Claire often pushes books my way and on the whole I tend to trust her judgement, apart from when she tries to push huge Robert Fisk tomes my way. Sometimes she pushes so many my way I have to tell her to “STOP!” But these are the trials of having a librarian as a friend.
A few weeks ago I wandered into Breakfast Club and lurched about looking for a spoon (you’d be surprised how difficult that can be) and tried to make a cup of tea and found Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes pushed my way. I’m not my best in the morning so I was a bit grumpy about having a book with a white mouse on the cover next to my breakfast, but the general opinion of the Breakfast Club was that it was very good, so I shoved it into my bag with the rest of my breakfast, grabbed my tea and staggered up the stairs and deposited it on my desk before going to get on with my job. Later that same day I collapsed onto my sofa and pulled out the book. When I heard my electricity metre click onto heures creuse I knew it was time to go to bed but I couldn’t put the book down. Just one more journal entry, I thought.
You see the book is about Charlie Gordon. He is a thirty something retardate (as the book calls him) who has been selected to take part in a new experiment. So far the experiment has only been tried on animals and Algernon is their star patient. By the time I went to bed Charlie had already been operated on, could finally beat Algernon at the ‘amazed’ test and was achieving levels of intelligence that you and I can only dream of.
I was two thirds of the way through the book when I read the journal entries that made me gasp and swallow back tears. I was on the metro at the time.
Claire later told me that the book was recommended to her by someone who said it changed them; I can see why. At first you read the book and like the other characters you laugh at Charlie’s misspellings and his way of viewing the world. As he changes you begin to question your view of the world just as Charlie does.
I won’t tell you more, just read it, if you haven’t already. The book has been kicking around since 1966 and even today it has resonance.
The next book I’ve read recently is ‘How to be Good’ by Nick Hornby. I wasn’t expecting to get through much of it, but I had forgotten that my fellow colleagues were all pukers so they needed to sit at the front of the bus and the law says that responsible adults have to sit by the emergency exits, so there I sat. I looked across and told my fellow travellers that I was going to read. They pointed out to me that we were stopping for lunch soon, so I flicked through my Private Eye first and after lunch got started on the book and was only distracted by their gasps of how gorgeous the scenery outside the window was.
How to be Good starts off as a laugh a minute ride, seriously I was laughing out loud, even though it starts off with Katie (the narrator) telling her husband that she wants out of their marriage. About halfway through it stopped being funny. Hornby’s books are anything but easy really, when I think back to the other ones I’ve read: attempted suicide, bullying, relationship breakdowns, being a sad bastard, it’s just this one seemed harder and bleaker. And then again maybe it was the subject matter, the utter breakdown of a marriage, being together but hating each other. Being so miserable, but not knowing what else to do. If anything this book is so excruciatingly accurate that it ends up being painful to read. I’d recommend it, but only if you are in a stable, happy relationship!
This post was inspired by this. He he.