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A GOOD READ: Overcoming adversity and living to write about it

There are countless people who have had to overcome incredible hardships and trials, yet they seem to emerge from their experiences stronger and wiser. Your local library has many books that deal with the topic of adversity.

There are countless people who have had to overcome incredible hardships and trials, yet they seem to emerge from their experiences stronger and wiser. Your local library has many books that deal with the topic of adversity.

When Dan Caro was two years old, he was in a gasoline explosion that left him with third-degree burns over almost 80% of his body. In The Gift of Fire: How I Made Adversity Work for Me, Caro describes his journey to adulthood. Caro explains what it is like to grow up with debilitating and disfiguring burns. His face was badly burned in the fire and he was left with no hands. In his book, Caro recounts many victories, which are small to most people but huge for him. These accomplishments include holding a fork, tossing a Frisbee and playing baseball. At 10 years old, he was the point guard for his basketball team. At age 13, Caro decides to become a drummer and he not only succeeds but excels at playing the instrument. Caro has played at some of the most famous jazz clubs in the world. Today he is a professional musician, motivational speaker and an ambassador for the Shriners of North America.

In 1980, Liz Murray was born in New York City and lived in the Bronx with her drug-addicted parents. She describes her harrowing experiences in Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard. Murray's parents spend most of their welfare money on drugs, leaving Murray and her older sister to scrounge for food. The girls sometimes must resort to eating toothpaste and lip balm. Murray goes to school unwashed, with dirty clothes and lice-infested hair, and endures the ridicule of her classmates. Her legally-blind mother leaves Murray's father to move in with a man who promises to support Murray and her sister. Murray refuses to leave her father and is eventually sent to a group home due to truancy from school. At age 15, Murray finds herself homeless with a drug-dealing boyfriend. When her boyfriend becomes abusive, Murray chooses to leave him. The AIDS-related death of her mother prompts Murray to make a plan for her future and she is accepted at an alternative high school at age 17. With the help of dedicated and caring teachers, Murray commits to earning her diploma and receives a scholarship from the New York Times and she is accepted to Harvard.

Leslie Morgan Steiner is a Harvard graduate who has worked for Fortune 500 Companies for 15 years. She has also written a bestselling book about motherhood. In her book Crazy Love, she describes the consequences of marrying a man who had not come to terms with his violent upbringing. She recounts the violence as it escalates in a two-week period: "He'd choked me, pushed me down the stairs and taken the keys out of the ignition on the highway when I was driving 60 miles per hour..." After almost three years of abuse, Steiner finds the courage to leave her husband. Steiner says her story was difficult to write but she wanted to share her experiences to "help other women who are in violent relationships and don't know how to leave, and for their families and friends, who also suffer."

Actor Jim Beaver and his wife, actress and casting director Cecily Adams, were living happily in Los Angeles. The couple had a young daughter and they were building their dream house. In August 2003, the family received two devastating diagnoses: They were told that their two-year-old daughter Maddie was autistic and Cecily was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Shortly after receiving the news, Beaver decides to write a nightly email to keep 125 friends and family updated about Cecily's condition. The collection of email correspondence has been published in Beaver's memoir, titled Life's That Way. The book is filled with raw emotion, bringing both tears and laughter, as Beaver chronicles Cecily's cancer treatment, Maddie's therapy and the aggravation of dealing with a home under construction. Through his painful journey, Beaver discovers gifts that provide him with strength, such as "the power of the written word, examination of intense love and the goodness of our fellow man."

There are also many fictional accounts about characters overcoming life's obstacles. I enjoyed reading The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty. This book deals with many difficult issues, including obesity, alcoholism and schizophrenia. Smithy Ide is a lonely 43-year-old man working in a GI Joe toy factory. He is overweight and drinks too much. His sister, Bethany, has been missing for years and she suffers from schizophrenia. One day, Smithy's parents are killed in a car accident. On the day of the funeral, Smithy finds a letter addressed to his father explaining that Smithy's sister's body has been found in Los Angeles. After the funeral, Smithy goes out to the garage to have another drink when he sees the old Raleigh bicycle he used to ride as a kid. Smithy decides to go for a ride... and he just keeps on riding. Smithy pedals from Maine to Los Angeles on a quest to claim his sister's remains. It is a difficult odyssey and the reader goes along for the ride to witness his journey of self-discovery and healing.

Memoirs and biographies about people overcoming enormous challenges in their lives fascinate me. These women and men have experienced the worst life has to offer and they end up persevering and succeeding against all odds. Their positive attitudes are astonishing.

Visit your local library, where staff can help you find these and other inspirational stories.

A Good Read is a column by Tri-City librarians that is published every Wednesday. Lori Nick is a library technician at Terry Fox Library.