Tuesday, January 1, 2013

December Book Reports

I'm counting a children's book this month.  No guilt!  If I got through half of three or four books that were crap that I didn't end up finishing this year, well, I can count a children's book.  So bossy.

1. Unbreakable: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

I was emotionally wrung out by this book.  I listened to Edward Herrmann read it on my iPod (Grandpa Gilmore!).  Sometimes I would be preparing dinner, crying like a baby.  Or folding clothes, crying like a baby.  There was a lot of crying on my part.

The book is Louis Zamperini's life story.  He's a scrawny Italian-American living in California.  As a little kid, Louis is good at stealing and pick-pocketing.  His brother, Pete, trains Louis to be a runner.  Louis ends up at the 1936 Olympics as a teenager in the 1500 meter race.  Louis thought that was going to be the first of my Olympics for him - he was the youngest runner from America at those games.  He didn't medal, but he came back from last place and had the fastest final lap... ever?  I can't remember.  Louis impressed a lot of people.  His final lap was inspired by his remembering his brother Pete saying that a little pain now was worth a lifetime of glory.  I loved that!  That's true of so many hard things in life.

Louis ends up in the Air Force for World War II.  On a search and rescue mission, Louis's plane (piloted by a good friend, Phillips) crashed into the Pacific Ocean.  For something like 36 days, Louis, Phil, and one other soldier (so many names in this book!) were stranded on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean.  It made me think of Magellan's boat discovering how ENORMOUS the Pacific Ocean is.  To stay sane, Louis and Phil talk to each other almost constantly (they'd read about men who went crazy while stranded on the ocean).  They only drank when it rained.  They only ate when Louis was quick enough (pick-pocketing came in handy!) to catch birds who landed on their raft thinking the men weren't alive.  He'd then use the birds as bait for fish.  (There was fishing equipment in the life raft, but no bait.)  The third man in the raft was without hope.  They were all starving - Phil was even injured, but only the third man didn't survive.  Louis had many spiritual moments out on the water.  At one point he could hear a choir singing.  He promised God that if he survived this, he would dedicate his life to serving God.  That was before he knew what was about to happen to him. 

"Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen.  The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship could hold a man's soul in his body long past the point in which the body would have surrendered it."

Instead of being rescued, Zamperini and Phillips were captured by the Japanese and spent the next 16 months in prisoner of war camps.  It was too awful.  Louis was tormented in particular by a Japanese guard who wanted to "show" Louis that he wasn't such a big shot.  (The Japanese knew Louis from the Olympics.)  After all that time in the prisons and knowing that there was a "kill all" date looming, the Allied prisoners saw an American plane overhead.  The pilot dropped a note and a candy bar, which the prisoners shaved into 70 pieces so they could all have a taste.  That's when I had to stop listening for the day.

Louis Zamperini lives to tell his story.  He never gets back to the Olympics, but he does something even better with his life.  Since I read this book, I've often wondered what it would be like to look back and see how little experiences prepare us for life-altering events.  Being quick helped Louis survive being stranded on a life raft for more than a month.  Knowing that a little pain was worth a lifetime of glory maybe helped him survive being a prisoner of war.  Being a man of his word led Louis to survive after the war was over.  Truly, an amazing story.  (Thanks to two friends who insisted I read this book.)

 2.  Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
I bought this book at Danforth Pewter in Middlebury, Vermont, along with the 2012 Bentley Snowflake Ornament.  (Danforth makes a pewter replica of one of Bentley's snowflakes every year.)  I thought Bridget would like it.  Then I ended up getting obsessed.  Bentley figured out a way to photograph snowflakes with a camera that is also a microscope and each one is unique and breathtakingly beautiful.  We ended up reading this story over and over again.  I even bought the book of photographs Bentley published.  He was a true artist.  I'm so glad he had the patience to look at these tiny ice crystals falling from the sky and see that they are all different.  Martin's book is also a work of art. 
 3.  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
My friend, Angie, mentioned years ago that she and her brother (I think) would read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens during December.  I read it for the first time in 2005 and couldn't believe how different the experience of reading the words was versus watching the movie.  The book is kind of unnerving.  

If you haven't ever seen a version of A Christmas Carol, I won't give away the story.  :)  I highly recommend reading the book.  During December.  So... next December.  It will put you in the Christmas spirit and remind you what is within your grasp.  My favorite line that I hadn't noticed before was toward the end when Scrooge informs Bob Cratchett that he's getting a raise.  Bob wonders if Scrooge needs a "straight waistcoat" instead of a straight jacket.  Hahahaha!  That's funny to me. :)


melissa said...

Oh, how I loved Unbreakable! My favorite was at the end when he had his aha moment and realized that his life wasn't crappy because he'd been through hell, but his life was a miracle because he'd been through hell and survived. I think most of us would have chosen the former.

I love A Christmas Carol, too!

Nicole said...

I think I've been changed by Louis's "aha" moment. The key to his happiness was forgiving his tormentors. His life stopped being a nightmare the moment he forgave. Why is it so hard?! And yet, so easy.