Title: House of Cards: The true story of how a 26-year-old fundamentalists virign learned about life, love, and sex by writing greeting cards
Author: David Ellis Dickerson
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Quick Review: 2 (out of 5)
Why I Read It: The title
Where I Obtained the Book: Sent to me by the publisher through Goodreads
Synopsis: David Dickerson's dream is to write greeting cards-Valentine's Day, sympathy, and holiday cards. Greeting cards offer him the chance to indulge his gifted obsession with words, puns, and humor. But when he manages to win a coveted slot at Hallmark, he soon discovers his own limited life experience has left him unprepared for sentiments he writes about in his cards: As a fundamentalist-raised, twenty-seven-year-old virgin social misfit, he knows that his world is decidedly circumscribed.
In House of Cards, Dickerson tells of his time at Hallmark and how the experience and the cast of characters he meets there open his eyes to a much larger and emotionally rich world. In comic and sometimes cringe-inducing detail, he chronicles his bumpy journey to maturity, from straitlaced evangelical Christian to (relatively) modern single guy. As Dickerson navigates supervisors and colleagues who don't understand him, he learns what it takes to connect with this new lot of personalities and how to write funny lines that resonate with the heart of America. Along the way he confronts his past, his beliefs, his relationships, even his virginity, as he ponders whether his struggle to stay true to the life he knows is worth it.
Review: I am disappointed that I have to give this book such a low rating, because I was hoping for so much more. The thing that is most troublesome, Dickerson is an excellent writer. The story flowed without and chunky plot or dialogue, and it was very readable. In fact, if it had been fiction, I would have probably given it a four; I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up a novel by this author even after this book. I also like the inside look at how a company is the best in the world at what it does (Hallmark Cards) actually works. I would have enjoyed a book that focused on them. That said the problems I had with this memoir are many.
First of all, why the hell is a 20 something writing a memoir? They haven’t lived life yet and consequently their insights come across as self-indulgent tripe. This book is no exception. The title says he is a fundamentalist Christian, but when the book starts he is long past that; so it is a little deceptive. Plus he is extremely dismissive of all conservative values, as in he was an idiot who was brainwashed as a child who finally saw the light and became more intelligent. So if you hold conservative values you are admitting you are not very intelligent, or at least not has smart as the author.
Then there is the virginity thing. He actually puts forward the Bill Clinton defense with a straight face. I voted for the man twice but even I can’t do that, and I have never seen anyone else do it until now. The Bill Clinton defense? That is claiming not to have sexual relations, you are just getting blow jobs. That is an example of the nuanced intelligence you are supposed to get. His girlfriend of six years had been living apart from him while attending grad school up north; and she is extremely long suffering. He rationalized the only way he bring himself closer to her would be to receive a handjob from a prostitute. This is presented as an enlightened growth moment.
Then we get to see him at work, both at his first job and then at Hallmark. He tells story after story about his work experience but never seems to see it the way the rest of us do. It reminded me of one of my old jobs. We were teamed up with partners and one guy among us had been through 5 partners in quick succession, always due to interpersonal problems that required an immediate transfer. He ended up in my region paired up with a very successful and genuinely nice guy. Inevitably they had problems which called for an intervention wherein this young man made the statement about his latest partner; “You have the same problem as my last five companions.” He never once thought “Is it me?”
All of Dickerson’s work stories follow this pattern. His boss seems to get frustrated for no reason and calls him on the carpet. Instead of looking to change his behavior, or at least realize that he was wrong, he instead vilifies the complainer. They just don’t get him, and he is awesome. The system is screwed up, not him. This is a company who through many years of trial and error has made themselves the best in the world at what they do, and they are the ones who just don’t get it. His way is better because he is him.
At one point there is a little bit of insight. He watches himself on a video made on his 30th birthday and notices that he may have a few social/interpersonal problems. Instead of exploring that and actually gaining some real insight into his life, he soon dismisses it as trivial and moves on. All he needs to do is shave his head and get some colored shirts. Trust me, to quote Scott Adams, that is like rotating the tires to fix a flat.
So at the end I am frustrated. You can clearly see Dickerson’s talent as a writer, he is very good. I also loved the insights to how Hallmark achieves its success. I think at the end I just found the author to self-indulgent and to immature. Liked I began, if he switches to fiction I will be right there, but this book just wasn’t for me.
Author Biography: I’m a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR’s “This American Life” and at shows around the city. My book, House of Cards: Love, Faith, and Other Social Expressions, was published in October 2009 by Riverhead. For fun, I also do a regular video blog on YouTube called “Greeting Card Emergency.” My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans.
By the way, in my earliest appearances on This American Life, Ira Glass mentions a book in progress called “How to Love God Without Being a Jerk.” If that’s how you found me, you should know that the “How to Love God” book itself isn’t in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I’m focusing on humorous memoir).
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