Every now and then I come across a really special book. There’s nothing like the exhilaration of being pulled into a gifted author’s world. Usually when this happens it’s with books that are already rightfully famous. You’re not going to blow too many minds if you tell someone that you just finished To Kill a Mockingbird and it’s a masterpiece…yeah…maybe that’s why everyone has heard of it…
So it feels especially exciting to find a special book that isn’t already in the canon of Great Works. That’s how I felt reading Someone Like Me by John W. Quinn. It is one of those rare memoirs with a great story and told well- a man born with cerebral palsy, who against all odds (with the help of seemingly endless determination) hid his diagnosis to make a 20 year, highly successful career in the U.S. Navy. Honestly, the less you know going into it going in the better, so I won’t reveal much more. I will tell you that I read it in one day, and that it is among the best books I have ever read.
Early on the author writes, “I didn’t even know where to put the commas or the quotation marks when I began [writing the book].” He may well be a naturally gifted story teller, but I think a big part of how Someone Like Me came out so engaging and well crafted is that the author was an avid reader. There’s something about spending time in the company of great writers that just rubs off. Knowing where to put the commas and quatotion marks is pretty minor stuff compared to the magic of a great story. The pacing is excellent, keeping you engaged through his formative years and early struggles. He shares small details that keep you invested, and insights into family members’ emotional lives that make you care without ever getting bogged down. As we pass into adulthood he is careful to never give the reader what they have been trained to expect from a lifetime of “uplifting” stories: an easy solution. As an 80’s kid I learned that The Karate Kid won his big fight and everything was ok, The Goonies found the treasure so the neighborhood was saved, and with enough bullets John McClaine can not only take out the terrorists but also save his marriage. In Someone Like Me you see the more complicated truth: heroism doesn’t make you perfect, or fix all of life’s problems.
The author closes the book with two simple thoughts, but by following the course of his life they have become invested with the weight of truth. I can’t just help you skip to the end of the book and tell you what they are. You have to get there yourself. I promise you this- it’s worth the journey!