Sunday, January 10, 2010

Book Review: Loving Madly, Losing Badly

By Rick Morris

I've reviewed books previously and certainly will be doing so again. But I have never before referred to a book as one that will provide interesting information about an American institution, will strengthen your spiritual awareness, will provide reinforcement about your ability to deal with adversity in life and will produce some actual good merely through its purchase -- and I'll be surprised if I encounter such a read again. However, I can vouch for the first three criteria on an ongoing basis and for the fourth one if you hurry up and purchase it in the next week.

I speak of course of LOVING MADLY, LOSING BADLY ... HOW ZIGGY SAVED MY LIFE, the outstanding memoir penned by second-generation Ziggy cartoonist Tom Wilson. We at FDH were first exposed to this book late last summer when we received a copy of it prior to booking Tom as a guest on our all-subjects program THE FDH LOUNGE (Wednesdays, 7-10 PM EST on Due to the fact that Tom lives (relatively) nearby in Cincinnati and travels occasionally to conduct business in our FDH and STN flagship city of Cleveland, we were actually able to have him in-studio. He made a subsequent return to the show on the night before Thanksgiving to promote the campaign I will refer to shortly. In the interest of full disclosure for this glowing review, I will admit that Tom certainly is in the "good friends of the show" category and if it would not be too presumptuous, I would simply refer to him as a friend, period. He's an amazing individual, as the book illustrates.

The book traces through Tom's life as he grows up in Cleveland as the son of the original Ziggy cartoonist, also named Tom Wilson. In early adulthood, he meets Susan, who would go on to become the best wife and mother he could have imagined. Then, in the 1980s, he assumes the franchise from his father when health issues dictated retirement.

Life with his wife and two young sons was pretty sweet until Susan developed breast cancer in the 1990s. She fought the disease bravely for years, but she passed away on November 18, 2000. This came as the biggest shock that Tom could have fathomed and he spent the next couple of years in a fog, just trying to be able to manage his own life and provide a stable foundation for his boys.

Eventually, after many twists and turns in the road to recovery, it emerged that the Ziggy character was actually key to adding perspective back to his life. The more he studied the innocent, indefatigable creature, the more he realized what he had to learn about the positivity in life. A character that he had drawn for nearly two decades and observed firsthand far longer than that proved to have lessons to teach him when he took the time to look beneath the surface. Along the way, throughout the course of the book, there are many interesting nuggets about the nuances of Ziggy and the creative process involved in drawing him over the years.

I referenced a spiritual angle as well, and while Tom does not beat you over the head with it in the book, it emerged to me as the single most jarring spectacle on those pages. Without giving too much away, during Tom's period of grief, Susan appeared to a friend of his with whom he was at odds, trying (successfully) to impart a useful and healing message. Susan appeared in her preadolescent state (complete with a mode of dress that she had at the time, as was captured in pictures), one in which this friend had never seen her before -- and therefore, could not be 100% certain that that was Susan, at least not until a shocked Tom provided confirmation upon hearing the story.

During the interview with Tom on our program, my line of questioning about this part was easily the most emotional one. It jumped out at me because my mom passed away from breast cancer a few short years after Susan did and because Susan, by all accounts, seemed so similar to my mom -- a great compliment to both of them. Additionally, our family had some spooky instances of appearances that were quite similar and my father asked our old parish priest about such instances and heard a few more examples rattled off to him. In other words, these things happen. Tom and I discussed how the non-believers of this world, who always act like the burden of proof is on the believers, have it exactly backwards. The multitudes of people who have experienced miracles of this sort need not prove anything; the burden is on the non-believers to rationalize away these miracles.

In the end, Tom learned a great deal about how to battle this most crippling form of adversity and he shares his lessons generously in this book. Most people, including myself, would not be strong enough to bare our souls in such a manner, but he clearly was committed to doing whatever was necessary to communicate what he learned to those who could benefit from it.

As for the final note I referenced about what the book will do -- contribute to tangible good -- this comes from the journey Tom has traveled in imparting the book's message. Along the way, he traveled to the LIVESTRONG headquarters in Austin, TX and was inspired by the work being done to hopefully save others from Susan's fate. Shortly thereafter, he instituted ZIGGY'S MILLION DOLLAR LIVESTRONG CHALLENGE. For two months, a period lasting through Susan's birthday on January 19, he is donating EVERY SINGLE PENNY of his author's cut from the book to the charity. This amounts to roughly $4.50 per copy sold. More information about the book, including how to make sure that your purchase counts towards the challenge, can be found here. Additionally, Tom Wilson's Twitter page, with constant updates on the challenge, can be found here.

Given that we all will face severe setbacks in terms of dealing with deaths of loved ones at various points in life, you will want to have this book for no other reason than the help it can give you. But purchasing a copy in the next week spreads the good around and hopefully can help impact the lives of others as well. If you have a couple of bucks lying around, there is no better use of them through the next week than Tom Wilson's great book.

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