The Pursuit of Other Interests: A Novel

By Jim Kokoris
Publisher:St. Martin's Press, (10/27/2009)

Average Rating:
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3.43 out of 5 (7 Clubie's ratings)

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Charlie Baker is a neurotic but charming 50-year-old workaholic CEO of a major Chicago ad agency who seems to have it all: an impressive house in an upscale suburb, an equally impressive salary, the requisite pretty wife and accomplished son. All of this comes crashing down when Charlie is unceremoniously fired. In an instant, his life is transformed from corporate titan to just another out of work American.

For Charlie—an admitted workaholic—a world without a job is a strange world indeed. Rather then tell his family, every morning Charlie leaves home to spend his days at an outplacement firm, where he meets a cast of equally desperate corporate misfits. As Charlie reluctantly embarks on a journey of self-discovery, he finds out what happens when his work life is lost and his real life begins.

Humorous, poignant, and honest, The Pursuit of Other Interests offers a glimpse into the lives, hearts, and minds of the 21st-century American family.

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Alice_Wonder's thoughts on "The Pursuit of Other Interests: A Novel"
updated on:4/13/2010

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Steph's thoughts on "The Pursuit of Other Interests: A Novel"
updated on:4/7/2010

Kokoris offers a light-hearted account of the often very un-funny subject of unemployment. While I would file this book in the humor category, it's not without it's tender-hearted moments.  As the main character, Charlie, a man once defined by his career, treads precariously through his life without a job he rediscovers that there IS life outside work and that includes his long-suffering wife and shaggy-haired, teenage son.  But what is humor and compassion or any emotion without a being to which to attach it?  Enter the characters.  Kokoris effectively familiarizes us with his characters.  In addition to having a vivid visual image of each, I found myself reacting to them on the page (Bradley evoked uneasiness, Karen, suspicion, and Ned...).  Ned, the well-meaning "transition consultant" was the glue that held these crazies together.  And in a sense, they seemed to reciprocate.  It makes sense that business and personal would mesh in this environment.  I found myself rooting for Ned throughout the book.  Even the, at times, deplorable Charlie had his redeeming moments.  Kokoris presents us with a cast of likeable characters in the context of a transition point in their lives.  The result is an enjoyable, humorous story with a hint of the "our lives are not defined by our jobs" message, of which I am happy to be reminded.

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Reese's thoughts on "The Pursuit of Other Interests: A Novel"
updated on:4/1/2010

Charlie, Charlie, Charlie - oh my - what a character he is.  Annoying, pretentious, self-absorbed, absent, somewhat clueless, and hilariously inappropriate as a boss and yes…frenetic!!  Add all that up and ….”You’re Fired”…..from a job he shouldn’t of had in the first place. Enter, The Pursuit of Other Interests, a classic glimpse into life as we see so often in society today.  We think we want or have it all and then…what happened to my life? The book could have been totally cliché but was thoroughly enjoyable mainly because it made me laugh out load throughout.  Kokoris really wrote the book and Charlie’s character so well with what I thought was perfect humor to counteract his, again I say “annoying” and neurotic nature. All the character’s lives maintained a sense of the pathetic in their own ways, but oddly were endearing and I found myself routing for them.  What could have been so depressing was actually poignant, thought provoking and very entertaining.  We can all relate to at least something in this book in our own lives…..and Charlie showed some hope at the end!

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Nick's thoughts on "The Pursuit of Other Interests: A Novel"
updated on:3/31/2010

The Pursuit of Other Interests is many things. It is a character study of a self-absorbed workaholic who loses everything and tries to rebuild his life and his family. Charlie Baker is an advertising executive and pretty much the perfect portrait of an egomanical jerk of a manager. Most of us have encountered bosses like Charlie at some point, so when this insensitive, overpaid boob gets fired in the first act, it’s hard not to cheer a little bit. The brilliance of this novel is where it goes after that. The author, Jim Kokoris, is able to give this seemingly unlikable character real humanity and before long, we’re rooting for him as he picks up the pieces of his life, rediscovers who he once was and works toward redemption.

On a deeper level, the novel is a sort of reflection of post-boom America. Like our society as a whole, Charlie got caught up in the high times. Like the U.S. when the recession hit, he is forced to deal with a totally new reality when everything comes to a screeching halt. He is not at home the cavernous house he had barely lived in and now can’t really afford. He has to readjust to living like a real person. His wife and son have become strangers and the reader gets to be with him as he gets to know them again. Charlie spends a large chunk of the book fighting through his own vanity and ego. He struggles to accept that he has lost what he for a long time felt was most important…his job…and now risks something far more vital…his family and his soul. The themes of this novel are as old as the hills--what you need is no farther than your backyard--but the writing and execution are very fresh and current. It’s funny, hopeful and has a great deal of heart. We all lose sight of what’s important sometimes, but stories like this one help remind us to appreciate what we have.

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Ceci's thoughts on "The Pursuit of Other Interests: A Novel"
updated on:3/31/2010

At first, this book seems to be the typical story of a workaholic who has sacrificed his family life for career advancement. But wait, Charlie Baker is not just your typical workaholic. To add insult to injury, he’s not even good at his high powered job – the ad agency he runs has tanked under his direction, and he spends his lengthy days at the office obsessing over how to get his employees to lose weight, the location for the annual summer outing, and how to wrest back control over the agency book club he established. Despite his best mad man efforts to sell this as “work” (his memo about how everyone should lose weight is titled “Project Shape Up”; the book club is pitched as an “effort to improve morale” . . . actually that last part sounds accurate!), he is fired. And thus begins his long and foible-filled journey back to his family and his better self. Yes, the plot is a bit predictable, but the characters, dialogue, and scenes are all sharply written and laced with humor.  Overall, I liked the book, but something seemed off. The end strikes an odd note of indulgence and luxury, especially in contrast to all the other characters we meet. I get it that this book is about Charlie learning to cultivate the non-work parts of his life, but I would have also liked to see Charlie buckle down and deal with those finances that he spent much of the book worrying about. But, maybe that’s just because I’m not in his $400k income bracket ;-)

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Sam's thoughts on "The Pursuit of Other Interests: A Novel"
updated on:3/28/2010

The Pursuit of Other Interests is particularly relevant to today’s American Economy. By this point, we all know someone who has lost their job. This book looks at the life of an aging executive who took his job and his pride too far, and who has little to fall back on when he’s axed at work. Despite the subject matter, the book is light-hearted and easy to read. Charlie Baker, the main character, is pretty detestable at times, but falling upon hard times in his career makes him reevaluate what is really important in his life. It’s a pretty predictable tale from the beginning, but those who find themselves related to Charlie in their work lives might find some peace through this one.

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Book Junky's thoughts on "The Pursuit of Other Interests: A Novel"
updated on:3/24/2010

This is a very humorous book, but at the same time.... so much of it I wanted to yell at Charlie BEFORE he did half the things he did and tell him to, "Stop! Don't do it!" Reading all the... well, I'll call them "stupid" things he did made me uncomfortable, but I guess that helps set up the drama/conflict/etc.  (But I also can't watch "Meet the Fockers" cause I get too embarrassed for the Ben Stiller character. So take my opinion with a grain of salt.) All that said, there were moments that I just busted out laughing. Jim takes a very sad situation and makes it quite entertaining. That is what ultimately saved the book for me. And there are definitely good messages hidden in the hijinks, and I, of course, like that. I think it can definitely bring about some good discussion as it is such a timely piece that really addresses a lot of issues without smacking you over the head with them and making you depressed. Overall - Fun! Good book club pick. 

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"The Pursuit of Other Interests: A Novel"
By Jim Kokoris

Average Rating:
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3.43 out of 5 (7 Clubie's ratings)

The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.

Reader's Guide from BookBundlz

QUESTION 1: Pursuing other interests?
Did Charlie ever actually "pursue other interests"? Is this really an appropriate title for the book? What do you think the title should be?

QUESTION 2:  Good or Bad?
Is Charlie a good guy or a bad guy? Or do either of those terms apply? How would you categorize him? How did your opinion of Charlie change while reading the book?

QUESTION 3:  Changing
p. 50 Charlie remembers that in "The Corporate Budda" it says, "bottoming out was an essential part of the natural ebb and flow of life... rather than fighting the fall... that you should endure it, then, afterward, accurately assess the damage, learn from your mistakes, and move on. The key, of course, was knowing when you'd hit bottom." How is this true for Charlie? Does Charlie really want to change his life, or is he just being forces too? Was it necessary for Charlie to bottom out to change? When do you think Charlie had hit the bottom?

QUESTION 4: Healthy Charlie
What was the significance of all of Charlie's health issues? Why did they stop being such a concern to Charlie later on?

QUESTION 5: How'd he get there?
What were the contributing factors to Charlie getting fired, almost losing his family and almost going broke?

QUESTION 6: Victim Mentality
How did Charlie's "victim mentality" hinder him from moving on?

QUESTION 7: Donna's Fault Too
p. 159 Donna confesses, "... I think I was afraid of changing and I don't think I wanted to change. I just wanted things to be the way they used to be. But everything's changed anyway." How does Donna's resistance to change help contribute to their marital problems and her general state of happiness?

QUESTION 8: Bill Morgan
Donna is very upset when her friend Bill Morgan moves away. If she was not having an affair with him, why was she so upset that he left? What was he to her? Although she had not slept with him, by not telling Charlie about him, was she having an affair?

QUESTION 9: To tell or not...
Charlie doesn't tell Donna he was fired - Donna doesn't tell Charlie she knows he was fired. What does either's omission say about each of them?

QUESTION 10: Who are you?
Charlie wonders who he is without his job? Who do you think he was without his job? How much of our identities is tied to our occupations?

QUESTION 11: Frenetic
What did being labeled as "Frenetic" do to Charlie? How does this help or hurt him going forward?

QUESTION 12: The Employment Agency
How did Charlie's experience at the employment agency help Charlie? What did he learn or gain from knowing:
The Inspirational posters?

QUESTION 13: Work is an excuse
p. 249 Ned observes, "I've always suspected that work gives you an excuse not to think. I've always thought that work is a sort of a distraction. For most of my clients, at least at the executive level, work is just a game. They rationalize that what they are doing is important. The activity, the motion, helps them to avoid certain truths, keeps them from admitting certain things to themselves... That maybe sometimes it is easier to jump on a plane or go to a meeting than it is to be at home. Sometimes work is the easier way out. Work is an excuse." What truth did Charlie find in this statement? What (if any) truth do you find in it?

QUESTION 14: The Same Job
Did Bradley have a right to be upset with Charlie that they were going after the same job?

QUESTION 15: Good from Bad
They say, "Good things come from bad." What ways does this story prove that to be correct?

QUESTION 16: What's next?
How does Charlie earn his way back into his family? What do you think is next for the family? 

Clubie Submitted Discussion Questions
Have a good question? If your a clubie add one now.

From Publishers Weekly
The gainfully employed, the underemployed and the woefully unemployed will all likely appreciate this timely novel from Kokoris (Sister North), in which he tackles the subject of joblessness the same way a job hunter might approach his day—with serious consideration and a bolstering sense of humor. After Chicago ad exec Charlie Baker gets the ax for his frenetic style (his wife just calls him crazy), 50-year-old Charlie realizes he may have already lost his family and friends. Aided by nebbishy transition consultant Ned Meyers and other colorful refugees at the outplacement center, Charlie, who had never been much of a ponderer, begins to figure out what went wrong in his life. While it's difficult for the average earner to empathize with an ill-tempered executive who banked a $400,000 salary, Kokoris creates in Charlie a citizen funny enough, a husband flawed enough and a father desperate enough that any reader might identify with his search for security and happiness, as well as a job—dream or not—that facilitates them both. (Oct.) 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

 “The Pursuit of Other Interests has the absurd hilarity of And Then We Came To The End coupled with the poignancy of Death of a Salesman. Compellingly readable. Utterly entertaining. Thought provoking. I was hooked by the first line and willingly pulled into the downward spiral of Charlie Baker’s life. He’s endearing and quirky in an embarrassingly real way. We are all Charlie, single-mindedly chasing after what we think we want, and then, when we get it, realizing we sped past the truly important things in life. Jim Kokoris absolutely nails the character of Charlie, with humor and pathos. I give it two thumbs up and five stars.”--Patricia Wood author of Lottery

Praise for The Rich Part of Life

" packed with zany Americana that you fear it might burst."--Los Angeles Times

"Impressive...a novel of character."--Newsday

"A cohesive and poignant story...Kokoris has an ear for how people talk and think."--Chicago Tribune

Praise for Sister North

"Unexpected, hilarious, and more than worth the trip."- The New York Times Book Review

"Few novelists explore, much less capture, the religious imagination with the talent Jim Kokoris invests in these pages. Sister North is an impressive achievement."- Chicago Tribune

"A compelling story of forgiveness and spiritual awakening . . . imaginative, deeply felt."- The Dallas Morning News

"A tender poignancy permeates this charmingly profound yet deviously humorous portrait of redemption and renewal."- Booklist


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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

He was doing his breathing techniques when his heart stopped again. The purpose of the exercises was to lower his heart rate, but apparently he had mastered the technique so well, he was almost killing himself. Lying on his back in his bed, nothing beating inside of him, he waited for darkness and then the revealing white light. Instead he felt something kick in, felt life rush through him, an electric, hot current. He sat up gasping for air, his hands at his throat.

"Charlie?" Donna asked. Her eyes were closed and she seemed half asleep.

He coughed a little, and sucked in another deep breath. "I’m fine," he managed to whisper, although she hadn’t asked how he was doing.

He had started the breathing exercises after returning from the agency’s annual executive retreat for emerging thought-leaders held in a resort town in the Black Forest whose name he could never pronounce. The year before, the agency had been purchased by a German media conglomerate that firmly believed in training and career development for its key people. One of the seminars was on "thought cleansing," and it was taught by a former monk who had written a book, The Corporate Buddha. The breathing exercises were a form of meditation and should ideally be performed while hooked up to an oxygen tank. Unfortunately, Donna wouldn’t let him have an oxygen tank in bed, so he limited his routine to taking very deep breaths until he almost died.

He sat on the edge of the bed for a few minutes and waited for his heartbeat to return to what he felt was a normal pace, then went downstairs to the basement to do forty-five minutes on the treadmill. He ran ten-minute miles, an easier pace than usual. He was breaking in new orthotics for his feet and wanted to take it a bit slower. He also wanted to check his voice mail, which he couldn’t do if he was running like a maniac.

While running, he reached for his headset, and carefully dialed his cell to check for messages. Surprisingly, there were only four. Three were inconsequential, but the last one was from Ursula in Berlin saying Helmut was coming to Chicago and wanted some time with him. Helmut was the chairman and founder of the media conglomerate, a complex man, both charming and abrupt, who did not suffer fools well.

Charlie considered calling her back, but decided to run another mile. He preferred to be at his desk with all his weapons handy when dealing with Berlin, not half naked on a treadmill. Besides, he had slept well, a rare occurrence, and wanted to keep going.

During his cool-down walk, he left several messages for his direct reports, reviewing the agenda for that day’s staff huddle, prioritizing action items, and making recommendations for where to order in for lunch. He preferred the more human touch of voice mails over e-mails when communicating to his team. Besides, he couldn’t use his BlackBerry while running on the treadmill. He had tried once and nearly fallen off.

After his run, he did some stomach crunches, then headed for the kitchen and breakfast: Cheerios with skim milk, topped with raisins, blueberries, flaxseed. Ten minutes later, he was upstairs in his home office checking e-mail. Not counting spam, he had only seventeen new messages, an unusually light number. He sent short responses, including one to Ursula about his schedule, then jumped into the shower, running the water as hot as possible.

Afterward, he stood dripping wet in front of the mirror, steam rising behind him, and took stock. Years ago, Charlie had the depressing revelation that it was impossible to look good naked after forty. Despite his best efforts, his body reinforced this conclusion. Though he was relieved to still have most of it, his once-black hair was more than a little sprinkled with salt. He also possessed a slight paunch, sagging shoulders, and only a hint of biceps. He comforted himself with the fact that he still looked fine with clothes on and, at fifty years old, he made a point of wearing as many clothes as possible.

While toweling off, he performed his morning mole check. He had detected a potential problem on his left shoulder (two weeks before he was pretty sure it was on his right shoulder) and had been carefully monitoring it. It was still in the pre-mole state, just a faint shadow, but he knew it was there and it worried him. Recently, a man in the creative department at the agency had been diagnosed with skin cancer on his foot and was forced to have a toe amputated. The specter of an amputation haunted Charlie, so he kept a close eye on this migrating mole. As soon as he felt the shadow was officially transitioning into something substantive, he would not hesitate; he would see a specialist.

When he finished in the bathroom, he walked over to his new humidifier and lowered his face into the rising jet of steam. The wet, moist air felt good and he took several deep, head-clearing breaths. While he had often slept with a humidifier on, he had recently become addicted to a new deluxe model, the Rain Forest Deuce, which offered twice the humidity. After only a few days, it seemed to be making a difference with his chronically aching sinuses, clearing out his cavities and generally making breathing easier. He deeply inhaled one last time, made a mental note to buy a smaller unit for business travel, then returned to the bathroom to dry his now-damp face.

When he reentered the room, he was startled to see Donna sitting up in bed, her arms folded in front of her, her eyes slightly open. Charlie could tell by the tilt of her head and the way she was breathing that she was still asleep. Throughout their marriage, she had been a turbulent sleeper. When they were younger, she frequently walked in her sleep. Once she had reached the alley behind the garage, and another time, wearing lingerie he had bought her, a neighbor’s porch. Fortunately, her nocturnal activity had decreased over the years and was now limited to her sitting up in bed, or occasionally strolling about the room.

"Donna," he said soothingly, "go back to sleep." Sometimes this worked, sometimes it didn’t.

This time it did. She gently lowered herself back down and onto her pillow.

He moved to the bed and looked down at his wife of thirty years. She was still pretty in a simple, natural way that other women probably envied, and that he probably took for granted. As he watched her sleep, her face calm, her eyes closed, he felt a sense of loss, and a sad shadow crept over him. He stood there and tried to make sense of it, but the feeling faded.

He pulled the sheet up and over her shoulder, then dressed quietly and went downstairs. As he waited for Angelo, his driver, he gazed out the window. The block was dark and quiet and still and he let the solitude wash over and hold him. He had been on the swim team in high school, a diver, and he likened this moment to standing on the board, arms at his side, while everything below him waited. He stood there wrapped in the stillness, until he heard Angelo pull up, the headlights of the town car straining against the dark. Then he picked up his briefcase and glanced down at his watch. For once, Angelo was right on time. It was four A.M.

Excerpted from The Pursuit of Other Interests by Jim Kokoris.
Copyright © 2009 by Jim Kokoris.
Published in November 2009 by St. Martin’s Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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JIM KOKORIS’s work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine, USA Weekend, Chicago Sun-Times, and Reader's Digest. He is the author of the novels The Rich Part of Life, which has been published in 15 languages and for which he won a Friends of American Writers Award for Best First Novel, and Sister North. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Jim lives with his wife and their three sons in the Chicago area.

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The Pursuit of Other Interests

April 2010’s BB Book Club Book Pick:
The Pursuit of other Interests By Jim Kokoris

Despite trying to cut back on expenses, Charlie did not skimp on his wine! (You are a good man, Charlie.) So in Charlie's honor we are raising a glass of his favorite Chardonnay and wishing him well on his job hunt and in getting his life back together. Though we DO NOT recommend having your wine with a side of Valium like Charlie did that one night!

Landmark Chardonnay

Landmark 2007 Overlook Chardonnay - White Wine
(Was $26)
This chardonnay has a very nice golden color and most of the grapes that go into making this wine hail from Sonoma, CA. The nose has a nice over ripe pear and hay action that is really pleasant and has a dense feeling - this is going to be a heavyweight. As we tasted, it was apparent this is a nice full bodied Chardonnay and not too oaky. This would be very nice on its own or with anything from chicken to many types of seafood.

Uncorking Rating:
"Very Uncorkable"
Kendall-Jackson 2007 Vintners Reserve Chardonnay - White Wine
(Was $16)
After taking a whiff of the KJ, we discovered it is less oaky and much lighter than the Landmark and exhibited characteristics of butter and sweet flowers. The taste suggested a very balanced wine with traditional tastes of green apple, peach and a touch of vanilla. This wine is a nice effort and should be enjoyed with lighter fare.

Uncorking Rating:
"Uncorkable" to "Very Uncorkable"
Veramonte Chardonnay

Veramonte 2007 Chardonnay Reserva - White Wine
(Was $10)
There is not a ton of smell with this one but we find it to be clean and crisp right up front. The taste is interesting and not in a good way...the traditional fruit hits you on the front end but there was absolutely no mid palate and the finish just falls off a cliff. We did not enjoy this wine and we ended up using it as a cooking wine for dinner that night! I would pass on this puppy!

Uncorking Rating:
Mildly Uncorkable"
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