Sunday, July 17, 2016

Book review: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes was first published in the late 50s and reprinted in the mid-60s, mid-80s, early 90s and early 2000s. That's one popular book.

One can only speculate as to why it is so popular. Is it the strong character voice? Is it the unique plot? Is it the quality of the writing?
'[O]n a hot night when everyone is out walking, or sitting in the theater, there is a rustling, and for a moment I brush against someone and sense the connection between the branch and trunk and the deep root. At such moments my flesh is thin and tight, and the unbearable hunger to be part of it drives me out to search in the dark corners and blind alleys of the night.' (p. 197)

Perhaps Flowers for Algernon addresses a subject that goes largely unnoticed, from a perceptive that remains novel.

The book is comprised of a series of progress reports written by the protagonist Charlie Gordon. I meet Charlie in junior high (middle school). The first thing I noticed about the progress reports were the spelling mistakes. I noticed them because they were similar to the ones I made.

Charlie writes... 'How strange it is that people of honest feelings and sensibility, who would not take advantage of a man born without arms or legs or eyes -- how such people think nothing of abusing a man born with low intelligence.' (p. 199)

I knew I was stupid because I had trouble with things the other kids found easy -- like spelling. Often this meant that I was fuel for the class clown.

Charlie writes... 'People think it's funny when a dumb person can't do things the same way they can.' (p. 43)

I longed to take a pill or undergo an operation that would have made me "Normal".  

After the operation is proven to be a success, Charlie writes... 'Am I a genius? I don't think so. Not yet anyway. As Burt would put it... I'm exceptional -- a democratic term used to avoid the damning labels of gifted and deprived (which used to mean bright and retarded) and as soon as exceptional begins to mean anything to anyone they'll change it. The idea seems to be:  use an expression only as long as it doesn't mean anything to anybody. Exceptional refers to both ends of the spectrum, so all my life I've been exceptional.' (p. 153)

This book is truly unique in that it not only comments on how society sees the intellectually challenged but also the gifted. Society sees the challenged as less then human. The gifted are emotionless robots. Isn't it  sad that society's attitude has remained largely consistent on this matter since the late 50s?

Charlie learns that being a genius isn't all he had hoped it would be. Even with his advanced intellect, he's not as smart as he would have hoped. And neither is anyone else. They are all frauds in his eyes.

So what is the answer? Maybe it is to be happy with what you have. Maybe it is to do the best you can with what you have been given. Maybe it is to realize that under the right set of circumstances we are far more alike then we are different. Maybe we need to realize that we all have two sides to our intellect:  an over trusting moron and a brilliant egoist.

Next post:  Post published on Sunday, July 24th around 5 PM
We'll play this game again.
Book blurb:  A Harvard university professor loses her battle with Alzheimer's, but learns that she's more than just a brain.

(photo by Leanne Dyck)
Picture Books in Canada

Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award
'The Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award, established in 2006, honours excellence in the illustrated picture book format.'
For more information, please click this link

(photo by Leanne Dyck)
Sharing my author journey...

This week was full of surprises.

1)Owlkids Books (children's book publisher) is currently only interested in receiving submissions for non-fiction books. 
2)Out-of-the-blue, I was contacted by a book publisher. After visiting their web site, I rewarded their interest by sending them a manuscript.
Who knows what surprises next week will hold?

(photo by Leanne Dyck)