Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Reviewing John Peale's Just How Far From the Apple Tree...

Yesterday, I posted about my old philosophy professor, Dr. John Peale.  My post was about my initial impressions of a book he wrote in 2012 called Just How Far From the Apple Tree: A Son in Relation to His Famous Father as well as a couple of memories I had of college, when he taught me.  I admit my first post about Dr. Peale is a bit critical and negative.  Having just finished his book, I think I can be a little less critical with my review, which is what I'm going to write today.  I found the second half of the book more engaging and interesting than the first part, which was mostly about his long academic road to being a full professor of philosophy at my alma mater, Longwood College (now Longwood University).

Dr. Peale's book is mainly about his life and some of his experiences growing up the son of famed preacher and author Norman Vincent Peale.  He writes Just How Far From the Apple Tree as I would expect a professor to write.  His style is scholarly and somewhat formal, with no contractions or slang.  Though he does use the first person as he relates his life story, the book comes across as more than a bit dry.  There were a few times when I swore I read the same passage twice.  I hadn't read the same passage twice; instead, Dr. Peale had repeated himself.  My guess is that this book didn't get much attention from an editor.

The second half of Dr. Peale's book, the part I hadn't yet read when I wrote yesterday, shows a side of him that is more relatable to me.  In that portion, Peale comes down from the academic high horse and writes about things he's faced.  I mentioned yesterday that Dr. Peale has battled cancer and alcoholism.  He writes that he has been diagnosed with cancer three times.  The first time was in 1991, after a trip to China.  His wife spotted a crusty lesion on his back that turned out to be melanoma.  I believe he was dealing with the melanoma when I had him as a professor.  Ever since 1991, he's been living with cancer.

Dr. Peale is also an alcoholic.  Having read about his battles with alcoholism, I have a bit more empathy for him.  I grew up with an alcoholic father who exhibited a lot of the same behaviors Dr. Peale describes in his book.  In fact, in some ways, I think Peale's situation was worse.  My father, to my knowledge, was never arrested for drunk driving.  Dr. Peale was stopped three times.  The first time was in 1971 in North Carolina's Outer Banks.  A lawyer managed to get the judge to reduce the charges to reckless driving, sparing Dr. Peale's record until many years later, when he got drunk in his office and decided to try to drive to Hampden-Sydney College.  He ended up running off the road and passing out in the car, where he was confronted by a police officer who spotted the almost empty bottle of gin next to him.

I must admit, I was surprised to read that Dr. Peale was caught drinking and driving, was arrested, and had come very close to spending the night in jail.  He was charged with a DUI and finally entered treatment, but continued to drink.  The third time he was stopped, the cop let him off with a warning.  It took a little later before he finally hit bottom and admitted his problem.  He went into rehab and joined Alcoholics Anonymous.  Unlike my dad, Dr. Peale was able to quit drinking entirely and has apparently been off the sauce since March 2000.  I applaud him for that.

Reading about Dr. Peale's struggles with drinking reminded me of my dad...  finding him in various positions in a state of extreme inebriation.  Like me and my mom, Dr. Peale's wife found her husband passed out more than once.  Like me and my sisters, Dr. Peale's children had to deal with their father's anger issues, much exacerbated by booze.  Dr. Peale writes that most alcoholics are angry people dealing with deep, unresolved pain.  I believe it.  I saw it firsthand in my own immediate family.  Dr. Peale's pain apparently came from his experiences being his father's son and feeling like he couldn't measure up.  He writes that he once felt like his life amounted to nothing.  He didn't appreciate or value his accomplishments.  He felt ashamed of who he was and drank to try to erase that feeling of shame and despair.  His story is one I can relate to.

I think Dr. Peale's book improves dramatically beyond the 45% mark.  The first part of it was off-putting to me and reminded of me of my in person impressions of him.  The second part, the part where he actually reveals part of himself that is painful and personal, redeems the effort that went into reading his book.

Dr. Peale is obviously very committed to A.A.  He is one of the many people it's worked for, although not everyone is as successful with it as he's been.  I think it helps to believe strongly in God for A.A. to work.  Dr. Peale believes in a higher power and I think that, along with having a sponsor who is a good friend to him, has helped him overcome his addiction.

Anyway...  I'm not sure his book is something that would appeal to a lot of people.  I think it could appeal to people who are interested in the Peale family, but only if an editor revised it and removed the redundancies and stiff, formal, academic style Peale uses.  However, as a former student who attended the university that employed him for so many years, I will say that I found some value in Just How Far From the Apple Tree.  If anything, it was a good reminder to me that everyone has a story and everyone is fighting a battle of some sort.  While I didn't necessarily appreciate Dr. Peale as a professor, I can appreciate him more as an author.



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