent from a poor Southern farm boy to the head of one of the world’s most successful hot dog companies.

In his debut memoir, the author tells the story of his incredibly successful career, detailing the steps that led him to become the president of Hygrade Food Products, a world-renowned meat production company that created Ball Park Franks. Along the way, his marketing skills and business acumen help him tackle all manner of tricky situations, from strikes and union negotiations to a very scary incident involving a customer who claimed to have found a razor blade in a hot dog: “[W]e weren’t quite sure what we were dealing with….Had some lunatic tampered with a package at the supermarket?” He also touches on his family life, his love for his wife, Pat, and his sadness at her death after a long, happy marriage. Through it all, however, he remains modest: “I’m hardly the first or last person from a humble background—without financial resources, connections, or the advantage of a college diploma—to rise to the top of a company, industry, or profession.” Riley has had a remarkable life, including a childhood in a sharecropping family, and his long tenure at Hygrade certainly offers some momentous occasions. His voice is clear and strong, but also humble and self-deprecating. Unfortunately, too much of the memoir reads like rote recitation of past events, with too many long-winded descriptions of business technicalities for lay readers to remain entertained. Although Riley discusses several people who were important to him, they tend to blend together, and readers may have difficulty remembering who’s who. Some of the strongest sections are when Riley contributes analysis; for instance, he muses that, as a child in the South, he “lived in a strictly circumscribed world, the opposite of what today would be known as ‘diverse’….The ethnic mix around me changed abruptly once I arrived in Detroit in the 1960s.” This statement opens up some fascinating questions that remain frustratingly unexplored: How did he feel about the change in his circumstances? What was the city really like? More nuance might have made the story more engaging.

A hot dog memoir that ultimately isn’t juicy enough.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499042504

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2014

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NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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