Tag: Nonfiction (general)

by Raynor Winn

After their long hike on the South West Coast Path, the author and her husband finally settled. No longer homeless, but not completely at ease. First they lived in a small apartment behind a church, where Raynor did research into his illness and started writing, while her husband attended university, working towards a degree. He struggled constantly with worsening symptoms, while she had her own issues with anxiety at being around so many other people after their long walk mainly in solitude on the path. The success of her first book’s printing was encouraging and brought them some much-needed income, but it was also stressful for her to deal with the public events and travel for book signings. Well, then someone local who read their book offers them another place to stay- on a farm that had been run into the ground and neglected. They’re supposed to restore it, and do work hard at that. It’s just starting to show signs of recovery when they decide to go on another long walk with two friends- in the barren and difficult landscape of Iceland. I didn’t realize how many volcanoes Iceland has- or at least, in the area where they hiked. This part of the book was a lot more like the previous one- focused on the rigors of the hike, interactions with people on the trail- in this case much younger fellow hikers who seemed to scorn them for their age- and remarkably, another visible improvement in her husband’s condition. The scholarly lifestyle he lead at university apparently was bad for his health, whereas the intense physical exercise on the steep paths soon had him limber and full of energy again. Still no explanation. But convinced by the results, they return to the farm ready to dive into outdoor work again.

It does have a lot more than I’m letting on here- musings on assumptions of strangers, interesting little exchanges, signs of the wildlife on the farm returning, incredible almost surreal landscape in Iceland, where the world seems to be continually coming into being. Also many segments about pieces of their lives from the past, and a very touching, sometimes hard-to-read piece in the beginning on her mother’s death in a hospital where she had to make difficult decisions for her care (which made me think of this book a lot). Somehow it all didn’t feel as intense as The Salt Path, or I’ve just been too busy this past week and a bit distracted from reading. I liked it, I just didn’t feel quite as deeply moved.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
278 pages, 2020

A guide to eating well and saving money by wasting less food

by Dana Gunders

I read this book in between the last four. And took lots of notes. It’s about saving food in the kitchen. Planning better to buy only what you need, being organized so you don’t forget what’s in the back of your cupboard (or fridge), storing things properly so they stay fresh longer, and lots of tips on how to use up leftovers, salvage a dish that got slightly burnt or over-salted, or tell if your slightly-off-looking produce is still okay to eat. What you can freeze and for how long. There’s a chapter on how to start composting, a list on what you can safely feed your pets, and more on making household use of food items you won’t eat (banana peels to shine shoes, onion skin to make egg dye, etc). Facts on food-borne illness, what exactly causes it, how to avoid it.

Some things in here I’ve already been doing for years- I try to plan meals to stretch the ingredients- for example, I often make a meat pie dish with whatever vegetable bits are leftover in the fridge, and I nearly always make enchiladas using sauce from a chicken mole the day before. I usually peel broccoli stalks and dice them up to add to a soup or the meat pie, but never thought of doing a salad with them. There’s a section of recipes that give general guidelines for using whatever you have on hand that needs to be eaten- soup, fried rice, shepherd’s pie- and I’m going to copy some of them down. Also others that sound like great ideas but I’ve never tried before- brownies with black beans in them, a chocolate mousse made out of slightly-overripe avocado. Disappointed that the directory mentions using cooked quinoa to make a flour-less chocolate cake, but there’s no recipe for that so I’ll have to look for it elsewhere. The directory is a list of some 80 common foods, with notes on how to store them, how to tell if they’re still good, and how to make the best use when they start to go bad or you have too much extra. (No notes on cabbage though. I had to look online: cabbage goes in the high-humidity crisper drawer. Yes, my family eats cabbage- I have half a head in there right now!)

In the middle of reading this book I put it down, went and adjusted my crisper drawers (I’d been using them wrong), moved my oranges in there, put my grapes and fresh-picked green beans in paper bags. I’m sure there’s other things I’ve been doing sub-optimally all this time! Not all the instructions work for me, though. This book says that potatoes, onions and bread shouldn’t be kept in the fridge. But where I live we have high humidity. I’ve found that onions kept under my sink will spoil, bread wrapped on the counter goes moldy before we eat it all, and potatoes in my basement storage room (where I thought it would be cool enough), go bad. So I do keep all those in the fridge.

Borrowed from the public library. I found an article by the author here, on why she wrote the book. Notes I took for myself below. There’s more on my garden notes blog.

  • Freeze leftovers if you think you won’t use them soon, and label with a date.
  • Don’t overcrowd the freezer, it needs air circulation to work well.
  • Rewrap meats brought home fresh from grocery store, before freezing portions.
  • Burnt pan of food? put in a larger pan of cold water, then scrape off what’s salvagable.
  • Eggs are good three to five weeks past the ‘sell by’ date.
  • Whole wheat flour and brown rice should be kept in the fridge in an opaque, air-tight container.
  • Use yogurt instead of milk in baking: add half teaspoon baking powder for every cup yogurt.
  • Save peach, plum, nectarine etc pits in freezer. Make syrup w/them later.
  • Save butter wrappers, freeze, use later to grease pans
  • Scrape clean the base of a pineapple top, remove lower leaves and root in water for a houseplant!


Rating: 3/5
200 pages, 2015

by Lynnette Hartwig

The presumed subtitle of this book is: When did it start, Why did it happen, What else changed, and Who we are now. (I say “presumed” because it’s printed on the front cover and title page, but not part of the LCC line on the copyright page). This book is about evolution, specifically looking at why humans of all living things on Earth are the only ones to have developed language, intelligence and culture to excess. Excess, because she points out quite clearly that being smart isn’t necessary for success- thousands of creatures get by just fine on instinct alone, and have done so for eons. In fact, lots of them do many things far better than we ever could. The author posits that intelligence (and another characteristic I’ll mention in a second) is really a desperate measure evolution threw out there to save a species from dire straits in the past- and in our case it worked all too well. First she explains how genetic traits are held in reserve in the genome of species- which I already partly understood from having read The Ancestor’s Tale. While that book was really dense on details and explanations, this one is rather light in that regard- I was often left trying to connect the dots myself or wondering what got left out, or wishing for more examples, something. I suppose, like me, you’ve often heard the theory that long-ago ancestors of humans descended from trees to live on the savannah. This book says nope. Points out all the physical features of humans that don’t align with anything savannah animals use to survive- be it predator, prey or scavenger- and instead strongly suggests that humans evolved to live on the waterside. More like otters in that regard. And that we did so for thousands and thousands of years before changing. Much later drastic environmental changes pushed early hominids out into savannah habitat. Then a freak rise of intelligence enabled survival even though humans were so weak in comparison to other animals.

I found that all fascinating, and the arguments actually made sense to me. It’s the end part of the book that got me scratching my head. The idea that the one main feature setting humans apart from other animals is not our intelligence per se, or our ability to use language and tools- but our intense drive to make and build things, hoard things, look to the future. How negatively that can impact everything. Again the explanation makes sense, we do seem to all suffer from an inner need to have things, and even if this isn’t physical objects, to secure our future- to save up money for our children, or in other ways make sure we leave a legacy. We don’t live in the moment like animals do, just securing what we need now and satisfied with that. It might well be not only our undoing, but that of the entire planet and all other living things. Dark thoughts.

But then there’s the author’s odd rant about how inaccurate weather forecasting is. Or the pages and pages saying men loose their ability to think individually in groups, whereas women will always question the leader. Really? I am not sure that’s a gender character trait, surprised how the author is strongly insistent about it.

Then there’s the um, quality control issues. The book is pretty much self-published. I looked up the publishing company- it lists just under a dozen books, and ten of them are by this author. The book only has a few typos- and things I can easily overlook- a missing space, or a quotation mark where it doesn’t belong. But it has two pages pasted in (different paper color and texture)- one where it was apparently left out, for the foreword (which amused me because it felt like it was added as an afterthought and the first line of it is I hate Forewords and Introductions in books. I’ve read less than 5% of them. The other is pasted in about halfway through, not adding a missing page but rephrasing it including putting what was a footnote from another page into the text body. It doesn’t merge seamlessly with the rest of the text, it’s a rewritten segment and really stalled this reader trying to piece together how it was supposed to flow.

I did really appreciate there’s an index, but the references were almost all website articles and online videos. I think there were two or three articles from periodicals listed, and not a single book. Why do I expect that a book is more solid reference material than a documentary film or online article? Not sure, but I do.

Sigh. I have a friend who is a writer, and partnered with a writer (one is a poet/memoirist and the other writes screenplays) so I’ve heard a lot about how very difficult it is to get published. It’s such hard work to write a book, and a ton more work to promote it. But so often the quality falters when it’s self-published. I bought this book at a local-author event my public library hosted several years ago. I used to go every year with my writer friend. Came away too many times disappointed. Most of the books were of popular interests but not so much for me- lots of YA dystopian fiction and paranormal romance, for example. I only found a few I thought I’d like to read, and then thumbing through to read a sample, was not keen on the writing style. Took a chance on this one and still came away feeling let down. However I’m keeping it because the ideas presented on human evolution make so much sense to me. Great ideas, just would like to see more proof.

Rating: 3/5
242 pages, 2017

The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

by Susan Cain

The book about introverts. Those of us who are, might feel like we’re often surrounded by extroverts. Certainly they get a lot of the attention and American culture tends to adulate them. Yet Susan Cain says that a third up to half of the population are introverts, but many can mask it well, acting more extroverted when it’s expected or advantageous to do so. Interesting. The first thing she tackles in this book is relating some cultural history- how extroversion came to be seen as the ideal- it wasn’t always so. I’d never considered it before- but this was also rather dry to get through and it almost put me off reading the book. Glad I moved on, because there’s so much more- what makes people introverted or extroverted- it’s not simply nature/nurture but a complex combination of many factors and influences. How group work has become popular both in workplaces and schools, but why introverts tend to be more productive when working alone. Tips on how introverts can learn to be better at public speaking, navigating house parties, getting through a bustling school day, etc. Or for parents: how to encourage and guide a shy, quiet child without pushing too hard (which can be damaging). Much of the examples in the book are from the world of business- how investors, lawyers, etc ignored the good advice of quiet-spoken people and why extroverts get the spotlight and followers, sometimes to their detriment. The difference between introverted and extroverted leadership types. The strengths that quiet people can bring to all kinds of workplaces, and so on. There was actually so much of this it got tiresome for me- I related much better to the final section which was about the personality types in relationships- how introvert/extrovert friendships and marriages can work well (or not) for example. But that felt so briefly dealt with, compared to all the prior chapters. I did appreciate that so much material was drawn from real interviews- with students in different types of universities, for example. With people from different cultures and backgrounds, how they experienced and viewed types of social interactions. (Extroverts tend to find social interaction energizing, introverts may prefer their downtime alone). Lots of studies quoted and explained, many examples of famous people. I nodded my head in affirmation at many things, and was nicely surprised by other details. One of those books that can give you a better understanding of why you are the way you are (for either personality types, also those in between).

Rating: 4/5
334 pages, 2012

A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution 

by Richard Dawkins 
with Yan Wong

I don\’t think anything I write can do this book justice. It\’s staggering in scope, dense with details, mind-expanding and yet surprisingly readable. The premise bases a look at evolution loosely on The Canterbury Tales– the idea being that we time-travel skipping backwards to points where can meet up with common ancestors (the first is shared with chimpanzees) then on down through the ages meeting up with common ancestors of other primates, smaller mammals, fishes, etc etc on down to the one-celled organisms that arose at the dawn of time (and so many of them are still here on earth with us). Calling each chapter something like \”The Peacock\’s Tale\” or \”The Rotifer\’s Tale\” was a bit of a stretch- these weren\’t narrative tellings of anything, but very brief descriptions of the varied life forms and then lessons on what they can teach us about how we are all related. About gene transfer and how enzymes build proteins, about divergence and likewise convergence of species, about drifting and inheritance and molecular biology and tons more. I admit I did not understand it all, there were plenty of sections I had to read twice, but I didn\’t skip anything. Some of the stuff about molecular clocks and the math and chemistry when you get the end chapters about one-celled organisms that existed before plants converted solar energy into what others could consume- well it felt over my head. But there was so much that made me go wow, or sit and think hard, or feel just boggled by the huge swarms of life that we can\’t even see- like this diagram that shows how all life is related via molecular comparisons? it\’s got about eight branching groups each with five to eight branches in there- the others are all things like algae, slime moulds, amoebas, fungi and things I don\’t even know- radiolarians and pelobionts and so on. Plants are one tiny branch. Animals are another- and we are such a tiny fragment of that it\’s not even visible on the diagram! It is mind-numbing the way that Watchers at the Pond is. One main idea stated here was that we are more closely related- at the molecular level- to some bacteria, than those bacteria are to other bacteria. That\’s how huge and varied the expanse of life really is.

Some things of wonder in this book: this \”brain map\” that shows parts of the body in size difference according to how much of the brain is devoted to sensory input from and control of them. On the star-nosed mole biggest are the nose tentacles and then the digging paws. On humans, it\’s the hands, and only slightly less the facial features especially the mouth (for speaking). Ever wonder why a tiny injury on your hand can hurt so much? well they\’re so dang sensitive and your brain has so much invested in their control and dexterity. So many things I looked up more about: the bdelloid rotifers which have been reproducing asexually- apparently there are no males- for 40 million years. The trichoplax, a tiny organism only a few cells thick that reveals a lot about early life, and I never knew it existed. The tooth-billed pigeon otherwise known as the little dodo- because it\’s the only living relative of the dodo and is on the verge of disappearing now, too. The microorganisms that live in termite guts- without them, the termites could not digest cellulose. To those microbes, the termite is the whole world. Who is serving whom in that regard. I thought of all the little things living in my own gut. I thought much more closely about viruses and bacteria near the end of this book.
It was hard to wade through some of the later chapters about the tiny microscopic life forms, simply because all the terminology about them is unfamiliar to me. But I was wowed by the next-to-the-last chapter. I really liked the explanation comparing the spread of fire, to how reproduction can happen without heredity and why that\’s significant. Also the description of what the atmosphere and basic components on earth were like before oxygen really existed. There were other things that, when a scientist put them all in a vat and left it sitting for a few weeks, turned into a \”soup\” of biological compounds- which with the right catalyst could spring into life. My husband tells me he\’s read of an experiment where basic elements were put together and a living cell was made, unlike any other living cell that\’s existed before. I had no idea. Look up synthetic biology.
And here\’s another big picture idea- Dawkins tells how many times evolution has come up with specific things- eyes for example, or the power of flight. Very few things have happened only once (there\’s one bacteria that created a wheel!) So he posits that if most of life were wiped out, it would eventually all arise again- because the basic pieces would still be here- and just like the dinosaurs had all kinds of animals that filled all the niches- some that ate plants others that ate the grazers, some that climbed or flew or ate insects or used sonar in the ocean- the mammals spread to fill them after the dinosaurs were gone. On isolated islands like Madagascar or the continent of Australia, a slightly different form evolved to fill all the niches (think the marsupials). If an asteroid nearly wiped out all life, it would rise again and proliferate into all the diverse forms- maybe not with humans in it, but eventually with something pretty darn close. It\’s a lot to think about. I will say, I don\’t feel as much dread of us ending everything with our destructive ways- LIFE will recover again, we just wouldn\’t be here to see it! ha. And I\’m also not quite so leery about GMO\’s either, if the commonality of genes between all living things like Dawkins outlines in here, is what I understood from it. We are all interrelated, much closer than you\’d imagine.
No way is this even a fraction of what I gleaned from this book. I borrowed a copy to read from my brother in-law, but I\’d sure like to have this in my own library someday. Maybe the newer edition, which I gather has a few updated chapters.
Rating: 4/5                      671 pages, 2004

the Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit 

by Michael Finkel

     I hadn\’t heard of this story before- in 1986 a young man named Christopher Knight drove as far as he could on back roads in rural Maine, left his car depleted of gas, and walked into the forest. Eventually he found a hidden clearing in some very thick tangled trees and brush, where he made a camp and lived alone for nearly three decades. Very like Into the Wild. This Chris however, was successful for a long time. He had survival skills, he was adept at moving quietly through the trees without leaving tracks, and he had a steady source of supplies- stealing from nearby vacation cabins around a lake. Was ashamed of his thievery but kept doing it- for twenty seven years!- until finally he was caught. He only wanted to be alone, to live in solitude, he never accepted handouts people offered on their porches when they got tired of the break-ins. He suffered a lot living out there in the winter- from hunger and cold for months on end. Kept himself occupied by reading books and magazines (stolen of course), listening to a radio or just sitting quietly thinking. Once apprehended he was incarcerated for a while, then forced to live in society again. Where this journalist found him and gained his trust enough to be able to write his story (but later kept approaching him when Chris obviously asked to be left alone). It also includes the perspective of the vacation home-owners around the lake, some of whom constantly felt uneasy, or their children fearful of the thief, while at their cabins. There are brief examinations of various people who have lived in seclusion throughout history and what compels them to do so, and some criticism of Walden. Many people who profess to be modern-day hermits shun the North Pond Hermit (as he became known by those in the area) for his criminal ways. The story is kind of a quandry for me. I get a lot of what Chris said- I\’m an introvert myself, I know what it\’s like to feel more comfortable in quiet places, apart from the noise and bustle and pretense of general society. As a kid I used to daydream about living in the woods off survival skills (but knew very well I didn\’t have any!) But to do so for decades by stealing- this man did so literally hundreds of times, from some thirty families- even though it was for the most part inexpensive items- I can\’t condone that.  There\’s several news articles about him if you do a quick search.

Rating: 3/5            192 pages, 2017

and Other Writings

by Henry David Thoreau

I finally read this, after two previous attempts (years ago) and a break in the middle for something easier. My copy contains not only Walden: or Life in the Woods but also Civil Disobedience, Slavery in Massachusetts, A Plea for Captain John Brown and Life Without Principle.

Here’s the thing: this is not at all what I expected. I always thought it was some wonderful if slightly archaic nature writing full of observations on the weather, birds and creatures, growing things etc. Not really. It’s a lot more about politics (as they were back then), protests on slavery, umbrage at modern developments ruining mankind (there’s pages and pages about how the train makes people hurry and rush about), how government should or should not affect our lives, why people should be engaged in something useful and soul-lifting instead of just working to earn money, etc. He criticizes his fellow man a lot. He does mention a few birds here and there, how peaceful it is to just sit under the trees, how much he appreciates the simple life. But he wasn’t far off in the woods in isolation. Tons of people visited him all the time it sounds like, really curious what he was doing out there by himself. The train ran very close to his cabin, the pond was a regular fishing spot for many, farmers and kids out picking berries walked close by, and he could hear cattle in the adjacent fields. It was walking distance to the village. He eschewed coffee and other so-called luxuries to live pretty much just off what he grew or gathered (I think): mainly his beans, and fish he caught. I thought there I would relate, there’s a whole chapter about cultivating the bean plants and I\’m a gardener too, but nope. It starts out about hoeing the beans and how nicely meditative that task can be, but soon unravels into other lofty topics that supposedly relate to what bean plants with their nice broad leaves made him think of but I can’t make head or tails out of it.
That was my main problem. Thoreau is very much a philosopher and it either makes my mind wander, or go in circles, or I have to read a passage three, four, five times in a row and I still don’t get what he was saying. So many pages of this book I was actually thinking about something else as the printed words marched through my head unheeded (so now I know how a fellow book-blogger could sing while she reads, which I didn’t comprehend before). The parts I liked? where Thoreau describes in detail the ice on the pond, the air bubbles in it, the way it forms and later on breaks up in the springtime, the industry of hired people who come to cut blocks of it, harvesting for use in summer- people had ice-boxes back then, not fridges and freezers, so this was interesting to read how that was done and how it was stored to prevent melting. How mud makes weird shapes during the spring thaw (but again he turned this into some lyrical comparison I did not get). The voices of owls, a mouse that got used to his presence, the geese he observed on the pond and fish under the clear water. I liked reading how he undertook to plumb and measure the pond’s depth, as people in the vicinity claimed it was bottomless, but nobody had ever really tried find out. I liked a lot of his sentiments and agreed with many of his opinions on what’s valuable in life etc, but it sure was tough to wade through all the words. Philosophy and political rants are really not my thing.
Note on below: this is obviously one of those great books which I personally have difficulty appreciating. I didn’t exactly enjoy reading it, though I do feel enriched by it. It was pretty hard to get through. If it had been easier and more enjoyable, definitely would have given it a 4. The publication dates noted span the five works in this volume.
Rating: 3/5
368 pages, 1849-1863

-Looking at People Looking at Animals in America

by Jon Mooallem

     In this book the author explores the attitudes of everyday people to threatened and endangered wildlife, and the convoluted efforts of conservationists and scientists to save them. Convoluted because the more closely you look at each issue, the more insurmountable and unrealistic the effort appears to be- even though of course we can\’t bear to let go and stop trying. In this regard, it shared a lot of sentiment with Inheritors of the Earththe world is going to keep changing, we have now moved beyond the point of being able to halt our impacts on wildlife and the land.

It starts with the author deciding to visit three areas where he can see in person animal species that are struggling, on the brink of extinction as it were. For some of the trips he takes his young daughter along- so part of this is also looking at what children understand of wildlife issues (most young kids don\’t care and are very human-centric and selfish, he concludes, while older children express concern for the welfare of wild animals) and how his own three-year-old responds to seeing them. He goes to Churchill to view the polar bears- which every year face a longer stretch of fasting waiting for sea ice to form, while more cubs starve and never make it to adulthood. He goes to Antioch Dunes, a place where the endangered Lange\’s metalmark butterfly lives on one host plant species that thrives on shifting dunes- but by the time it was made into a wildlife refuge so much sand had been mined and trucked away the ecosystem changed drastically, and now it\’s only through the constant efforts of humans to eradicate \’weeds\’ and plant the butterfly\’s naked stem buckwheat that keeps the species going. Finally, he travels to Michigan to join the team of Operation Migration and see how whooping crane chicks, raised in captivity by men masked in crane costumes, are led by ultralight planes on their first migration. In each case, the author talks with scientists, conservationists, and bystanders alike. He interviews the camera crews and the host who puts out birdseed (whooping cranes unexpectedly visited her yard). He talks about shifting baselines, how the public\’s perception of wildlife issues is influenced and changes over the years, how charismatic species get all the attention while lesser-known and smaller ones quietly disappear. There\’s discussion on how bison were nearly wiped out and since recovered and how canada geese went from being seen as rare harbringers of changing seasons to outright pests. There\’s the true story about a humpback whale that swam up a river and stranded itself- and so many people came to view this one animal in trouble, they trampled all over the butterfly refuge which was even worse for that species and its host plant. The parts about the legal tangle of how individual species get protection, are listed or de-listed as endangered, and suffer from lack of funding, was a bit tedious to read through. 
But it becomes very clear that for many species, people are obviously propping them up, and if we withdrew our support, they would simply disappear- in some cases, very quickly. How long do we continue that effort? (For example, the whooping cranes led by aircraft on their flight paths have successfully migrated on their own afterwards- considered a success because now they can live free of human assistance. But when this book was written, none of them had raised their own chicks. So that population could only continue if people kept hatching, raising and releasing cranes to supplement it. Never was self-sustaining). I don\’t know what to think of the message this book gives me. On the one hand, it\’s encouraging to see how many people do care about wildlife and are going to great efforts to help our fellow creatures survive- even if some of them don\’t act as wild as they used to (whooping cranes visiting bird feeders, whitetail deer in backyards). On the other hand, the glum none-of-this-matters-in-the-end attitude makes me feel very depressed. What we have done to our Earth is dismal. As long as humans keep taking up so much space and increasing our numbers and use of resources, I don\’t see how things can change or even be sustainable. Much less remain habitable for the diversity of species it once supported, in the long run.
Note: I shortened the subtitle in my heading. In entirety it is: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America.
Rating: 4/5                339 pages, 2013

by Hope Jahren 

This was great. It was not what I expected all round- I delighted in reading about experiments on the lives and methods of plants (especially details about tree biology, which read as little independent essays), how Jahren and her fellow scientist Bill came up with their ideas, the meticulous work involved, the scrounging for lab equipment and funding, the long hours and sleepless nights, the road trips and field work . . . What took me by surprise was to find myself also reading about mental illness, the mania and depression of bipolar described very frankly. And to read a birth story when she had her son. It kind of all is one long birth story- the story of how Jahren found her life\’s work in science, and struggled to grow into the best person she knew to be, doing the best science, hoping it would all get seen someday. Some parts are laugh-out-loud funny, some parts are very tense, and some incredibly insightful. Definitely keeping this one to enjoy and learn from again. Wish I could say more about it but not finding a lot of words right now. It is rather significant the things the author did not tell throughout this memoir, but they didn\’t really bother me until I read some other reviews and thought about them more. For example: she tells about a nearly-disastrous, ill-planned road trip to  a conference where she\’s supposed to present a paper, but then there\’s nothing about the conference and only one comment about the presentation itself. Hm. Well, I liked it regardless. Might read it more closely next time. There will be a next time.

Rating: 4/5             290 pages, 2016
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The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism
by Naoki Higashida
translated by K.A. Yoshida and David Mitchell

This book was written by a Japanese boy who has autism. He couldn\’t speak, but learned to use an alphabet board and later a computer- touching one character at a time- to write out his thoughts and responses to people\’s questions. It\’s clear that in spite of his difficulty with speech and sensory input, he\’s quite intelligent and perceptive. His body just doesn\’t do what he wants it to, most of the time. I didn\’t expect the format though- it\’s not written as a narrative (except for a few very short stories) here and there- but instead a series of question-and-answer: things like why do you echo questions back at the asker?  or why do you write letters in the air? or Do you have a sense of time? and of course What\’s the reason you jump? This was interesting- very intriguing to learn some of the reasons for what seem odd behaviors to most of us, and others were honestly surprising to me. There were a few things he simply couldn\’t explain, but he was honest about it. It\’s mostly about the difference in perceptions, in how his brain processes things. It\’s also a huge plea for understanding and patience: he says more than once in the book- I know I do this over and over again, but please don\’t give up on me. Please remember that I\’m human. He speaks for himself in particular, and for autistic people in general- noting clearly the cases in which he feels differently than other autistic people. I was reminded strongly of a book I read years ago called I Raise My Eyes to Say Yes– in that both are about a person who is unable to communicate until they have a tool which gives them a voice.

The introduction written by David Mitchell is particularly thoughtful. (There\’s a very good article by Mitchell here (his son also has autism) including some excerpts from this book). I got nearly as much out of that as from the body of text itself. I also really like the illustrations by Kai and Sunny. This book was written over a decade ago, so I was immediately curious to see what else Higashida may have written since: Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8 sounds like this is more about his actual experiences so I really want to read it too.

Borrowed from a family member.

Rating: 3/5                 161 pages, 2007

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