Wednesday, March 21, 2007

What I'm Reading:
"Born on a Blue Day" by Daniel Tammet

I've long had a reading interest in autism, Asperger's syndrome and neurological issues – stories about different ways of thinking, of perceiving and of mentally coping with the world. It started with reading Oliver Sacks' "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" (neurological case studies) way back when, and Temple Grandin's "Thinking in Pictures" (a memoir of autism) (her latest, "Animals in Translation," is really good, too).

So I usually pick up anything that has "autism" or "Asperger's" on the cover, unless it looks overly dry and clinical or is all cloying and hand-wringing (there aren't many of these, but I've seen a couple lately). When I saw that "Born on a Blue Day" was subtitled "A Memoir of Asperger's and an Extraordinary Mind" I added it to my stack.

The author, Daniel Tammet, has been lucky compared with many others of his generation who have autism: His family and teachers recognized he was different, but his difference was accommodated, not rejected out of hand, as autism often was 20 years ago. Indeed, his diagnosis was not made until he was an adult. And he was lucky in being apparently already at the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum.

He starts off discussing his synesthesia – the perception, for example, of numbers as colors or shapes – and his savantism – his tremendous facility with numbers. He covers clinical research a little; you get the sense that he's establishing his bona fides. Then he gets into the actual memoir of his life, beginning with childhood. It's tightly written and well-told, descriptive and evocative. And it starts off with a paean to his parents' love and patience, which was sweet to read.

I'm about a third of the way through, but if it continues as it has, I expect this will be high on my recommendation list.

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