If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to own and run a convenience store with your family, wonder no more. Author Ben Howe describes in great detail the day-to-day experiences in their little Brooklyn store. Who knew that life behind a cash register could be so entertaining?
The plot is not as important as the individual people in the book. There’s Ben, of course, the WASP (white Anglo-saxon protestant) guy whose ancestors have lived in the Boston area for hundreds of years and carried the quiet, Puritanical mindset. He works as an editor for the Paris Review magazine. Then there’s his wife Gab, born to immigrant Korean parents. Gab is a modern woman with a college degree, but also a rock-solid dedication to the Korean traditions. Throughout the book, she is torn between wanting to be the successful American woman, and wanting to demonstrate perfect devotion to her parents. Gab’s father is an enigma who skulks around the background, mysterious and silent. Gab’s mother – Kay – is a spitfire woman who ran businesses back in Korea like a pit-bull, and wants to run one again.
Ben and Gab live with her parents in order to pay off college debt and save up some money for the future. To express their appreciation for the help, Gab convinces Ben that they should buy a business for her mother to run, and that the family can run it together. Thus begins the search for an affordable store in New York City, no easy feat. They finally find a small convenience store (or deli, as they call it, because they serve hot sandwiches) and open for business.
They keep one employee from the previous owner – Dwayne. Dwayne is scary, yet endearing. He is invaluable, yet capable of undoing the business. He’s always on time and works hard, but has to do things his way. Your feelings for Dwayne can change with every chapter.
The things I loved the most about this book were: One, the characters, from the crazy customers to the unpredictable Dwayne. Two, the back-and-forth conversations between Ben and his mother-in-law Kay. She was constantly arguing with him and bossing him around. It probably wasn’t too pleasant when it was actually happening, but it certainly was funny when put down on paper! And three, the message throughout the book that family is everything, even when they drive you crazy.
This book is a snapshot into the life of a young boy growing up in a rural area in Michigan in the 1950s and 60s. The Boermans lived in a heavily Dutch community with grandparents and other relatives close by. Most people in the community were part of the Christian Reformed Church, a small denomination comprised of mostly Dutch immigrants with a shared language and heritage. Dan’s father worked hard to support his family by growing oats and corn, and raising hogs for sale. The family lived in an old farmhouse, and the children in the area attending the local two-room schoolhouse. It was not uncommon to be snowed in during the winter.
What I enjoyed about this book was the solid, everyday feel about it. The author didn’t try to paint life in the country as idyllic, nor did he portray it as tedious and boring. It was a part of his life that had a regularity and solidness about it, a childhood surrounded by love and care from his parents, grandparents, and community. If you’re looking for a biography that is heartwarming and not too long (177 pages), this is your book!
What happens when you join together a newspaper journalist who has always loved big-city life, with a veterinarian who has two daughters plus pets, and wants to leave the big city? You get a blended family living halfway between the city and the country, in a suburban house with a strange mix of animals. Brian, the journalist, is a die-hard dog guy who had an incredibly close relationship with his old dog Harry. Pam and her girls have an expanded love of animals, including a rooster named Buddy. Everyone loves Buddy – everyone but Brian. And Buddy feels the same way about Brian.
I suspect that life with a rooster is much more enjoyable to read about than to actually experience. Buddy’s habits and attempts at attention often had me laughing. But the descriptions of the messes he left everywhere created a vivid picture in my mind of a never-ending cleaning job. It takes a special kind of a family to raise and love a rooster. But in the end, Buddy brought his little suburban family closer together, and indeed left his stamp on the world.
What do you think of when someone says “homeless”? Perhaps you picture someone society sleeping off a hangover on the sidewalk. Or a guy who hasn’t bathed in weeks asking people for money. But when Melvin Trotter looked at a homeless person, he saw himself. He had been hopelessly addicted to alcohol himself, with a failing marriage. Mel wandered into the Pacific Garden Shelter in Chicago, and found a personal relationship with Jesus there. From then on, he was a changed man with a passion for every alcoholic he saw on the street. He would tell every homeless person that Jesus was the one who could forgive their sins and help them build a new life.
In 1900, the city of Grand Rapids opened their City Rescue Mission in response to the growing number of homeless men and women. Mel came up from Chicago, and started holding services there. Spiritual revival broke out, and people’s lives were changed left and right. Even people that weren’t homeless came out to hear the preacher tell them the Good News about Jesus. Mel was asked to be the director of the mission, and he accepted the challenge. Bible clubs were started for children, revivals were held, and a sewing ministry was started for impoverished women of Grand Rapids. Clothes were gathered for those in need of them, and the sewing groups added clothing for children that they had made. A daily radio Bible program reached out to the entire city. An outreach to those in the local jail was begun. The men and women that made up the core of the rescue mission took to heart the message of Jesus’ famous Sermon On The Mount. They fed the hungry, they clothed the naked, they nursed the sick, and they visited those imprisoned.
I loved the zeal and love that permeated the story in the first 79 pages of the book, which is the part that covered Mel Trotter’s life. The remaining 100 or so pages, however, were a long list of this one and that one who served as ministers or supervisors at the mission. It soon became monotonous, and I found myself skimming through it rapidly. The fire and passion of the mission while Mel was alive was never quite the same after he died. The author should have just stuck to the life of Mel and his mission work, and maybe had a list at the end of the book of other people that served in the ministry. The book would have been far better had it been shorter. Despite the lackluster second half of the book, I would still recommend this book.
When we think of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama back in the mid-50s, we naturally think of Rosa Parks. Ms. Parks was removed from a city bus and arrested after she refused to give up her seat to a white person. In doing so, she became one of the most famous people in the Civil Rights Movement.
But nine months before Ms. Parks was arrested, a teenager named Claudette Colvin also refused to give up her seat on the bus. She had been fuming about the way blacks were being treated on the bus every day, and wondered why they didn’t just speak up and refuse to take it. One day she’d had enough, and refused to budge when the driver ordered her to relinquish her seat to a white person. Claudette was dragged off the bus, handcuffed, taken to an adult jail instead of juvenile hall, and found guilty of breaking the segregation law. For her “crime” she was given a year of probation.
This book is a reminder that there were many people whose lives contributed to the ending of segregation. Some people were given a lot of credit and recognition; others were forgotten or overlooked. Claudette herself sized it up perfectly:
“When it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it. You can’t sugarcoat it. You just have to take a stand and say, This is not right.”
If you’ve read either “Hatchet” or “Brian’s Winter” by Gary Paulsen, you may have marveled over the vivid descriptions of wilderness living and survival. As a reader, I could see the story in my mind as I followed the adventures of Brian, the main character in the books. How did Mr. Paulsen write such incredible books? This autobiography reveals the answer.
In “Guts”, the author opens the window on some of his life experiences. Gary had an unstable childhood with parents that he described as drunken and neglectful. Often it was up to Gary to take care of and feed himself. By the age of twelve, when the family was living in Minnesota, he was delivering newspapers, pulling rocks out of farm fields, harvesting produce, and doing other odd jobs to support himself. He learned to be totally self-sufficient, teaching himself to hunt in the woods with both arrows and a shotgun. Much of what he learned was by trial and error. It was these experiences that formed the backbone of his novels about Brian.
It made me sad to think of the author growing up in such a fashion. No child should feel unwanted, or have to find their own supper. It would have been easy to label himself a victim, and turn to theft or other vices to support himself. But instead, Gary chose to educate himself on how to survive and provide for himself with almost no resources. He then used those experiences to write many wonderful books for young people (which are also enjoyed by adults of all ages).
If you managed to go through childhood without reading any Paulsen books, give these a try:
If you have read “90 Minutes In Heaven” by Don Piper, you will remember the horrific accident he went through, and his long, painful road back to a somewhat normal life. This book is the story re-told, from his wife Eva’s point of view.
While Don was suffering from unbearable physical pain in a body crushed by a semi, Eva was going through her own hell. She had to see her husband suffering in a hospital bed for months, and there was nothing she could do to ease his suffering. At the same time, she had to reassure their three children, keep up with her teaching job, juggle the bills, and hassle with the insurance company.
Parts of the book were very real for me, after having my son in a similar accident: the helpless feeling of sitting in a hospital room every day while he was in excruciating pain, seeing the love and care of the nursing staff, and trying to make sure the insurance covered things it was supposed to. But the thing in the book that really brought back vivid memories was Eva’s description of the fixator device, a tortuous thing that put rods through his leg and connected them to a metal frame around his leg, in an attempt to hold all the broken pieces together as new bone tissue grew (see sample picture below from wikipedia).
As Eva concluded, life can change in the blink of an eye, but Jesus will walk through those dark times with you.
photo credit: wikipedia