Book Review: Born on a Blue Day

[cover image]
The opening paragraph of this book had me hooked right away. That's usually a good sign.

As the next few pages progressed, I began to worry that the entire book would be a loose collection of examples of synesthesia. Then the first chapter ended, and the second chapter began a chronological journey through the author's life. The book is indeed well organized.

I found this book rather interesting. It is well-written and engaging, and the main character (the author himself) is interesting to get to know. The reader can sympathize with him from fairly early in the book.

I do have a couple of caveats, however. In the first place, the cover is a bit misleading with the tagline, "inside the extraordinary mind of an autistic savant". The author is not, in fact, autistic, and never was. This becomes immediately clear upon reading the first pages of the book. He does have Asperger's syndrome, but although Asperger's is considered to be loosely related to autism, it is certainly not the same. It is a much milder disorder, much less debilitating, and much more common. It is normal for someone with Asperger's to lead a more or less normal life. Several major Silicon Valley CEOs have been diagnosed with it. There was an article on Wired a while back entitled The Geek Syndrome, which seems to cover Asperger's pretty well, at a layman's level, so I'm not going to detail it further here. Long story short, I consider this tagline disingenuous on the part of the publisher.

The more interesting thing about the author's mind is indeed (as was hinted from the first paragraph) his pervasive synesthesia, and it IS fascinating, particularly so because it is a first-person account. The first several chapters of the book, covering the author's early childhood, are particularly interesting.

The other caveat comes to light later in the book, when the author reveals he is a practicing homosexual. This is not by any means the focus of the book, however, and it does not appear to color the remainder. For a discerning adult, I would say that the book is still interesting and, indeed, valuable. But I thought I would be remiss if I did not mention it.

A third caveat, if it can be called such, is that I am writing this review without having actually finished the book. I am writing this now, but I may update it later if I come back and finish the book. Another book has pulled me away from it for the time being, but I intend to get back to it and at least read more of the account of the trip to Lithuania, which was only just starting where I left off. That another book was able to pull me away is not a significant criticism. In the first place, this happens to me all the time, and in the second place, the book that pulled me away is by one of my favorite authors. So this is more a caveat about my review, than about the book itself. Caveat lector.

I have little doubt that a significant portion of the critical acclaim this book has received is due at least in part to the fact that the author is homosexual. Nonetheless, it does not follow that the book does not deserve some significant acclaim. It is rare, in my opinion, to see a non-fiction book about a fascinating subject like this receive any significant attention in the kinds of sources where this one has been written up — library-oriented publications particularly. Normally they focus on much less worthwhile books: formula fiction (lots of this), inane autobiographies by celebrities who neither can write well nor have had interesting lives, incoherent political ramblings, vapid self-help books... in a word, drivel. This book is certainly not that, and although the critics may like it for the wrong reasons, they are not wrong to like it.


Bart van der Griendt said...

How on earth is the fact that the author is a homosexual a caveat?

Anthony Strand said...

Did you ever reach the part where we find out he's a Christian too?

Jonadab said...

Bart: if it doesn't bother you, then you are not a member of the intended audience for the caveat. If you are unaware that there are people who definitely would be bothered, then you clearly need to get out more.

Anthony: I never got that far. (Until these two comments showed up on my old review, I had actually forgotten about the book.)