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.

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Life Among The Savages – by Shirley Jackson (1953)

Life Among The Savages

Maybe you had to read Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” in high school. Or perhaps you’ve read one of her horror novels. But what was Shirley like in real life? You can find out in this humorous biography. The book is actually a compilation of articles that she wrote for various women’s magazines such as Good Housekeeping and Woman’s Day back in the 1950’s. The stories were then put together and published as a memoir.

If you’ve ever wondered what the daily life of a housewife and mother was like back in the 50s, this book will give you a picture. I particularly laughed over the description of naughtiness in kindergarten, of recycling clothes to last through three children, and early attempts at driving a car. The description of house-hunting with her husband was also quite amusing. Her experience with going to the hospital was definitely from a different era. (Imagine getting to spend ten days in the hospital after having a baby, even though you had a perfectly normal delivery!)

This was an enjoyable audiobook to listen to as I worked. After having read several books with heavy themes recently, this book was like a breath of fresh air. If you need a book that you can laugh with, give this one a try. Check to see if your public library has it as a downloadable book through CloudLibrary or another e-book service.

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.

The Button War – by Avi (2018)

 

The Button War

Seven young boys live in a Polish village that is occupied by soldiers during World War One. All they have ever known is their tiny corner of the world. They amuse themselves by roving about in a pack and exploring the nearby forest. Jurek is their ringleader, and he dares the others to find the best soldiers’ button. The winner of the contest will be king, and the others will have to bow down to him.

There are soldiers everywhere – their own Polish soldiers, the Russian soldiers that occupy their village, and the German soldiers who come later. At first it’s fun, but as time goes on, Patryk and the other boys realize that their game is becoming quite dangerous. They want to quit, but Jurek has become obsessed with becoming the winner, and refuses to let them quit.

The story is well-written but depressing. It shows the effects of war on children who don’t fully comprehend the situation they are in. It also clearly shows how easily one child can manipulate and many others. Although the book is meant for children, its grimness makes it a poor choice for pre-teens to read.

 

“A Town Like Alice” on DVD

town 2

A week ago, I was in our local library, perusing the DVD’s when I noticed “A Town Like Alice”. I had read the book, as well as seeing the 1981 television mini-series.  At one point I had even owned the mini-series on old VHS tapes. But the picture quality was really bad. By the time we got used to the improved resolution of modern television and DVDs, it was difficult to watch the old fuzzy videocassettes. So I got rid of it.

But there it was in DVD form on the shelf of my library! Right next to it, I noticed the 1956 movie version of the book. So I checked out both and brought them home. Sadly, the tv mini-series was just as grainy as my old VHS tapes. The black-and-white 1956 movie, on the other hand, had surprisingly good picture quality. But the sound of the voices was so garbled that I had trouble understanding about half of it. I sighed and put the DVD back in its case. So both DVDs ended up going back to the library unfinished.

The moral of the story? Just read the book.

town 1

Lost In NYC: A Subway Adventure – by Nadja Spiegelman (2015)

Lost In NYC

Do you have a reluctant young reader in your family? At my local library, this book cover caught my eye. I picked it up and read it, and thoroughly enjoyed it! It’s about a 5th grade class that’s in New York City on a field trip, and two of the kids get separated from the rest of the group. It’s a scenario that could happen to young people or adults. But instead of panicking, the kids stay calm and manage to get back to the rest of their class.

What I loved about this book was the way they explained the history of the New York City subway system. There’s also a wonderfully drawn map of the subway lines inside the front cover. It made me want to experience the subways of New York – minus the part about getting lost. Check out this graphic novel for a great short read!

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.