This blog is basically about how good books are nice and bad books are the pits. And then I get grumpy.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Comments on Daniel Tammet's Born on a Blue Day, A Memoir

Daniel Tammet's lovely book is called Born on a Blue Day, A Memoir. Tammet is an Englishman who was born with autism and synesthesia. It is a crisply written autobiographical work, a window into the brain of an individual with mental abilities that are unfathomable save for some bits of insight he provides. The descriptions of the workings of his mind are invaluable to those who do not have his conditions. One reads Born on a Blue Day and breathes a sigh of thankfulness that a member of a population which can have such a challenging time expressing itself is able to benefit the rest of the world with such an account. It is written in a clear and relatively understandable manner and, at times, the synesthesia can actually sound somewhat relatable, begging the reader to wonder if the claims that we are all to some degree synesthetic must not be true.

To get a taste right away for what synesthesia is Tammet entitled his book with a reference to his condition. He was born on a Wednesday which, to him, is a day that is the color blue. This type of association is what synesthesia is about; two unrelated things, a number and a color or a texture, perhaps, are connected. Some of the descriptions by Tammet are made up of wonderful images. He writes, for instance, that, "Thirty-seven is lumpy like porridge, while 89 reminds me of falling snow." Tammet describes his method of calculation which incorporates these synesthetic qualities. He supplements his explanations with drawn diagrams showing the calculative process. Chapters are headed not only by chapter titles, but also by sketches which I suspect are visual representations of the numbers. Such a nice touch to see what 3 looks like in Tammet's mind by glancing at the beginning of chapter three.

Particularly touching is his description of falling in love and, indeed, love is a theme that arises time and again in this book. It seems to be a theme in Tammet's life. This is capped off by Tammet's recitation of 1 Corinthians's famous lines of what love is and what love is not. The quote is a fitting end to a book which seems to have love as its refrain - the love of a son for his parents, parents for their son, sibling's for each other, friend for friend, man for man. It also underscores the irony of how the feelings of the autistic are so easily misunderstood by the rest of society.

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