Playing Catchup

December 12, 2012 // Book Reviews

Now that we’re approaching year’s end, I’m making a mad dash to finish a bunch of books that I’d started over the year but got distracted from as the “next thing” caught my attention.

In the past several days, these have included:

  • Stardust, Neil Gaiman – I started this one just before attending Neil’s lecture for Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures (“Neil Gaiman & an Evening of Stardust”) when I realized how awkward it could be to attend a lecture focused on a book I had not read. I was only halfway through before his talk, and luckily, he didn’t read any further ahead than I’d gotten at that point, and he talked mostly about a lot of other stuff. Bonus for me: the passage he read included a line that had charmed me in my own reading: The fire that was burning in the grate of Monday and Brown’s belched and twisted in a flurry of greens and scarlets, topped with a fizz of silver twinkles, of the kind one can make for oneself at the parlor fire with a handful of tossed iron filings.” Why did this jump at me? Something about the iron filings, but when he read those words, my heart gave a little flutter in recognition and I smiled.
  • Atmospheric Disturbances, Rivka Galchen – When I started to read this book, a coworker happened to ask me what I was reading right then. Just out of the blue; it’s not like I had the book with me. I laughed for a second and kind of wished I didn’t have to answer because I knew how weird it would sound. “Well, I’m reading this book about a man who thinks his wife has been replaced by a doppelganger and he has a patient who thinks he can control the weather and works for the meteorological academy … but he’s gone missing.” It was a fun if confounding read. Not only do you begin to question a lot about his “reality” but the fact that the author’s own last name works its way in as a mysterious background figure plays with the reality of the reader. A spot-on description of the book was used in a 2008 New Yorker review by James wood: “Galchen’s novel more boldly denies us the comfort of a conclusive explanation. ‘Atmospheric Disturbances’ is a novel of consciousness, not a novel about consciousness.”
  • Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s, John Elder Robison – When this book came out in 2007, I remember enjoying a passage I’d seen where he talked about petting a girl with a stick in an attempt to make friends. Turns out I could have just lived with knowing that passage and been happy. Don’t get me wrong: he led an interesting life (KISS!), and it was enlightening to get his take on his experience with the world (“And now I know it is perfectly natural for me not to look at someone when I talk. Those of us with Asperger’s are just not comfortable doing it. In fact, I don’t really understand why it’s considered normal to stare at someone’s eyeballs.”), but otherwise, it felt kind of flat to me. I often feel this way about autobiographies, though; they seem very forced and very focused on small details, and I come away away disappointed. Also, coincidentally, as I was finishing it, the news came out that the diagnosis Asperger’s disorder was being dropped and tucked under autism spectrum disorder.


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Amy says, "Wait a minute, I want to finish this chapter."

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