Five Best Books on Second Chances

From a Wall Street Journal story by Lindsey Jacobellis headlined “Five Best: Books on Second Chances”:

By Tara Westover (2018)

1. In her intense memoir, Tara Westover recounts coming of age in the volatile environment created by her survivalist father and his doomsday conspiracies. Growing up in rural Idaho, she never received the compassion or support—or schooling—a child needs. Instead, she was told that her value and place were in the home. Yet she refused to accept the narrative she was given. At 17, she began to educate herself; at 18, she enrolled in college.

From there she was awarded a scholarship to Cambridge, where which she eventually earned a doctorate. “An education is not so much about making a living as making a person,” she writes. The difference between the narrow boundaries of her sheltered beginnings and the wide-open horizons of her academic achievements is nothing short of astonishing and serves as a memorable reminder of the transformative power of learning.

In Order to Live
By Yeonmi Park (2015)

2. Yeonmi Park’s harrowing narrative brings the reader back to her dark and grueling past as a child in North Korea. After the collapse of the state-supported economy in the mid-1990s and amid the ensuing nationwide famine, Yeonmi’s father relied on smuggling goods into the country to help support his family. At age 13 and weighing 60 pounds, Yeonmi escaped to China with her sister and mother, only to fall into the hands of human traffickers.

“In order to Live” revisits moments from Ms. Park’s past and recounts her struggle to be free. She reminds readers that freedom is not guaranteed and that there are still places in the world where basic human rights are denied. Her strength of character, her determination to never give up and her ability to re-educate herself after years of living in the shadow of propaganda are inspiring. “It amazed me,” she writes, “how quickly a lie loses its power in the face of truth.”

You Could Make This Place Beautiful
By Maggie Smith (2023)

3. After discovering that her husband was having an affair, the poet Maggie Smith questioned her own sanity, confidence and sense of self. In her powerful memoir “You Could Make This Place Beautiful,” she revisits that period in her life and reflects on the societal expectations placed on her as she struggled to stand up for herself and her children.

Her “bittersweet” moments of growth show not only her vulnerability but also her quiet strength. She invites us into her world as she reflects on love, loss, resilience and the pursuit of beauty amid the chaos of existence, reminding us of Rilke’s words, “let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.”

Driven to Ride
By Mike Schultz (2022)

4. At age 27, Mike Schultz was on top of his game as a champion snowmobile racer. During a 2008 qualifying run, a terrible accident led to the loss of his left leg above the knee. Instead of giving up, however, he was back at his sport less than two months later and would eventually compete in snowboarding, snowbiking, motocross and snocross.

He would come to be known for his grit and determination but also for his innovations in prosthetics design, which he would share with other athletes as well as veterans, because, he writes, he wanted “to help them regain a part of their lives they feared was lost.” Mr. Schultz’s memoir, “Driven to Ride,” plunges readers into the world of extreme sports and sheds light on adaptive sports and the challenges faced by athletes with disabilities.

Memoirs From the Edge
By Jeb Corliss (2022)

5. Adventure is a given for anyone who practices wingsuiting—skydiving or jumping from a high peak or building in a webbed jumpsuit that helps the wearer glide through the air. Jeb Corliss was a seasoned thrill-seeker in 2012 when he collided with a rock ledge on the side of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. The accident left him with two broken ankles, a broken fibula and several shattered toes. He also had a fully ruptured anterior cruciate ligament, and his leg muscles were left in tatters.

“Memoirs From the Edge” details that accident and other events in Mr. Corliss’s rollercoaster ride of a life. He describes the thrilling intensity of his sport, along with the grueling agony of his recovery, without shying away from the mental and emotional battles that come from pushing yourself to the limit. The essence of the book can be summed up in one line: “My time in this world is limited, but the things I can do with that time are not.” Mr. Corliss eloquently describes the fine line between fear and exhilaration, the agonizing moments of doubt before an event, and the overwhelming sense of achievement he feels when he conquers his uncertainty. In so doing, he offers a glimpse into how mental and physical challenges can be a catalyst for self-discovery and emotional growth.

Selected by Lindsey Jaobellis, the two-time Olympic gold medalist in snowboarding and the author of ‘Unforgiving: Lessons From the Fall.’

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