Thinking about people with disabilities

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.

 

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. 

~posted by Anne C.

Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore

Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore. When Jody becomes a vampire, she realizes that even though being young and beautiful forever is kind of cool, there are a few serious draw backs — like blood thirst, dropping dead at dawn, and the problem of finding suitable employment. So what’s a girl to do when she can’t hold a job, eat a bagel, or buy new shoes? Enter Tommy Flood, a wanna-be-writer working the night shift at the local Safeway. With Tommy’s help Jody can become the creature of the night she was reborn to be. That is if Elijah, her maker, and the Animals, Tommy’s vampire-hunting buddies, don’t kill her first. Bloodsucking Fiends is by turns goofy and quick witted, a combination that will make you laugh out loud in public places. If that’s not your thing, you might want to skip it and its sequel, titled You Suck.

You Suck: A Love Story by Christopher Moore. As far as Tommy Flood’s concerned, being a vampire isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There’s the blood drinking, the sunburns, and the teenage goth-girl who wants to be his ‘minion.’ As if that wasn’t bad enough, he and his girlfriend (also undead) are being hunted by a centuries old vampire as well as a group of vampire-hunter-wannabes who know exactly how Tommy thinks. After all, he used to be their leader. It’s a race for survival, and a comedy of errors that will make you laugh until your funny bone hurts.

~posted by Lindsay S.

Spun to distraction – surviving life between the primaries and the general election

This is probably the most exciting election year I’ve ever seen. It’s exhilarating and exhausting. Just keeping track of the code words and the spin cycles, not to mention the charges and counter-charges is enough to give even a committed political junky a headache. Enter unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation. Written by the founders of FactCheck.org, this is your guide to separating fact from “disinformation.” While the authors briefly touch on unsavory tactics of consumer sales, the heart of the book is a primer on political deception and the complicity of the news media. If you are suffering from FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) page through unSpun. It’s a quick read filled with tips that will help you maintain your information sanity through the wild ride of the presidential election season.

Gaiman gives it away!

And we like it. To celebrate the seventh birthday of his blog, the wildly inventive Neil Gaiman asked his fans to vote on which of his titles they’d like a free electronic copy of. Now that the voting is over, American Gods is available for online readers at the Harpercollins site for the month of March. Gaiman’s fourth novel tells of an epic struggle between a pantheon of dieties such as Odin, Anansi and Thoth, long thought dead but actually just lying low and doing menial jobs, and an upstart race of New American Gods – gods of television and the credit card, the Internet and the internal combustion engine.

Gaiman is not the first hugely talented author of speculative fiction to offer their work gratis. Kelly Link, Charles Stross, and Cory Doctorow are among a growing group of forward-thinking writers giving away their work via creative commons licensing. And there are other visionary organizations that have been giving books away for over a century! As Gaiman put it in a recent post on his blog: “Libraries are good things: you shouldn’t have to pay for every book you read.” Amen.

Did the FBI go too far …

… in 1954?  The FBI amassed a huge file over many years in their investigation of J. Robert Oppenheimer.  Much of the information they gathered – including illegal wiretapping of conversations between Oppenheimer and his lawyer – was used against him at his security clearance hearing.

Twenty-seven years in the making, American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J.  Sherwin details – sometimes in excruciating minutia – Oppenheimer’s fantastic, complicated life. The title, which refers to the god who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mankind only to be tortured and shamed for his efforts,  reflects the feeling that many people share about Oppenheimer’s treatment after he helped develop the atomic bomb in time for it to be used during World War II. His story is ripe for controversy and conflicting opinions.  Did the U. S. use the bomb against a nation prepared to surrender? Why was Oppie treated so badly by the government he so willingly served? Was his trial fair, or even legal? This biography doesn’t provide answers, but it sets forth many a valid question. For more informaton about the authors journey with their subject, you can read a series of question and answers, originally published online in 2005. Or for more about Oppie, view a centennial exhibit developed by UC-Berkeley.