An exercise in self-censorship

What you are reading here is my personal blog. I try to keep it somewhat anonymous, just on the off chance. It has a certain tone that I try to keep, notably write whatever the hell you want because no one cares.

This however is pretty hard to market, and so at a friend’s suggestion I decided to start another, much more mild blog. The kind of thing I can proudly put on my resume, just to fluff it up a little bit. This of course leads to a slight problem, notably that I can’t let anyone on that blog find out how much of a shitbag I really am. Everytime I write for it it is something of an act of self-censorship. This isn’t too big a deal, as we all have personalities, plural. But sometimes one leaks into the other.

Writing a book review earlier today, I found myself writing something I wouldn’t be too proud with the world knowing, so I will post it here and not there.

This will be the first and last cross post between the two sites.

In case you didn’t know the other blog is shortreviews.blog

So here is the offending post, the bad part is in bold if you want to skip to it.

Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keys

This is an undeniably important book, so much so that writing a review seems more difficult than should be. “Here, read this” feels like it should suffice, as should the judgmental looks when I find that someone hasn’t. There is a good reason that this is recommended reading in American schools (or at least the good ones), .

The book’s protagonist is the developmentally disabled Charles Gordon, who is undergoing clinical human trials for a drug that can reverse whatever it was that caused his mental disability. He will go from being one of the most mentally feeble people in society to one of the most mentally acute, and we will follow his journey.

If a cruel word had to be found for this book its that it might be considered a slow start. The book is presented as the personal diary of the protagonist, and so the initial chapters where he neither articulate himself or spell very well can be off putting to some. But it is certainly masterfully done, and Charles’ intellectual progression is gradual enough to really feel the pain of his education. This also creates a very strong sense of dramatic irony, where we know the progress of Charles’ intellectual progression well before he does. And the book never manages to insult the reader either: once Charlie is full aware of no longer being the same person he once was his reporting of the world around him is never done in a way to make the reader fell dumb (as David Foster Wallace tries to, creating caricatures instead). We see his intelligence, but in a human way.

And its humanity is the book’s strength. The novel is of course not just the science of a person’s intellectual development, but as well explores both the familial and societal implications of the developmentally disabled within our society. For some of this we watch it twice, once when the protagonist has awareness of what is going on and once without. The emotional core of the story comes from when Charles must re-evaluate the more painful experiences of his early life now with the complete understanding of how cruel his family is. The whole arc of the story creates a look at a character who always demands your sympathy, despite always being different from us. Charles travels across the bell curve of intellect, and although it is never clear when he passes us we are aware that he at some point must have. Regardless of where he is on that journey, we come to empathize with his struggles.

I can’t think of this book without thinking of an anecdote from my personal life. Several years ago I was working in a restaurant when someone accidentally left a copy of this book at their table. We put it in our lost and found (the podium where the hosts would greet the guests) and eventually got a call from someone asking about it. It was a slow day, so I spent much of it at the hosts podium, rereading this book rather happily. A couple hours later I had made a pretty significant dent in the book when a high schooler came in asking for it. “D’you guys find some stupid Algernon book?” the slack-jawed pleb asked.

I almost belted it at her head. And there is the best endorsement I can give this book; in order to defend it I (a full grown adult) seriously considered assaulting an actual highschool teenager a fraction of my size. Not that that person had either soul or empathy, so maybe it wouldn’t have counted.

 

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