Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for March, 2008

Born on a Blue Day: A Memoir (Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant)

Posted by nliakos on March 19, 2008

by Daniel Tammet (2006; Landmark Audiobooks 2007, narrated by Simon Vance)

This book is one of the most interesting books I’ve read recently.  Daniel Tammet is a young British man with autism and savant syndrome; he is extraordinarily gifted in the areas of mathematics and languages.  Unlike many (or most?) people with savant syndrome, he is verbally articulate and is able to describe, for example, how he “sees” numbers as mental landscapes having shape, color, and size; how he goes about learning (or creating) a new language (he learned enough Icelandic in a week to go on national television and be interviewed in the language!); and his experiences as a volunteer English teacher in Lithuania–his first time living away from home!  What a gutsy guy.  He’s a real inspiration.

Here is one of several videos on YouTube about Daniel Tammet:

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Posted in Learning Disabilities, Non-fiction, Recommended for ESL or EFL Learners | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior

Posted by nliakos on March 19, 2008

by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson (narrated by Shelly Frasier)

I first read this marvelous book in 2006 and just listened to the audiobook.  It is so  fascinating.  Temple Grandin, author of Emergence: Labeled Autistic; Thinking in Pictures: And Other Reports from My Life with Autism; and The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships: Decoding Social Mysteries Through the Unique Perspectives of Autism here considers the way animals perceive the world and the way people with autism perceive the world, and finds them to be surprisingly similar.  She postulates that autistic people may occupy a middle ground between human perception and animal perception.

There are numerous fascinating examples about cattle and dogs as well as other animals.  Grandin matter-of-factly shows how autistic people, including herself, react in many ways in the same way animals do to stimuli in the environment.  For example, whereas people screen out irrelevant details from what they see, perceiving only the whole, animals (and autistic people) are unable to screen out anything and do not perceive “wholes”; in other words, we see the forest, and they see the trees.  More accurately, we see the tree, and they see each leaf and bit of bark.

Dog owners in particular will gain much knowledge about their pets from this book.  Grandin knows a lot about dogs and shares her knowledge here.  Reading it will improve the ability of dog owners to understand and communicate with their dogs.

Posted in Learning Disabilities, Non-fiction | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, August 27, 1883

Posted by nliakos on March 15, 2008

by Simon Winchester (Audio Adventures, narrated by the author)

This book is a compendium of everything remotely connected to the gigantic explosion of the volcanic island of Krakatoa in 1883: vulcanism, plate tectonics, history, geography, biology… The books is lovingly and throroughly researched (and narrated) by Simon Winchester.

I was aware of Krakatoa but knew few details, and I read Winchester’s account with fascination. One might wonder why anyone stayed around once it became clear that the volcano was going to erupt; but after weeks and then months of more or less spectacular smaller explosions, people became inured to the danger they were in. It seemed likely to go on spouting on and off indefinitely; could they leave their homes, farms, schools, and jobs? Thus it was that when the big eruption (which obliterated the island itself as well as generating tsunamis that wreaked havoc on the surrounding islands) came, over 30,000 people were within range of its deadly force. Winchester describes how floating bodies clogged the strait of Sunda and washed up as far away as Zanzibar! Yet, unbelievably, people on boats in the middle of the Sunda Strait survived, and Winchester reports the accounts of several survivors who actually outran the tsunamis. Today, the volcano is rebuilding itself; Anak Krakatoa, the “Child of Krakatoa,” is rising out of the water at an ominous rate, situated as it is over the most active subduction zone on the planet. Whether in our lifetime or not, Krakatoa will explode again in the future. And the population within view of it continues to grow. An incredible tale.

Posted in Non-fiction | Leave a Comment »

Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood

Posted by nliakos on March 15, 2008

by Oliver Sacks (Vintage 2001)

Oliver Sacks has been one of my favorite authors ever since I read Awakenings, and Uncle Tungsten has been on my “to read” list since it came out. Sacks narrates the story of his formative years in London, surrounded by music and science. He was fascinated by chemistry until the age of 14, and his parents (both doctors) and uncles (a chemist and a physicist) fed this fascination, allowing him the freedom to try the most amazing experiments in his home laboratory. The book is a combination of a boyhood memoir and a history of chemistry. Sacks is unflinchingly honest in his depictions of his boyhood self and his family. In some ways, he seems to have been as strange as the patients he describes in some of his other books; he was obsessed with the elements, the Periodic Table, and the chemists whose discoveries he describes.

At the age of 14, Sacks’ parents ended his dreams of becoming a chemist, dismissing them as so much childishness; they had already decided that he would become a doctor, which he dutifully did. He remarks, interestingly, that school killed his love of the subject: “Now, at school, I was forced to sit in classes, to take notes and exams, to use textbooks that were flat, impersonal, deadly. What had been fun, delight, when I did it my own way became an aversion, an ordeal, when I had to do it to order. What had been a holy subject for me, full of poetry, was being rendered prosaic, profane.” (p. 314) What an eloquent condemnation of formal education!

Writing the book served to reawaken his old love of chemistry, and in the process he manages to fascinate his readers as well.

Posted in Non-fiction | 1 Comment »

Sleeping with Schubert

Posted by nliakos on March 15, 2008

by Bonnie Marson, read by Staci Snell (2004)

Sometimes I pick an audiobook that I’ve never heard of off the shelf at the library and discover a treasure. Sleeping with Schubert was just such a find. It’s the story of Liza Durbin, a New York lawyer who is “inhabited” by dead composer Franz Schubert. The reader has to suspend disbelief at this impossible circumstance, but everything else in the novel is believably realistic: Liza’s conflicted feelings about this takeover of her soul (Franz’s heightened senses enrich Liza’s perceptions and emotions, but she fears losing herself and/or going mad), the reactions of other people (her parents, sister, boyfriend, teacher, friends, and therapist), her submission to Franz’s desires (to play the piano, write new music, visit Vienna, and find the hidden manuscript of the “unfinished” symphony) and her dread of losing Franz and of being tied to him forever. The story was thoroughly enjoyable and the ending satisfying. I cared about all the characters (including Franz); Marson develops each one lovingly into a believable person. Highly recommended!

Posted in Fiction | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »