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THINGS I'VE LEARNED FROM DYING

A BOOK ABOUT LIFE

Sad and inspiring reflections of what it means to live, love and die.

A memoir examining the complicated nature of death.

Although death-row defense lawyer Dow (Houston Law Center; The Autobiography of an Execution, 2011) is no stranger to the throes of death, when the Grim Reaper knocked on his own family's door, the reality of the situation hit much harder. Thoughtful and full of a pensive sadness, the author intertwines the difficulties of his work, of trying to save a model inmate destined for execution, with reflections, memories and conversations with his dying father-in-law and the painful process of watching his beloved dog, Winona, die. "Time does not heal all wounds," writes the author. "Some pain becomes part of who you are." His pain, born of a profound love for his family and pet, cascaded over into Dow's work, where the need to save a life, regardless of the crime committed, has forced him to try any measure to stay the execution. Meanwhile, his father-in-law struggled with the physical and emotional realities of suffering from a terminal disease and the desire to live life in his own way while trying to juggle the needs of a devoted wife and daughter. The final piece to the triplet of death fell into place when the elderly Winona suffered acute liver failure. The pace of the writing is slow and steady, inexorably moving toward predetermined and unavoidable conclusions. No amount of heroics on the parts of Dow to save the inmate, the doctors to save his father-in-law and friend, or the vet to help the dog can change the outcomes. Hope, love, anger, guilt and despair are some of the emotional waves the author faces head-on and presents to readers in a moving testimony to the will to live. “Our lives end before others notice,” writes Dow, “and the time that spans the distance is the inverse of the grief your loved ones will suffer when you leave them behind.”

Sad and inspiring reflections of what it means to live, love and die.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4555-7524-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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