Gone Feral -by Novella Carpenter (2014)

Gone Feral

Novella, the author, grew up in a most unusual household. Her parents were hippie lovebirds who shunned modern conveniences and grew their own food. But after having two daughters, things changed. Novella’s mother was tired of the back-to-nature lifestyle, and just wanted a normal bathroom and a washing machine. But Novella’s father, George, loved being out in nature, cutting down trees, fishing, and being away from people. One day he simply walked out of their lives and never returned. So Novella and her sister grew up knowing almost nothing about their father.

The bulk of the story is about Novella trying to find her father and build a relationship with him. This proved to be a difficult and frustrating venture, as George did not appear to want to be found. His behavior was bizarre and suggested either post-traumatic-stress disorder or some sort of psychological condition.

I loved Novella’s perseverance in seeking out her father and attempting to build a relationship. Most people would have given up. Although George never really let her get close, it was probably about as good a father-daughter relationship as they would ever have. She made the effort to love her dad, and it brought peace and forgiveness into her heart. The take-away from this book? Family is family, no matter how crazy they are!


Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In – by Louis Zamperini and David Rensin (2014)

Don't Give Up


Having read Mr. Zamperini’s thick, detailed biography “Unbroken”, I was excited to find another book about him at my local library. This book is much shorter, and is not a biography. It’s a collection of Mr. Zamperini’s reflections as he looked back over his life. He shared thoughts on how he survived many nearly impossible obstacles in life, and how to keep going when all the odds are against you.

Mr. Zamperini was 97 years old when he co-wrote the book with Mr. Rensin. Just two days after the manuscript was completed and sent off to the publisher, he passed from this life to the next. His work on earth was complete, and he left when he was finished.

On this last day of the Thanksgiving weekend, I am thankful for people like Mr. Zamperini who are willing to share their wisdom with the rest of us. He did it in such a humble way that it doesn’t come across as superior or preachy, and I look forward to meeting him someday.

On My Own At 107 – by Sarah L. Delany with Amy Hill Hearth (1997)

On My Own At 107

“On My Own at 107” is the story of Sarah “Sadie” Delany after the death of her sister Bessie. They were extraordinary women who graduated from college, and shattered the image most people had of African-American women. (Sadie actually referred to herself as “colored”, as she said her skin color was not black.)

If you have read the book “Having Our Say”, which the sisters wrote previously, you know that they were born to a father who began life as a slave in the south. He was determined that all of his children would be educated, and indeed all but one of his ten children completed college. Sadie went to Columbia University, and got a master’s degree in education there. Then she went on to teach high school in New York City, the first black teacher of domestic science in the white schools. Her sister Bessie also graduated from Columbia University, and was the second black woman to be licensed as a dentist in the state of New York.

After the sisters retired, they lived out the rest of their lives together in their Mount Vernon home. Together they wrote the memoir “Having Our Say”, both of them being over 100 years old. People loved the book, and it sold over five copies.

After Bessie’s death in 1995 at the age of 107, Sadie was alone for the first time in her life. She continued to answer letters that people wrote her, asking for life advice. Then she wrote her own book at the age of 107! In it, she mostly reminisced about life with her sister, and reflected on how good God had been to her. “On My Own At 107” is a short book, but leaves you with the thought that each one of us is put on this earth for a purpose, and each life has meaning from the first breath to the very last breath.


Michael Douglas – by Marc Eliot (2012)

Michael Douglas

I’ve been on a kick with Michael Douglas movies lately. I’ve seen: Falling Down (1993), Romancing The Stone (1984), The China Syndrome (1979), Coma (1978), The American President (1995), Don’t Say A Word (2001), The Sentinel (2006), King Of California (2007), And So It Goes (2014). I have to say that my favorites were King Of California and Falling Down, with Michael playing the part of a crazy man in both.

It seemed like good timing to read his biography now, with scenes from his movies still fresh in my head. As I read through the book, two things struck me:
1 – How extremely difficult it is to succeed in Hollywood. It takes years of hard work and patience, and even if you’re related to a successful actor, it’s no guarantee that you will also have success.
2 – How devastating being an actor can be to your family life. In Michael Douglas’ case, it caused him to constantly feel that he was competing with his dad (Kirk Douglas) as an actor. Michael’s first marriage failed because he was gone so much, and because he was living up to the Hollywood stereotype and sleeping around. He also developed an alcohol and drug problem. Michael was an absent, detached father, just as his father had been. It was no surprise that his son Cameron developed a serious drug addiction, and ended up in prison on drug charges.

The chapters that described the difficulties of making many of the movies were interesting. It makes one appreciate the movies more because of the hard work that went into them. But overall, it’s a sad book. Michael Douglas may have millions upon millions of dollars, but his family history of strained relationships, failed marriages, and addictions is nothing to envy.

Dopesick – by Beth Macy (2018)


It’s a problem that seems new, but is actually an old one – addiction to painkillers. The author goes back to trace the history of morphine, heroin and other painkillers in our society. She wrote of Civil War soldiers heavily addicted to morphine, laudanum (opium in alcohol) being given to adults as well as children, and drugstores selling heroin without a prescription. In 1920, Congress finally made it illegal to sell opiates over the counter. But these popular painkillers had gotten such a foothold that it was impossible to get rid of them.

The majority of the book focuses on the present-day, with an emphasis on heroin and Oxycontin. What is really sickening is the way the pharmaceutical company that patented Oxi pushed their pills. They lied when they said it wasn’t addictive, and gave doctors all kinds of financial rewards if they could get their patients to take it. Once people got started on it, they couldn’t stop taking it. Every time they would try to stop, they faced nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, pain in their bones, sweats, anxiety and depression. They called it “dopesick”.

The author spent much time talking with people who were addicted to Oxi and heroin, parents who had spent years trying to help their children break a drug addiction, and an imprisoned drug dealer. Their accounts were heart-breaking. After a while, I found the stories so depressing that I had to stop reading.

So now here we are – 2018 – with the government having declared a “War On Opioids”. Pretty much every state in the U.S. now only allows you to have a week or less of pain medication, some as little as five days. As terrible as the stories in this book are, it is also terrible to see ordinary people whose bodies are permanently damaged by disease or crushing accident to be unable to get relief from their lifelong injuries. They are now stigmatized when they ask for relief, and must jump through hoops to get even weak pain pills. The only winners here seem to be the pharmaceutical companies who have gotten rich by pushing one medication after another at the doctors and the general public. Given the misery of lives lost to addiction, would it have better for opioid painkillers to have never been discovered?

Animal Testing: Lifesaving Research Vs. Animal Welfare – by Lois Sepahban (2015)

animal testing

Lois Sepahban is an author who primarily writes books for elementary students about various science and history topics. They tend to be short books, often 32 pages. The books are written simply enough that almost anyone can understand them, and are a good starting point for many subjects.

This title caught my eye simply because it’s not something we think about very often. The medications, vaccines, and cosmetics we use without thinking are all available to us because they were were first tested on animals for safety. Half of the book points out the positives of using animals in lab testing, the other half of the book points out the negatives of using animals in lab testing. It leaves the reader to form their own opinion, and move on to more detailed research on the subject if they want.

After the Great Flood, which is recorded in the Bible, God told Noah that it was okay to eat meat as well as plants. “Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”  Genesis 9:3, NIV version

But holding animals captive for the purpose of running tests is a different subject, one there is not a specific answer to in the Bible. Perhaps the most thoughtful statement in the book was: “Scientists argue that animals are close enough to humans for experiments
to work. But if so, then perhaps they are close enough to humans for
animal experiments to be unethical.”

Thunder Dog – by Michael Hingson (2011)

Thunder Dog

Michael Hingson has been blind since birth, but that hasn’t keep him from doing most things. As a child, he explored the neighborhood and even rode a bike down the street. Although the school system recommended specialized education, he attended regular schools all the way from kindergarten through high school. Michael learned Braille, used a white cane, and had a seeing-eye dog, but did not consider himself to be handicapped. He attended college, married, and got a job on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center in the north tower.

Michael and his guide dog Roselle were in the office on September 11, 2001 when terrorists flew airplanes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center towers. With the building on fire and ready to collapse, Michael and Roselle headed for the stairwell, along with hundreds of others. The book toggles back and forth between escaping the burning building, and describing Michael’s unusual childhood.

I enjoyed reading about Michael’s childhood. I admired his parents for refusing to let their son feel any different from the other kids. Their attitude rubbed off on Michael, and he was able to find ways to do things without having sight. The book also showed how invaluable guide dogs are in helping those who are blind live a normal life. The story of the terrorist attack on September 11th is a sad one, but Michael and Roselle’s story brings light to a dark day.