Re-Blog: Book Review


I read this book several years ago but never reviewed it here for some reason. Like Mary, I was a MASH fan and was drawn to Alan Alda’s work, which I give a definite thumbs-up. Enjoy, and happy reading.

Book Review

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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 Bumpy Road to Assisted Living

The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living: A Daughter’s Memoir

By Mary Hiland

Copyright 2017.

 

In 2012, Mary Hiland, legally blind as a result of retinitis pigmentosa, was forced to move her 96-year-old  mother, blind, deaf, and suffering from dementia, to an assisted living facility. At the time, Mary was living in Columbus, Ohio, and her mother was miles away in Indiana.

After describing the circumstances necessitating this difficult decision, Mary explains how she, with the help of her son and daughter, orchestrated the move to a facility in Columbus, where Mary could more easily care for her mother. Although Mary wasn’t her mother’s personal caregiver, she was still responsible for her bank statements and laundry, making doctor and other appointments, and dealing with the facility staff.

She reminisces about her childhood and her relationship with her mother. She describes a trip they took through the British Isles years earlier when her mother was starting to go downhill.

Mary provides insight on what it’s like to be blind, answering many frequently asked questions by sighted people about how blind people do certain things. She tells several humorous anecdotes about mistakes she made as a result of her blindness, like the time she made chili with canned grapefruit instead of beans.

Mary describes the adjustment process her mother went through after leaving Indiana and all her friends and moving to the assisted living center in Ohio, where she lived for two and a half years before she passed. Her mother eventually made friends with other residents at the facility, even though she couldn’t remember their names. Mary describes the group activities in which she and her mother participated. She eventually started an unofficial red hat group there as an attempt to help her mother and other women at the facility become more socially involved.

Mary describes the healing power of music during this time. Her mother played the piano, and after moving to the assisted living facility, she often played for the residents. One gentleman even sang while she accompanied him. In the end, when her mother was in hospice care and could no longer play the piano, a music therapist brought a key board to her room and played and sang her favorite hymns.

Although I cared for my late husband Bill at home for six years before he passed, I could still relate to Mary’s emotions, especially her guilt. Throughout the book, she keeps saying she could have done things differently. Now that I think back on Bill’s life, I feel the same way. However, in the four years since his death, I’ve come to realize that thinking one could have done things differently doesn’t do any good now. I certainly hope Mary has come to realize this, too.

The scenes in the book where music played a role nearly moved me to tears. I was once a registered music therapist, working with nursing home residents. After Bill suffered his strokes, I couldn’t do for him, as a music therapist, what I could have done for other residents like Mary’s mother. I wish a music therapist could have been available to work with Bill on singing in order to improve his speech. During Bill’s last days, instead of me playing the guitar or holding his hand and singing his favorite songs, I wish a music therapist could have played a keyboard and sang songs while I held his hand and sang along.

This book is similar to my own memoir, My Ideal Partner, in which I explain how I met and married and then cared for Bill after he suffered his strokes until he passed away. We’ll all grow old eventually and may need to move to an assisted living facility or depend on someone to care for us in our last years. Therefore, I recommend reading both books for insights on life, aging, and disabilities.

 

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

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Review: The 10 Cent Chocolate Tub

Abbie-1

The 10-Cent Chocolate Tub

by Mike Mcgann

Copyright 2006.

 

In this collection of essays, the author talks about his life growing up in Pitsburgh, Pennsylvania, and in the suburbs as well as his experiences in the military and in musical theater and his broadcasting career. He explores such topics as parenting, radio, bullies, and disco. In one piece, he explains how he met Gene Kelly while collecting money on his paper route. A 10-cent chocolate tub is a huge ice cream cone made by Bard’s Dairy in Pittsburgh during the 1950’s when children were given only a nickel for vanilla ice cream.

Although Mike Mcgann grew up a little before my time, I enjoyed reading his stories. I almost wish I’d been alive back then. I laughed at some of his anecdotes of life in the city and in the suburbs. Having perfect pitch, I can appreciate one thing he says when talking about his musical theater experiences. “There should be a rule that if you can’t sing in tune and on key (or close to it), you can’t sing in public.” I love the title. I wouldn’t mind having one of those 10-cent chocolate tubs right now, but I guess I’ll settle for chocolate frozen yogurt from Schwann. It’s more healthful.

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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

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Review: Girl in the Dark

Abbie-1

Girl in the Dark: A Memoir of a Life Without Light

By Anna Lyndsey

Copyright 2015

 

In this memoir, the author shares her experiences with severe photo sensitivity. It started in May of 2005. While sitting in front of her computer screen in her London office, her face suddenly felt painfully hot, as if someone were blow-torching it, she says. A fan next to her computer helped but didn’t totally eliminate the problem. Weeks later, she experienced the same thing during a meeting, perhaps as a result of the fluorescent lights in the conference room.

It got to the point where even sunlight caused her pain, and she was forced to quit her job. She asked her boyfriend Pete if she could move in to his home in Hampshire with him, and he agreed. Despite her condition, he proposed to her, and she accepted. They planned a wedding but had to postpone it because she got to the point where she needed to be in darkness most of the time in order to get any relief.

She describes how she made one room of her house completely dark and spent hours on end there, listening to audio books and the radio, venturing out only for meals and sometimes having to eat in the dark room. During the summer months, the room was unbearable, but not being in the room would have been worse.

Over the years, there were times when she was able to take walks outside between dusk and dawn. She describes how she and Pete fashioned a contraption they called a puppy cage, which allowed her to travel without being exposed to light, but because of her severe sensitivity, traveling during the day was difficult. As a result, she rarely saw a doctor and could only consult with a dermatologist about her condition by phone once in a while. She tried homeopathic and other remedies, but nothing worked for long.

She and Pete were finally able to have a wedding during one of her remission periods. This gives the book a somewhat happy ending, but Anna Lyndsey will probably have this condition for the rest of her life.

I like the way she tells her story in present tense so that it reads like fiction. I was with her the whole time, feeling her pain and frustration at being confined in the dark and her joy of spending time outdoors, appreciating nature.

A couple of weeks ago, I read an article in The New Yorker about this book. The article’s author (I’ll call him Kevin.) consulted dermatology experts in the U.S. not familiar with Anna Lyndsey’s case, who said that sensitivity that severe wasn’t possible. He then questioned the validity of her story, especially since she wrote the book under a pen name and changed people and place names to protect privacy. Intrigued, I wondered if Girl in the Dark was one of those memoirs that would turn out not to be true.

As I read the book, though, it occurred to me that Kevin may not have even picked it up, although he wrote that he had a copy with him when he went to England to interview her. If he read the book, he wouldn’t have even considered asking if he could use his digital recorder during the interview because even the light from that device might have caused her pain for hours.

I can understand why Anna Lyndsey used a pen name and changed people and place names. On the rare occasions she was able to travel during the day before her condition got too bad, she wore a mask and hat to protect her face. This elicited stares and avoidance from others on trains and in other public places. It’s way too bad that people all over the world will not open their minds and hearts to others who are different.

Girl in the Dark was one of those books that helped me put my life in perspective. Caring for my late husband who was paralyzed by two strokes for seven years is nothing compared to spending days and hours on end in the dark or bearing painful consequences otherwise. I’m so thankful each day I can sit at my computer and write and not be affected by the glow from the screen or sunlight streaming through the windows.

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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

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

About Me and My Ideal Partner

In a vain attempt at shameless promotion of my new book, I recently completed a Smashwords author interview. Writers can choose from a variety of questions or make up their own. From the questions available on the site, I chose thirteen. Here they are, along with my answers.

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What is your writing process?

You can edit something till the cows come home and never get anything published so here’s what I do. I put down a story or poem without worrying about typographical errors or anything I might want to change later. Then, I go back and edit. Since my late husband was a baseball fan, I’ve adapted the three-strikes-and-you’re-out method. This means I usually read through something at least three times, making changes as I go. I read my work aloud as often as I can during this process. Even after something is published, while reading it again, I always think of something I could have changed so it has to stop somewhere.

How do you approach cover design?

Being visually impaired, if I were to design my own cover, it would look like something the cat dragged in, and I don’t even have a cat. The cover of my first book was designed by the publisher. Subsequent covers consisted of photos taken by friends. So far, all my book covers have turned out pretty well so I’ll always rely on others for this instead of trying to do it myself.

What do you read for pleasure?

I enjoy romances, memoirs, humorous books, and other fiction and nonfiction titles of general interest. I don’t particularly care for horror or fantasy. To each his own.

What is your e-reading device of choice?

Because of my visual impairment, I prefer to use a Victor Reader Stream. This is a little bit bigger than a credit card but fits easily into a pocket. It allows me to download and listen to recorded and printed books in specialized formats from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and Bookshare as well as certain types of text files. I can also enjoy podcasts, music, Internet radio, and more.

Describe your desk.

I use a three-corner desk that flanks two windows in my office. It contains my desktop magnifier, computer with keyboard and modem, a box of Kleenex and various papers, and my printer which sits on top of a station with drawers containing envelopes and other necessities.

What’s the story behind your latest book?

My Ideal Partner is a detailed account of how I met and married my late husband and then cared for him at home for six years after he suffered two strokes that paralyzed his left side.

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?

When I have a great idea for a poem or story and can get it on a computer screen, that’s the greatest joy of writing for me.

What do your fans mean to you?

My fans mean a great deal to me. If I can inspire or entertain someone, that’s great. If I can show someone he or she is not alone in the world, that’s even better. With My Ideal Partner, I hope to reach out to caregivers and let them know I’ve been in their situation and encourage them to keep on keeping on.

What are you working on next?

I’m working on a collection of short stories set in Wyoming, my home state. I got the idea after reading Ann Beattie’s The State We’re in, a collection of short stories set in her home state, Maine. One of the stories in my collection is entitled “Welcome to Wyoming” so that will probably be the title of the collection.

Who are your favorite authors?

My favorite authors are Debbie Macomber and Danielle Steel.

What inspires you to get out of bed each day?

I think of all the things I need to do, ideas for promoting my book and other projects, etc.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

I enjoy reading, listening to podcasts, and going out with friends to a restaurant, concert, or movie. I belong to a women’s singing group that practices once a week and performs occasionally.

How do you discover the eBooks you read?

I find books to read mostly by word of mouth. I follow a couple of blogs that review books regularly, and occasionally, friends recommend books they’ve enjoyed.

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You can read this interview on my author profile page. While you’re at it, you may as well buy a copy of My Ideal Partner for only $3.99. If you’re visually impaired like me and don’t use a Kindle or Nook, Smashwords offers various eBook formats that can be read on a computer or other device.

Do you have any questions about me or my new book? Please leave them in the comments field, and I’ll answer them. Happy reading.

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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

 

Books I Read This Month

It’s a Long Story: My Life by Willie Nelson. Copyright 2015.

This month, country super star Willie Nelson received a prestigious award from the Library of Congress along with Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, and Stevie Wonder. I thought it would be a good time to read his memoir.

He starts by talking about his early life growing up in Abbott, Texas, where he and his older sister Bobbi were raised by their grandparents because their parents, who were also musicians, did a lot of traveling. Willie took an interest in music at an early age. He describes how he felt after his grandfather died when he was about five or six. Soon after that, his grandmother made him sing a song at a church revival meeting. He was apparently so nervous that he picked his nose constantly before the performance, and by the time he got on the stage, blood was pouring out of his nostrils and onto his clean, white sailor suit. That earned him the nickname Booger Red.

As a teen-ager, he played in various bands that performed in bars and dance halls in the area. He curbed his grandmother’s disapproval of this by giving her the money he earned. His sister Bobbi became proficient at the piano while he played the guitar, and they often played together, even as adults.

After graduating from high school, Willie went to work trimming trees but gave up on that when he fell out of one. He then entered the Air Force in the hope of being a pilot in the Korean War but washed out a year or so later.

After returning home, he married the first of four wives, a waitress at a drive-in restaurant. She gave birth to three children, and the family traveled around Texas, California, and Oregon where Willie worked as a disc jockey and at other odd jobs and performed in various night clubs. Eventually, they settled in Nashville, Tennessee, where he got a job as a songwriter at a local music publishing house. That was when his career took off.

He then describes the next five decades of his career: what inspired him to write and record many of his songs and albums, associating with Waylon Jennings, Chris Christofferson, Johnny Cash, and others, the purchase of a myriad of properties in Tennessee, Texas, Colorado, and Hawaii, and his movie career. He describes his divorce from his first wife and his marriages to and divorces from two other wives before finally settling down with a make-up artist at one of the locations where he was filming in the 1990’s. He talks about giving up alcohol in 1971 after releasing “Whiskey River” and his continued use of marijuana. He explains how he wormed his way out of scrapes with the law as a result of his drug use and avoided many unhappy returns from the IRS by giving them all the proceeds from some of his concerts.

In the end, he talks about pot and his opinion of the music industry. He believes marijuana should be legalized and isn’t bothered by the fact that nowadays, with the use of music subscription services online, record sales are down. He never depended on royalties from the sale of his records but on the sale of tickets to his concerts. If people listen to his music on computers or smart phones, and that inspires them to hear him in person, that makes him happy.

The recording of this book I downloaded was produced by Hachette Audio. Although Willie doesn’t read the entire book in this recording, he narrates the introduction at the beginning, and at the end, there’s a recording of him singing one of his songs, “It’s a Long Story: My Life,” the same title as the memoir. To me, this isn’t as good as his other songs such as “Pauncho and Lefty,” “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before,” and all the songs from Stardust, my favorite Willie Nelson album which I still have on cassette.

On April 29th, 2015, Willie Nelson turned 82. One thing he loves to do is travel so here’s a song that illustrates this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBN86y30Ufc . Willie Nelson is still on the road.

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Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir by Linda Ronstadt. Copyright 2013.

Linda Ronstadt details her life from her birth and childhood in Tucson, Arizona, to her life as a singer in Los Angeles and New York, to her retirement. She talks about her childhood in Arizona: receiving her first pony at the age of five, her mother becoming paralyzed from the waist down, attending a parochial school, making music with her family, and how her music was influenced by her Mexican heritage and such artists as Frank Sinatra. When she decided to move to Los Angeles after graduating from high school in the 1960’s, her father presented her with his guitar and pointed out that as long as she had an instrument, she wouldn’t be hungry.

She then goes on to talk about her career over the next few decades until her last performance in 2009. She explains how her first band, The Stone Ponies, was formed and then describes how she performed with the Eagles and then a myriad of other artists including Emmie Lou Harris and Dolly Parton. She explains how her style evolved from country and rock to old standards and Mexican music.

There are a couple of things I didn’t like about the book. First of all, Linda tells her story mostly as a narrative with little dialog. Although I found her experiences fascinating, it would have been nice if she did more showing and less telling. Also, at the end of the book, she says that she lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her two children who are transitioning from being teen-agers to adulthood. I would like to have known if these children were her own or if she adopted them. If they were her own, who was their father?

The book also includes a discography that lists all the albums she recorded through the years. As a teen-ager, I listened to many of these albums on eight-track tape including Heart Like a Wheel and Prisoner in Disguise. In the 1980’s, I had a cassette recording of What’s New, her first album of old standards. Today, I still have on CD her first trio album with Dolly Parton and Emmie Lou Harris and Cansiones de Mis Padres, her first recording of Mexican songs.

My favorite Linda Ronstadt tune is “Heart Like a Wheel.” In the book, she describes how she fell in love with the song. I can see why. It touched me when I was thirteen, and today, it reminds me of my love for my late husband Bill and how I lost him. To hear it, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OABmOJdMoU .

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Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author

Order That’s Life from Finishing Line Press.

Order That’s Life from Amazon.

Vote for my new book idea.

Dedication

In a year, I hope to publish my memoir, My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds. A few weeks ago when I went to the local senior center for breakfast, I ran into Lois Bell, the community outreach director who also edits the newsletter and does other activities. A month earlier, she coordinated a fund raiser where people could purchase homemade Valentine hearts in tribute to someone they love. I bought one in honor of Bill. I meant to pick it up sooner after it was displayed in the dining room, but I forgot. On this day, she asked me if I still wanted it, and I said I did.

I hadn’t seen it before, and I was glad I didn’t look at it closely until I got home because when I saw it, tears came to my eyes. It was a red heart made of some sort of laminated paper. Pink flowers were pinned to the top corners. I’d e-mailed Lois our wedding picture which was displayed in the middle of the card. Above and below it were the words, “To Bill, my love, now, always, forever.” I can’t think of a better dedication for my memoir.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author

Order That’s Life from Finishing Line Press

Order That’s Life from Amazon.

Vote for my new book idea.