September 2012 Bookshelf

Exiting Nirvana: A Daughter's Life with Autism by Clara Claiborne Park

Clara Claiborne Park writes an informative piece on life with an autistic child - adult.  My friend, Marcia, recommended it knowing that I love to read about different topics but at a level that the normal person can comprehend!  :) 
Park does a good job painting a picture of Jessy and how she thinks.  It gives the reader another side to the life of an autistic person and their family.  I was impressed with the efforts of the family to educate Jessy, to give her normal life jobs, etc.  They raised an extremely bright woman who no doubt made progress in spite of autism because of her family and their involvement in her life. 
My complaint with the book was its inability to really capture me.  Perhaps that was me and my divided attentions while trying to read it or perhaps it was because some of Park's chapters get long and fairly repetitive. After so many chapters of describing Jessy's paintings and thought processes I felt like saying, at times, "Okay I get it - can we move on?"
But all in all it was a good read that provided me with more information about life with autism. 

Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson

Huh.  Well okay.  First of all you may be surprised that I read this 38 years old.  But I read it because my freshman daughter has to for her honors class and I have heard of it but never had read it so I thought, "Why not?"  It was okay.  Not great.  And certainly, in my opinion, not as good as Paterson's other well read book "Bridge to Terabithia".
For those of you not familiar with the basis of the story here it is in a nutshell:  Twin sisters - one is favored, one is not so much.  Enter in sibling rivalry. It takes place on a small island in the 1940's during the war.  A lot of the book is perceptions of the twin that doesn't feel favored, Sara Louise.  By the time the book ends she is somewhat settled in her own skin but views her twin, Caroline, with indifference.
The book was ho-hum for me.  Perhaps reading it as a teen would have given me different perspective but reading it as an adult with life experience to color how I read I found it dull and kind of annoying.

Murphy's Boy by Torey L Hayden

What an amazing story.  What makes it, in part, so amazing is it is true. Really happened.  Several things about this true account of Kevin's story and Hayden's part in it made this book hard to put down.  It was one of those books I found myself anxious to get back to when I couldn't be reading it.
Hayden first meets Kevin sequestered under a table and unwilling to speak to anyone for the past 6+ years.  His fears have caged he and his voice and the facility he lives in is desperate to know what to do with him.  They call in Torey Hayden who has known experience with kids who can't or won't speak.  She's their last resort when it comes to Kevin.  This book is the story of Torey and Kevin and their journey together to his healing.  As she builds trust with him she discovers how he slipped through the cracks of the system and how the broken system kept him trapped in his abusive past.
This book isn't amazing because of Kevin's horrific past but because of Hayden's care and treatment of him and ultimately the way his story ends.  Torey Hayden writes a true story that reads like fiction - it is engaging and well-written.  It tears at the compassionate heart but it strengthens the belief most of us hold in love and care.  The most broken person can be healed if they allow even just one person in.
After you read the book, and you should read it, check out this quick update in Kevin's voice.
This is a story that will stick with me for quite some time.

Scattershot by David Lovelace

My rating is most likely because I found the book to be...disturbing...frustrating...slightly unbelievable. Except I am sure it all is completely believable to those who have lived with and witnessed bipolar.
As Lovelace begins to explain his family history I thought to myself, "What are the odds that his parents found each other, married, and both have bipolar?  I mean really what are the odds?  And do his parents truly both have it or does one have something different that looks like it?"  Those were/are just a few questions I had throughout the reading of David's memoir. His family history is a little frightening - on both sides - and it just makes you wonder what the heck happened in the gene pool for all of this to rise to the surface.  I don't say that to sound unsympathetic or cold, it's just a curiosity. Lovelace chronicles how bipolar made itself known in the lives of his immediate family.  He takes us on a journey of his particular struggle to deny its existence and then finally his resignation to accept it.  I think what frustrated me was he knew he was unhealthy and yet did unhealthy things that only made it worse.  Almost like inviting disaster.  Is this typical of people who have bipolar?
It was okay.  I felt bored through the middle section of the book. It was David's accounts of his crazy efforts to outrun his family and bipolar.  And I wasn't all that fascinated by his efforts, just bored.  Maybe it's just me.  Maybe if I was more intimately acquainted with bipolar because of a loved one or myself I would have been more taken by this account.

I am a Pencil by Sam Swope

I'm a sucker for men and women who see the potential in kids that nobody else does and devotes their lives to exposing the potential.  And that's what this book is about.
Sam Swope, at a crossroads in his writing career, was handed an opportunity to teach a writing workshop to some 3rd grade kids.  He jumped at the chance and stuck with them for 3 years, pouring into them - not just writing techniques, etc but he poured into them belief and care and consistency.  They thrived, mostly, under his presence. He decided early on in his workshop that the kids were coming up with some fascinating things and he thought they would make an interesting read.  He was right.  He recorded their workshops, conferences, saved papers, stories, and drawings.  And when all was said and done he was able to share with us the profound impact the children had on him through their writing, or even lack of it at times.
What the book highlights is that we don't give the kids enough credit and we need to dig a little deeper in the lives of the kids we are in touch with - we may be surprised to find out what is going on and it may be the very explanation we are looking for about them.  And the biggest lesson of all the book shares is never ever give up on a child.

Devil in the Details: Scenes from an obsessive girlhood by Jennifer Traig

HYSTERICAL.  Traig tells her story with wit and snark. 
Jennifer Traig is a recovering OCDer who happens to be half-jewish as well.  She used her jewish roots to feed her OCD when she was a teenager and the stories she tells will have you crying from laughing so hard.  Her family chose to acknowledge her OCD behavior with humor and not a lot of coddling.  I'm sure in reality, separate from the stories she shares in this memoir, her family was confused and irritated.  Traig relays her sickness and struggle with OCD in a comedic light.  What else are you going to do but laugh?  She's better now but her struggles with OCD, before it was known as OCD, were very real and usually no laughing matter.  People who struggle with OCD are miserable themselves and make life for people around them a living hell.  Their obsessions control their movements and the movements of others. 
Jennifer's story of OCD in childhood is a funny and enlightening read. She has a good voice and writes in a way that captures the reader instantly.

Love You to Bits and Pieces: Life with David Helfgott by Gillian Helfgott

It's hard, I think, to rate someones true life story.  So my rating has more to do with the way in which it was written (i.e. did it captivate me, keep me interested, etc?).  Perhaps my "problem" with this particular one is that I just wasn't that interested from the get go.  I've never heard of David Helfgott nor the movie "Shine" so I didn't really care about this brilliant piano player. I might have gotten interested if the book was written, in my opinion, to interest me.  But as it was, David's wife Gillian didn't write it to interest me.  I'm not a fan of simply retelling the details.  Make them interesting! I didn't feel Gillian did this.  And it is assumed that even if you aren't deeply interested in the musical world that you know who David Helfgott is and you are so enamored by him.  I think this is a wrong assumption to make.  I would guess that most fall into the category I do, having never heard of him before.  And if that is the case the writing needs to be really good in order to get the reader really interested.  This book just didn't do it for me.  I kinda felt like I was trudging through it and honestly the last 100 or so pages I skimmed.  It was a retelling after retelling of concerts and David's mannerisms - the prior pages had already recounted similar stories multiple times. So the book wasn't a win for me but I am curious to hear David play so I'll head over to YouTube and see if I can find him there so I can at least hear his brilliant playing.


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