This is the story of Shin Dong-hyuk who was born and raised in Camp 14, one of North Korea’s political prison camps. North Korea denies that the camps exit, but they are visible form satellite photos. It is estimated that there are between 150,000 to 200,000 people living in these camps and working as slaves. Shin’s uncle was said to have offended the government which caused his brother to be put in the camp. His wife was chosen for him, and later they had two boys. Shin and the other children were punished if they broke one of the rules. Shin witnesses one of his classmates beaten to death for an infraction. He never thought about escaping until he met a man named Park who had been sent to the camp for a political infraction. Park worked with Shin at a garment factory. Shin and Park talked at every opportunity that they had. Park told him about the outside world. Shin mainly wanted to escape from what Park told him about the different types of food that he could have outside of the camp. Shin was always hungry because there was never enough food. He didn’t know that he would be the only one to escape from Camp 14. The book was a difficult read sometimes because of the brutality, but it is uplifting to see Shin’s growth from being someone who had no feelings of compassion for others to one who strives to bring attention to the plight of those living in the camps.
Here’s a librarian confession: sometimes when I sit at the reference desk, people come up to me and ask me to suggest a funny book. I always say, “Well… have you read anything by David Sedaris?” Sometimes, people have already read everything of his and loved it, and then I suggest similar works. Sometimes, people never never heard of David Sedaris, and then I force them to check out Me Talk Pretty One Day. But every so often, people will say, “Oh… you know, I tried to read something by David Sedaris and I just couldn’t get into it.” I literally don’t know what to say to those people. Not thinking David Sedaris is funny does not compute to me and I have no idea what else to suggest to those people. Like, maybe they think Shakespearean tragedy is hilarious. I just have no way of knowing.
Anyway, obviously, I love David Sedaris’s writing so I knew I wanted to read Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls as soon as I could. I especially love a chance to listen to his books as audio books, because he reads them himself and there’s always a bit of extra humor in his delivery. I was also excited when I heard that the music between essays would be by Andrew Bird, one of my favorite musicians. So, I was primed to love the Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls audiobook, and it did not disappoint.
If you already enjoy Sedaris’s brand of quirky, dark, observational humor, I probably don’t need to say any more about this book. If you’ve never read anything by David Sedaris or heard any of his stories on NPR, this book is as good a place as any to start.
Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls largely consists of the darkly comic essays Sedaris is known for, describing events like shopping for taxidermied owls to give his boyfriend for Valentine’s Day (“’I really think the owl will do it for me today. It’s a Valentine’s Day present—perfect for our new place. A house, actually—no basement, and three stories tall.’ I wasn’t trying to be boastful. I just wanted him to know that I was loved, and that I lived aboveground”) or getting his first colonoscopy. The “Etc” alluded to in the book’s subtitle refers to a series of poems Sedaris wrote about dogs, as well as a set of monologues intended to be performed by high school speech teams. I saw Sedaris speak when he came to Louisville on his book tour, and he told the audience that he’d heard about high school speech students adapting his essays to perform, and he felt skeptical of their ability to condense his work, so he wrote some pieces that would already be within the time limit. Those were all particularly hilarious, and I’d love to hear them performed by high school students. (Maybe a bonus track on his next audiobook?)
(NOTE: this book overall contains adult language that parents might not feel comfortable listening to with children in the car.)
Anyway, I highly recommend this in audio form, or in print. Unless you’re one of those people who doesn’t think David Sedaris is funny, in which case… gosh, I don’t know, maybe try Macbeth?
This title is Augusten Burroughs take on the traditional “self-help” book. This book is anything but traditional with various chapters titled “How to Ride in An Elevator,” How to be Fat,” “How to Remain Unhealed,” “How to Be a Good Mental Patient,” and the chapter I found the most valuable “How to Lose Someone You Love.” In this chapter, Burroughs gives his firsthand account of losing a loved one to terminal illness and how the most unbearable situations can somehow become bearable. My favorite quote from the book “I learned that the proper way to prepare for someone’s death is being alive in the same room with them for as long as you are allowed,” is housed within this chapter. While some may find the author’s writing style blunt, raw and even offensive at times, others may find his style refreshing and to the point. I fall somewhere in the middle. If you can look past the book’s rough language and the author’s extreme disdain for the fake it until you make it philosophy of positive thinking, you may discover a message about hope and the resiliency of the human spirit.