Book reviews: how experimental treatment rewired my Asperger’s brain
Eye-opening memoir will force readers to re-examine their preconceptions about the syndrome
by John Elder Robison
Spiegel & Grau (e-book)
With a subtitle – A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening – promising the formidable offspring of the holy union of Philip K. Dick and Oliver Sacks, Robison’s literally magnetic story is a game (as well as a brain) changer for neuroscience. The autistic Robison suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, leaving him a sometime social misfit unable to understand the facial expressions, body language and tones of voice that constitute much of human communication. Which is ironic, because Robison’s almost superhuman auditory powers are so acute that he enjoyed an earlier professional career as a sound engineer extraordinaire and instrument maker with rock bands of the magnitude of Kiss. Yet despite his technical appreciation of music he was signally unable to feel it on any emotional level – until an epiphany upended his world. That resulted from the meat of this, his latest memoir, which relates how experimental brain therapy using magnetic stimulation opened Robison’s ears to the “real” world. But even in inadvertent morality tales such as this, there’s a sting: suddenly armed with previously unimagined emotional tools, Robison discovers that not all feelings are good ones – and that not all fellow humans are happy.
The Suicide Gene
by Candace Heather
Food addiction, like addiction to drink, drugs, sex or whatever else floats your boat, might seem like one of those conditions that affects affluent societies only, where people have nothing better to do than indulge themselves. But whatever the catalyst, its horrors are real enough. Candace Heather’s bulimia nervosa blighted her formative years and she doesn’t overstate the case when she writes that “suicide is … common amongst people with eating disorders”. But if her illness was bad enough, worse was to follow. Her quest for a cure for a then little-known affliction ushered her into the clutches of a Svengali-like therapist who took control of even the most trivial daily matters, prised her away from her family, brainwashed her with Christian dogma and predictably milked her earnings. Despite being exploited by and dependent on him for decades, however, Heather found the wherewithal to escape his psychological torture and, with the help of a genuine food-addiction therapist, re-emerge into society. Hers is a deeply shocking tale not only of vulnerability but of the ease with which charlatans can dominate the suggestible. It’s no exaggeration for Heather to call herself a former “slave”.
Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life
by Howard Sounes
Audible Studios (audiobook)
Charles Bukowski was the writers’ method actor, making a literary life out of living through what he wrote about – mostly taste-the-grit, down-at-heel adventures in penury, drinking and lechery. He was, to boot, the subject of the 1987 Mickey Rourke film, Barfly. The screenwriter characterised Bukowski as a tottering drunkard, but he should have known: it was Bukowski himself. Howard Sounes’ highly regarded biography, new to audio books, is no hagiography either: Sounes is diligent in dismantling some of the foundation myths of Bukowski’s anti-celebrity, revealing that his finances were on a firmer footing than his derelict’s reputation would suggest and that his flirtations with drugs were overstated. Sounes narrates his own book with some gusto, although it could do without a British author bursting into a hammy American accent while quoting some of Bukowski’s more outrageous, provocative pronouncements. The unfortunate effect is to give parts of Bukowski’s life the air of a low-budget radio play; if any life never needed a veneer of cheapness it was that of Bukowski, poet of the street, hard-boozing postal and manual worker, truck driver, tarpaper shack dweller and traveller through the American shadowlands of bars, factories and warehouses.