"A house without books is like a room without windows." -Horace Mann

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mr. Chartwell

by Rebecca Hunt

Sir. Winston Churchill, the famous British politician, was a brilliant and talented man.  What some do not know is that he also suffered all his life from bouts of manic depression.  He called his depression the "Black Dog."

This book takes that premise and creates a fabulously inventive, original, and witty fiction about Churchill's interaction with his "Black Dog" and also tells the story of a woman named Esther who is also dealing with her own depression.  It is a quick read and quite compelling.

When you first start, the story is a little strange and mysterious.  But it leaves you intrigued, wondering just who this "Mr. Chartwell" is, and if you are able to suspend your disbelief a bit and let the story unfold, it is a wonderful narrative.  It may sound depressing, but it is actually full of subtle humor and wonderful descriptions.  I especially loved the historical details that Hunt includes about Churchill and his family relationships, and one cannot get enough of his fabulous words. 

My mother has long suffered from depression and while hers may not be as bad as what Churchill struggled with, it has many of the same characteristics.  This book gave me a better understanding of what it must be like to live with depression constantly threatening otherwise happy days.  It is an inspiring book and gives hope to those with depression, or those who try to help others deal with it.

If you know of anyone with depression, this should be high on your reading list.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Wrinkle in Time

by Madeleine L'Engle

A classic science fantasy novel about Meg, a young girl who goes on an adventure to solve the mystery of her father's sudden disappearance.  He vanishes while working on a government project called a tesseract.  She travels with her little brother Charles,  and a friend from school named Calvin.  They also meet three old ladies who help them on their journey - Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which.

Eventually they travel to Camazotz where they find Meg's father trapped in a society which is controlled by a single mind that doesn't allow anyone to think for themselves.  To rescue their father, the children must fight against the powerful controlling mind and discover the one that cannot be controlled - love.

This is a lovely story about a family that is a little different than most (both parents are scientists and Charles is a super-genius) but who love and take care of each other.  It incorporates simple ideas of science and dimension easily, allowing even young children to understand the concept of a "wrinkle in time."  It has a little touch of romance, and fun realistic characters who are far from perfect and make decisions based on pride, flattery, and jealousy.  But ultimately it is a wonderful story of how good virtues can overrule the bad. 

This book has two others that follow it, A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet, but I found that I did not enjoy them nearly as much as this first book.  It has been some time since I read them, but it is not usually a good sign when I cannot remember a thing about them.  This book however is one that you will remember for a long time, and enjoy reading again and again.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


by Laura Hillenbrand

I cannot wait a minute longer to write about the book I just finished.  I had not planned to finish it so quickly, as there were a number of other activities going on this weekend, but I could not stop.  

Unbroken is an astounding story about Louie Zamperini who starts out life as a wild kid but ends up channeling all that pent up energy into running.  He becomes a world-class athlete and even runs in the Olympics.  But everything changes when he's drafted into WWII.  What then follows is a harrowing story of a crash-landing in the ocean and a miraculous story of survival.

One feels like this part of the story alone would be enough for one amazing story, but it continues as Louie is then taken as a POW and put through horrific experiences.  It would not do the man or the book any justice to try to even describe what happens to him, but suffice it to say it will stay with you, both in the horror and in the wonderful depths of human spirit shown.

And then at the end, it becomes a miraculous story about a man who loses his life and then finds it again and ends up being able to do what, to most of us, would seem almost incomprehensible in such circumstances.  He forgives.

As many of my friends and family know, I am pretty squeamish when it comes to things such as violence and torture (which I don't find to be a problem - perhaps more people should be less tolerant of it).  This book is definitely a hard read through some passages, but I will say that although I was horrified at the things done to the POWs, the book was written in such a way that told the truth but made it readable for me, without feeling that it would give me nightmares for weeks.  I guess I feel that the book pulls your through all those things by the sheer unbroken spirit of the main character.

I also very much appreciated the details put into the end of the book, especially in discussing the troubles that POWs and military men faced when returning from the war.  Both my grandfathers served, one in WWII and one in Korea.  One was injured by a grenade and sent home.  He still has nightmares, flashbacks, still flinches at the sound of loud explosions, cannot watch fireworks, and kicks and attacks imaginary foes in his dreams.  He is now in his 80s, but even this many years later, the things he survived haunt him.  And that was just as a soldier, not even as a POW.  I knew about some of his experiences and appreciated his great sacrifice, but I know I'll never be able to truly understand how it changed him.

However, something about this book helped me more fully realize the reality that many of these men faced and are still facing.  I thought of some of those old vets who perhaps I've seen begging or homeless and I feel a great love for them.  I am ashamed that perhaps I have judged some of these people in the past without knowing the things that they may have gone through and survived, so that I can have the freedom and comforts I so often take for granted.  I now have a brother and brother-in-law in the military and am so grateful for those who are so willing to serve, because it is not small thing.

Finally, I say again that for all the sadness contained within this story, it still gave me an ever-pervading feeling of hope throughout even the darkest moments of the narrative.  It is a great gift for an author to be able to convey that feeling in a book.  It is an even more priceless gift for a person to have this in their life, as Louie did.  I have felt it an honor to have spent the last few days in such amazing company.