Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Look Me in the Eye

Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's
John Elder Robison

Plot Overview:

Robison writes about growing up and becoming an adult with Asperger's syndrome--even though that diagnosis didn't exist until he was an adult. As the title references, he struggles to make eye contact and friends. He struggles to relate to his peers in many painful ways. The text is part memoir (very bildungsroman) and also a collection of personal essays. 

Robison writes about growing up, moving around, his parents addictions and mental health, his relationship with his brother (Augusten Burroughs), and his troubled relationship with school and academics. Once Robison drops out of high school, the text is much more experience based. For example, Robison spends a few years working for KISS and creating many of on-stage pyrotechnics for the band. From there he gets a "real job", gets married, and has a son. The text wraps up with the creation of a successful business by Robison and a renewed relationship with his dying father.

Favorite Character:

As the speaker, main character, and author, Robison is definitely my favorite. While his narratives all speak to his experience as someone with Asperger's, I sometimes forgot that was the purpose of the work. I really enjoyed immersing myself in his world and his quirks. 

Best Takeaway:

Broadly, this text reminded me to explore more non-fiction. Although I love devouring a good novel, sometimes a personal memoir or set of essays can provide a much needed perspective switch.

Before reading Look Me in the Eye, I was already familiar with the struggles someone with Asperger's syndrome has with empathy. I enjoyed returning to (im)proper displays of empathy by Robison throughout the text. It made me think about in which situations do I have trouble with empathy. I was also reading this within the context of multiple mass shootings in the US which led me to wonder about our empathy for fellow citizens, especially those with a different skin color, sexual orientation, etc.

Favorite Quotes:

"As a logical thinker, I cannot help thinking, based on the evidence, that many people who exhibit dramatic reactions to bad news involving strangers are hypocrites. That troubles me. People like that hear bad news from across the words, and they burst into wails and tears as though their own children have just been run over by a bus." -p32

"The truth was, I had no idea how to vacation. This was my first trip far from home with anyone besides my family. I had no money and there was hardly anything for me to do. One thing I learned that trip was: Bring money!" -p115

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

FYI: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Vinegar Girl

Vinegar Girl
Anne Tyler

Plot Overview: 

Another modern retelling of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. Kate Battista is nearly thirty, works as a teacher's assistant, runs her father's household and oversees her high-school aged sister, Bunny. Kate's father, Dr. Battista, is a struggling scientist and he tries to arrange a marriage between his immigrant research assistant, Pyotr, and his daughter, Kate.

Favorite Character:

I wasn't really a fan of any of the characters but Kate is my favorite. Through the narrative, I spent the most time with Kate and in the end I did enjoy getting to know her. Although intuitively I wanted her to resist her dad's setup, her reasons for marrying Pyotr were in the end compelling. Kate

Best Takeaway:

The novel really left me thinking about the function of marriage. It raises questions about what makes two people compatible? How do families function? How does love manifest itself in the various relationships in my life?

What I wanted more of:

It is really more about what I wanted less of -- quirkiness. Every single main character had so much personality. For example, Dr. Battista was the absent-minded professor, taken to the extreme. Bunny plays the teenage daughter trying to be vegan, again taken to the extreme. In the end I wanted more time to understand the entire Battista family, and Pyotr. I think Kate learns more about their motivations, but I am not sure it rings through to the reader.

Favorite quotes:

"It really was a beautiful day, she realized. She was still mad as hell at her father, but she took some comfort in telling herself that at least the man he'd tried to palm off on her was not a complete heel." -p98

"But then he saw that they didn't, really. It was true they were standing in a door, but they were both in the one door side by side and very close together, neither one in front or behind, and they were holding hands smiling."     -p235

Overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars

FYI: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.