Memoirs of ordinary people can make great reading

  • Wednesday, December 18, 2013

I love memoirs. In general, I don’t read memoirs of famous people, though. What I like are memoirs by people who are relatively ordinary people, but who have an interesting story to tell.

Just recently I picked up a book from the “New Books” section of the library, and it ended up being one of the best memoirs I think I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot of them). It’s called “The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius.” The author, Kristine Barnett, was a young mother whose son Jacob began showing signs of autism and was diagnosed with it when he was 2 years old. His symptoms got worse and worse, and his therapists and school seemed unable to help him. The experts told Kristine that her son would probably never speak or even be able to tie his own shoes. In desperation, she eventually let her son stay home instead of going to school, and prayed that she and her husband would be able to figure out a way to help him. He seemed to only want to stare off into space and think his own thoughts most of the time.

I can’t tell you the whole amazing story here, but suffice it to say that the experts were dead wrong. The therapists and school had been focused on all the things that Jacob couldn’t do, but Kristine’s focus was to try to figure out what he could do, and encourage him. Jacob was autistic, but he was also a genius. His mom first got a glimpse of this when she took Jacob to a planetarium, and he was the only one in the audience of adults who had a clue about the answer to a somewhat obscure question about space – thanks to a giant book on astronomy that he had been looking at from Barnes & Noble.

It turns out that Jacob had been studying light and shadows and the laws of physics all on his own, with the help of that book.

It’s a tricky situation when you find out that your little kid apparently knows more about astrophysics than do most adults, and Kristine and her husband had to figure out a way to help Jacob to be challenged academically while still managing to make sure he also had a childhood. The challenges they had to overcome are extremely daunting, in many different ways, and I could not put this book down. I read it all in one night, and have been thinking about it ever since. I hope some of you will give it a try.

Here are a couple of other memoirs I like to recommend, which also involve children dealing with challenges. Josh Sundquist wrote a book called “Just Don’t Fall: How I Grew Up, Conquered Illness, and Made It Down the Mountain.” He was a 9-year-old homeschooler dreaming of his first soccer uniform when he found out that he had a rare cancer. He lost his left leg to the cancer, and had to come to grips with the fact that he would never be able to run fast enough to be a good soccer player. He then set his sights on snow skiing. He didn’t just want to ski, though; he wanted to eventually qualify to compete on the U.S. Paralympics team. It’s a memorable journey with an inspiring and funny young man.

“Twitch and Shout” is Lowell Handler’s story of his life with Tourette’s syndrome. My daughter and I were lucky enough to be in a film class some years ago with the author’s mother, and we watched his documentary of the same name.

His mother was able to tell our class first-hand about the difficulties her son faced growing up with a disability that was (and still is) poorly understood. He has many interesting and funny stories to tell in the book, and you will learn how fascinating and how infuriating neurological disorders can be.

Library programs

Family Storytime (for ages 0-5 years)

Thursday, Dec. 19, 11:30 a.m.

Kids’ Movie Day (for all ages)

Friday, Dec. 20

11 a.m. – “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (1966). Not rated; 30 minutes.

1:30 p.m. – “Elf.” Rated PG; 90 minutes.

3:30 p.m. – “The Little Mermaid.” Rated G; 82 minutes.

STAR Therapy Dogs (for all ages)

Saturday, Dec. 21 from 10:30-11:30 a.m.

Make a furry friend, and read a book with your new pal.

Porkchop Productions presents: Holly and the Snowman (for all ages)

Saturday, Dec. 21 at 1:30 p.m.

Holly the Elf finds herself with a huge dilemma when a letter arrives at the North Pole from a child – living on a tropical island – who wants a snowman for Christmas.

Movie and a “Dog” for Teens (for grades 6-12)

Saturday, Dec. 28 at 4 p.m.

Watch “The Lone Ranger” (rated PG-13, 135 minutes) and snack on a hot dog.

New Year’s Eve Movie (for all ages)

Tuesday, Dec. 31 at 2:30 p.m.

“Monsters University.” Rated G; 104 minutes.


Lua Wells can be found most days helping people at the Mount Pleasant Regional Library, 1133 Mathis Ferry Road (843-849-6161; www.ccpl.org; www.mtplibrary.blogspot.com; like us on Facebook). For more memoir recommendations, email Lua at wellsl@ccpl.org.

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