An Autistic History

February 25, 2014 at 9:29 pm (In So Many Words, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

notevenwrongTitle: Not Even Wrong

Author: Paul Collins

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Genre: Memoir/ Psychology

Length: 245 pages

I’ve journaled nearly twenty pages of commentary on this book.  Now, having finished it, I’m not sure what I should share and what should be kept to myself.

Collins does a spectacular job sharing memoir with known history, diving into tales from the world and mixing it with tales from his personal world.  The first few chapters are dedicated to his pursuit of Peter the Wild Boy and an existing desire to write a biography on the mysterious boy who was ‘rescued’ by King George. (Reference to the boy made in Notes and Queries, of course.)  Collins later discovers his son is autistic.

The entire book is an ode to his son and his autism.  An ode to their life, their relationship, the world of Autists.

Therefore a lot of information is shared regarding what that means.  A lot of reflection on the gene pool it takes to cook up such a neurological anomaly that is an essential part of humanity as a whole.  The trifecta being science, art, and math.

Collins writes on page 96:

Apparently we have been walking around with the genetic equivalent of a KICK ME sign:

my father: mechanical engineer

jennifer’s father: musician, math major

my brother: phd in computing

jennifer: painter


At this point, I remember taking my own personal inventory.  My father is a civil engineer, not only that he was a musician and painter, and suffers from what I think is undiagnosed and extremely mild tourettes (also discussed in Collins’ book).  My immediate cousins and family members on that side of the family are musicians and scientists.  Some work in labs, some in an engineering field.  Although I’ve been an English and History girl my whole life, much to my father’s chagrin, I was raised by and around extremely scientific minds.  I think I get all the feelings and other eccentricities from my mother’s side.  But in a parallel universe, had I somehow procreated with people I had dated in college rather than the love of my life whom I married – musicians, computer geeks, Synesthesiacs (also discussed in Collins’ book) – I think I was very close to wearing that KICK ME sign as well.

Looking at the world through the eyes of Collins’ research, I think many people have been close to wearing that sign.  I think everyone should read through this book and see just how close.  It’s enlightening.  It’s scary.  It’s beautiful.

There are so many amazing people through out history who have changed the face of humanity – the way we work – integral parts of society and science… and they were very likely autistic.   Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Glenn Gould, Andy Warhol, Paul Erdos.  These people are essential to who we are as a species today.  These people have made our world more beautiful, even though they are very likely to be the same people described on page 109:  “Imagine if you tried to pretend to understand people, but didn’t really.  So you rehearse it all in your head: taking notes, analyzing every social action, trying to connect it all together.”  I don’t have to imagine.  I may not be a genius like Albert Einstein, I may not be as clever as Glenn Gould, and I’m certainly not nearly as eccentric as Andy Warhol – but I know all about rehearsing, taking notes, analyzing, and still feeling quite out of the loop.  A little bit of understanding from the rest of the world goes a long way in my book – even though I’m not so good at understanding the rest of the world, I’m trying to be better about it.

“You know, it used to be that when I saw someone acting or talking strangely, or just being odd on the bus, I’d think to myself: What’s his problem? I still have that reaction.  But now I stop, pause, and have a second thought: No, really, what is that man’s problem? There is a decades-long chain of events that created the person who are seeing.” – pg. 213

Paul Collins brings a little bit of humanity and the importance of curiosity and empathy into ALL his work.  For that I adore him, and will always adore him, forever.

On that note, I want to check out the artwork of his wife.  I love art.  I love paintings.  I am the CMO of an art company called Aoristos and I’m curious to see the style of art the spouse of my favorite author paints.  If anyone knows and can provide reliable links – please do.


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Literary Journal Mondays

February 17, 2014 at 7:39 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


Remember the zine movement? (No? Visit Snapdragon Zine Fair) Ah, the 90’s and early 2000’s.  Except that’s not where it started.  No, it began long ago, and still goes on, in Literary Journals.

McSweeneys9McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern comes to mind.

But do you remember Granta? (or Paris Review, or Soho Square, or The Quarterly, or countless others?)

My eyes tend to rest on Granta when I’m in a bookstore.  Such colorful spines… printed by Penguin.

Today, #24 Inside Intelligence pops out at me… “Her Majesty’s Government does not want you to know about the life of Anthony Cavendish,” the cover reads.  There’s a huge circular stamp in the bottom right corner: BANNED IN BRITAIN.  How do you pass that up?

What follows is a spirited and creative journalistic effort to share news in the form of intelligent literature.  Photographs and interviews you wouldn’t get in a newspaper, writing worthy of Pulitzers (and sometimes even written by Pulitzer winners).  Just in Granta #24 alone, Philip Roth, Peter Carey, Tobias Wolff, Bruce Chatwin, and E.L. Doctorow all grace us with their presence.

The world of literary journals is a fascinating and amazing one that goes back centuries.

Notes and QueriesPaul Collins wrote an essay called “121 Years of Solitude” for Bookmark Now about his own journeys through a literary journal called Notes and Queries: A Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Men – a weekly magazine from the Victorian era.  Collins’ memoir-like essay of his time spent in the Portland, Oregon library is one I dive into regularly, envious of his access and ability to take time to develop a daily library routine.  Bus rides downtown, coffee, grand staircases, Notes and Queries, the entire endeavor sounds heavenly to me.

I don’t have time in my life – or the ability, as a mom of a three year old – to replicate a similar endeavor right now.   But, the idea of taking an extra 30 minutes to an hour each Monday to peruse a literary journal that graces the shelves of my existing Monday routine (Good Books in the Woods) sounds plausible.

So here’s to Literary Journal Mondays – may they be more consistent than my Weekly Low Down of Kids Books (which happens sporadically throughout most months instead).

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“Bad” Habits and Edna

January 25, 2012 at 11:34 pm (In So Many Words, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , )

I have a really bad habit, that I have no intention of breaking, of judging books at a glance, by their cover.  This habit our parents and grandparents warned us against, is justified to me by two things: my marketing degree and a blurb Paul Collins wrote in his book Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books.

Regardless of that justification, it has led me to some horrible mistakes (I thought Rudolf Steiner’s Festival series was going to inform me of the historical significance and establishment of festivals, not be metaphysical ravings of his take on religion butchered by an editor) but also to many happy mistakes.

Directly, it led me to Tanya Egan Gibson’s (Yes, I have a writer crush on her right now, forgive me) How to Buy a Love of Reading, whose cover is amazing, but what’s inside is unexpectedly ten times better.  Indirectly, I have discovered the delightful Edna St. Vincent Millay, and that story is a little more intricate.

You see, I once belonged to an online book club.  It was lovely place that I adored, where as a group, we read lots of British things.  We had fabulous nicknames (I was Lady Klemm of Deasa Manor) and were only required to read the selections and maintain our character.  At first… later there were a whole host of requirements, like reading and participating more each year than you did the last and agreeing with the admin of the group on every particular.  I was kicked out- “expunged” the admin liked to call it – indirectly for getting pregnant and having a child, directly for knowing the proper definitions of literary terms.

In this group, the Mitford Sisters were often referenced, Nancy the most often for her Pursuit of Love.  Browsing my favorite bookstore one day, I saw a book which I presumed was by Nancy Mitford, but only at a quick glance, and impulsively added it to my stack of purchases.  I took it home without further survey.

You will laugh when I reveal that instead of Nancy Mitford, I had grabbed a book by… wait for it….

Nancy Milford,

but didn’t realize this until months later as I was reading through my TBR pile, something every voracious reader has stashed about the house and never seems to diminish no matter how quickly you pluck through it.

Alas! It was a biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford.  Well, who is this?  I asked myself.  I can’t read a biography on a person without reading their work first.  I want to have a feel for the quotes, I want to understand their mood they were in while writing my favorite piece, and I can’t get the full picture without having a favorite piece!

So, back to the bookstore I went and found myself a hardback of Edna’s poems, a collected works.  It’s been heavenly.  Reading her poetry has made for some of the sweetest moments with my baby.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Late at night, when she’s teething and can’t sleep, we rock in the glider and in the lamplight of my library I whisper lines from Edna.  When the kiddo is at her crankiest, she sometimes crawls into the chair ahead of me and points to the white spine, she is aware that she is soothed by the rhythm of these poems.  When it’s raining, like today, and we’re feeling scratchy and feverish, all the singing and hot tea in the world is no match in comparison to the calm that is offered by reading Edna aloud.

Poetry is not something I read often; it’s not my “go to” genre.  But I appreciate it, usually the sarcastic and simple like William Carlos Williams, a pre-teen favorite of mine. Edna St.Vincent Millay has changed that for me, I think.  I’m prepared to seek out more poetry in the future, especially as I raise this kid, my beautiful daughter, in hopefully the most literary household anyone has ever seen.

Buy Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Work Here

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Banvard’s Folly A Must Read

November 22, 2009 at 6:11 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , )

Banvard-s-Folly-Collins-Paul-9780312300333Paul Collins is a genius and I love him. If I have children, they will learn history from this book (as I will home school)… these people will all be included in their lessons from when we’re studying Nathaniel Hawthorne and Emily Dickinson to Thoreau and the Concord Grape. John Banvard will be discussed when learning about art and art history as well as financial wisdom. We will discuss Delia Bacon in relation to the people she corresponded with as well as when we study Shakespeare… along with her, Coates’ adventures as Romeo will be a humorous anecdote to read between plays and the discussion of various acting techniques. This is a fantastic piece of history that I find amazing the world has forgotten. Let’s bring these stories back for the future generations! Thank you Paul Collins for bringing them all back to life in the pages of your book.

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