The most recent finish is a dual-autobiography (which is a first for me). Same Kind of Different as Me is the story of two men’s lives and what brought their lives together.
It follows the follows the lives of a man who became a wealthy art dealer and a man who became homeless. The wealthy art dealer is Ron Hall who grew up lower middleclass before college and art dealing put him in the upper echelon of the DFW-area. The homeless man is Denver Moore who grew up in a sharecropper community before running away (if a grown man leaving somewhere can be called that) in his 20s and wound his way into the Ft. Worth homeless community, including a 10-year stint in prison in the middle of his homelessness.
The catalyst for bringing them together was Hall’s wife, who insisted they volunteer at a ministry that helped out the homeless.
Before we get into specifics of the plot that would act as spoilers (and don’t read any online reviews if you’re interested in the book because it’s almost impossible to avoid spoiling what happens), we can delve into some ins and outs of the book.
I mentioned it was a dual-autobiography. I have no idea what the real term is, but the book consists of both men telling their stories first-person in alternating (usually) chapters. This format actually made the book a quick read (or at least one that was difficult to put down). It’s a lot like James Patterson’s books that have very short chapters, so you clip through a bunch of chapters without realizing. This is the book-form of potato chips where you think, “one more can’t hurt.” It also worked like books that have alternating narrators/perspectives where you get to the end of the chapter and want to know what happens to the individual, so you have to read an extra chapter just to get back to the first person’s story. Sort of like Game of Thrones without the graphic sex and violence. I don’t know how intentional this was (the format, not the exclusion of sex and violence), but it worked for making the book more engaging.
While the story was engaging, I had qualms with the book. Basically, it told a lesser version of the story so that it could tell a story of faith. The book is published by a Christian-based publisher (Thomas Nelson), and the turning point involves a ministry-based meals program for the homeless, so I understand that the book is going to be faith-based. The weird part is that this book was actually the recommended book of the year for incoming freshmen at the public university I work at. That’s something that wouldn’t fly in a lot places in the country.
Now, I’m not going after the book simply for being a faith-based book. That’s obviously a key part of these individuals’ lives, but it took away from what were the most engaging parts of the story. Instead of focusing on these two disparate individuals, their relationship with each other, and their relationships with the people around them, the second half the book is primarily focused on faith.
The more engaging story is about their lives and how their friendship functions. That was where the joy, the sorrow, and the humor were. There are universal lessons in the book on understanding people from different walks of life, but by focusing on faith, the book got away from its stronger core (and again, it would still have needed to have faith included, but that was better suited as an underlying theme in my opinion instead of being the key part of the second half of the story). The title of the book showed where the core should have been, but it is what it is.
This is a really good time to stop reading if you don’t want spoilers.
When I got the book and saw its description. I knew what was going to happen. I didn’t know how or when, but I knew what would happen. The wife is mentioned fairly prominently (despite not really getting a lot a pages in the first half of the book), so I knew she was going to die.
This is was frustrating for me. The book mentions her as a key catalyst, and yet, I can’t really tell you much about her. They sell her as integral in this friendship, and she’s really not as prominently featured in their stories and friendship as you would think. Instead they only focus on her once she gets cancer and spends the better part of two years slowly dying. And even then, she’s not really treated as a person as much as an object. Great praise is heaped on her by the authors, but she still doesn’t feel like a living, breathing human in the ways the stories were told.
Maybe I’m just jaded. Who knows. I just felt like the story deviated from its best version to instead tell the story of faith, and the person who was instrumental in their interaction was treated more like an afterthought or a piece of scenery instead of the force of nature she’s described as (seriously, if you take away their descriptions of her, you would have no idea she was anything other than a somewhat persistent housewife).
And really, despite the friendship of these two individuals being more prominent, you really don’t see them interacting all that much. They just sort of mention Denver getting closer to the Hall family without providing much in the way of what was happening. You just know that it’s happening instead of actually letting that be a real part of the story.
All in all, I’m glad I read it. I enjoy books that give the alternative life perspective, but I think this book could have been something more, something universal.
I don’t view it as a waste of time, but I do see the book as a wasted opportunity.