“The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”

There are times one discovers an important book and then feels an obligation to encourage others to read it as well,  immediately and urgently. This is one of those occasions. 

As the title clearly suggests, the story follows the lives of two boys who coincidentally share the same name. They also shared the experience of  growing up in fatherless households in the same rough inner-city neighbourhood at the same time; the potential presented to them at a very young age was remarkably similar. However, the course of their lives took radically different directions. One Wes Moore would go on to become a Rhodes Scholar, a participant in the prestigious White House Fellow program, a decorated soldier from time served in Afghanistan, and a successful business professional. He is happily married and the author of this book. The other Wes Moore faced frequent arrest for a variety of drug related crimes, became a teen father to several children, and is presently serving a life sentence for murder.

In 2001, The Baltimore Sun newspaper was following the stories of the two local boys – one was the recipient of academic accolades and the other, a recipient of a life-long prison term. In reading the articles covering his accomplishments at Johns Hopkins University and his recent Rhodes Scholar designation, Wes Moore took note of the articles featuring the other Wes Moore and his arrest and subsequent sentencing for murder. The coincidence of their names and the contrast in their positions in life, despite the similarity of their beginnings, became an obsession for him that lasted several years. Finally, he took it upon himself to write a letter to the other Wes Moore. To his surprise, a letter came back from the prisoner and a correspondence ensued between the two Wes Moores.

In time, their correspondence and their life stories prompted Wes Moore to share their experiences in the form of this memoir. It is a well-written, if not unsettling, account of inner-city life. It also explores the role of family, mentors, friendship, decision-making and education in any young man’s life. The two lives are revealed to the reader but the judgement is not. Wes Moore provides you with the food for thought but not the recipe for one’s success and the other’s failure. This is refreshing and serves as a fascinating starting point for discussions. You can’t read this alone – you must have friends, book groupers and family members join you so you can share your interpretations. It is a remarkable read that will long linger in your mind. Our boys were introduced to parts of the book at school and listened to the audio book version on a long road trip – they were enthralled and I’m sure will always consider it an important influence.

 

 

A Christmas Tradition

December 18, 2010

Christmas stories are a holiday tradition I always enjoy.  While reading them is fun (of course!) these are particularly moving when heard in audio form on the radio or podcast.  Imagine baking Christmas cookies with a story being read to you or curling up with your beloveds in front of a lit Christmas tree and a warm fire all listening together.

The Gift of the Magi (above) is truly romantic and heartwarming.  A classic short story by O. Henry it tells of a newlywed couple in tight times each finding creative ways to purchase a meaningful gift for the other. In typical O. Henry fashion, there is a little twist in the tale. I was searching for a copy recently and every bookseller I asked lit up and nostalgically crooned, “Ooooo I love that story!” It may have been difficult to locate last week but about 4 store owners have now been motivated to order!

    Frederick Forsyth is primarily associated with his compelling thrillers and accounts of espionage (Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File… ) The Shepherd, a novella,  is as enthralling but has a sentimental bent to it and an element of the mysterious. It was apparently written by Forsyth as a Christmas Gift to his wife when she requested a ghost story. His gift to her, and us, tells of an RAF pilot flying home to England from Germany on Christmas Eve. He inexplicably encounters electrical difficulties in flight and just when he fears all is lost, an escort plane appears. Huge suspense is built up in a mere 123 pages or so and you will find yourself riveted. Every year CBC Radio broadcasts The Shepherd and it has become a beloved tradition to listen to for many families.

    Now this one I really do associate most with the radio reading.  A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas is classic Christmas fare. In my favourite version Thomas himself reads aloud and paints the most extraordinary images with his words and voice. “… snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely -ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas cards.”  “… Auntie Hannah, who liked port, stood in the middle of the snowbound back yard, singing like a big-bosomed thrush. I would blow up balloons to see how big they would blow up to; and, when they burst, which they all did, the Uncles jumped and rumbled...” It’s absolutely wonderful!

The countdown is on – hope you find a few moments in the busy-ness to enjoy a Christmas storytime.

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