The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland

In it’s simplest form, this book revolves around two main characters, Bethany and Roger, corresponding back and forth via letters and journal entries – though there are several “guest” writers along the way. The cool (and sometimes confusing) part is that, because some characters double as creative writers, there is literally a story within a story within a story. A nice touch though!

It’s a pretty depressing book overall, but it’s actually an interesting assessment of life. The majority of us are not very extraordinary; we really do just “plod” along. Again, just a tad depressing! I loved parts of it, I absolutely hated parts of it and then there’s other parts of it that I’m still trying to understand. In many ways, the book just feels unfinished. I understand that it was definitely a deliberate artistic choice to leave the individuals’ stories so open, but that drives me insane. It leaves me unsatisfied. Still, that’s not reason enough for me to call it a bad book – it wasn’t. The writing was actually quite beautiful and very witty!

Because it was filled with so many amazing life lessons and memorable quotes, I’ll share some of those. Hopefully, they give you a sense of what the book was like, because I’m not sure my words did.

“It’s amazing how you can be a total shithead, and yet your soul still wants to hang out with you. Souls ought to have the legal right to bail once you cross certain behaviour thresholds: I draw the line at cheating at golf; I draw the line at theft over $100,000; I draw the line at bestiality. Imagine all the souls of the world, out on the sides of highways, all of them hitchhiking to try to find new places to live, all of them holding signs designed to lure you into selecting them as a passenger: I sing! I tell jokes. I know shiatsu. I know Katharine Hepburn. I don’t deserve a soul, yet I still have one. I know because it hurts.”

“Having the same illness as everybody else truly is the definition of health.”

I don’t think anyone ever gets over anything in life. They merely get used to it.

“My dear, the reason we wear makeup is to prevent the world from seeing what we’re like underneath. What’s wrong with that? […] If you allow your feelings to be exposed, people will hurt you with them.”

“Imagine feeling more powerful and more capable of falling in love with life every new day instead of being scared and sick and not knowing whether to stay under a sheet or venture forth into the cold.”

“Write me-but I don’t know where I’ll be, so there’s no address to give you. Isn’t that all of life compressed into a sentence?”

“Roger, why is it that people wait until the end of a relationship before they say all the meanest shit to each other? Why do people stockpile their grudges like ammunition? Why does it always have to end so badly?”

“I think this is an alarming trend, Bethany, this whole ‘passionate’ thing. I’m guessing it started about four years ago, and it’s driving me nuts. Let’s be practical: Earth was not built for six billion people all running around and being passionate about things. The world was built for about 20 million people foraging for roots and grubs. […] My hunch is that there was some self-help bestseller a few years back that told people to follow their passion. What a sucky expression. I can usually tell when people have recently read that book because they’re a bit distracted, and maybe they’ve done their hair a new way, and they’re always trying to discuss the Big Picture of life and failing miserably. And then, when you bump into them again six months later, they appear haggard and bitter; the joy drained from them – and this means that the universe is back to normal and that they’ve given up searching for a passion they’re doomed to never find. Want a chocolate?”


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