Friday, April 17, 2009

bits of babble

Perpetually behind. I have no plans of being buried and having a headstone, but if I were, I think those might be the words I'd choose for it. ;) Anyway, I figured that I ought to try to catch up a little bit on my babbling before the read-a-thon. You know, because after the read-a-thon, I'll have an enormous new pile of books to babble about. Hahahahahahahahahahaha. Yeah, two does not qualify as an enormous pile, does it? This does make a nice diversion from cleaning the bathroom though.

Fax From Sarajevo: A Story of Survival by Joe Kubert.

While very different in so many ways, it is hard not be think of Art Speigelman's Maus when reading this book. For both chronicle the story of a family struggling to survive in the midst of atrocity. Both families the target of genocidal monsters, not because of anything they've done but simply because they exist. The books are actually quite different though. Both visually, and in the manner the stories are told.

Joe Kubert had long been friends with Ervin Rustemagic and his family, having first met decades ago at a European Cartoonists' Convention. During the 18-months his family is trapped in Sarajevo, Ervin finds his lifeline to the world outside through a fax machine. Joe and a few of Ervin's other friends from around the world read Ervin's story as it unfolds through these faxes. And they fight desperately through any means they can think of to rescue the Rustemagic family from the hell in which they are imprisoned.

The book tells their story through a variety of ways, through the faxes, through the art and words of the graphic novel story, through photos taken both before and during the siege, and through a chapter by chapter narrative included at the end of the book. This is both a personal family story, and the story of a city, a nation, a people caught in a web of human cruelty. Victims of ethnic cleansing. Are there any two uglier words in the English language than "ethnic cleansing"? I don't know, but perhaps "apathy" ranks right up there.

The Dead & the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer.

For a while, I wasn't actually sure if I wanted to read this book. Not because I didn't like the companion novel, Life As We Knew It, but because I liked it so much. I guess I was sort of leery about how Pfeffer could tell another story about 'the same event' and make it equally compelling. Well, she did! While the catalyst for devastation (an asteroid striking the moon and knocking it into a closer orbit to Earth) and the devastating events happening around the world are the same in each novel, the stories told in the books are most definitely not. And when I now stop and think about it, I realize there could be millions of stories written and none would be the same. Pfeffer did a wonderful job in both of these novels at making the stories feel real, feel authentic. In Life As We Knew It, we witnessed the survival of Miranda, a teenage girl in small town America; in The Dead & the Gone, we witness an entirely new set of struggles through the eyes of Alex, a teenage boy in New York City. Alex's parents are lost on the first night, and he is left to keep his two younger sisters safe. It's a story of family. A story of survival. A story of faith. A story of growth. It's terrifying, horrifying, emotional, and definitely hard to put down. And yes, not surprisingly, it had me blubbering like an idiot.

The Sandman: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman.

We begin with a family reunion of sorts. Destiny calls the Endless together so that events might take their proper course. Said events include Dream's return to hell to release his former love Nada, Lucifer's abandonment of hell, gods and demons visiting the Heart of the Dreaming to beg, threaten, and bribe...and so much more. All of this is told with such depth and intelligence that I again found myself in awe of Mr. Gaiman. I also found myself wishing that I had a little more of that depth and intelligence, because I'm sure there was even more to be gleaned from the book if I had had the insight.

I will be saddened when I reach the end of this series. And yet I'll be ever-so-happy as well, because I can then start it all over again. (And I somehow have this feeling that I may just enjoy it even more on the second time around. Though at the same time that seems could I possibly enjoy it more?)

George & Sam: Two Boys, One Family, and Autism by Charlotte Moore.

This is one of those books I read because of Nick Hornby and those wonderful columns he wrote for The Believer. In his foreword to this book, Mr. Hornby guesses that the majority of people reading it have been in some way been touched by autism. That would be true of me; there is autism in our family, but I won't go into that for reasons of privacy. I'm not sure if that's the reason why I picked up this book. But I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed it, and would recommend it to anyone whether personally touched by autism or not.

Charlotte Moore is the mother of three sons, George, Sam, and Jake. George and Sam are autistic; Jake is not. Charlotte Moore is wonderfully engaging and intelligent. She's amazing. And I think part of why she's so amazing is that she probably doesn't see herself as so. It's hard not to try to imagine myself in her shoes...but when I did, I found myself horribly lacking. I think what I admired most, marveled at most, was her adaptability. She's forthright, honest even when it might be easier not to be. Most of all, she not only loves her children for who they are, she accepts and respects them for who they are. Maybe that sounds obviously simple. But face it, there are many parents who can't seem to manage that even without the challenges of autism in a family.

And while Moore definitely talks about the sometimes nearly overwhelming challenges, she also speaks of the joys. Moore discusses the scientific theories and whatnot, but she focuses very much on her own personal family story. And she speaks a great deal about the conclusions she's reached about various pieces of this vast autism puzzle. What she has to say is very illuminating. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed "getting to know" her wonderful sons. And I truly learned a great deal from this book.

There is just one small thing I want to mention, however. And it's not a criticism of the book. In fact, it doesn't have much to do with the book, except for the fact that it at one point raised these concerns in my head, concerns that I've dealt with many times. Moore is telling her story. She never says "this is exactly how it is for every person with autism." And I think it's important to remember that. In fact, she shares how very different George and Sam are from one another. But she does often compare their behavior to that of Jake, using Jake as the example of a neurotypical child who reaches all the milestones at the correct times, etc. And it was here that I wanted to say, "But just because your baby/child doesn't fit all these so-called "normal" standards, it doesn't mean that he has autism." And you know, I know that Moore knows I said it's her family's story. The reason it even struck me was because as an infant, Gray was much more like her son George than he was like her son Jake. And Gray is not autistic. However, he has had other neurological problems, with seizures. And definite sensory issues. Maybe that's why there's this overlap. I don't know. My point being, that yes, I do understand why in watching a child's development it can be important to notice how and when they reach these milestones. It's just that I worry that sometimes people have too narrow a definition of "normal." It can be frustrating and heartbreaking to watch people try to apply a "label" to Gray, simply because he is different. From teachers to friends to relatives, most of whom I am confident were well-intentioned, we've gotten diagnoses ranging from ADHD to Asperger's to bipolar disorder. Our diagnosis, and the one that is supported by his doctors, is that he's Gray.

Oh know, in a way, I feel tempted to just delete that entire last paragraph. Because I in NO WAY want anyone to think I am minimizing the benefits of diagnosing autism early. Truly I'm not! Okay, how about I just shut up now, and tell you to just go read this book. :)


Other opinions:

Becky at Becky's Book Reviews (The Dead & the Gone)
Chris at Stuff As Dreams Are Made On (The Dead & the Gone)
Jimmy and J.Kaye at J.Kaye's Book Blog (The Dead & the Gone)
Jia at Dear Author (The Dead & the Gone)
NathanKP at Inkweaver Reviews (The Dead & the Gone)
The Reading Zone (The Dead & the Gone)
The Sleepy Reader (The Dead & the Gone)
Fantasy and Sci-Fi Lovin' Book Reviews (The Dead & the Gone)
Heather at Book Addiction (The Dead & the Gone)
Sharon at Shermeree's Musings (The Dead & the Gone)
Book Dweeb (The Dead & the Gone)
Bookshelves of Doom (The Dead & the Gone)
Fyrefly's Book Blog (The Absolute Sandman Vol. 2)
Jenny's Books (Season of Mists)

If you've reviewed one of the above books, and I've missed your review, please feel free to leave my a link in the comments, and I will happily add it to the list. Thanks!


Scrap girl said...

Wow - you have been busy reading this week. I really want to read Life as we knew it and now the sequel too. They both sound so original. I hope you manage to get all the reading you want done during the readathon.

Fyrefly said...

Season of Mists was my favorite volume of Sandman, although you've still got of plenty of good stuff coming up!

Eva said...

I am SO much farther behind in book reviews than you! Let me go count...I've got THIRTY-SEVEN books that I've read this year and not reviewed. How awful is that?!

Debi said...

Scrap Girl,
I wish I could say that was just one week's worth of reading, but I'm afraid I can't. I really think you'll enjoy Life As We Knew It...but it just might scare the crap out of you like it did me. :)

I was so hoping to get the next one yesterday at the library, but it wasn't in. I'm just so eager to see where it's headed next.

Okay, how pathetic is this...I'm not even sure I've read 37 books yet this year! So I think you should look at being behind that many reviews as a cup half full kind of thing. :)

Nymeth said...

I can't tell you how much I enjoyed your "babble", Debi! You made me want to read wach and every one of these books RIGHT NOW. Yes, even the one I've already read. I want to read it again.

You know, unbelievable as it might sound, The Sandman DOES manage to be even more enjoyable the second time around. Seasons of Mists is one of my favourites too. And World's End. And The Kindle Ones. And and and...okay, enough now :P

Also, I loved your final paragraph. You know I'm 100% with you when it comes to those things. Diagnosing autism and other conditions early IS important, but I do think that "normal" is being defined more and more narrowly. And that worries me.

Debi said...

Thank you! You know I actually thought about you and Chris a lot when I was reading George & Sam...I think both of you would really like it! She spends almost a whole chapter talking about folktales, which I know on the surface might sound odd considering what the book is about, but the points she was making were really quite interesting.
And I KNOW you agree 100%! One of the bazillion reasons I love you so much! When you wrote your first "issue" weekly geeks I know I cried. All I could think was "Yes! Someone who would accept Gray for who he is, eccentricities and all!"

Anonymous said...

unfortunately, siege of Sarajevo lasted much longer than 18 months, from April 1992, till December 1995.

Vasilly said...

I see you're all prepared for the read-a-thon tomorrow! Good luck!

Chris said...

Well first of all, I just want to hug your last paragraph and post it all over every wall I see for everyone to read! I hate that "normal" has become such a specific perception these days. You're absolutely right...there is no "normal". Each child is different, and to each their own. You care for your child how they are regardless of if they're diagnosed with anything or not. I always tell parents, treat the symptoms, not the disease. And I love that last sentence...Gray is Gray :D And he rocks ;)

I must get my hands on that book though!! There's something about kids with autism/aspergers/developmental delays/etc. That just touches my heart and I've always loved being around them. It's like they see a part of the world that's not available to all of us...I almost feel more connected with them sometimes. And I've never been diagnosed with any of that! lol. But it's one of the reasons I went into my field...I get something out of it too...I just enjoy their company.

Ok..that's a ridiculously long rant :p But I also wanted to tell you that I'm thrilled that you enjoyed The Dead and the Gone! Wasn't it excrutiating though? So sad...She's finishing up the new one now and I think it combines the two books!

Carl V. said...

I say this to everyone who reads Sandman and I may have already said it to you, but you need to buy or check out a copy of Hy Bender's book, The Sandman Companion. Each chapter coincides with one of the graphic novel collections, if recollection serves, and so you can actually read each section after reading that section of the graphic novel and it reveals so very much. I would certainly recommend it for your next read through at the very least. It is a great resource and very well written.

Debi said...

I absolutely misspoke (mis-wrote), and have corrected it. Thank you!

Thanks! And may you have loads of fun!

Thank you so much! You left tears in my eyes. And like I told Ana above, I thought of both of you while reading this...I'm convinced you both would really enjoy it!

You know what? I think you did tell me that before, but I'd totally forgotten. So I'm very happy for the reminder!

Trish said...

Read-a-thon, read-a-thon, read-a-thon. :D

I think you're last paragraph is a good one and it's fine for you to voice yourself. I agree that sometimes doctors are too quick to diagnose and medicate. I think it is the second one that I have a bigger problem with--the overmedicating, especially hyper kids. Fax from Sarajevo sounds really interesting!

Anonymous said...

Totally agree about Pfeffer's book. I read both and while each was different, but were powerful reads.

Memory said...

Re: Sandman and rereading - I've read the entire series about eight times now, and they really do get better with each rereading! Gaiman packs so much into each volume that you can't possibly get it all in one go. I notice new things and make new connections every time I reread the series.