Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Seeing Voices (Oliver Sacks)

When I was about 13, I decided that I was going to learn sign language. I think the impetus was that someone in my family had found an old "Teach Yourself Sign Language" book, and I thought if there's a book, then surely I should learn the language. I made it roughly one-third of the way through the first chapter, and really just learned the alphabet (which I still remember most of today).

I'm a big fan of Oliver Sack's writing: He has the perfect balance of scientific fact and narrative that makes his books interesting and accessible. I highly recommend the books of his I've read in the past (Anthropologist on Mars, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and his memoir Uncle Tungsten, which signals how much times have changed, given the kinds and amounts of dangerous chemicals and materials Sacks had accessible as a kid).

Seeing Voices is divided into three parts, none of which really capture the beauty of Sack's writing. The first part began as a book review and follows much of the history of the deaf. The middle part deals more with scientific data, which is what I found most interesting, and especially explores the lives of the congenitally deaf. The section does sometimes capture the best part of Sack's writing but then quickly moves on. And the third part, well, I didn't quite make it to the third part. I meant to, but the book was due and on hold, so I couldn't renew it. Such is the life of a library book sometimes.

If you haven't read Oliver Sacks, you definitely should (see my list above). He's always almost interesting and insightful.

Next book up: Game Time: A Baseball Companion by Roger Angell

Send in the Idiots (Kamran Nazeer)

I was really excited to read Send in the Idiots by Kamran Nazeer because Nazeer attended a special school for students with autism when he was a child, and he decided to follow up on some of his classmates. Many years ago, I'd worked with kids who had learning disabilities, including a few who had autism, so I had a special interest in this book.

Maybe it was all the advance good reviews I had heard about this book or because I had built it up to heights it couldn't reach before I had read it, but I was kind of let down. I found the writing hard to follow; this, along with the author's many British-isms (referring to the shower as the shower cubicle), made for a lot of work to get through the book on my end.

However, I think Nazeer's perspective is quite valuable, especially for anyone working with those with autism, and I really wish I had read this book prior to working with those kids.

Next book up: Seeing Voices by Oliver Sacks

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Candyfreak (Steve Almond)

This is how I know of Steve Almond: Jim, many years ago, attended Breadloaf, the writer's conference, at the same time that Steve Almond did and enjoyed his work. So now Steve Almond is a household name. If we see his work anywhere, we yell out "Steve Almond!" And after I read his book Candyfreak, I found even more Steve Almond connections. Turns out he grew up in Palo Alto, where I work, and not only that, he grew up on a street right nearby my work. Steve Almond!

Steve Almond is a candybar fanatic. Now I'm a bonafide chocolate lover. And I eat my fair share. But I also know that I am somewhat of a food snob, or to use a nicer word to describe it, a foodie. So I don't eat the brand name chocolate bars. I'm a Lindt, Sharfenberger, organic, local chocolate fanatic. Steve Almond, however, likes candybars in every shape and form (he has a hoarded surplus of the now out-of-production dark chocolate KitKat bars). In his book, he finds out that chocolate makers will actually let him tour their factories (except for the big names because their processes are "top secret"), and he finds himself mesmerized and entranced by the many "chocolate enrobers" on the factory lines.

Now I have to note that Steve Almond does not have the cleanest vocabulary, which adds an unexpected level to the chocolate musings. Also, the book isn't exactly even throughout. It wanders around for a while in the beginning before starting the factory tours. But overall it was still a good read. Steve Almond!

Next book up: Send in the Idiots by Kamran Nazeer

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Eat, Pray, Love (Elizabeth Gilbert)

When I first heard of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, I didn't want to read it. I didn't want to hear about some woman who traveled to all these great places and experienced enlightenment. I think I was jealous of her before I even picked up the book. But it was on Powell's recommended reading list, and so far I've really liked all the books I've read from that list, so I eventually got it from the library.

Gilbert won me over right away. Reading her book is like talking to your best friend late at night after you've shared a bottle of wine, you know, having one of those deeply satisfying conversations where you're completely honest with each other and find out that your fears and worries in life aren't yours alone.

Going through a painful divorce, Gilbert found herself wanting, for no practical reason, to learn Italian. After an Italian class in New York, at a school that she refers to as "Night School for Divorced Ladies," a magazine-work-sponsored trip to Indonesia, and some serious yoga and spiritual sessions, she finds herself wanting to travel to Italy, Indonesia, and India. And eventually she makes it happen.

Gilbert admits that she's not the world's best traveler, but that her strongpoint is making friends, and she does this in each country: Luca Spaghetti in Rome, Richard from Texas at the ashram in India, and an Wayan, a single-mother who is also a healer, in Bali.

Her year-long journey is amazing, and she does a great job telling it, describing both the highs and the lows, with a lot of humor and compassion. Jim and I spent most of our weekends in June traveling, and I took this book with me on every trip, and even after long days where I was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to crawl in bed and fall asleep, I couldn't help but read a little bit each night, and often had to make myself stop. I highly recommend it.

Next book up: Candyfreak by Steve Almond