If you're a fan of The Moth Radio Hour or This American Life, this book is for you. I burned through the pages quickly, captured by one story after another. In the final analysis I found that the stories had a weave to them. The warp and weft were equal parts vulnerability and humor, with a brilliant timing that carried the reader along before any inclination to pass judgment could settle in where it didn't belong. Kudos to Mr. Barber for a first book that leaves me wanting more.
I really enjoyed this collection of memoir-flavored (non)fictional short stories. Humorous, page turning and downright delightful. Even though they're not linked to each other, and not presented in chronological order, the reader gets a sense of who the author is because of a unified voice throughout. Everyone in my book club, who normally tears many books to shreds in their critiques, enjoyed the book too. Kudos!
Amazon customer, Bikekitty
Sometimes when you finish a work of non-fiction, your first reaction goes something like -- was this actually good? Or was it just a recounting of some actually crazy events? Would "Running with Scissors" have been as compelling if Augusten Burroughs had led a boring vanilla childhood?
As it turns out, Nate Barber really is that good. Perceptive yet introspective, he adds just enough to whip the truly mundane up into shocking absurdity, but is gentle enough to tamp the truly shockingly absurd back down to dark humor. Well worth the read.
Short stories with characters that are so different. Nate's writing captures vignettes of high school, young adulthood, life in suberbia, and the intricacies of the American family. His power of details helps his sarcasm.
I've just finished this captivating and colorful book and have given it a wholehearted 5 star rating. The stories had me cycling between belly laughing and melancholy/teary-eyed states, at times within a single paragraph. I have recommended the book to my husband as well, who will fully appreciate Nathaniel's ironic sense of humor and keen ability to illuminate the absurdities of workplace middle management. One of the many highlights for me was the mad nighttime chase through a forested Lynnwood, WA neighborhood, a story which vividly transported me back to the magical days of childhood.
-Wexler, Amazon customer
If the title is true, Nathaniel Barber was/would have been one of the worst Boy Scouts in the world. You don’t have to read many of these non-fiction short stories to decide that luck and Barber are, at best, passing acquaintances. Which is probably good — they make for better reading that way (Barber, might disagree about the “good” there — it is his life).
These stories don’t detail his life, they give you glimpses into experiences that have stuck with him for one reason or another, and largely they resonated with me. For example, his first (disastrous) experience with being a landlord. His goals for it were pretty much what I’d envisioned the time or three I thought about trying it. How it turned out for him, is pretty much what I feared would happen to me. A lot of what happened to him as a band geek made me think of what it was like when I was one (thankfully, it was a little tamer for me). I’ve never had a coworker like Dale Kendrick, but I can name one or two individuals that easily could’ve been.
Not all of his stories are those the reader will be able to identify with — but there’s something in his telling of them that will allow you to see yourself in that situation, and feel the humanity.
There is one important difference between his life experiences and mine — or most readers’ — his are funny. Or at least the way he’s able to present them is (probably more the latter than the former). Not always in a laugh-out-loud way, sometimes it’ll just be a wry smile, or shake of the head. But Barber’s been able to mine the humor in most of these situations — frequently at his expense.
Each story has a different feel to it, so even though they’re all about the same central character, they’re individual stories. They don’t all flow chronologically — he jumps back and forth though his life, you won’t walk away with a “life story” or anything, you’ll just get a good understanding of various points in his life. It’s like sitting around a table with an old friend, “Did I ever tell you about the time . . . ”
Barber’s writing chops are evident throughout this, whether he’s going for economy of words:
Against the advice of my lawyer and stern warnings from my therapist, I accepted Elsbeth’s invitation to lunch.
or if he’s going for a visual that will stick with you:
Mr. Millson was a short, puggish man. He was skinny except for a cantaloupe gut he not only ignored but allowed to lend heft to his wagging swagger. He was short and compensated for this with a simmering, constant temper, always fired up and red-faced. Even when he was just trying to schmooze an extra scoop of Jell-O from the lunch lady. His lips were not lips, but the absence of lips. Sweaty flaps, really. Fleshy bits of face he pursed to a thin, kissy embouchure under a bulbous, alcoholic nose.
you get exactly the idea he was going for — this isn’t some sort of arty-ambiguity here, it’s a precise brushstroke. He wants you to feel what he felt, he wants you to see what he saw — and he wants you to at least grin about it. Sometimes he’s not that subtle; infrequently, he could be more skillful about it — but he’s hitting his targets, he’s evoking memories about embarrassments of our youth, empathy over similar struggles of young adulthood, or a slight feeling of dread knowing that’s exactly how you’d react in that situation. Thankfully, he generally wants that to be followed with a chuckle.
Creative, distinctive, amusing — this collection will leave you wanting to see more from Nathaniel Barber, while being very glad you have this.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion and participation in this book tour. I appreciated the book, but my opinions expressed are my own.
HC Newton- The Irresponsible Reader
Nathaniel Barber's power lies in telling the story without explicitly telling the story. His prose tugs at the seams, outlines the edges, and hints at a larger, more terrible truth beyond the surface of each piece. The reader is not welcomed through the front doors of the house, but led instead through a meandering path which offers us only furtive glimpses through the windows. There we find a lovingly rendered portrait of the author's complicated family, larger-than-life caricatures of actual band teachers, tenants, and co-workers, comedies and tragedies, all rolled up in what ultimately reads as a celebration of a life fraught with misadventures. These stories are wildly entertaining, yet they hum with a quieter magic, and though they are plucked from seemingly random times and places in the author's experience, there is a purpose to their order. In these stories, time is bent and folded and rearranged to highlight a narrative truth running through the pages. A room in France is stained with blood from a mosquito-killing spree, while in the next apartment, two stories over, the walls are stained with blood from an injured bird's rescue, and through this connection a heart-aching story of brotherhood begins to emerge. We are not shown everything, we don't need to know everything. We are shown enough. The light shines through in the end, illuminating the parts of the story that matter the most. Like a great jazz musician (I'm looking at you, Millson), Barber understands how to wield silence, the space between notes, to construct a hidden narrative which shimmers at the edges, just out of reach but beautiful nonetheless.
-Scapegoat, Amazon customer
In the first sentence of what turns into an uncommonly poignant and funny book, Nathaniel Barber dives headlong into a familiar topic: the interview for the job your don't want. We've all been there, sitting across from our future boss, being talked out of a position we never really wanted anyway. We all come to the same conclusion:
My team would be cordial, for a day or two. But they'd eventually come to believe, as a district implant, I'd stolen their rightful path to middle management.
He passes on the job and gets a new one. Unfortunately for Barber, as he walks to work on his first day, a man in a window somewhere above pisses on him. This, we learn, is just his luck.
What follows are nearly 200 pages of stories about a life so unlucky yet familiar, that will make readers laugh and squirm uncomfortably. As with so much of contemporary American memoir, the attention is on the conflicts of young adulthood and how they affect us: bad decisions, bad teachers, bad jobs. His reflections on his impending divorce as he walks through an empty house are especially moving:
With no furniture, or carpets or pictures on the walls, or the constant mess on the floor, even the light "poc" of an easy footstep rang in whispers from the cold bare rooms and shuttered into woody closets. It was in these mockingly well-lit, caramel hallways and cozy alcoves where our marriage had, at long last, sputtered to a glottal stop.
The provocatively upbeat title for this collection of short stories, Luck Favors the Prepared, had me fooled: his luck must change at some point, right? He can't get divorced, be tricked by his tenant, work crappy hours at crappy jobs, and have his estranged sibling die. At some point, he must be prepared...right?
No such luck, I'm afraid. It really is too bad because throughout the novel, Barber grows on you. Perhaps it is the common timeline (he and I are roughly the same age), but I saw some recognizable memories reflected in the pages. I truly wanted everything to turn out ok for this guy -- a man who seems so like a friend we've all known.
Barber writes with a flair that makes you wonder if he is actually David Sedaris writing under a pen name, pretending to be part of a younger generation just to taunt us. Like most of us, he looks back on his youth with obvious amusement and faint longing. Although he could benefit from more economy of language at times, Barber adeptly mixes unassuming language with a direct tone that leaves readers laughing and crying, often in the same story.
Give this new novelist a shot -- he won't disappoint!
Elizabeth Chabe - The Indent
Like reminiscing with an old friend at a high school reunion, Luck Favors the Prepared gives the reader a look back at memorable events that have shaped the author’s life. It’s written in a way that made me feel nostalgic for growing up in the suburbs when high school kids were lucky to make $5 an hour and the biggest humiliation was wearing a marching band uniform. At times I laughed so hard I cried. I hope Nathaniel Barber keeps writing because I would love to read more by this author.
Funny. Sad. Awkward. This book has it all. Each and every story left me wanting to know more about what happened. Sometimes I just wanted to punch the main character in the face. But then I saw so much of myself in the writing that I couldn’t stop reading. So I guess I really just want to punch myself in the face. Either way, I look forward to reading more work from Barber. If his non-fiction is this good, I surely hope he has plans to write something make-believe.
Luck Favors the Prepared was an enjoyable read. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I loved the down to earth feel of this non-fiction story. It flowed more like fiction with a realistic edge. The stories were very powerful and each left me wanting to find out more and whether they could have been joined to flow together. Barber has an easy style and flow to his writing and is certainly capable of giving a rounded story with depth and humour. I really felt for the author during the experiences for these stories, which did produce witty accounts but must have been harrowing at the time. A talented author, which can write about highs and lows with passion and that certainly has the scope for more. I look forward to hearing from this author again and will look out for his next novel.
I loved reading Luck Favors the Prepared. It moves quickly with humor, great metaphors and fantastic detail. It's the kind of writing that leaves you wanting more. Yes, more humor, more stories and also I wanted more. Each story left me with questions. I"m mostly curious what question is Barber trying to answer by diving into these stories? What ties them together for him? Sometimes I just wanted to know, what happened?...
We all have life stories. You know, the *you'll never believe it, how did that happen, what was I thinking, but it's true* stories. We all tell them. Nate wrote his down. Anticipation is rewarded with laughter jumping out of unexpected corners or a heartfelt nod of understanding. What a brilliant reminder that life is messy, but worth every minute!
Dry humor and rotten luck abound in this collection of short personal essays.
In his first essay, Barber recounts life as a droll cafe manager, interviewing for a middle-management job, and being peed on outside of a cafe. From there, he pivots awkwardly to his adventures as a landlord with a difficult tenant, complete with manic email exchanges with lots of capitalization and exclamation points. The majority of the essays feature Barber as a teenager, narrating his years playing various instruments in school bands. His humor when recounting high school is natural (tall red plumes on the marching-band hats lend the band the nickname the “Lockstep Tampons”), and he has a nemesis in the cocky and punishing band director, Mr. Millson. In another essay, Barber challenges his school’s dress code by defiantly wearing a skirt and winds up in a fight with a robot. Later essays reveal more personal accounts about, for example, divorce and the loss of his brother. Barber has a knack for mining a story for its quirkiest and most humorous details. At first, the disjointed subject matter makes it difficult for the reader to grasp just who this narrator is—a barista, an out-of-luck landlord, a band geek, a hero? While the Pacific Northwest is the obvious backdrop for these essays, it’s harder to discern when they’re taking place, two years ago or 20 years ago. The best essays are the vignettes tied by a common theme—high school–band antics, his brother Patrick—where the reader inhabits one world for longer than just a few pages. There are a few opaque essays (in “Morbid Curiosity,” something indecipherable has happened involving a lawsuit). It’s refreshing to read the concluding essay, “The Prank,” where Barber lucidly and tenderly recalls his siblings.
Former band geeks may recognize themselves in some of Barber’s high school memories, but more universal moments are rare.
I don't often read creative nonfiction, but when I do, I prefer Nathaniel Barber. (LFTP) left me wanting to read more of his stories, though I'm not sure I would wish upon him more of the experiences that produced these.
Luck Favors the Prepared gives you an opportunity to reflect on life with all of its twists and turns, humor and sadness, success and failures. This was one of those books I couldn't put down. Was it because I knew the author and his family when he was in grade school and I was keen to know how his life evolved? Perhaps that is the case as he was a student of mine. Nathaniel's story reminds us that life is fragile, that the ones you love and trust the most can give you the biggest heartache and disappointment. It reads like a baseball game is played. You never know who your fans are, where the next curve ball will come from, when that home run will win the game, how many foul balls will be hit before there is a strike out—when to cheer and when to boo the umpire. I got caught up in the game and couldn't get out until the last play. Winner. "Anyway, it was so long ago." - Nathaniel Barber
Reviewed by Raymond Phillips
Luck Favors the Prepared is honest, ironic, sad, funny, and human. Mr. Barber has arranged these lovely and touching stories in such a manner that it reminds me of a well engineered mix tape. Each track is in its perfect position and brings you up, down, and back around again. You'll want to do nothing but listen over and over.