Dazzle Ships – by Chris Barton and Victo Ngai (2017)

Dazzle Ships

What do war and art have in common? Normally, nothing. But during World War 1 – or the Great War as it was originally called – art played an important part in the war.

Great Britain was at war with Germany, and struggling to keep enough food on their tables. The reason? The supply ships that brought food and pretty much everything the British needed were being sunk by torpedos on German submarines. So the Brits came up with a clever solution – get artists to design art for their ships that would confuse the enemy. Students from the Royal Academy of the Arts were recruited to do the painting after the designs were completed. It was illusion art. The entire ship would be painted in wild pattern that made it difficult to tell which end of the ship you were looking at, and in which direction it was going. The eyes of the person looking through the German U-boat periscope could simply not figure out where to direct the torpedo.

Soon the Americans were doing the same thing to avoid having their ships sunk. Over 2,000 British and American ships were painted, and although there is no way to prove precisely how many ships and lives it saved, it doubtlessly increased the chances of a ship making it to its destination intact.

The colorful art and simple explanation of dazzle ships make for a wonderful short history lesson. It is not often that you find a war book that presents something positive and creative! Although the book is written for children, it can be enjoyed by people of almost any age.

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I’m A Stranger Here Myself – by Bill Bryson (1998)

I'm A Stranger

When you leave your native country for 20 years and then return, does it still feel like home? That is the question!

This book is actually a compilation of columns that Mr. Bryson wrote for a newspaper column, describing his re-adjustment to the United States after having lived in Great Britain for 20 years. So many things about American living now seemed absurd to him.

The tone of the book was humorous, poking fun of both the oddities of American lifestyle and of himself. There were many articles that had me laughing, as I had often had the same sentiments. I loved Bill’s reminiscing about the post office, computers that don’t work, highway diversions, immigration paperwork, voice accents, and too many cupholders in cars.

Other subjects were more serious, such as the War On Drugs and the inconvenience of modern conveniences. The book was was well-balanced, mostly silly but with a few deep moments. It was a fun book, and made a good break from heavy books and depressing news shows.

A Life That Matters – by Mary and Robert Schindler (2006)

A Life That Matters

I remember seeing this story on the news in the 1990s – the tragic battle over Terri Schiavo. Terri was a young woman who was found unresponsive on the floor of her home, rushed to the hospital and revived. She appeared to have suffered severe brain damage, and the doctors labeled her as being PVS – in a persistent vegetative state. Her husband Michael and her family waited for her to recovery, but she never did. Eventually her husband requested that her feeding tube be removed, and that she be allowed to die. Her family greatly objected, and a legal battle began that lasted for years.

Terri’s parents insisted that although she was brain-damaged, she was definitely not brain-dead or vegetative. They produced video footage of her looking at them when they spoke to her, trying to speak, etc. The feeding tube was removed then put back in many times as the case moved through courts and appeals. Eventually all the appeals ran out, the feeding tube was permanently removed, and Terri Schiavo died a week later of dehydration. Her ordeal had lasted from 1990 to 2005, fifteen years.

The story was horrifying when I saw it on the news years ago, and it was horrifying to read about so many year later. There were – and are – people who feel strongly on both sides of the issue of whether to prolong the life of a severely brain-damaged person by tube-feeding or whether to withhold the feedings and let the person die. As I read the book, I felt the most sorry for poor Terri, having so little cognitive ability but seemingly being somewhat aware of what was happening to her. She could do nothing for herself, and had to totally rely on the nursing staff and family for her care. No person or family should ever have to go through this kind of nightmare for over a decade.

I Can Only Imagine – by Bart Millard (2018)

I Can Only Imagine

You’re in your car, zipping along, listening to the radio. Then a song comes on that sends chills up and down your spine. The simple, thoughtful lyrics reach deep, and you find your eyes blurring as tears fill them. You don’t really know why there’s suddenly that giant lump in your throat and salt on your face, but it’s something about that song. The man singing is singing with such honesty that you know it’s flowing from the experiences of his own life.

The song is “I Can Only Imagine” and the songwriter/performer is Bart Millard. Where did some an incredible song come from? This memoir tells of Bart’s early childhood, his mother’s leaving them, and his father’s abuse. Many people in this environment would have been permanently scarred and cynical about life and family. But through the love of Jesus, Bart slowly began to heal. When his father was diagnosed with cancer, their relationship became one of love instead of anger and fear. All of the things – good and bad – that happened to Bart came together in this song.

The song moves me every time I hear it on the radio, but now it has even more meaning as I know the story behind the song.

Burro Genius – by Victor Villaseñor (2004)

Burro Genius

This is a masterful book in which the author describes his life as a young boy growing up in Oceanside, California with his parents. His father was a man with a fiery temper and a reputation of being a gangster, but also with an undying loyalty to his family and his heritage. His mother was beautiful and loving, and always teaching her children about Jesus and the saints. His father bought a ranch when Victor was very young, and that is where the book takes place.

Victor thought going to school would be fun when he started kindergarten. Instead, the first thing he learned in school was that he was considered inferior and stupid because of his Mexican ancestry.  Both the teacher and the other students made life miserable for him. He was teased, bullied, slapped around and beaten up, and no one seemed to care. To make matters worse, he was having a terrible time learning the alphabet and simple words.

Things were just as bad when he got to first grade, second grade, and third grade. He was forced to endure the humiliation of repeating third grade because he still was unable to read. His parents tried several different schools, but it was the same wherever he went. No reading, but a lot of bullying. It was not until Victor was an adult with children of his own that he was diagnosed with the most severe form of dyslexia.

It was hard to read of such blatant racism and prejudice. I wanted to ask what on earth was wrong with those teachers and principals, that they tolerated the abuse Victor was suffering. No child should ever have to go through what Victor went through. There was a fair amount of anger and swearing in this book, but it would have been difficult to give an accurate portrayal of Victor’s family life without the language.  There were also tender moments, when Victor’s father shared some very profound thoughts about forgiveness. Although it was a rough story with raw emotion, it was a camera into the soul of a person who has battled the devil of prejudice and racism, and won.

 

Killers Of The Flower Moon: The Osage Murders And The Birth Of The FBI – by David Grann (2017)

Killers Of The Flower Moon

The history of the native people of North America has never been a happy one. From the year they were discovered by the European settlers hundreds of years ago, and called “Indians”, their story has been a series of sad tales. They were tricked, cheated, and lied to. Since they did not have property title deeds to the land, as was customary in Europe, the invaders felt that they could simply take away the land that the Indians had been living on for generations.

At one point, the Osage Indians were moved off their land and sent to Oklahoma, an area that the white people thought was worthless. But there were rich reserves of oil in Oklahoma, and the Osages became extremely rich by the early 1900s. Then a strange thing happened – the Osages began to die. A few were outright shot and killed, while many more appeared to have been poisoned over a period of time. No one seemed to be able to figure out who was killing the Osages. The investigation went on for many years before the truth came out.

This was not an easy book to read. It’s a shameful chapter of our country’s history. Even more shameful is how it was allowed to happen for so many years. But it’s information that has long been omitted from school textbooks, and we need books like this to shed light on injustices.

The World’s Strongest Librarian – by Josh Hanagarne (2013)

World's Strongest Librarian

Many people think that the job of a librarian is easy and comfortable. After all, they just have to sit in a cushy chair behind a desk, and look up call numbers for people who come up to the desk, right? Or perhaps give book recommendations for that avid reader who is looking for a great fiction book. That mental picture couldn’t be farther from the truth, according to the author.

Josh has had a challenging life. As a young boy, he developed Tourette’s Syndrome, an uncontrollable urge to make repeated sounds, words, or motions for no reason. As he grew older, it became more and more disruptive. He describes the difficulty of trying to get through school, make friends, have a girlfriend, serve as a Mormon missionary, and find a job that he wasn’t miserable at.

There were two things about this book that I loved. First off, I loved Josh’s tenacity in fighting the tics that hindered him. A lot of people would have just given up, but not this man! Secondly, I loved the descriptions of what it was like to work at the Salt Lake City main library. At times, I was laughing so hysterically that tears came to my eyes.

I could tell you of all the unusual people Josh worked with at the library and the weird situations he found himself in, but the story is best told by the author himself. If you’re looking for a good biography that has the perfect mix of seriousness and silliness, this is a great book to read or listen to.