Excerpt from Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Be Frank With Me

by Julia Claiborne Johnson

Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson X
Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Feb 2016, 304 pages

    Sep 2016, 256 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

WHEN M. M. Banning called Mr. Vargas, I was sitting at my desk just outside his open office door. They talked for almost an hour. He said very little other than "uh-huh, uh-huh," "Oh, no," and "I'm so sorry, Mimi." The gist of it was that she'd been swindled of her fortune by a crooked investment adviser who'd just been thrown in jail for life that March for bilking the rich and super-rich across America. By June, she was on the brink of losing not just her house but also the copyright to her book, collateral she'd given high-end loan sharks who marketed themselves as money managers to the rich and clueless.

"They had an office on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills," she told Mr. Vargas. "They sent a car for me. They had nice office furniture. I wanted to believe they could save me." That was the thing she said that really broke his heart. "My wife's oncologist had nice office furniture, too," he told me. A few months after I came to work for him, Mr. Vargas's wife had died of pancreatic cancer. That fall, his daughter Carolyn shipped out to an expensive private university on the West Coast. On top of all that, the publishing company he'd worked for his whole career had been acquired by a media conglomerate. When he answered M. M. Banning's call Mr. Vargas said he'd half- expected Personnel, phoning to tell him he'd been downsized. Instead, a second book from M. M. Banning. Good, bad, or indifferent, it would be a best seller. His career was saved, at least for now. And to think she'd called him looking for salvation! Mimi didn't know it yet, but she'd thrown all of us a lifeline.

"So, how far along are you?" he asked. I thought Mr. Vargas was talking to somebody newly pregnant.

"I don't have a word on paper yet," he told me she answered. "But I have the beginning and the middle in my head."

M. M. Banning did have two very specific demands: a huge advance and an assistant, bankrolled by the publisher and hand-selected by Mr. Vargas because, she told him, "I'm a lousy judge of character. As you so delicately put it once."

"What happened to her could have happened to anybody," Mr. Vargas told me.

Not to me, I couldn't help thinking. Never to me. I'm too careful. Some people in my college dorm might have said boring, but they were glad to call me to come bail them out of jail so their parents wouldn't know where a night of carousing had landed them. The careless ones knew I'd be awake, sober, and studying. Boring saved their bacon more times than I could count.

Mr. Vargas scribbled out the qualifications Mimi listed for the ideal assistant:M/p>

  • No Ivy Leaguers or English majors.
  • Drives. Cooks. Tidies.
  • Computer whiz.
  • Good with kids.
  • Quiet. Discreet. Sane.
  • Before I worked for him I'd had a string of fresh-off-the-Greyhound jobs, the kind people my age go for when they're not quite ready to settle into the practical careers they may have been wise enough to train for while they were in college. I had an accounting degree but hadn't quite been able to bring myself to use it yet. I'd worked as a pet groomer, leaflet distributor, barista, sketcher of tourists in Central Park, black- shirted- to- blend- in catering staff, kindergarten assistant. When we met, I was working weekends at a computer store because my salary as a private school math teacher wouldn't cover rent and food and insurance. At the store I had to wear a piece of plastic over my heart that read HI! I'M A GENIUS! ASK ME ANYTHING! After an hour of demonstrating shortcuts for managing his flow of information, Mr. Vargas told me I deserved every exclamation point on my name tag and asked me if I'd like to come work for him. "Does this job you're offering me provide insurance and sick days?" I asked, though I had never missed a day of work in my life. It did. In those days when acquiring your own insurance was both astronomically expensive and hard to come by, a paying job that sounded glamorous and provided benefits sounded like a dream come true. The job came with insurance, sick days, and two weeks of vacation annually. Mr. Vargas didn't have to ask me twice. I took it.

    Excerpted from Be Frank With Me by Spencer Johnson. Copyright © 2016 by Spencer Johnson. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: A Mystery of Mysteries
    A Mystery of Mysteries
    by Mark Dawidziak
    Edgar Allan Poe biographers have an advantage over other writers because they don't have to come up ...
  • Book Jacket: Moonrise Over New Jessup
    Moonrise Over New Jessup
    by Jamila Minnicks
    Jamila Minnicks' debut novel Moonrise Over New Jessup received the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially...
  • Book Jacket
    The Magician's Daughter
    by H.G. Parry
    "Magic isn't there to be hoarded like dragon's treasure. Magic is kind. It comes into ...
  • Book Jacket: The Great Displacement
    The Great Displacement
    by Jake Bittle
    On August 4, 2021, California's largest single wildfire to date torched through the small mountain ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Nurse's Secret
by Amanda Skenandore
A fascinating historical novel based on the little-known story of America's first nursing school.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Last Russian Doll
    by Kristen Loesch

    A haunting epic of betrayal, revenge, and redemption following three generations of Russian women.

  • Book Jacket

    The God of Endings
    by Jacqueline Holland

    A suspenseful debut that weaves a story of love, history and myth through the eyes of one immortal woman.

Who Said...

Not doing more than the average is what keeps the average down.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!


Solve this clue:

R Peter T P P

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.