Saturday, 19 November 2016

Recent Reads

Hey dudes! Life's been pretty crazy lately but I did have time at the end of October to go book shopping. So here's the rundown on three books I read over the last month. Enjoy!

Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity - Steve Silberman

Neurotribes is a masterful tome that traces the history of our understanding of autism from "childhood psychosis" to changeling children to refrigerator mothers to neurodiversity, through the horrifying extermination of disabled people during the Holocaust and the eugenics movement and the growth of nerd culture's creation of Aspie communities.

Neurotribes was a fascinating read on a topic that's very important to me, as someone who definitely aligns with the "little professors" archetype. I particularly enjoyed the parts about Asperger's syndrome and its first case studies. If I had any criticism, it would be that it can get bogged down in certain topics, like ham radios. It was very unpleasant to read at points through no fault of its own, like when discussing how 5,000 autistic children ("life unworthy of life") were murdered by institutions in Nazi Germany or the extreme behavioural therapists who essentially tortured autistic children in an attempt to make them seem normal (neurotypical), but it was definitely an illuminating, comprehensive and important read. Highly recommended.

Everything, Everything - Nicola Yoon

Everything, Everything is a YA love story, which normally would not be my thing, but I was intrigued by the premise of the protagonist having SCID (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency) which meant she would die if she went outside, and the love interest's efforts to reach her. Unfortunately, while I did enjoy the road, it did turn out to be just that, a love story, and so it didn't really stick in my mind afterwards like it would have if it had more scientific/medical content. That said, the twist at the end is pretty great. Recommended if you enjoy romance and YA and don't need lots of action and high-concept to keep you engaged.

Asking For It - Louise O' Neill

I was so hyped for this book after being floored by Louise's debut, Only Ever Yours, and hearing rave reviews and awards for Asking For It (e.g. winner of the Irish Book Awards) coming in from all sides. I couldn't get away from it - for months I've been seeing it on trains, had it recommended by people who usually don't read, seen it at awards shows, on Twitter, everywhere. I was told it was genius and a wake-up call to rape culture. And I really wanted to love it, because I loved Only Ever Yours so much.

But unfortunately, I was very disappointed. In a nutshell, the storyline is that the character is queen bee in a small village called Ballinatoom, then gets gangraped at one of the many parties she attends after drinking and taking drugs. Dozens of photos are taken and uploaded to Facebook on a public page for all to see, and her life is ruined.

The central question of the book is meant to be was she asking for it? and we're supposed to come out realising that no matter how someone acted it is never their fault for being a victim of rape. The issue is that Emma is a prick the least sympathetic character I've ever seen, completely unrelatable to me in every way. Not only am I not the type to drink and do drugs etc at parties (which on its own would've been manageable in a protagonist), she's a horrible person, an obvious bully who exploits the fact that she's beautiful to make others feel bad. She has no plans for her life beyond being a trophy wife, and after the rape she compounds problems for herself by lying to police and is just generally a weak character. There's only so far sympathy can go when someone is that unlikable. 

Look, I get that she was intentionally made unlikable and a bad victim so we would be tested in our support for her and taught some big lesson about supporting rape victims in all cases, but I just didn't appreciate being preached at. I don't have to empathise with a character if they're an awful person. 

So yeah. It's an issue book, with completely unlikable characters (except neighbour boy, whom the protag ignores). You might be able to get past the characters, but I wasn't. Which is a pity, because I really wanted to like this book. So if Louise writes future sci-fi/dystopian books, I'll definitely take a look. But something like this, maybe not. 

I feel like I could've gotten the same value from the book by reading a pamphlet saying "Sex with someone unconscious is rape, and rape is difficult to prove in court even with loads of evidence". And I've already read those.

On the bright side, she did manage authentic teenage slang? So there's that.

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