March is Disability Awareness month. This is a great time to remember the achievements of people with disabilities — folks who live in a world designed to accommodate people whose bodies, minds or senses work a little differently from their own.
I recently discovered two really interesting memoirs on this subject. Both demonstrate that disabilities can affect anyone and that a disability may restrict life in one way while simultaneously enhancing it in another.
My Year Off: Recovering Life After a Stroke by Robert McCrum, is a very witty and often humorous narrative of how 42-year-old McCrum went from being an energetic man and popular novelist to a paralyzed stroke victim literally overnight, and then fought his way back to mainstream life. I was hooked from the first scene.
Divided Minds: Twin Sisters and Their Journey Through Schizophrenia by Pamela Spiro Wagner and Carolyn S. Spiro M.D., provides a really powerful look into how the authors’ relationships with each other and with the outside world evolved as one twin developed schizophrenia and the other did not.
Anyone interested in exploring disabilities through fiction might enjoy these books, which I really love.
Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem. The narrator and main character here is an amateur detective with Tourette’s syndrome, who scours the shady side of Brooklyn to find his mentor’s killer. The writing is by far my favorite part of the book. Tourettic tics are woven into the narrator’s internal monologues as well as his conversations with other characters, revealing the effect of the condition on his life without obscuring the underlying detective story. Many passages were both thoughtful and laugh-out-loud funny.
The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon. In this bittersweet, philosophical story set in the near future, Lou, the narrator, is forced to choose between life as an autistic man and an experimental cure that may make him “normal” at the cost of his identity and the insights his autism grants. Corporate morality and the ethics of genetic testing are important sub-themes.
These and other books related to a wide range of disabilities can be found on display this March on Level 3 at the Central Library.
On a related note, if you or anyone you know has a disability and lives in the Seattle area, you may also be interested in the many resources available to people with disabilities through The Seattle Public Library. These range from audio books to an adaptive technology computer lab.