Friday, November 28, 2014

Book Review: The Other Wes Moore (not dogs but 'one name, two fates' to change your life)

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, by Wes Moore (Spiegel and Grau, 2014, 233 pages, $25)

The Story

Two black boys grow up in the same West Baltimore neighborhood, each in a dysfunctional family with a difficult boyhood, and each gets into trouble with the law – repeatedly and at a young age – influenced by peers, easy money, and males each is close to.

One goes away to military school, joins the Army as an officer and deploys, graduates from Johns Hopkins University, spends a semester abroad in Africa, becomes the first black Rhodes Scholar from Hopkins, interns with the Mayor of Baltimore, spends a year working with Condoleezza Rice, and ends up married and on Wall Street, after speaking at the Democratic Convention.

The other is living a life sentence in a correctional facility in Jessup, Maryland, for his part in killing an off-duty police officer during a jewelry store robbery.

Intriguing stories, both.

I had seen this book in my local bookstore a few times and looked for it in the library but not until the author spoke at my college was I absolutely convinced I had to read this book: I got it that day. I am absolutely convinced that you have to read it, too.

Wes Moore spoke to a full auditorium at my college – his book was chosen as the book of the year, to be read and discussed (and written about) by all freshmen. But Moore spoke very little of the two lives depicted in his book (he did tell us how the title was chosen though – and at the last moment!) and he did not attempt to determine why one boy succeeded and one didn’t. Instead, Moore spoke of spiritual things, inspirational things, attempting to gently goad us to action – the last pages of the book give information on 200 organizations we can involve ourselves with, to inspire the disadvantaged youth of today.

In a Word

Fantastically fascinating story - rather, stories.  And very well written. ‘You are there.’ You become each boy.

Jumps from Moore to Moore

Moore jumps from one boy to the other throughout the book, referring to himself in the first person and to the other Wes Moore as Wes. He even meets the other Wes Moore several times in the correctional facility, attempting to piece their stories together – in parallel.

In his visit to my college, the author related how readers might mix up the two boys with the same name. He also stated that it doesn’t make much difference because their backgrounds were the same: poor and fatherless. One gets out and one doesn’t – due to a quirk of fate and a mother who almost gave up, but didn’t.

More Than Just a Good Story – the Chilling Truth

The Other Wes  Moore is a fast read, a book you can’t put down. The only drawback I noticed was skipping so much of their lives that might help the reader understand what happened. But perhaps neither Wes Moore nor the reader can understand what made one boy do one thing and the other, the other. Events were recounted in easy readable detail but then time skipped ahead a few years to the middle of another chapter in their lives.

The subtitle of The Other Wes Moore is ‘The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that mine could have been his.’ What more can I say? The interpretation of that subtitle and any action you take after reading Moore’s book is up to you.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes an inspirational movie and even if the author goes on to accomplish more great things – perhaps becoming mayor or governor or higher. Reminiscent of Montel Williams and Dr. Ben Carson who left Chicago’s Cabrini Green’s modern slum for medical school and eventually became head of Surgery at Johns Hopkins, the author Wes Moore is destined for great things. How wonderful if the other Wes Moore could have shared the same destiny.


The answer to why these two black boys from Baltimore turned out so differently lies in the future. And in you.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Book Review: Dogs Don't Look Both Ways (lab)

Dogs Don’t Look Both Ways: A Primer on Unintended Consequences, by Jane Hanser (Ivy Books, 2014, 162 pages, $12.99)

I LIKE it!

I like just about everything about Dogs Don’t Look Both Ways! I like the size, I like the title, I like the author’s first name (same as my middle name), I like the photos (very professional), I like the varying lengths of the nearly two dozen chapters, and I like the stories of Joey’s life. I like the cover: I even like Joey’s collar - Joey is so regal looking.

I really like the title! And I laughed at the photo of the Animal Control truck author Jane Hanser included on page 42! (It turns out the Animal Control Officer and Joey become fast friends!)

I like the dedication. In the words of Joey, the Labrador Retriever, the book is “dedicated to . . . the mail carriers who leave us treats every day, and the Animal Control policemen who bring us back home after we’ve escaped!”

I even like the Foreword, by Joey’s emergency veterinarian.

Will the Real Author Please Stand Up?

I know a lot of readers don’t like reading books that dogs have supposedly written. But I do. Perhaps I have only read those well-done, well-written books but I like getting into the mind of a dog to learn what makes him tick, what tickles his funny bone, how he observes us humans. What he thinks about and what he doesn’t.

Dogs is written by Joey, the chocolate lab, though his person’s name appears on the cover as the author. Dogs is so well written that I invite those skeptical dog-author dislikers to check this book out. You might just love it like I did.

At first, though, Dogs seemed a bit forced. Joey himself wrote the book but his adjectives are big enough to have come from an English teacher (like his human mom actually is): however, either I became used to the flow or Joey toned down his high-falllutin language to the vernacular so that it didn’t interfere with the flow of the stories after a few pages.

Suspenseful Beach Read

Dogs is a great beach read or plane book. I had hoped to finish it on the train from Washington, DC, to Connecticut but another part of me wanted to savor the stories. (I ended up reading it several times.)

Joey is a dog who never grew up though his command of the English language is commendable and his gift of gab is hilarious. You simply have to smile at Joey, his life, tribulations and antics all.

Have You Ever Wondered. . . . ?

Why does your dog continue to try to run away every once in a while (or constantly plot to do so) even when you scold him or shower him with kisses upon his return? Joey knows and will tell you if you listen hard enough. And he sneaks in quite a bit of information about Labrador Retrievers and dogs in general. I guess Joey wants a wise readership.

Joey Tells All - In Only Ten Years

Why do dogs dig? How does a lab grow up? Why does a lab want to do what his human family does? Why do dogs chew? Why do labs like sitting outside in the backyard? Why don’t dogs look both ways? What good is a dog’s nose? Do all retrievers retrieve? Do all labs love to swim?

What would you do if you were a dog and moved several hours away from your birthstate and then, quite by accident, were suddenly met by one of your litter sisters at a boarding kennel – would you recognize her, years later? Find out if Joey did.

And, of course, I love the chapters that relate the story of the title. What happens when dogs don’t look both ways and how long do the repercussions last?

Joey, the chocolate lab, will reveal all these and other secrets to you in Dogs Don’t Look Both Ways. Get it and read it over and over.