Review: Me Before You

Me Before You

By Jojo Moyes

Copyright 2012

 

In 2009, Louisa, after losing her job as a waitress in an English village, gets a job as a caregiver to Will, a young, wealthy former business executive and daredevil who became almost totally paralyzed as a result of a motorcycle accident two years earlier. At first, Will is hard to get along with, but he eventually opens up to Louisa, and they develop a special bond. She soon discovers that in six months, he will go to a clinic in Switzerland where he will end his life.

After that, Louisa tries unsuccessfully to convince Will that life is worth living. She takes him out to a horse race, concerts, and even to the wedding of his former girlfriend. After he suffers a bout with pneumonia, she spirits him to a faraway tropical island where they spend ten glorious days. She realizes she has feelings for him which complicate her life since she already has a boyfriend, Patrick, a marathon runner. Louisa breaks up with Patrick and reluctantly accepts Will’s decision.

Having been a caregiver, I could identify with Louisa’s feelings of insecurity when she first starts the job and her sense of accomplishment when she gains more confidence in her abilities to perform many of Will’s personal care tasks. My favorite scene takes place close to the beginning of the book after Will suffers from a fever not related to the pneumonia he catches later. She snuggles in bed with him and sings him a silly song, and he tells her in no uncertain terms that she’s not the best of singers. It reminded me of times when I cuddled with and sang to my late husband Bill. Of course he loved my singing. As a matter of fact, he fell in love with my voice, thank goodness.

This book gives readers a negative impression of people with disabilities. Having a terminal illness and wanting to end your life before it gets too painful is one thing, but Will had at least ten good years ahead of him. Being wealthy, he could have been a philanthropist, funding research on spinal cord injuries or the development of adaptive equipment, perhaps opening a recreation or rehabilitation center for people with disabilities.

When I was single and employed and lived in an apartment building, one of my neighbors, Pat, was a quadriplegic like Will. She depended on others for help doing almost everything, but she never let that get her down. Before the accident that left her almost totally paralyzed, she was a motorcycle cop. Naturally, she couldn’t do that anymore, but she was able to use her computer to become involved in advocacy for the disabled and edit the apartment complex’s monthly newsletter. Like Will, she had her bad days, but she always worked through them. When my work hours were cut back as a result of my own disability, she was there for me, faxing documents to my attorney and other locations and providing encouragement and support.

When I got married and moved out of the building, we lost touch. I often wonder what happened to Pat. If she has left this world, I would like to think that unlike Will, she lived the last years of her life to their fullest.

My late husband Bill is another example of courage in the face of adversity. In 2006, three months after we were married, he suffered the first of two strokes that left him partially paralyzed. Like Will and Pat, he needed help doing almost everything, and he suffered from occasional depression, but I don’t think it ever occurred to him to end his own life, even if it was possible. For six years while I cared for him, he enjoyed listening to recorded books and ball games and used his computer to do email, surf the Internet, and even bet in a football pool. He also enjoyed talking on the phone daily to friends and relatives. Thank goodness for unlimited long distance. He was happy until 2012 when his body decided it was time to go. All this is detailed in my new memoir, My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds.

As for Me Before You, I would like to have seen a more positive ending. After Louisa finds out that Will plans to take his own life, she visits the local library where she learns to use a computer. She does research and networks with quadriplegics and their caregivers.

I would like to have seen Louisa encourage Will to do the same. Perhaps Will could have met someone like Pat and realized that becoming almost totally paralyzed isn’t a death sentence. If you read this book, please take the author’s negative portrayal of a quadriplegic with a grain of salt.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

 

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Review: A Girl’s Guide to Moving On

A Girl’s Guide to Moving On

By Debbie Macomber

Copyright 2016.

 

Leanne and her daughter-in-law, Nichole, divorce their cheating husbands and move from a suburb to separate apartments in downtown Portland, Oregon. Both ex-husbands try to convince their wives to return to them, but Nichole and Leanne have had it. Nichole meets Rocco, a tow-truck driver, who pulls her car out of a ditch. Leanne meets Nicholai, a Ukrainian student in an English class she teaches at the community center. Things heat up when Leanne’s ex-husband is diagnosed with terminal cancer and Nichole’s ex-husband threatens to file for full custody of their three-year-old son, claiming that Rocco is a negative influence.

This is another of many books I’ve enjoyed from Audible. The two narrators who read alternating chapters from Leanne’s and Nichole’s points of view do an excellent job. Debbie Macomber’s reading of her introductory letter at the beginning of the book adds a nice touch.

My favorite scene was at the beginning of the book when Nichole, after finding out that her ex-husband has finally decided to sign the divorce papers, backs her car into a ditch, and Rocco, the tow-truck driver with whom she falls in love, eventually comes to her rescue. The most memorable character, I think, is Nichole’s three-year-old son, Owen. His resilience in the face of his parents’ divorce is inspiring, and his interest in tow-trucks after meeting Rocco is amusing. This book delivers a powerful, yet uplifting message about forgiveness. I recommend it to everyone and hope those in Leanne and Nichole’s situation can learn to let go of the past and move on.

Reading this book helped me put my life in perspective, especially at the end when Leanne cares for her dying ex-husband. At least my late husband Bill didn’t cheat on me so caring for him after he suffered his first stroke that confined him to a wheelchair was a no-brainer. I did this for six years, and my caregiving experiences are detailed in my new memoir, My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds, which can be purchased online from Amazon, Createspace, and Smashwords in paperback and various eBook formats.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

 

Heat Wave

It’s hot all over the country. Even in Wyoming, temperatures are climbing into the triple digits. I recently read in the newspaper that they’re predicted to be above normal for the next few months.

I’m reminded of the summer of 2012, one of the hottest on record, my husband Bill’s last year. A conversation I had with my homemaker during that time inspired me to write the following poem. I posted it here a couple of years ago, but I think it’s worth re-visiting. Click this link to hear me read it.

***

TERESA’S FORCAST

 

“It’s going to be hot forever,”

she says on a sweltering July day.

“seventy-six degrees in San Diego,

a hundred and six here. Maybe by Thanksgiving,

you’ll be able to cook your turkey indoors,

but the climate’s getting warmer.”

 

“Not in Wyoming–She’s full of it,” I tell myself.

“Take what she says with a grain of salt.”

 

As she leaves, she says,

“It’s a hundred degrees. Don’t go out.”

 

“You probably shouldn’t be out, either,” I say.

“Why don’t you stay?”

She snickers–the kitchen door slams.

***

This conversation is outlined in my new memoir, My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds. It’s now available in print and Kindle through Createspace and Amazon and in various eBook formats from Smashwords. You’ll find links to where you can order from these sources at the book’s page on my site. I recommend curling up under a ceiling fan or in front of your air conditioner with this book.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

 

My Senior Year in High School

Tis the season for class reunions, and this past weekend was my brother’s 30th. With the help of the following questionnaire posted on Facebook by the spouse of one of his classmates, I got to thinking about my senior year in high school.

***

The year was: 1979-1980

  1. Did you know your spouse? No, he was nineteen years my senior, and at that time, I think he was living in California.
  2. Did you car pool to school? No, I either walked through the park and up the board walk, or one of my parents drove me.
  3. What kind of car did you have? I didn’t have a car which was a good thing, since I was visually impaired.
  4. What kind of car do you have now? My vision hasn’t improved since high school, so I still don’t have a car.
  5. It’s Friday night… Where were you? I was either home watching television or reading a book, or out of town at a speech meet.
  6. What kind of job did you have? I wasn’t employed. It never occurred to me to find a job when I was a teen-ager.
  7. What kind of job do you have now? I’m a writer with three published books and a fourth on the way.
  8. Were you a party animal? NO! NEVER!
  9. Were you a cheerleader? No.
  10. Were you considered a jock? Definitely not!
  11. Were you in band, orchestra, or choir? I sang in the concert choir.
  12. Were you a nerd? I hope not.
  13. Did you get suspended? NEVER!
  14. Can you sing the fight song? No.
  15. Who was your favorite teacher? Natalie Wright was not only the greatest English teacher I ever had but one of my best friends, who fueled my interest in books. She went out of her way to be sure the material I needed for her classes was in an accessible format and even loaned me books on cassette she didn’t assign in class like Anna Karenina and The Time Machine. She’s now at Westview, and I visit her from time to time. She hardly remembers the material she taught, but she always knows who I am and claims I was her best student.
  16. Where did you sit for lunch? I ate in the cafeteria with a few friends. I wasn’t that popular, probably because of my visual impairment.
  17. What was your school’s full name? Sheridan High School.
  18. What was your school mascot? The Bronc.
  19. If you could go back and do it again, would you? Believe it or not, I like being in my mid 50’s, living on my own, and doing what I want. Although I have some fond memories, I wouldn’t go back.
  20. Did you have fun at Prom? Yes, Dad took me when no other boy would. I had more fun than he did.
  21. Do you still talk to your Prom date? No, my father passed away in August of 2013.
  22. Are you planning on going to your next reunion? That depends. If I hear about it and can find a ride, I’ll probably go, but I don’t think we’ve had a reunion since 2000, or at least I haven’t heard about it.
  23. Are you still in contact with people from school? No, not very many.
  24. What are/were your school’s colors? Blue and gold. ***

Now, it’s your turn. Tell me about your senior year of high school. If you have a blog, why don’t you copy and paste the above questionnaire, delete my answers, and provide your own? If not, you can still answer any or all questions in the comments field. In any case, I’d love to hear about your high school senior experiences. The longer ago you were in high school, the more fun your answers will be.

***,

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

 

 

 

Review: The Sisters Weiss

The Sisters Weiss

by Naomi Ragen

Copyright 2013.

 

In the late 1950’s and early 60’s, sisters Rose and Pearl grow up in an ultra-orthodox Jewish family in New York City. Together, they learn the Jewish culture and religion: the strict regimen of preparing and eating kosher food, the prayers and other rituals. Rose, the older of the two, takes care of Pearl, and they develop a bond.

As a child, Rose takes an interest in photography when she wins a camera as a prize for depositing a certain amount of money in a bank account. The camera is cheap, and she gives up, thinking she can never take pictures like the ones she sees in books. When she’s in high school, the father of one of her friends, who is not an orthodox Jew, loans her a book of photographs, some of them of naked women. When her parents find out, she is proclaimed a sinner and sent to live with her grandmother in another part of the city and attend a more stringent Jewish high school.

That doesn’t stop her from pursuing photography. Realizing that she can lie to her grandmother about her whereabouts, she starts taking a photography class at a local arts institute. Her parents eventually find out, and she is forced to move back home, and preparations are made to marry her off as soon as possible.

At seventeen, Rose doesn’t want to be like her mother, caring for a husband and children and having no time for her own ambition. However, she tries to abide by her parents’ wishes until she discovers that in order to marry a boy her parents have chosen, she must give up photography. The night before her wedding, she leaves her family home, never to return.

Forty years later, Rose is a successful photographer with several published books and various awards for her work. She has traveled all over the world, married twice, and had two children. When her niece, Pearl’s daughter, shows up on her doorstep, also fleeing an arranged marriage, Rose is forced to confront her past and compelled to re-connect with her family.

This was one of those books I couldn’t put down. I was fascinated and horrified to learn of the Jews’ dietary restrictions and the list of things a person couldn’t do on the Sabbath. I was amazed to discover that even in 2007, there were still orthodox Jews who led sheltered lives, providing girls with just enough education to allow them to be good and pious wives and mothers. I found the glossary of Yiddish terms interesting and helpful, although I understood most of them within the book’s context. I was disappointed in the ending, though. Without giving it away, let me just say I wish it could have been different.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

 

 

Review: The Art of Memoir

The Art of Memoir

by Mary Karr

Copyright 2015.

 

The author of Lit and other memoirs talks about the craft of writing such a book. She covers such topics as truth versus fiction, finding your voice, and how to deal with reactions of family members to what you write about them. She uses work by other authors to illustrate her points and provides an appendix of over a hundred suggested memoir titles.

I found it hard to get into this book, probably because I’ve already written a memoir, My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds, which will be coming out sometime this month. I only picked up Mary Karr’s book because a discussion of it was planned for a meeting of Behind Our Eyes, a writing group to which I belong. After slogging through two and a half chapters and skipping part of one, I decided not to finish the book. This might be more helpful to someone considering writing a memoir.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

 

 

Review: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

by Bill Bryson

Copyright 2006

 

In this travel writer’s memoir, he talks about his life growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, in the 1950’s and early 60’s. He describes what it was like to have acentric parents who worked for the local newspaper: his mother making him pee in a jar when there wasn’t time for him to run upstairs to the bathroom, his father wandering downstairs bottomless in the middle of the night to make himself an elaborate snack. He discusses going to movies and a local cafeteria and other pleasures kids enjoyed back in the day and imagining himself as the Thunderbolt Kid, obliterating bullies and others who made his life miserable.

He makes it clear that as a kid, he didn’t try very hard in school and describes, in great detail, antics he and his friends pulled. He also touches on news of the day including the building of the atom and hydrogen bombs, the campaign against communism, and the persecution of blacks. All his chapters begin with news stories, some humorous, taken from local newspapers and magazines. At the end, he talks about how Des Moines changed over the years since his childhood and what happened to his classmates and partners in crime.

I heard about this book from the Utah State Library for the Blind and Disabled, where I occasionally get recorded books on digital cartridges. They’re hosting a discussion of this book today, and when I read about it in their newsletter, it sounded like an interesting read, which it was. The recording I acquired from the Braille and Audio Reading Download site was produced by Randomhouse Audio and narrated by the author. It includes an interview with Bill Bryson after his reading of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed his narration, laughing at many of his anecdotes.

Okay, call me an old lady or goody-two-shoes, if you must, but I feel this book is a negative influence on young people. I wasn’t impressed with the fact that Bill Bryson often skipped school, though he loved to read. He acted proud of the things he did: standing by while a friend put live insects in his soup at the local cafeteria, bringing the tainted food to the attention of the manager, and gaining them free sundaes. It was funny the first time, but his friend kept doing it until he was caught, and it got old fast. Then there was the time when Bryson forged drivers’ licenses from his father’s checks and let his friend take the rap, not admitting he was the one who did it.

Almost every kid occasionally skips school and pulls a stunt, but this is ridiculous. At one point, I almost didn’t want to finish the book, but I’m glad I did. Despite the fact that he got through high school by the skin of his teeth, barely graduating at the bottom of his class, only making an effort in school to avoid being sent to Vietnam, it’s a wonder he became successful as a published author. I’m sure his high school career counselor, who once said Bryson wasn’t qualified to do much of anything, feels the same way, if she’s still alive.

By the way, my own memoir, My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds, will be coming out sometime this month. I promise there will be no boys breaking into their older brothers’ locked drawers just so they can see naked women in men’s’ magazines. I’ll let you know as soon as it’s available, so stay tuned.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems