Thursday Book Feature: Love the Beat Goes On

Love the Beat Goes On
by Lynda Filler
Copyright 2017

This is not about Sonny and Cher, although I thought it was when I first glimpsed the title. In this short memoir, author and photographer Lynda Filler discusses her diagnosis of cardiomyopathy in 2008 and how she miraculously recovered. She starts by detailing events leading up to her diagnosis including but not limited to her experience with online dating following several failed marriages, her move from Canada to Mexico, where she lived for several years, and her return to Canada. She then describes her symptoms and how she came to be diagnosed and told to get her affairs in order because she didn’t have long to live. She then outlines her path to healing and subsequent recovery, providing tips to others suffering from the same malady. She often claims not to be a medical expert and encourages readers to follow the advice given by their own doctors. The book includes resources.

I felt two connections with this book. First of all, my father was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy about the same time as Lynda Filler. Second, my brother and his first wife honeymooned in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, during the 1990’s, at probably about the same time Lynda Filler was living there. Although I found her description of her healing process interesting, I was, and still am, skeptical. If this book had been released in 2008 when my father was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, he might have benefited, although I doubt he would have read it.

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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
Like Me on Facebook.

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Re-Blog: Forward

On this anniversary of the horrific terrorist attacks against New York City and Washington D.C., I’m pasting below a post I wrote several years ago about Michael Hingson and his book, Thunder Dog, The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero. Since this will be the topic of discussion by my regional talking book library’s group this afternoon, I thought it would be a great time to share this remarkable story once more.

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Forward

We’ve all heard accounts of people killed or seriously injured during the events of 9/11. Here’s a remarkable story about a man and his dog who survived at Ground Zero. Michael Hingson, blind since birth, was working in his office on the seventy-eighth floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 when the first plane hit. The plane crashed into the opposite end from where he was, and as a result, the tower tipped, then righted itself. If I were in that situation, the first thing I would have done was panic, but not Michael. After shutting down his computer, he took up his guide dog Roselle’s harness and said, “Forward.” This is the universal command guide dog owners issue to order their dogs to move in that direction. Along with co-workers and others, he proceeded down seventy-eight flights of stairs amid the stench of smoke and jet fuel and exited the building. As the towers crumbled and fell, he fled in the wake of dust and debris.

In his book, Thunder Dog, The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero, Michael Hingson talks about his 9/11 experience and his life growing up in a society with low expectations of the blind. When he was born in Chicago in the 1950’s, a doctor suggested his parents send him to a home for the blind, but they refused, determining that Michael would be raised like any other child. As a kid, he rode his bike in the streets. He taught himself to detect obstacles by listening to his environment. When he was in elementary school, his family moved to a community in California where the school district suggested he be sent to a school for the blind. Again, his parents refused to have him segregated just because he couldn’t see, and eventually, the school district hired a resource teacher to help him learn braille and other skills. In high school, he acquired the first of many guide dogs and was banned from riding the school bus with his dog. His father argued his case before the school board, and when he lost, he appealed to California’s governor who intervened on Michael’s behalf. As an adult, despite many obstacles he faced in a society not set up for the blind, he managed to eventually acquire a sales job with a six-figure salary for a prestigious firm, the offices of which were located on the seventy-eighth floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center.

A year after the events of 9/11, he became a public affairs director for Guide Dogs for the Blind in California where he’d acquired his own dogs. In 2008, he formed the MichaelHingson Group to continue his career as a public speaker and consultant for organizations needing help with diversity and adaptive technology training. He still travels today, giving speeches in which he shares his own experiences and talks about blindness in general.

The book’s introduction was written by Larry King, a CNN talk show host and one of many journalists who interviewed Michael about his experience. Not only does he talk about his life in Thunder Dog, Michael also provides a wealth of information and resources about blindness. The book is available through Amazon and other online retailers. For those needing it in a more accessible format, it can be downloaded from the National Library Service’s braille and audio download site as well as from Bookshare.

After reading the book, I had an opportunity to talk to Michael Hingson when I attended a conference call meeting of a writers’ group to which I belong called Behind Our Eyes. He said that he originally wanted to call this book Forward. Instead, the publisher suggested the title Thunder Dog because of a thunderstorm that woke and frightened Michael’s dog Roselle the night before September 11th. There’s irony in the fact that a dog terrified of thunderstorms calmly guided her owner out of a burning building.

Thunder Dog isn’t just a 9/11 story. Although Michael’s experience during that time is a big part of the book, his story is about someone with a disability who faces curve balls society throws at him head on and says, “Forward.”

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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
Like Me on Facebook.

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Thursday Book Feature: Cottage by the Sea

Cottage by the Sea
by Debbie Macomber
Copyright 2018.

After losing most of her family as a result of a mud slide near Seattle, Annie retreats to the seaside village where her family rented a cottage for several summers. By a miraculus twist of fate, she is able to rent that same cottage. A physician’s assistant, she finds a job at the local clinic. In her quest for healing, she affects the lives of a shy six-foot artist with whom she falls in love, her reclusive landlady, a teen-ager with an abusive stepfather, and other characters, all needing relief from their troublesome burdens.

I’ve always enjoyed Debbie Macomber’s work, and Cottage by the Sea didn’t disappoint me, but there are a couple of things I don’t like about this and other books she has written. First of all, the author uses way too much unnecessary narrative. As I’ve said before, it’s better to show and not tell, and too much narrative bogs a story down. Another thing I don’t like is her use of adverbs. It’s always better to use a stronger verb, and in the case of dialog, what a person says should speak for itself without the adverb. Because Debbie Macomber tells such heartwarming stories that make me feel good, I’m willing to put up with these pitfalls.

That said, Cottage by the Sea was a great end-of-summer read for me. According to the author’s note at the beginning, a mud slide near Seattle actually happened several years ago. I like the way this author uses real-life events to tell a compelling story. I also appreciate her not including descriptions of sex. There are better ways to show two characters in love like kissing, hugging, hand holding, and body language. Sex scenes are unnecessary and bog a story down.

I downloaded this book from Audible, and it was hard to put down. The narrator did an excellent job portraying each character. Although one minor plot detail could have been handled differently, I found the ending very satisfying. If you don’t have time or enough money to retreat to a seaside village, I suggest you read this book instead. You’ll be refreshed.

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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
Like Me on Facebook.

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Thursday Book Feature: Splitting an Order

Splitting an Order
by Ted Kooser
Copyright 2014

The release of this author’s poetry collection coincided with his 75th birthday. Most of the poems in this collection are apparently based on observances in public places. A good example of this is the title poem, in which an elderly man is seen cutting a sandwich in half and serving one half to his aging wife. Others are about ordinary life events such as a car pulling to the side of the road and the couple in the car changing places. The book also includes a longer narrative in which the author reflects on a house where he and his wife first lived, upon learning of a murder that was committed there after they moved out.

I like Ted Kooser’s poetry because it tells a story in a manner that is straightforward and not abstract. I was fortunate several years ago to attend a writers’ conference at which he was the keynote speaker. One point he made was that a poem’s title can be used to set the scene.

This is exactly what he does with his own poems. The title tells the reader either the location of the story in the poem or what action takes place. The poem is thus written around the title.

Take, for example, “At Arby’s, at Noon.” He starts by describing a typical lunch hour in a fast food restaurant. Then, he paints a picture of a woman who is blind kissing a man with a disfigured face while life goes on around them.

For this reason, I highly recommend Ted Kooser’s work. Even if you don’t like poetry, I think you’ll appreciate the way he weaves words into stories about ordinary and not-so-ordinary events.

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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
Like Me on Facebook.

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Thursday Book Feature: Business Owners Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Business Owners Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
by Deborah Kendrick
Copyright 2000.

The title speaks for itself. This book contains articles about people with blindness or low vision who own their own businesses. A florist, a Montessori school director, and a data systems analyst are just a few of the blind or visually impaired business owners showcased here. Each article explains what drove the person to go into business and how he/she performs daily tasks associated with the occupation, describing the adaptive equipment used. There are resources at the end.

If you think a blind person can’t tie a shoelace, you should read this book. If you’re a bus driver who has ever asked a person with a white cane boarding your vehicle if she knows where she wants to go, you should read this book. You should read this book if you’ve ever sat across a desk from a prospective or current employee with low vision and said, “I can’t work with your visual impairment.”

This book was published in 2000, but although the people showcased here may no longer be in business, and the resources and equipment mentioned may be antiquated, this book offers a message that I can’t stress enough. Those of us who are blind or visually impaired are human beings just like the rest of you. I hope this author will write a second edition, featuring blind or visually impaired people in business today with up-to-date resources. It’s important that we encourage those with blindness or low vision to follow their dreams and that we make sighted people understand that blind or visually impaired people can tie their own shoelaces and more.

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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
Like Me on Facebook.

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Thursday Book Feature: The Ice House

The Ice House
by Laura Lee Smith
Copyright 2017.

Johnnie is an immigrant from Scotland, living in Florida and running an ice factory with his wife. Because of a hefty fine by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration after an accident, the factory may close. Johnnie’s son’s drug addiction has strained their relationship to the breaking point. Then Johnnie discovers he has a brain tumor. Against the wishes of his wife and doctor, he travels to Scotland with a young neighbor in an attempt to mend fences with his son.

Because this book is character-driven, it has way too much narration. In the beginning, I could tolerate it, but as the plot developed, it interfered with the action and drove me nuts. The ending could have been different, and the last chapter gave the book an unnecessary aura of sadness.

If The Ice House still appeals to you, I hope you enjoy it. As for me, reading a book shouldn’t be frustrating, and I prefer an ending that makes me feel good. I doubt I’ll read any more of this author’s work.

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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
Like Me on Facebook.

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Thursday Book Feature: Memoir Depicts Life on the Range

The Secret Life of Cowboys
by Tom Groneberg
Copyright 2007

This is the story of a want-to-be cowboy who decided to go west after graduating from college. He started in Breckenridge, Colorado, where he guided tourists on horseback rides. After two years of this, he moved with his wife to Montana, where, after dropping out of an MFA program in creative writing at the University, he worked on various ranches and eventually bought his own with the financial support of his parents. After several years in the cattle business, he became burned out, and after his son was born, he sold the ranch and started writing magazine articles about the lives of cowboys and was eventually hired as a hand at a ranch near his new home.

I like the way the author tells his story as if it were a novel instead of a memoir. His vivid descriptions of branding, castrating, and vaccinating cattle as well as mending fences and bailing hay took me right there and made me glad I wasn’t a cow. I’m not a fan of stories told in the present tense, but in this case, it works.

I have a couple of connections to this book. First of all, when I was in high school, I skied with my family in Breckenridge, Colorado, where the author first started working with horses, and realized skiing wasn’t for me when I landed flat on my back. On the other hand, the author’s parents eventually settled in Sheridan, Wyoming, my home town. They may still live here. Who knows?

This book portrays the cowboy life as it is, not as romantic or adventurous as it may appear in western movies or novels. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys watching such movies or reading such books. It will open your eyes to the west as it truly is today.

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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
Like Me on Facebook.

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