Sunday, November 8, 2009

Book Twenty-Five: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

...and 25(a) Let's Have Lunch Together by Marshall Howard
First, my main focus for the week. I've read Haddon's book before and found it interesting enough to build in to my college freshman writing class in which we talk about ways we approach life. Haddon's book allows us to have the discussion of what "limits" we may have in determining our outlook.

Told from the point of a view of a teenage boy with autism (perhaps Aspergers) this novel is a great way for us to recognize the predetermined ways in which we view the world. The idea that we are free to make whatever choices we want is an appealing thought (especially to first year college students), but indeed our choices are directed by physical, social, emotional, and even spiritual dilemmas. To steal from the speaker of the second book I'm discussing, he likes to quote "We are all prisoners in unlocked cells." In other words, we have created and have created for us our own boundaries and the only thing holding us back are our own decisions. Of course, this is only partially correct. As for Christopher (the main character in The Curious Incident) he has no choice in some of the walls which surround him. His creativity is in learning how to work within the limits he faces.

The story is a billed by Christopher himself as a murder-mystery, but since the murder is solved rather undramatically  half way through the book, this is clearly not the focus. The story starts with murder of a neighborhood dog and Christopher's decision to solve the mystery. In the process we learn that his mother has died, his father raises him alone, and he is brilliant in the area of mathematics. He always never mixes the food on his plate, hates the color yellow, and has decided that color of cars he sees in the morning determines what kind of day he will have. I could say more, but as the plot unfolds the surprises are interesting enough to leave to those of you who have not read it.
A fan of Sherlock Holmes stories (as am I -- see week eight!) he decides to pursue the case through Holmesian methods. In fact, the title of the book is inspired by the short story "The Silver Blaze" in which a prize racehorse is stolen. When Holmes remarks on the curious behavior of the dog in night time, Watson asks what is so curious -- he did not even bark. That, says Holmes, is what is curious. In other words, look at the obvious and question it and look for what is not there.  This makes sense since Christopher deals in logic and mathematics -- life is black and white to him. But of course, there is nothing logical about not liking yellow or letting car colors determine your day. In Christopher's mind this makes sense, but not to anyone else.

Once the murder mystery is resolved the focus becomes on Christopher's attempts to overcome his own limitations. Crossing a strange room is taxing for him, so he imagines a line leading across and then follows the way. Crowds overwhelm him so he waits them out until only a few people are around. He succeeds by handling each new situation one at a time and pulling back when he needs to think. In other words, he builds on his strengths and works around his walls.

The novel has garnered a lot of praise for a variety of reasons, including getting in the mind of an autistic person to see how the mind may work. Haddon worked with autistic children for some time so he may know more than most, but of course we need the autistic people to speak for the themselves (and this has been done). But that does not matter to Haddon because he does not see this as a work about autism. From his own blog: curious incident is not a book about asperger’s. it’s a novel whose central character describes himself as ‘a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties’. indeed he never uses the words ‘asperger’s’ or ‘autism’ (i slightly regret that fact that the word ‘asperger’s’ was used on the cover). if anything it’s a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way. it’s as much a novel about us as it is about christopher.

And therein lies the strength. In many ways Christopher is like a poet seeing the world  in new and unique ways and we see how the world treats and handles this uniqueness. What is great about Christopher is he never questions himself and how he sees himself. How many of us can say the same? He is different, it is frustrating at times, but in the end he works with what he has.

It is a book worth reading on many levels and for many reasons. But it should definitely be read.

Book 25 (a) Let's Have Lunch Together by Marshall Howard
Okay, I fully admit that last week I figured this book would fall into the worst category of my incredibly insightful breakdown of all business books into three categories (see last weeks blog to be reminded of my insight -- in case you forgot). Wrong! Despite the weak title, lousy layout, and large font, this is a book packed with great ideas.

Howard puts it in the context of a novel, but this is no literary masterpiece (nor was this his intent). Instead he puts his ideas in a large case study format and we can see how things would work out. The book is written to help with fund raising, but the focus is on relationships. Howard's refrain is "chase the relationship, not the money."  While this may not seem incredibly insightful, Howard does well to remind us that success comes from our relationships. People truly need to trust us and we need to trust them if we want to move forward.

I went through a day long workshop with Howard last week and it was noted that this methods could also be used by a good con artist. Which of course is true -- con artists know that relationships are essential. But because evil may use it does not make it wrong. We can fall into our cynical selves and give up on treating people as they should be. The difference is motivation and the idea is that strong relationships will bring about good things. But if you build the relationships for monetary or power reasons, the relationship will never be strong because it is built on a weak base (all biblically-minded can think stone vs sand here).

Howard's emphasis on relationships makes this work for people in all areas of business. While not a fundraiser myself, it did remind me of how I take for granted some people's support when I should be seeking to find out why support my endeavors to begin with. I have nothing more "to gain" from them, but certainly strengthening those relationships will not only make the business side of things stronger, they may also impact my life. What a concept.

Reading Challenges
I graded all my class essays early so I was not as far behind as normal. However, I also was a bit under the weather this week (second eye/ear infection in just over a month) which also cost me a couple of nights of reading. But Howard's book is an easy one night read and Haddon's book makes you want to keep reading. All in all, a surprisingly productive week. How productive?...

Next Up
...I've already started Simon Van Booy's collection of short stories (okay, five longish type stories), Love Begins in Winter. The first story was either overwritten or simply one of the best things I've read in a long time. I was captivated and stayed up much later than I should have to see how it would end. And love wins! Why do so few people see such hope today? And (I know, like a reading machine) I've read 2 of 3 graphic novel adaptations of Christmas classics. Well, they are supposed to be classics but anyone who has read L. Frank Baum's "A Kidnapped Santa Claus" raise their hands...I thought so. Even my oldest son with the most eclectic tastes I know has not read it. I'm reviewing all four books mentioned plus I hope to get a CD review done this week as well.

Happy reading!

1 comment:

  1. hi i followed you over here from book blogs-great blog! i loved the curious incident of the dog in the night time. as a school psychologist i worked with many children with autism/asperger's and often thought about how good it would be to see the world through their eyes. while i know mark haddon isn't autistic and so the viewpoint isn't authentic, i really felt he did a great job of depicting what life must be like with this disorder, and helped me to try to put myself in the minds of my clients and (i hope) helped me be a better support to them. i was a bit dissapointed with his next book, A Spot of Bother, i found it hilarious, but it didn't really create the same interest and compassion for the characters, and just wasn't as heartwarming.