Book review – Eris Young – “Ace Voices”


I requested this book on NetGalley a while ago as I work to understand different communities and keep my reading and interests diverse. I also have at least one asexual friend and thought this would help me reach more understanding without pressuring them for information. It was partly helpful although a bit confusing, but of course there are more books out there and I will look into them (one thing this book did have was a great resources section). This was one of my unread December NetGalley reads; I am trying to keep up!

Eris Young – “Ace Voices: What it Means to be Asexual, Aromantic, Demi or Grey-Ace”

(4 July 2022, NetGalley)

This book sets out to give people on the asexual spectrum (or a-spec) (which includes a wide range of identities including aromantic ones) somewhere to find themselves and know they are not alone and, I think maybe slightly less successfully, help allosexual spectrum (people who are orientated towards sexuality and romance, giving a term to be in contrast to a-spec rather than assuming it’s the default, much as we use cis- and transgender) to understand a-spec people.

I did learn a lot – there are a lot of different descriptors to define different ways of being, which can seem confusing at times: this does a good job at defining them (at this point in time, as it’s an area where language is constantly changing) and also really viscerally explains how the terms have helped people to realise they are not alone/weird/wrong. It was useful to have good definitions of the difference between being asexual and aromantic and how one person will not necessarily both (so you can be open to romance but not sex, or only able to have sex with someone you know really, really well, or you can be uninterested in romance and able to have a one-night stand with a stranger, or any combination thereof, for example). Of course, in a heteronormative, marriage-industrial-complex environment that puts romantic and married pairings higher in a hierarchy of relationships than friendship, this can lead to people with such orientations being criticised to persecuted (the book is light on discussing trauma and at pains to clarify that asexuality does not arise from trauma, but it’s clear that various levels of traumatic things can happen around allosexual people’s reactions to a-spec people’s orientations).

There are statistics from a survey the author did and then quotes from in-depth interviews which were really useful for getting feelings and orientations through to the reader. I would have maybe liked more detail on how the research sample was put together, and who was chosen for interviews. There is also discussion, with notes, on previous research and comparison with the present study to validate it. It makes a good effort to include intersectionality, looking at people with disabilities (including quite a lot about neurodivergent folk) and global majority people, as well as looking at studies from non-Western countries and the different issues faced there and conclusions that can be drawn from them. It makes sure it covers a-spec joy as well as pain and struggle.

One thing I did find a bit confusing, and I am aware I need to check my privilege here as a cis-het person, is that cis-gender heterosexual people were not really included here, and I had thought one could be a-spec and of a heterosexual orientation. The author had found out about a-spec through involvement with the queer community and it seemed that most of their participants had, too (I don’t know really how I found out about it but presumably through reading and shared information on social media; I definitely knew what it was in general before my friend mentioned it). So only two people mentioned in the whole book had a heterosexual orientation, and I would think there would be more than that, just given statistics. However, I’m also aware having talked this through with a couple of friends in the LGBTQIA+ community that the last thing that community needs is to be flooded by heterosexual people (and of course I don’t need my general sector of cis-het people to be represented everywhere, as we get plenty of stuff written about us), although I thought the A stood for Asexual in general (open to correction there; it’s hard to find out though) and apparently only 1% of the whole UK population self-identifies as asexual. and a proportion of those would be LGBTQI. There was also a long chapter at the end about kinds of non-monogamous relationships people who are a-spec talked about being ideal which didn’t really interest me in such detail, but is probably helpful to those in the community looking to find a way to be outside “conventional” relationships.

So maybe there is a rich seam of research on heterosexual monogamous people who are asexual, but it’s not here, and maybe the book should have been defined as being about queer a-spec folk. It was also interesting that the author talks quite a lot about not working out things about themselves until they were writing this book, but maybe it should be then described as partly their personal journey: again absolutely fine, of course, but not what I thought the book was.

As mentioned above, the book is full of information and has a great resources section at the end, including a list of fiction that involves a-spec people which is always useful to see. There’s a very good list of ways allo people can support their a-spec friends by validating their friendships as important as well as the basics of not trying to pressurise the whole world into being in relationships. It’s good to have positive and detailed books like this out there, based on real people’s voices, and I would recommend it to anyone exploring their a-spec identity and finding their community and, in a slightly more limited way, for those who wish to understand the community.

Thank you to Jessica Kingsley Publishers for making this available on NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Ace Voices” was published on 21 December 2022.

Book review – Ibram X. Kendi – “How to Raise an Antiracist”


Back to NetGalley reads today and at this point I’m half-way through my 10 books to read for July, having actually finished 6 as I had one that came in suddenly and was published in June. And at the time of writing this review, I was already part-way through “Girls They Write Songs About”. I haven’t read any of Kendi’s other well-known and best-selling books, just really because they concentrated on the US experience of racism and antiracism and I was trying to catch up with the books published in/about the UK first. Then this one popped up on NetGalley and I just had to go for it.

Ibram X. Kendi – “How to Raise an Antiracist”

(23 May 2022, NetGalley)

We raise a critical thinker in much the same way as we raised an antiracist. Asking, not telling. Modeling, not lecturing. Radically changing the environment and ourselves.

As I say above, I haven’t read any of Dr Kendi’s other books, but going on this one, I will do so. I don’t know if the personal and almost confiding nature of the narrative, with personal experience woven in with academic research and calls for action, is a feature of all of his work, but it made it an attractive read, making me feel we were all in it together if we want equity for all peoples and an end to systematic as well as personal racism, and understanding that antiracism is a journey and we can exhibit aspects of both antiracism and racism (especially given that racism includes seeing racism yourself and doing nothing about it, the kind of “default” “neutral” status people try to claim as “I’m not racist”) as we move along that journey.

Although Kendi was working on his “How to be an Antiracist” when his daughter Imani was born, but he admits it didn’t strike him till much later that alongside he and his partner Sadiqa child-proofing the house against accidental injury, they should have been child-proofing her against racism. Then he admits he finds it uncomfortable to have to do that, to introduce the idea of racism to his small, innocent daughter.

He then takes the background of first Sadiqa’s treatment when she was pregnant (she is a paediatrician and knew something was wrong anyway but was naysaid and disbelieved until it was suddenly clear that something was very wrong; this is set against figures showing that the maternal mortality rate for Black women in the US is more than three times that for White women); their first moments with their baby; Imani’s daycare (where only White dolls were available; this is compared to the famous sociological Doll Test); and her first school – as she’s only five by the end of the book, we then follow Ibram and his brother’s journey through their own school lives (encountering racism from caregivers and teachers; compared with research on racist and ablist perceptions and actions of teachers, underfunding of schools, overdiagnosis and underdiagnosis of learning disabilities, etc.). So all through the book, he takes personal experience expressed clearly and honestly, then compares it to the research that has been done on all types of children and families, and then offers points to work on, learning points and action points.

One small issue I have with the book is of course that it’s a US-based book, so the stats and experiences include Latinx and Native (as he calls them) American people, with South Asians being lumped together, where the UK experience obviously has a smaller proportion of GMP populations but more people from South and East Asia as a proportion. But obviously the issues are very similar, and the statistics here will be similar based on our populations. I still have a bit of trouble getting my head around the levels of school grades in the US, and while he talks about class-based issues and poverty, I’m not sure the class issues are the same in both countries. This is obviously not a criticism, just an aspect of reading this book from here, and there are plenty of books that show the UK stats and issues (for example, “Brit(ish)“, “Slay in Your Lane“, “Natives” and some upcoming ones here, too).

Anyway, the powerful options he suggests are useful anywhere: teaching critical thinking, discussing what has happened in the news or what the child has seen. He extends this nicely to cover other issues such as gender, people with disabilities and the accommodations they might need, class and poverty issues, showing how we can influence the children in our lives to see and notice inequity and protest against it. There’s a call for both changing ourselves AND society at the end:

We must stop problematizing children and start problematizing power and policy – and ourselves. We can parent better. We can teach better. We can care for the child better. But there are limits to what we can do as caregivers, especially when resources are lacking, when kids are irritable from hunger, when parents and teachers keep getting evicted from homes or buildings, or because the state, through its policies, is imposing a racist curriculum onto parents and teachers.

The afterword builds a picture of the backlash in the US after George Floyd’s death and the growth of the BLM movement – I hadn’t realised about all the curriculum changes made since then by White supremacist activists trying to remove “critical race theory” from schools to as they claim protect their children from hating their own race (research shows White children don’t end up hating their race from being educated about racism; there’s a chance Black children will stop self-hatred when that education is there). I don’t think that’s a thing in the UK, where curriculum reform is adding GMP history into schools, though I’m not entirely sure on this.

A great book with lots of really powerful and useful, practical points. The referencing is done well, with authors’ names being given in the text but with no footnotes or endnote numbers to break the concentration and a reference list done by chapter and page at the back – suitable for a book like this, I think. I loved that he acknowledged his wife as “The real Dr Kendi” and thanked his editors in detail at the end. If you are raising, teaching or around babies to teenagers and want to explore introducing antiracism in their lives, I recommend this book.

Thank you to Bodley Head Publishers/Vintage Books for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “How to Raise an Antiracist” was published on 7 July 2022.

Book review – Bonnie Garmus – “Lessons in Chemistry”


Another NetGalley book and one with a lot of hype, like Candice Carty-Williams’ “People Person” which I’ll be reviewing in a couple of days, and, like that novel, well worth the hype. I requested and downloaded it back in December last year but I think I’m doing well to review books in the month they’re published; I have seen a few reviews already that I’m going to go back to now I’ve collected my own thoughts.

Bonnie Garmus – “Lessons in Chemistry”

(15 December 2021)

And then there was the illogical art of female friendship itself, the way it seemed to demand an ability to both keep and reveal secrets using precise timing …

We open with someone called Elizabeth Zott popping handwritten notes into her daughter’s lunch box some time in the 1960s. But Elizabeth isn’t your run-of-the-mill 1960s housewife (and she’d contend there’s no such thing) and her daughter Mad has benefited from a scientific training which has left her a second-generation uncomfortable genius not fitting in well at school. Add in a kindly neighbour whose life they change and a dog called Six Thirty who has an extensive vocabulary but no way to express it (and is still there at the end, phew!), and you’ve got a lovely cast of characters to follow through the book.

Like “The Group”, in fact, this is a bit of a #MeToo book, even though obviously the movement hadn’t been coined when it was set. We follow Elizabeth from school through to university, where her perceived oddness, bluntness and scientific exactness mean she’s a fairly lone soul. She can see the sexism in academia but is powerless to change it (this is illustrated by a pretty shocking scene of assault: this is not a cutesy easy read by any means), and she also finds this when she starts to work in a research institute.

Not keen to have children, who she knows will mess up your career, Elizabeth ends up with Mad but without the love of her life, Calvin, the also probably neurodiverse scientist who sees her scientific but also romantic value. Resourceful to the last, I love that she builds a lab at home out of her kitchen, while pregnant, and then we get lots of details of how she uses that lab as a kitchen.

When she’s on the point of leaving the lab for a second time, driven down by her sexist boss, she’s weirdly headhunted by Walter, a TV producer who needs someone to fill an afternoon slot and thinks she’s just the person to teach the nation’s women how to cook. So she does – but she also teaches the nation’s women how to think, do chemistry and value themselves, while fighting against the expectations from the bosses on how she will comport herself.

Meanwhile, female solidarity builds between both Elizabeth and her former enemy, the HR executive from the research institute and Harriet, the motherly neighbour with a horrible husband. This was a lovely theme and really well done. We can add to these themes a mystery about Calvin’s origins which is unpicked and solved by his resourceful daughter – this novel is packed full of incident but there’s plenty of room for character and it’s a feel-good read (with some wincey bits) that I heartily recommend.

Thank you to Random House for picking me to read this book in return for an honest review. “Lessons in Chemistry” was published on 5 April 2022 and is already being made into a TV series!

Book review – Kelli Sandman-Hurley – “The Adult Side of Dyslexia”


I was attracted to request this NetGalley book because I’d just been thinking and writing about my editing clients with dyslexia, who are one group of writers who often use speech-to-text software (I wrote about this on my professional blog here), and also one of the books I’d been reading about race issues had mentioned how Black children are less likely to be diagnosed with dyslexia and more likely to be diagnosed with behavioural issues. I liked seeing the darker skin of the woman on the cover, allowing her to be one of many ethnicities rather than just a “standard” White. It is published this month, so I aimed to read it anyway, popping it into my NonFiction November challenge, but then when I started powering through the percentages on my Kindle I checked and realised it was also a Novella in November candidate!

Kelli Sandman-Hurley – “The Adult Side of Dyslexia”

(29 September 2021)

This short book has all it needs to pack a punch, give people visibility and recognition and put forward good solid action points for the future. Sandman-Hurley did a qualitative study, interviewing around 50 adults with dyslexia about their experiences in education and their lives and opinions now.

She recruited a wide range of respondents of all races and social classes, and reports their words directly in most of the text, drawing comparisons and making careful use of “most”, “many” and “some” as she goes (she’s also careful to ask them how they wish to be referred to, as dyslexics or people with dyslexia, and is careful to honour all their different experiences, although I did note she only seems to refer to people’s race when they were not White*; she does talk about particularly inequitable treatment given to Black and Latinx students in schools).

The stories are of course sad and painful, but she’s quick to draw lessons from them about advocacy, self-advocacy, teacher education and the importance of adult dyslexics providing role models and advocates for younger people coming along. She even includes call-out quotes that summarise the page they’re on (I’m not sure what this looks like in the print book; it showed up as paragraphs in bold in the middle of the pages on the Kindle ARC), presumably to allow a more smooth read for people with dyslexia accessing the book.

There’s a resource list in the back that includes books, websites and podcasts, including non-US ones. Sandman-Hurley is an adult literacy teacher and researcher and has written other books around dyslexia and this is an excellent, although based in the US school system, resource.

* Edited to add: in fairness to the author, I received this gracious reaction to my review from her via (public) Twitter: “Thank you for the review. I appreciate the point that I only referred to race when it wasn’t white. That was certainly an unconscious issue that I will address as I go forward.”

“The Adult Side of Dyslexia” was published on 18 November 2021. Thank you to Jessica Kingsley Publishers for making it available on NetGalley in return for an honest review.

I read this for Nonfiction November and it was also Book 10 in my Novellas in November reads

Book Review – Simon Barnes – “On the Marsh” #NonFicNov


This was a book I actually finished at the weekend, so still during Nonfiction November, but didn’t get time to review, frustratingly. So now I’ve read or started everything I planned to read apart from “Homesick” – and at least “The Good Immigrant USA” will now ‘do’ for #DiverseDecember!

I’m also pleased that I’m almost caught up to being a year behind, after having slipped back horribly in getting through the books I bought the longest ago, and even when picking newer books off from time to time. It’s all good.

Simon Barnes – “On the Marsh: A Year Surrounded by Wilderness and Wet”

(02 October 2019, The Works, Penzance)

This book has contributions from Edmund Barnes and Cindy Lee Wright. Cindy is Barnes’ wife, she has done beautiful illustrations for the starts of each chapter, and Barnes also includes moving passages of appreciation for both her art and for her support of their family. Edmund – Eddie – is a young adult who has Down’s syndrome and has contributed both a his character to the book and his rather lovely poems scattered through it.

I did worry that I would find too many personal incursions into this book – not because I don’t like reading about people living with different conditions, but because I like my nature books to be about the nature. But here, the theme of Eddie’s life and the effect being on the marsh has on it, as he passes through a big year where he leaves school and starts college, learns more about nature and learns some potentially hard lessons about his beloved horse (don’t worry, though), is woven beautifully through the book, with promised excursions and repeated joys bringing a daily structure to the book which echoes the monthly and annual one. There is some polemic, and why the hell shouldn’t there be, about the odd unkind educator and the very existence of people with Down’s syndrome, but the main theme is carried through with aplomb.

There’s polemic, too, about nature conservation, about keeping wild lands joined up, and a lot of musing on what ‘wilding’ and ‘rewilding’ are and what we should do to our land – Barnes makes the excellent point a couple of times that “our land” can be anything from a massive estate to a window box, but it all matters and it all involves decisions (we’re thinking of climbers and fruit trees to plant to offset our next-door neighbour’s huge extension, for instance). He mentions Isabella Tree’s book “Wilding” a couple of times, and visits the farm where it’s set, which is making me eager to pick that one up. But the joined-up nature of wild places is the most important thing for him:

It’s part of something that covers the nation: a vast and spreading web of places where the wild things are. And every strand depends, at least to an extent, on all the others; when you break a single strand you weaken the entire web. (p. 63)

We come off the marsh in fact to visit his neighbours and friends around and see how they manage their land and what they think of his. There’s quite a lot about the local nature reserve at Minsmere, which is lovely to read about. 

He’s got a nice turn of phrase – his horses turn into dragons on a frosty morning “I found I had exchanged them for a stable of dragons, three twin jets of smoke billowing over the three half-doors” (p. 73).

In one very exciting passage, he also reveals that his grandfather lived basically half a mile from where I live now! My next but one read has featured Peckham, too, so everything really is a web of knowing and places!

Barnes’ African sojourns also feel natural to relate here, talking about the lions he loves and the naturalists he’s spent time with and, notably, seeing migratory birds on the marsh that he has also seen on that other continent, thousands of miles away. As well as Cindy’s lovely animal illustrations, there is a pleasingly drawn map at the front. I learned a lot reading this book (are baby spoonbills really called ‘teaspoons’ by birders, though?), it’s the everyday small pleasures, recognising a birdsong, seeing a new creature, seeing the same creature again and again that really stuck with me when I finished this book.


Book review – Jennifer Niven – “Holding up the Universe” @jenniferniven #amreading


A foray into YA today, an age group I’m not averse to, although I’m not keen on vampires and the like and keep it to the more real-life stuff. In the case of this book, I came to it via the prosopagnosia group I’m in, because one of the two central characters has proso (or face-blindness) just like me (read about my experiences with it here on my professional blog). I have to admit to a little trepidation, because would she get it right? Reader, she did: very, very right. And it was a good read it in its own right, too.

Jennifer Niven – “Holding up the Universe”

(13 March 2019)

A marvellous YA novel with its central characters a fat girl (who used to be America’s Fattest Teen, and has lost enough weight to be able to run and buy clothes at the mall but no more with no plans to lose more) and a boy with the best-described (OK, only) case of prosopagnosia I’ve seen in fiction.

Libby is going back to high school after a couple of years of hiding away and home-schooling, and Jack’s trying to keep an eye on his younger brothers, especially Dusty, who’s just started carrying a handbag around, although this is tricky when he has to constantly recalibrate who they are (he has it worse than me, knowing someone is his mum because it’s a woman in his house and he can extrapolate from there). Libby’s weight loss doesn’t win her a boyfriend, as some more conventional narratives would have it: working on herself and going back to school with her head held high give her friends, and if it’s a choice between losing weight and losing one of her dreams, well, you trust the author on this one. She’s her own authentic self, even when that brings her into the public eye – although the first spotlight on her is not exactly her fault.

The two teens meet when Jack does something disrespectful to Libby but with good motives, to prevent he from having someone more malevolent target her in a new craze (there is no animal cruelty (in fact the elderly cat makes it through to the end) or hazing, as some reviews have mentioned a shocking incident: it is shocking, but not gratuitous). They reach an understanding and start to fall in love with one another, in a nicely believable, supportive and respectful way (sometimes this seems a bit twee in YA books but then the young adults I know are pretty respectful and open-minded, so …).

But the best bits are the bits describing prosopagnosia. Niven has done her research (and thanks those who helped her) and it shows, but is put in naturally. There’s such a good explanation that I will try to remember and use myself:

“So you can see my face, but you can’t remember it.”

“Something like that. It’s not like faces are a blank. I see eyes, noses, mouths. I just can’t associated them with specific people. Not like how you, as in Libby, can take a mental snapshot of someone and store it away in your mind for next time. I take a snapshot, and it immediately goes in the trash. If it takes you one or two meetings to be able to remember someone, it can take me a hundred. Or never. It’s kind of like amnesia or like trying to tell everyone apart by their hands.”

She glances down at her hands and then at mind. “So when you turn away and then you turn back, you’re not sure who I am?”

“Intellectually, I get that it’s you. But i don’t believe it, if that makes sense. I have to convince myself all over again.” (p. 145)

Like the rest of us, he uses signifiers, the way someone walks, the shape of their nose, the colour of their hair, the sound of their voice, to identify them.

And then look at what happens when Jack is asked to hand out test results to the class:

The class is looking at me as I look at them. There are four kids who are definite IDs. Three, I’m fairly sure I don’t know and am not supposed to know (but I’m not completely, totally sure). Eight are in the gray zone, better known as the danger zone. (p. 43)

It even has one scene where, panicked, Jack only sees blurred disks rather than faces with features – this has happened to me very rarely and is very uncomfortable. Libby gets it and announces to Jack who she is when she comes up to him (hooray for friends who do this!) and when he finally “comes out” about it, some friends laugh, some get it wrong, “I heard you went blind,” and some research it and arm themselves with the facts – pretty representative of real life, where it’s always better to tell people, I’ve found.

Libby is comfortable with who she is: “Why should what I weigh affect other people?” she asks (p. 310) but she’s worked hard on herself to get here and shows that’s something people can do. And she’s a powerful force for good in Jack’s life, but also seen as attractive in her own right. A good read and one I will be telling the proso groups all about!

Do feel free it you want to ask me anything about prosopagnosia in the comments!

Book review – Laura James – “Odd Girl Out” #netgalley #books #amreading


Odd Girl Out Laura JamesAnother NetGalley read slipped into the middle of my Virago month and Books of Summer. Thank you to Pan Macmillan for making it available via NetGalley.

“Odd Girl Out” is the story of a woman diagnosed with autism in her adult years, who surprises people with this fact when they only know the externals of her life as a busy and successful journalist and PR. When she finally discloses her status, and the raft of careful work to build her environment to be as supportive of her condition as she can that entails so much hard work on her part, she finds her people and draws comfort from other, hidden, autistic women.

It’s a very open and honest book – as what get called ‘high-functioning’ people on the autistic spectrum often are, and this is both an advantage and a disadvantage, as the sections detailing her medical procedures and addiction clinic experiences can be a little too searing at times. James does make an interesting point about the idea of the ‘spectrum’ being just that (rather than a continuum) with different characteristics appearing in different people to different extents. Therefore, she can function in interviews but has some very specific needs around comfort and her bedroom, and this is normal – or it’s her normal, anyway.

The book also touches on the important fact, really just coming to light recently, that just because girls are less frequently diagnosed as autistic than boys, it doesn’t mean they are less frequently autistic. She teases out the idea that girls, socialised to be, well, socialised, use copying neurotypical behaviour as a very strong coping mechanism. This helps them to ‘pass’ more easily (maybe unless they have co-morbidities, as James does, with issues with hypermobility, GI problems, a very delicate skin and hyper-sensitivity to drugs – still, she exhibited all this yet her autism was missed for decades). This ‘passing’, however, is much more exhausting than simply living as a neurotypical, needing hypervigilance and leading to meltdowns (for her, more melt-inwardses) and exhaustion. She’s very powerful on the hard work of maintaining that surface for the outside world.

I found the portrait of James’ marriage incredibly sad in many ways. She has happened upon a man who, although he has his own battles with depression, loves spontaneity and adventure, something she isn’t bothered with (well, is actively bothered by, but not in that way).  He asks her at one point if she ever experiences joy, and the part where she explains – to us, but not to him (although obviously he will have read the book) – that when he puts his hand on her knee to comfort her, she has to bear it, rather than drawing comfort from it, is heart-breaking. However, when he’s asked what about her autism upsets him, he looks to her wearing of a uniform rather than dressing for others, presumably in an effort not to hurt her. Still, you never really know what goes on in someone’s marriage, and it’s clear that they have found a way to hold together – more power to them.

The book is ordered very oddly, jumping around between the present, recent past and older past, with childhood scenes to boot, and I found this quite confusing, as there were few anchors in the text to remind you where you were, or links to justify the jump. Of course, in a print book, it’s easier to flick back to check. But overall it’s a valuable and good read, especially for women living with autism and their husbands, wives, parents and children, as well as for the generally interested public who like writers such as Oliver Sacks. This adds greatly to the small literature on and by women with autism, falling somewhere between Temple Grandin and Donna Williams.

Book review – NeuroTribes


November TBRJust one book today, mainly because I got this on NetGalley and you can save time by just putting a link in to your review when submitting feedback. And it’s the only one I’ve got outstanding at the moment, and just sometimes it’s good to be nice and tidy at the end of the month (my TBR is anything but. This will change).

Steve Silberman – “NeuroTribes”

(October 2015 – from NetGalley – thank you to the publisher Penguin Group Avery and NetGalley)

This book now rather famously (as it won the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction between me acquiring it and this review) sets out the history of research on, attitudes to and treatment of autism (and what eventually became known as its spectrum). It starts off with a couple of descriptions of scientists from history who we would say now are “on the spectrum”, not in a move to retrospectively diagnose them but more importantly to highlight their huge contribution to the development of science, which would not have been possible without their distinctive personality traits, which is the central theme of this book.

Some of the historical sections on diagnosis and treatment would be distressing for people with autism in their immediate family to read and were on the edge of my tolerance: but it’s important for the author to set out the arguments around eugenics and around aversion therapy (the latter being practised until almost the present day), both of which were represented, of course, at the time as “science”, because we need to know and remember what has happened in the past.

The mix of history and modern stories of advocacy and empowerment make for an engaging read; it was good to come across “old friends” such as Temple Grandin, the subject of one of Oliver Sach’s books. I particularly liked the autism activists who arose and grouped together with the development of the World Wide Web and collaborate with others in the disability advocacy groups; less welcome was the in-fighting and one-upmanship amongst the various autism organisations, but this is typical of all  movements and again, needs recording.

The book makes a convincing argument for two main strands: one, that we don’t have an epidemic of autism, but a rise in diagnosis (a process which he pulls apart forensically and convincingly) and the other that there are huge benefits to neurodiversity, much as there are to biodiversity: different kinds of minds are needed for different situations, and we shouldn’t strive to make everyone uniform.

This book will suit … anyone interested in autism and Asperger’s Syndrome (with the caveat that some stories of the Nazis and of treatments meted out in the 20th century could be found distressing).

Book reviews – Welcome to Biscuit Land and Are We Nearly There Yet? plus four acquisitions


Sept TBRWell, my TBR is not really looking like this any more, as I seem to have been all about acquiring books in September. More on that later: first I have reviews of two memoirs, both interesting and affecting in their different ways. I read both of these on my Kindle, as I decided to take it on my recent trip to Kingston and London, to escape having to carry too many books around (I solved this issue by almost immediately buying five books. Oh well). I had a couple of train journeys and some nights alone in my hotel, so got through quite a lot, and I’ve decided to share the index to my Kindle on my TBR posts in future, as it’s so easy to click-click-click then forget you have them!

Jessica Thom – “Welcome to Biscuit Land”

(Kindle e-book, no idea when I acquired it)

Jessica is the young woman with the neurological syndrome, Tourette’s, who people may recall meeting on Stephen Fry’s TV series about language and words. She blogs at Tourettes Hero, and this book shares a year in her life, I imagine drawn from earlier blog posts. As with the “Moonlight Blogger” book, the format does make it a little bit disjointed, with episodes from daily life interspersed with more general explanations, but it’s still very well worth reading.

Brave, honest, unflinching in her descriptions of how people behave towards her – good and bad – and of necessity using some swearing, etc. (not to say that Tourette’s is all about swearing, because it’s so much more, and less, than that, but there are swear words in there, so watch out if you’re easily offended), it’s a moving and anger-inducing yet also very funny book. You do get something of a feel for what it’s like to be Jess in her daily life (the “something” is not from a lack of good writing or explanation, but because it’s truly impossible to imagine what it could be like to get trapped in the world of tics but also draw immense joy in life and creativity from them) and she very usefully guides the reader through how she would like to be treated and things to look out for when interacting with someone with Tourette’s.

Although it is funny and life-affirming, it is also moving, and as Jess’ condition changes and deteriorates, it’s a testament to her hugely supportive friends and family and the NHS and those workplaces and officials that are understanding and caring.

Ben Hatch – “Are We Nearly There Yet?”

(Kindle e-book, no idea when I acquired it)

Hatch takes his family on a madcap, months-long driving tour of the UK, testing family-friendly hotels and attractions and trying to keep his young kids happy and his marriage together while compiling the guidebook they’ve been commissioned to write. But he has some health worries of his own, and then his dad receives a devastating diagnosis, and both sets of episodes, plus several involving their children are told in excruciating, harrowing detail.

While much of the travel stuff is amusing, especially when they visit Birmingham and stay in the Rotunda, the family stuff is so raw, like a cathartic therapeutic writing experience more than a professional narrative with the necessary amount of detachment. Don’t get me wrong – I feel for the author in his struggles with his identity within his family and facing up to an exceptionally difficult situation, but the harrowing medical details sit a bit uncomfortably with the warts-and-all but generally jolly travelling sections.

I did read on, and I felt guilty when skipping the more detailed medical bits as well as guilty for reading these details of someone’s life – I really would recommend you not read this book if you’ve lost a family member recently or indeed have elderly parents, as it might be a bit close to home. It’s not a bad book as such, but it was too uncomfortable for me.


Sept 2014 11I’ve had a bit of a book-buying splurge, as I was in the local charity shops with some LibraryThing friends at the weekend, where I found a Maeve Binchy I’ve not read or got (how so?) and a Noel Streatfeild autobiography I didn’t know about at all, so that’s exciting. I saw a book that I wanted to buy a friend for their birthday, so I popped back to one shop today and found that book had been sold (of course it had) but there were some more lovelies, including this interesting Virago crime novel by “Amanda Cross” (pseudonym for Carolyn Heilbrun, apparently), which is way down a series but not a series I’ve ever seen before. I also, while calling M to check whether my big “Forsyte Saga” omnibus included books 1-3 or 1-6 (it was the latter, so I put down the copy of 3-6 I’d grabbed), remembered to check the state of my “I have 2/3 of each of the trilogies” Robertson Davies issue and picked up “The Salterton Trilogy”, of which I only had one volume already. I haven’t read any Davies for years, although I did read most of him in a big chunk back in the 90s, so this is a nice addition to the shelves. And I have been doing a lot of weeding lately (including finally getting rid of some an ex-friend gave me which I won’t read again and don’t need for sentimental reasons any more) so there will be space on the shelves for these, honest!

Have you read any of these? What about the ones I’ve reviewed? What are you reading at the moment? Are you as behind with your reviewing as I am?

NICK VAN BLOSS – Busy Body: My Life With Tourette’s Syndrome

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Bought 24 Jun 2007 – Bookends

An excellent, uncompromising memoir of a life, as he puts it, “with Tourette’s rather than OF Tourette’s”. Van Bloss is extremely honest and lacks self pity. He tries to give a clear picture of exactly what it’s like to have Tourette’s, then weaves it into his life story. Not just another “misery memoir”; this guy can *write*, and I hope he has started to write fiction too, as he mentions at the end of the book.

I am going to register this on BookCrossing and offer it on a bookring, to share this remarkably clear, lucid and readable memoir.

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