The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

This post contains an affiliate link.

Title: The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

Premise:

This is Helen Keller’s autobiographical work covering the first 22 years of her life.  Before her teacher, Anne Sullivan, came to unlock the door to the outside world for Helen, hers was a very isolated and joyless existence.  Learning the manual alphabet opened up the wonders of the world to Helen and she went on to get a college education.  The last part of the book shows a progression of Helen’s thoughts, expressions and skill, as expressed in her letters.

My thoughts:

I finished reading this book a couple of days ago, and for some reason I’ve been struggling to record my thoughts about it.  I first read it as a kid, and I remember enjoying it back then.  Now that I’ve read it as an adult, I’ve developed a new appreciation for the book and probably come away with a bit more understanding.

Helen’s story is so encouraging and touching.  Her early years must have been steeped in frustration and confusion, but her life slowly blossomed as she learned to communicate and learn through the help of her teacher.  She must have had a remarkable mind to forge ahead through so many obstacles and to pursue her dream of going to college.

One thing which really stood out to me was that Helen got to rub shoulders with some pretty famous people.  She enjoyed the company of several famous authors, as well as regular interactions with Dr. Alexander Graham Bell.  It’s neat to hear about their interactions from her perspective.  Helen seems to have had a natural gift for winning people’s hearts with her fresh, novel way of looking at the world and expressing herself.  I’ll confess that I’m just a wee bit jealous that she got to meet Mark Twain.

Helen helped many people both during her lifetime and in succeeding generations.  Her academic achievements helped pave the way for those in the deaf and blind community who would come after.  Not only that, but through her writing, we get a glimpse into the mind of someone who has encountered great adversity and come out victorious on the other side.  That’s an encouragement to anyone who is feeling inadequate, discouraged, or overwhelmed.

I recommend The Story of My Life to teens through adults who would like to know more about this remarkable woman’s life.  It’s an enlightening read which will help you to better understand those who are deaf and blind, and the obstacles they face in everyday life.  Plus, it’s just a really interesting biography.

A favorite quote:

“Gradually I began to find that there were disadvantages to going to college.  The one I felt and still feel most is lack of time.  I used to have time to think, to reflect, my mind and I.  We would sit together of an evening and listen to the inner melodies of the spirit, which one hears only in leisure moments when the words of some loved poet touch a deep, sweet chord in the soul that until then had been silent.  But in college there is no time to commune with one’s thoughts.  One goes to college to learn, it seems, not to think.  When one enters the portals of learning, one leaves the dearest pleasures–solitude, books and imagination–outside with the whistling pines.”  (p. 72-73)

Possible Objections:

  • some outdated references to African Americans & glossed over issue of racial inequities (“crowds of laughing negroes,” etc.)

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Advertisements

City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris by Holly Tucker

City of Light

This post contains an affiliate link.

Title: City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris by Holly Tucker

Premise:

During the reign of King Louis XIV of France, a man named La Reynie was appointed as the first police chief in Paris.  La Reynie worked tirelessly to bring the city’s crime under control, installing so many street lamps that Paris came to be known as the City of Light.  The police chief also uncovered a complicated web of crime which brought to light the poison, witchcraft, and murder taking place even in the upper echelons of society.

My thoughts:

This was such an ambitious book!  Not only was it a monumental task to write, but it’s a challenge to read, as well.  It’s like trying to take five loosely associated soap operas (with all their complicated drama), and trying to form them into one cohesive story.  Not easy.  I think the thing that saves the book from becoming totally unmanageable is that the subject matter is so juicy and interesting.  Even if you have to keep going back to check who the characters are and what they did, you do it because you want to understand the intricacies of this twisted tale.

While reading this book, you may doubt that it’s non-fiction because of how fantastical the events are, but rest assured that this is authentic French history at its finest!  I told my husband when I got done with the book that I was so glad that I wasn’t alive back then.  Those were some majorly messed up people!

So, the gist of the story is that La Reynie was appointed the first official police chief of Paris–a city positively drowning in crime.  The book talks about some of the general improvements and goals La Reynie had for the city, but the bulk of the story centers on a strange period of time called the Affair.  In a nutshell, it was La Reynie’s investigation into some very high profile poisonings and other crimes, and the extremely tangled web he tried to unravel.  You will be quite shocked by the lengths some of these nobles went to to get what they wanted.

I found the book highly interesting, but I’ll warn you that you need to be mentally on your toes to follow the story.  The author necessarily had to give a lot of back story and weave together many threads, and it can be difficult to follow.  There are also a few parts that might be rather uncomfortable to some readers.  Most of it is towards the end of the book when the interrogations take place.  Some of the things they described are just gross and offensive.

I recommend City of Lights, City of Poison to adults who enjoy history and are not afraid to hear all the ugly details.  Even if you’re not a history fan, this book reads like fiction, so you would probably enjoy it, too.

Possible Objections:

  • some grotesque descriptions
  • some semi-explicit sexual stuff
  • violence

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

12 Years Slave - WM

This post contains an affiliate link.

Twelve Years a Slave is the final book in my Rainbow Cover Reading Challenge!  I am so excited to give away the books from this challenge to one lucky winner–so stay tuned!

I was really looking forward to reading this book because I’ve been studying slavery and other social justice issues since I was a child.  For some reason, those difficult subjects have always fascinated me.  I had never heard of Solomon Northup, nor seen the recent movie that is based on this book.

First, you should know that this book uses old-fashioned language.  That’s just something that you’ll have to get used to.  The words may not flow off your tongue like melted butter, but you should really stick with it because of how truly fascinating the story is.

Second, you will notice that this story seems to be choked with minute details that wouldn’t really be necessary for simply telling the story.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  First, Solomon had to establish his right in representing the true state of slavery by proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that his story was undeniably true.  All of the small details in the book are facts that could be checked and corroborated.  Additionally, Solomon published this book a short time after he was rescued from captivity, hoping that by sharing his story he could educate people about the truth of slavery.  (Remember, at this time there were people who actually believed that the slave preferred his state of bondage to a life of freedom.)  As a free, educated colored man, he had a unique perspective to offer.  He had been accustomed to freedom, then that freedom was stripped from him and he was forced to endure slavery.  Twelve years later he was restored to freedom again.  Upon his return, he could give utterance to the true state of slavery in an observant, introspective, and educated manner.  He could speak to whites at the time on an equal footing (at least intellectually).  So, while the details may get tedious and seem irrelevant at times, they served a very specific purpose when the book was written.

I must say that I really enjoyed this book.  I didn’t enjoy reading about the hardships and injustices, but I appreciated learning about Solomon’s experiences.  Mainly he shares events and information about his daily life in a matter-of-fact tone.  He also shares the things he felt and what others said.  The reader is expected to arrive at their own conclusion as to whether or not slavery is a just institution.  I appreciate that Solomon appealed to the reader to take what they had read and consult their own conscience about what was fair or not.

A couple of my favorite quotes:

“They left me in the cabin, that I might rest.  Blessed be sleep!  It visiteth all alike, descending as the dews of heaven on the bond and free.  Soon it nestled to my bosom, driving away the troubles that oppressed it, and bearing me to that shadowy region, where I saw again the faces, and listened to the voices of my children, who, alas, for aught I knew in my waking hours, had fallen into the arms of that other sleep, from which they never would arouse.” (p. 94)

“‘If I was in New-England,’ returned Bass, ‘I would be just what I am here.  I would say that Slavery was an iniquity, and ought to be abolished.  I would say there was no reason nor justice in the law, or the constitution that allows one man to hold another man in bondage.  It would be hard for you to lose your property, to be sure, but it wouldn’t be half as hard as it would be to lose your liberty.  You have no more right to your freedom, in exact justice, than Uncle Abram yonder.  Talk about black skin, and black blood; why, how many slaves are there on this bayou as white as either of us?  And what difference is there in the color of the soul?  Pshaw! the whole system is as absurd as it is cruel.'” (p. 179)

Because of the subject matter and language, I would suggest this book for teens and up.

Possible Objections:

  • A lot of violence
  • Racial epithets
  • Bad language — mostly the d-word
  • Some talk of sexual exploitation

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori