Monday, May 16

The Book Nook: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime

The very observant among you may have noticed that I've had a tab called "The Book Nook" up for about a month now. One of my original intentions in starting a blog was to review books that I read as a way to keep track of my progress and to organize my thoughts about them. While I've read several books since the beginning of the year, I decided to pick up with the last book I finished. But to catch you up, so far I've read: Mansfield Park - Jane Austen,  The Mysterious Incident at Styles - Agatha Christie, How to Cheat at Gardening and Yardwork - Jeff Bredenberg, Guide to Georgia Vegetable Gardening - Walter Reeves, Financial Peace University - Dave Ramsey (a course rather than just a book, but I'll count it), Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime - Mark Haddon. Not quite as far as I'd like to be, especially in the spiritual growth department, but I'm working on that.

I have a bad habit of judging a book by it's title. This goes for other things as well. I actually have to keep myself from looking at the names of nail polish colors so that I don't end up with hideous "Perfect Peony" instead of much more flattering "Just Plain Pink." So, while the cover of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime caught my eye a long time ago, the strange, intentionally complicated title put me off. Until one of the unit secretaries at work told me about it as she was reading it for school. She didn't love it, but her description was sufficient to explain the title and pique my interest.

The book is about Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old British boy with autism (likely Asperger's syndrome). He is brilliant at math, he is logical to a fault, he has difficulty trusting others, and he has lost his mother. The book is a quick read - entertaining, heart-felt, and intelligent. The story is told by Christopher, and in addition to chronicling the greatest adventure of his young life, it demonstrates how he looks at the world - how he solves complicated problems for fun, how emotions confuse him in a world governed by science, how being extremely observant causes him oppressive anxiety, and how things (and people) outside of his control make him feel very unsafe.

I won't give a synopsis of the plot, mostly because Christopher's thoughts and behavior are the real subject of the story. I will say that Christopher's traits seemed a little stereotypical to me at first. Some of his behaviors, especially his "Rain Man"-like number tricks and outbursts when being touched have been portrayed in other media plenty of times. But Haddon, who worked with autistic children for several years, included some delightful nuances that make Christopher a real character. For example, Christopher explains why jokes aren't funny, why metaphors are really lies, and why humans aren't more special than dogs or rats. We also learn that just like the rest of us, Christopher has a few traits that are incongruous with the rest of his character, like his illogical aversion to all things yellow and brown.

Unlike most stories, the resolution of this book is not tied up in the progress of the characters' relationships because Christopher's understanding of these relationships is very different than ours. Instead, it ends with Christopher secure in his accomplishments: finding his mother, excelling at his A-level math exam, and solving the mystery of a poodle's murder. A gushing, emotional ending wouldn't be appropriate for Christopher's story, but we do share his satisfaction that the courage that enabled him to accomplish these things will be very important for his future.

The bottom line: I would recommend this book. It's a great read for vacation or any other time that you can knock it out in a few days. The quick pace of the story lends itself to being read in a few sittings, rather than tediously spreading it out. There is some rough language (not a ton, but enough) that may not be appropriate for kids.