Category Archives: Biography

Books from the New York Times Best Seller’s List January 2014

  How Lucky You Can Be by Buster Olney

Where can you find a good book when you are looking for one?  The library has hundreds of books, but which one should you choose?  One option is to read reviews (like this one) or to wander through book lists, like the New York Times.  This will give you a good idea of what books are being read and enjoyed by others.  Our club decided to pick books from some of these lists.

​The book How Lucky You Can Be was written by Buster Olney, an ESPN announcer.  It is subtitled “The Story of Coach Don Meyer.”  Coach Meyer is the most famous coach that you never heard of… but other basketball coaches around the country know about him.  He devoted himself not only to his teams but also to teaching the art of coaching to anyone interested in the game he loved.  This is much more than a sports story.  It is the story of a dedicated man who at times neglected his family to achieve greatness in his field, passing the legendary Bobby Knight in career wins with over 903 victories, the most by any coach in history at that time.  It took a tragedy for him to express the love he had for his family — wife, children, and his players.

​ Don Meyer had been a college player at Northern Colorado and a head coach for years at David Lipscomb College and Northern State University.  His success was tremendous, but this story really begins on a lonely stretch of two-land road in South Dakota.  While leading a caravan of cars, taking his players on a team-building retreat, Meyer fell asleep at the wheel.  His car veered into an oncoming tractor-trailer truck.  The Coach was crushed, and it was feared that he would die from his injuries.  At the hospital, doctors prepared his wife because they were certain he would not make it through the surgery.  After five hours, Meyer survived but lost part of a leg, his spleen, and had numerous other injuries.  Meyer said that the accident was the best thing that could have happened to him.  He equated it with an angel providing him with a message.  The doctors found that Meyer had terminal cancer.

​ The story describes how this driven coach, who did not want to give up coaching basketball, rose to face the greatest challenge of his life.  He reassessed his life and his relationships.  His three adult children describe the changes that he under went.  Meyer now expressed himself, particularly his emotional self.  He did not hold back telling his children, his wife, or his players how much he loved them.  This tragedy actually has made their family even closer.  This is the story of a man who’s belief in God, his religion, his family, and his team— both coaches and players– gave him the strength to come back to coaching and to fight the lose of a leg and the cancer.  This would be the toughest battle of his life.

I recommend this book wholeheartedly, not only for basketball fans, as an inspirational story of a man fighting to overcome tremendous odds.  (5 of 5)

Other books from book lists rated by different club members:

Mr. Ives’ Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos

Part love story, part meditation on finding spiritual peace in the midst of crisis.  It is a beautifully written, tender and passionate story of a man trying to put his life in perspective.  (4 of 5)

  Eats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss

A funny, informative nonfiction book with excellent examples of misused punctuation. (5 of 5)

  The Hundred Year-Old Man by Jonas Jonasson

The story spans the 20th century with a character similar to Forest Gump.  (4 of 5)

 The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

Multiple story lines and strong women tell the story of World War II.  (5 of 5)

    Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

Thought provoking historic novel about women being held back by authoritive men.  (4 of 5)

     Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Published in 1932, a thought  provoking novel anticipates developments that have profoundly changed society.  (4.5 of 5)

 The Christmas Train by David Baldacci

This tale shows how we do get second chances to fulfill our deepest hopes and dreams, especially during the season of miracles.  (5 of 5)

 God is not Mad at You by Joyce Meyer

A book that explains the relationship between God and man.  (5 of 5)

     Duck the Halls by Donna Andrews

‘Tis the season to be jolly – a funny novel with a heroine who rounds up stray animals of all sorts as well as a killer.  Duck the Halls! (5 of 5)

    Nighttime is My Time by Mary Higgins Clark

A riveting novel of psychological suspense that depicts the mind of a killer. (4 of 5)

The Club Members rating these books:

Pat Gombita, Mona Herrell, Pat Kuna, Lee Ann Schrock, Julie Shultz, Bill Simmons, Deb Stewart, Barb Swanson, Linda Troll, Patti Tullis and Rae Ann Weaver

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Adult Non-Fiction, Biography, Crime, Fourth Tuesday Book Club Books, Historical, History, Humor, Inspirational, Inspirational, Murder, Mystery, Personal Insights, Religion, Sports, Sports/Entertainment

Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage

By Hazel Rowley

Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

Copyright © 2010

Franklin and Eleanor: and Extraordinary Marriage? A fascinating look behind the scenes at a political marriage, but I don’t know that I would call it “extraordinary.”

Hazel Rowley recaps the chronological history of the Roosevelt’s as a couple. She gives us glimpses into the physical and mental makeup of these two people who would change the 20th century for the better and describes who their marriage operated and how the Franklin and Eleanor felt about each other. She does all of this within its historical backdrop and context very nicely.

What this book does not do is show us how “extraordinary” their marriage was. Of course this all depends on your definition of the word “extraordinary,” as it can have a broad meaning. I personally think of extraordinary as meaning unusually excellent; however it can also mean something that is unusually strange or even having a special purpose. If you prefer that latter as your definition then by all means Franklin and Eleanor’s marriage certainly meets the criteria. If the former, my view of the word, fits your definition, then the Roosevelt’s fall far short.

The Roosevelt’s marriage was special because of the way they used their marriages to further their agenda’s. Franklin wanted to be president; he wanted the power which he felt he could use to help people and to make the nation stronger. Eleanor wanted to help people as well and she used their marriage to further her social agenda. Nothing wrong with having these ambitions I guess, but in the context of having an “unusually excellent” marriage it doesn’t fit. Franklin was a philanderer and he was flirtatious, betraying his wife to the end. Eleanor in turn was often pushy, unfeeling, and dabbled in lesbian relationships as well as relationships with younger men. While physical romances are not proven outright the emotional romances are proven, and one usually leads to the other unless health issues make that impossible. This was likely the case later in Franklin’s life. I understand that no marriage is perfect but the extraordinary marriages are built on love and affection and two people trying to grow closer to one another despite the obstacles. Franklin and Eleanor instead chose to remain married, but in essence live separate lives. The bond these two had was undeniable, but it was born out of familiarity and necessity for the furtherance of their interrelated and concurrent agendas.

All that being said “Franklin and Eleanor…” was enjoyable to read as a behind the scenes of history book. It was interesting to read what was going on in FDR’s personal life as he made his meteoric rise to political power and dealt with the issues of the nation. I just would have changed the title from “… An Extraordinary Marriage” to “A strange Marriage” or “A Marriage for a Special Purpose.”

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Filed under Adult Non-Fiction, Biography, History, Romance/Love

Tuesdays with Morrie

By Mitch Albom

Published by Doubleday

Copyright © 1997

For years I have been hearing female library patrons tell me how good “Tuesdays with Morrie” is. I resisted the urge to read it; I told myself that if that many women liked the book then it had to be a “Women’s” book. I just knew it would bore me to death. This book was published in 1997. It is now 2012, 15 years later, and I’m still hearing how good the book is. So, after all these years of ignoring people I finally broke down and read the book…

Morrie Schwartz was a child of Russian immigrants who ended up becoming a professor of sociology at Brandeis University near Boston, MA. One of his favorite pupils was Mitch Albom, who after losing contact with him for nearly 20 years decides to visit him when he finds out that Morrie is dying of Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Mitch and Morrie renew their friendship, and in turn their student/teacher relationship. Eventually Mitch decides to visit Morrie every Tuesday as they did in college, to discuss life, death, and everything that comes in between. Through this final “class” with his mentor, Mitch is able to evaluate his own life and the direction that it took, and Morrie got to enjoy his passion in life which was to enjoy the company of others and to help them as much as he could.

Anyone who reads the first page of this book knows that the ending for Morrie Schwartz is not a good one. He is going to die. Some people when faced with the inevitability of a terminal disease just give up or get bitter, others, like Morrie, decide to live and love as long as they can. While this book tells the story of Morrie’s road to death, death is not what Morrie’s focus is. The intent of Morrie’s last class is to teach Mitch (and by extension others) how to live. He said: “Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” In this small book Albom presents Morrie’s unconquerable spirit. Even in the face of certain death he has a zest for life. He squeezes every last drop purpose and feeling out of his life that he could.

“Tuesdays with Morrie” is not a “Women’s” book; it is a book for people. It is a book bent for reflection. As I read this Mitch’s narrative I found myself wanting to be Morrie. No, not the Morrie he was only weeks away from certain death, but the Morrie who had lived his life in such a way that he did not fear it. I wanted to be the Morrie who had a happy life; the one who loved to read, talk, teach, swim, walk, and even dance.

Then of course, I wished that I was Mitch. To have such a profound and loving individual to teach me and call me his friend would be so uplifting. I am actually happy to say that I do have friends like this. Maybe not as well educated and profound as Morrie, but mentors none the less, who take a positive view of life; people who love me and who motivate me to be a better person.

Whether you have such a mentor or not, read this book. There are so many lessons in it that I know, or have heard before, but sometimes we need a good quick reminder. “Tuesdays with Morrie” is just such a reminder.

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Filed under Adult Non-Fiction, Biography, Inspirational, Tragic Events

The Glass Castle

The Fourth Tuesday Book Club

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

This book is the story of Jeanette Walls’ family. The author, her two sisters, and brother grew up in a world that seems unbelievable to most of us, but the events are based on Jeanette Walls’ real life.  It is a warm, funny, and interesting tale about a family that moved from place to place—from Phoenix, Arizona, to a small coal town in West Virginia. The family’s extreme poverty existed because of the parents, who avoided the responsibilities of providing for their children. Both did, however, encourage each child to think and approach life in such a way that they had to deal with their problems. They learned how to survive.

At first, a reader might get the impression that the children were not loved. This was not true. They were deeply loved by their alcoholic father and their artistic mother, who were both more interested in an “adventure” than in providing food, shelter, or clothing for their children. Their weakness and mental illness prevented them from doing what they should have done. The brother and sisters, however, developed a strong sense of responsibility and love for their siblings.

The environment they grew up in, however, is shocking, and the book feels like it must be a fictional account. It is hard to believe that any children could have lived through these horrible conditions and survived. They not only survived, but even thrived as adult members of society.  Their story is definitely worth reading.

Key Ideas from different club members:

A truly dysfunctional family; really good book; a different family life than we know; eye opener; parts of the story are disturbing; inspirational at times; so unbelievable that it cannot be true, but it is.

The Club Members rating of this book:     4

Rating Range: 3 to 4.5

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Filed under Adult Non-Fiction, Biography, Fourth Tuesday Book Club Books, Memoir

All My Patients Kick and Bite

All My Patients Kick and Bite: More Favorite Stories from a Vet’s Practice

By Jeff Wells, D.V.M.

Published by St. Martin’s Press

Copyright © 2011

Jeff Wells is a Veterinarian living in rural Colorado. He cares for dogs and cats, but he also cares for horses, mules, llamas, sheep, and etc. In his second book of veterinary tales Wells opens a little window into what the life of a vet is like. He gets calls for help at all hours of the night, he often gets covered in odoriferous fluids, and he has to deal with people who are stupid and rude. When you read these stories though, you realize that he does it because he truly loves animals and he understands how animals bring people joy.

One of the things I love the most about this book is his choice of stories. With most animal stories the animal dies in the end (e.g. Marley and Me, Wesley the Owl, The Eighty Dollar Champion, etc.); animals have short life spans even when treated well. Wells has kindly selected humorous tales that celebrate helping animals live. We all know that you can’t save them all, but it is more uplifting and joyful to hear about the ones he does save.

“All my patients kick and bite” is an uplifting and humorous look at a vet’s life. Jeff Wells the writer is no James Herriot, of course nor is he attempting to be. Wells shares his recollections in a brief non-chronological way. While the stories taken together give a good depiction of what this vet’s life is like; read by themselves they are just as warm and amusing. I highly recommend this book to animal lovers everywhere, especially if you are thinking of becoming a veterinarian.

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Filed under Adult Non-Fiction, Biography, Humor, Memoir, Nature/Animals, The Great Outdoors, Western U.S.

The Eighty-Dollar Champion

By Elizabeth Letts

Published by Ballantine Books

Copyright © 2011

Harry De Leyer was a young Dutch immigrant. He had lived through WWII and the German occupation of his home in Holland. After the war he decided to marry and seek his fortune in America. After years of hard work he was slowly inching towards his dreams as a horse owner and trainer. With a growing family however he could not afford the fine mounts that would make wonderful show horses, but he would continue to scrape the bottom of the barrels at horse auctions looking for horses that were within his price range.

One winter day Harry was attempting to make his way from New York to Pennsylvania to attend a horse auction, but unforeseen occurrences caught up with him and he showed up too late for the auction. The only horses left had just been loaded on to the slaughter house truck. Harry asked the driver if he could look at the horses. He didn’t see anything extremely impressive, but one horse in particular stuck out to Harry for his calmness in the face of adversity and for a spark in the old gray horse’s eyes. So, Harry took him from the slaughter house to his home back in New York.

The Eighty-Dollar Champion tells the story of Harry De Leyer and his improbable star jumping horse named Snowman, who he saved from that truck. Elizabeth Letts recounts for us how this horse became a jumper, and to what heights of fame and glory he attained. It was inconceivable that a poor hard working immigrant and a horse of indeterminate lineage could break the barriers of the moneyed Aristocrats and their high priced thoroughbred mounts in show horse competitions, and yet this is just what Harry and Snowman did to become the people’s champion.

Elizabeth Letts has penned an inspirational true story of perseverance, faith, and loyalty. And while it is disappointing and sad to see how time and change catch up with all of us, it is equally uplifting to see what heights man and animal can be lifted.

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Filed under Adult Non-Fiction, Biography, History, Inspirational, Nature/Animals, Sports/Entertainment

Ethan Allen: His Life and Times

By Willard Sterne Randall

Published by W. W. Norton & Co.

Copyright © 2011

Review by A. Kendrick

Ethan Allen – it’s not just a furniture store. Ethan Allen was a founding father of the State of Vermont, and also of the United States of America. He was a war hero, a land speculator, an author, and a philosopher.

Randall provides us with a glimpse of Colonial New England and its Puritan governance in the time of Ethan and his ancestors. He adroitly points out the people and events that shaped his thinking and actions – from preachers to French philosophers, and from doctors to Indians. We are given the image of a strong and intellectual boy who, after the death of his father and thus the end of his education, quickly becomes a man, entrepreneur, and especially a leader. 

His leadership is on full display, not so much in being the leader of the unit that captured Fort Ticonderoga at the beginning of the Revolutionary war, but in his single minded desire to save the New Hampshire Grants (the state of Vermont) from the well to do New York and British Hierarchy.

Ethan Allen is also shown to us as a great thinker and writer. When we think of Revolutionary era writers we think Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Alexander Hamilton, or Thomas Jefferson. What we fail to realize is how much these men were influenced by the writing and actions of Ethan Allen. And while one might have a distaste for Allen’s writings on religion and his rejection of established religion, Randall’s portrait of a world ensconced in a twisted theology makes Ethan’s deistic, and some might say atheistic, proclamations quite understandable.

While this biography will especially be enjoyed by American Revolution Enthusiasts, I think most individuals interested in the real lives of other people will find Ethan Allen to be a fascinating study. Though shown as a man with flaws he was, to say the least, a man of vision and action who stood up for what he thought was right, and he knew how to motivate others to do so. In an era when men of principle are increasingly hard to find the story of Ethan Allen is refreshing, thought provoking, and enjoyable.

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Filed under Adult Non-Fiction, Biography, History