Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Crashing Through by Robert Kurson

I enjoy stories about people who overcome obstacles in their lives.  Stories of children born blind or deaf, of autistic children, people who become paralyzed, or recover after a stroke or a car accident, etc.  This biography of Mike May was one of these stories--blinded at age 3, he has surgery as an adult and regains his sight--but his brain doesn't "remember" HOW to see.  This was a good story and a fascinating look at how our brains process sensory input.

From Publishers Weekly

Christopher Evan Welch brings a tone of boyish wonder to the reading of Kurson's biography of Mike May, a highly successful entrepreneur, athlete, husband and father who undergoes experimental surgery to regain the vision that he lost in a chemical explosion at age three. When May chooses to pursue the risky procedure, he rejects the notion of blindness as an infirmity that requires healing. Instead, May views the restoration of sight as a new adventure to explore with the same gusto that he has demonstrated in all facets of life. Without pathos or pity, Welch vividly portrays May's challenge of processing the mental complexities of his newfound vision, including navigating the aisles of Costco and recognizing the gender of patrons at a neighborhood coffee bar. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

 Kurson's journalistic instincts are strong, and tight writing and thorough research reflect his journalist background. The profile of Mike May is generally engaging-particularly in describing the difficult transition to the sighted world and what happens when May is ripped out of his comfort zone. However, readers should know that the story of May's personal struggles takes a back seat to Kurson's lucid exploration of the brain's circuitry and fascinating details of how we can have vision without really seeing.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Somewhere Inside--One sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home by Laura and Lisa Ling

I love to read books that not only entertain me with a gripping story but educate me as well.  I love to learn new things, and the older I get, it seems the more things I notice that I'd like to learn about.  Countries, and how other people live, is one of them.  I love to read about people in other countries--their struggles, their daily lives, their government, their culture.  This book was a fascinating look at North Korea and how that government operates, while also reading like a fictional spy story.  I had trouble putting it down.  (I'm so thankful for our libraries!)

Product Description from Amazon

On March 17, 2009, Laura Ling and her colleague Euna Lee were working on a documentary about North Korean defectors who were fleeing the desperate conditions in their homeland. While filming on the Chinese–North Korean border, they were chased down by North Korean soldiers who violently apprehended them. Laura and Euna were charged with trespassing and "hostile acts," and imprisoned by Kim Jong Il's notoriously secretive Communist state. Kept totally apart, they endured months of interrogations and eventually a trial before North Korea's highest court. They were the first Americans ever to be sentenced to twelve years of hard labor in a prison camp in North Korea.
When news of the arrest reached Laura's sister, journalist Lisa Ling, she immediately began a campaign to get her sister released, one that led her from the State Department to the higher echelons of the media world and eventually to the White House.
Somewhere Inside reveals for the first time Laura's gripping account of what really happened on the river, her treatment at the hands of North Korean guards, and the deprivations and rounds of harrowing interrogations she endured. She speaks movingly about the emotional toll inflicted on her by her incarceration, including the measures she took to protect her sources and her fears that she might never see her family again.
Lisa writes about her unrelenting efforts to secure Laura and Euna's release. Offering insights into the vast media campaign spearheaded on the women's behalf, Lisa also takes us deep into the drama involving people at the highest levels of government, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, Senator John Kerry, and Governor Bill Richardson—intense discussions that entailed strategically balancing the agendas and good intentions of the various players. She also describes her role in the back-and-forth between North Korea's demands and the dramatic rescue by former President Bill Clinton.
Though they were thousands of miles apart while Laura was in captivity, the Ling sisters' relationship became a way for the reclusive North Korean government to send messages to the United States government, which helped lead to Laura and Euna's eventual release.
Told in the sisters' alternating voices, Somewhere Inside is a timely, inspiring, and page-turning tale of survival set against the canvas of international politics that goes beyond the headlines to reveal the impact on lives engulfed by forces beyond their control. But it is also a window into the unique bond these two sisters have always shared, a bond that sustained them throughout the most horrifying ordeal of their lives.

The Price of Stones--Building a School for my Village

Can one person really make a difference in the world?  The answer is a resounding "YES"!  This is the story of one such person.  I loved it.  It made me want to do a fundraiser, or hop on a plane and go help teach the orphans.  It changed me and my worldview a little bit more.

From Publishers Weekly

So many people die of AIDS in Uganda that at times bodies are stacked in city mortuaries like firewood. Moved by the plight of more than one million AIDS orphans in a nation with a population of 30 million, Kaguri, a human rights advocate returning home after studying at Columbia University, decided to build a school for children who had lost one or both parents to the syndrome. Kaguri and his American wife used their modest resources and contributions from friends and churches to open the two-classroom Nyaka AIDS Orphans School and initiate advocacy campaigns to counteract the superstitions that have stigmatized HIV/AIDS in Uganda. Anecdotes about the students, the author's family—his own brother and sister died from the disease—and his dealings with donors and corrupt officials, reveal Kaguri to be at once vulnerable and ferociously determined. Written in simple, straightforward style, the book is an affecting and accessible tribute to the difference one person can make in the world. (Jun.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Kaguri, born in Uganda in 1970, the year before Idi Amin’s ascendance to power, studied human rights at the national university, enrolled in the Human Rights Advocacy Program at Columbia, and married an American doctoral student in 1998. It is on a visit back to his native village in 2001 that Kaguri and his wife witness firsthand the devastation to families caused by the AIDS epidemic, and the huge number of orphans. They pledge to build those orphans a school, and upon their return to the U.S., they garner funds from churches, Rotary clubs, private businesses, and grants. Remarkably, they open their school with one class of 60 orphans in January, 2003. Mirroring the work of Greg Mortenson (Three Cups of Tea, 2009), Kaguri gradually expands his goals, adding not only classrooms but also water and nutrition programs, community gardens, teachers’ workshops, and eventually a second school in a neighboring village. His story is an uplifting testament to the belief that one motivated individual can accomplish much, even when others have given up before even trying. --Deborah Donovan

An Ordinary Man (Hotel Rwanda) by Paul Rusesabagina

In the spring of 1994, I was expecting Amber.  I wasn't keeping up with the news, and if I heard about Rwanda, I don't remember it.  I never watched Hotel Rwanda.  I knew enough to know it was a heartbreaking story--the kind of movie without a happy ending--the kind of movie I avoid.  So when I picked this book up, I wasn't sure I really wanted to read it.  I knew it wouldn't have a happy ending either.  BUT I decided that since it really happened, and is actually part of history, I should read it.  I'm glad I did.  While the 100 days of genocide was truly horrifying and unbelieveable, the author's childhood, education, and the history of Rwanda that he shares was fascinating.  Especially interesting is the way the political system--the people in power--used the media to stir up hatred, causing normal people to turn against their neighbors, friends, schoolmates, fellow employees--to actually slaughter them.  We need to read these types of stories in order to recognize how these things come about.  While not as many people died, I found this to be every bit as unbelieveable as the Holocaust, if not more so, because of the involvement of so many ordinary people.  Below is the review from Amazon. . .

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. For former hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, words are the most powerful weapon in the human arsenal. For good and for evil, as was the case in the spring of 1994 in Rwanda. Over 100 days, some 800,000 people were slaughtered, most hacked to death by machete. Rusesabagina, inspiration for the movie Hotel Rwanda, used his facility with words and persuasion to save 1,268 of his fellow countrymen, turning the Belgian luxury hotel under his charge into a sanctuary from madness. Through negotiation, favor, flattery and deception, Rusesabagina managed to keep his "guests" alive another day despite the homicidal gangs just beyond the fence and the world's failure to act. The humble hotel manager not only illuminates the machinery behind the genocide but delves into Rwanda's complex and colorful cultural history as well as his own childhood, the son of a Hutu father and Tutsi mother. . . .
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World

 I'm having trouble finding time to write reviews of the books I read, so I'm borrowing Amazon's review for this book.  I loved the book, and I'm not even an "animal" person.  The story was sweet, interesting, touching, funny. . . I found it hard to put down. 

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Her first thought upon hearing a strange sound coming from the book drop one frigid January morning was “this can’t be good.” In fact, for both the tiny kitten found shivering in the metal box’s corner and for Myron, director of the Spencer Public Library, the discovery was the best thing that ever happened to either of them, and to the tiny Iowa farming community beset by an unrelenting string of economic challenges. Filthy and frostbitten, the kitten was in dire need of massive doses of TLC; fortunately, the library staff, patrons, and townspeople had plenty to spare. The story of how a bedraggled orange fur ball became “Dewey Readmore Books,” an enchantingly irresistible library mascot capable of bringing international attention to a small midwestern town and melting the heart of even the most curmudgeonly visitor, is uplifting enough; but woven among the cute-cat anecdotes are Myron’s own inspirational stories of enduring welfare, the abuses of an alcoholic husband, breast cancer, and single motherhood. Myron’s beguiling, poignant, and tender tale of survival, loyalty, and love is an unforgettable study in the mysterious and wondrous ways animals, and libraries, enrich humanity. --Carol Haggas --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.