Emalynn’s #CBR5 Review #05: Loud Hands: autistic people speaking by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network

loud hands

From the moment that I heard about this book on Social Skills for Autonomous People, I knew that I had to track down a copy. Available from Amazon and at nine libraries throughout the country now (two when I was looking!), I highly recommend this book, especially if you have any interest in disabilities or autistic self-advocacy.

Loud Hands is a collection of essays, speeches, and blog posts from a number of Autistic adults, exploring their fight to be seen as different, not less. Some, such as “Do Not Mourn for Us” explain the frustration that autistics feel when family or friends express a wish that they would be “cured.” Autism, the author explaisn, is a part of who he is and wishing for a cure is tantamount to wishing “that one day we will cease to be, and strangers you can love will move in behind our faces.” This is a sentiment that I had never considered, and I found it very powerful- because I know that autism doesn’t just affect the way that someone speaks, or moves, or communicates, it also affects the way that they think, making it an important part of who they are. Rather than focusing on “curing” autism, and making autistics just like everyone else, the focus should be on improving quality of life- not forcing children to have “quiet hands” if flapping helps them to stay calm, not insisting on verbal speech if someone is more comfortable typing or signing. Other essays were heartbreaking, particularly “Quiet Hands” by Julia Bascom (which you can read here) and “Killing Words” by Zoe Gross (here), which explored the treatment that autistic children have faced.

Though as a whole the book was inconsistent and often in need of editing, it was incredibly moving and powerful. I learned so much about what it is like to live with autism, and I certainly re-evaluated many of my opinions and beliefs. I really cannot recommend this book enough if you are interested in autism, or have an autistic family member or friend.

Emalynn’s #CBR5 Review #04: Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back by Robert Levine

This book was forced on me. Required reading for my economics class, I started this book with the expectation of disliking it. I had little knowledge of Robert Levine, except that (judging from the subtitle) he is some sort of “Big Media” apologist.

The introduction and first chapter did nothing to alleviate my fears. Though his arguments later became more coherent and much more persuasive (more on that in a minute), the beginning of the book reads like a paranoid anti-technology screed. The “digital parasites” referred to in the book’s title are Google, YouTube, internet service providers, and any of a number of other technology companies that Levine argues are part of an enormous conspiracy to destroy copyright. These businesses, Levine claims, need professionally produced content to build a profitable audience, so they allow users to post infringing content, and bask in the protection of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act while raking in enormous profits on the backs of the poor media titans. This conspiracy involves all sorts of fake grassroots organizations and prominent figures on Google’s payroll. Honestly, I am not educated enough about the history discussed to know how accurate any of his claims might be (some quite reasonable, others wildly improbable), but by the beginning of the second chapter I was ready to take up a collection to buy the man a tin foil hat.

Later chapters, however, were very informative, and if not necessarily balanced, were at least not unhinged, and did make me question a number of assumptions that I have taken as gospel. His description of the severe issues facing the newspaper and magazine industries was very enlightening and made me much more cognizant of the desperation behind such actions as creating a paywall. High quality content is expensive and much more difficult to monetize than a blurb about the latest nude photo scandal. Levine also explains the history behind copy protection on DVDs, and how, had it never came about, the movie industry would likely be in the same place as the music industry, which tried to place similar protections on CDs too late.

The final chapters of Free Ride- “How the Culture Bisiness Can Fight Back”- isn’t about legislation, or technical solutions to piracy. They are instead much more reasonable and rational than I would have given the author credit for, instead proposing ways to monetize content in a world of rampant piracy. The idea put forward is that of a blanket license- a monthly fee for access to media. Instead of being forced to pay, consumers would choose to pay for an increase in convenience. This would only be possible in a world of partially closed networks, such as Xbox Live, or AppleTV, where it is possible to consume pirated content, but an awful lot easier to pay for it. Enforcement would come by means of small infringement law suits of roughly $50 which Levine explains, would be like a speeding ticket- unpleasant but routine. Levine explains the many challenges of implementing such a system, but remains optimistic that a similar system will eventually be put in place.

I really cannot say that I would recommend this book. Though parts were enlightening, the constant need to consider every statement critically in light of the author’s blatant agenda and frequent exaggeration and twisting of the facts was exhausting.

Emalynn’s #CBR5 Review #03: Hey Whipple, Squeeze This! by Luke Sullivan

Advertising has a bad reputation: dishonest, manipulative, and invasive- a fact that Luke Sullivan freely acknowledges in his classic book about creating great ads, “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This!” But advertising, as he puts it, “doesn’t have to suck,” salesmen “don’t have to wear plaid jackets.”

Introductions do not come much more compelling than when three well-known product mascots fall victim to a sniper on the very first page. Luke Sullivan opens Hey Whipple, Squeeze This! with both a literal and figurative character assassination of brand mascots from familiar advertising campaigns- Mr. Whipple, Snuggle, and Ty-D Bowl Man. Irritating and lazy, ads featuring these characters have caused huge increases in sales, but that is not the only measure of an ad.

Hey Whipple is packed with tips and instructions for creating print, radio, television, interactive, online ads and integrated campaigns. As someone not more interested in avoiding advertising than creating it, I was reluctant to read this book- but it was accessible, irreverent, and just plain funny.

My favorite parts of Hey Whipple dealt with the question of how to reach an audience that hates you. Ads are distractions, to be clicked past or fast-forwarded through. In the world of TiVo and Hulu and online piracy, advertising content must be “useful, entertaining, or beautiful” if it hopes to get any attention. As Sullivan puts it, the “Desert Storm” method of advertising (targeting consumers with a message, “carpet bomb [them] with massive buys of TV […], hit ‘em with radio [… and] print”) does not work anymore. As he jokes, the only captive audience remaining “is a bunch of convicts in the prison’s TV lounge.” Consequently,

“We can’t buy people’s attention anymore. We can’t keep interrupting all the stuff people are interested in; we have to become the stuff they’re interested in. We have to become so stinkin’ interesting that people put down what they’re doing to come over, lean in, and see what we’re all about.”

Initially, this sounds ridiculous- how could advertising ever be “the stuff people are interested in?” But it works. Advertising has to occur in new and creative ways, such as when Red Bull sponsored Felix Baumgartner’s sky dive from the edge of space, or when IKEA placed a full-furnished living room in downtown Toronto. Notes on the furniture said “Steal Me,” and copy asked, “What better way to make a friend that to say, ‘Excuse me, want to help me steal this sofa?’ The two of you will then be able to look back at this day and say, ‘Hey, remember that time we stole that sofa?’ And you’ll laugh. Of course, you and your new friend could always just go to IKEA and buy a Klippan sofa, seeing as they are only $250.” Just one of many examples in the book, I thought this was incredibly clever. It cost nearly nothing, and it certainly would have gotten my attention

I would highly recommend this book to anyone thinking about advertising as a possible career, but I would even recommend it to anyone who is not. I think it is an eye-opening read for any consumer.

Emalynn’s #CBR5 Review #02: Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff

I have thought about revisiting Pictures of Hollis Woods for a while, to see how well it stood up next to the book I remember. Hollis Woods is the protagonist and narrator, a twelve year old girl who was abandoned at birth and has subsequently bounced around from one foster home to another. She longs for a family and a place where she belongs, and her narration, spanning two different time periods, relates the story of a time when she came close.

hollis

About half of the chapters cover a happy summer that Hollis spent living with the Regan family. A perpetual runaway, Hollis finds a loving home with the Regans, a couple who wanted a large family and their only son Steven. The events in these chapters are spoken of in the past tense, with allusions to a tragedy that forced Hollis to leave, even though the Regans wanted to adopt her. Chapters in the present focus on Hollis’s life with her new guardian Josie, a former art teacher who loves Hollis and encourages her skills as an artist but is beginning to show signs of Alzheimers.

I first read this book when I was about the same age as Hollis. I remember loving it and I remember crying- mostly I remember the crying. I worried that revisiting it as an adult would ruin my memory of the book; that what was poignant and meaningful when I was twelve would be sappy and melodramatic ten years later. It was a relief to find out that I was wrong. The prose is beautiful, without a hint of the condescension that ruins so many novels aimed at pre-teens, and if there is a level of cynicism that would allow me to reach the conclusion without crying, I guess I am not there yet. I would highly recommend this book to anyone inside or outside of the intended age range.

This picture has a dollop of peanut butter one edge, a smear of grape jelly on the other, and an X over the whole thing. I cut it out of a magazine for homework when I was six years old. “Look for words that begin with W,” my teacher, Mrs. Evans had said.

She was the one who marked the X, spoiling my picture. She pointed. “This is a picture of a family, Hollis. A mother, M, a father, F, a brother, B, a sister, S. They’re standing in front of their house, H. I don’t see one W word here.”

I opened my mouth to say: How about W for wish, or W for want, or W for “Wouldn’t it be loverly,” like the song the music teacher had taught us?”

But Mrs. Evans was at the next table by that time, shushing me over her shoulder. 

Emalynn’s #CBR5 Review #01: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

I started reading Cloud Atlas a few months after seeing the movie, with the full realization that my impressions of the book would be colored by what I already knew. I was surprised to find, however, that though conversations had been copied directly, often seemingly word for word, from the text and that many other details were identical, my impressions and the meaning that I took away from the novel were entirely different.

Cloud Atlas is a series of connected stories focused on six different characters in six different times and places.

  • Adam Ewing, a young lawyer on a voyage across the Pacific in 1850
  • Robert Frobisher, a composer and a disgraced English aristocrat, working in Belgium as an assistant to an old and dying but famous composer in1931
  • Luisa Rey, a young journalist caught up in a dangerous nuclear conspiracy in California in 1975
  • Timothy Cavendish, a vanity publisher on the run from  gangsters, accidentally trapped in a nursing home in present-day England
  • Sonmi-451, a genetically modified “fabricant” slave in a highly advanced future Korea
  • Zachry Bailey, a villager in Hawaii after the fall of civilization, living in fear of attack by savage tribes

Each character is explicitly tied to both the previous and subsequent character. Zachry Bailey’s tribe considers Sonmi a god;  Sonmi describes watching a film of Timothy Cavendish; Timothy reads a manuscript of Luisa’s adventures;  one of Luisa’s informants in Robert Frobisher’s former lover, and Robert Frobisher reads an old diary written by Adam Ewing.  In the movie, parts of each of these stories were interspersed, with bits scattered throughout the duration, but the book is arranged as a Matriyoska doll, folding out symmetrically. It starts with Adam Ewing, working its way out into the future gradually, leaving each story only half told, and then doubles back on itself- a conceit that I must admit delighted me.

Walking away from Cloud Atlas the film, my impression of the meaning was that we are all connected in unexpected and wonderful ways, and that we have a responsibility to each other. This theme was also present in the novel, but not as obviously. Instead, the meaning that I took away from the book was the universal nature and destructive power of greed.

This started small and grew steadily bigger- first Adam Ewing is poisoned by another man for the contents of his trunk, then Robert Frobisher is blackmailed by a conspiracy of a husband and wife. Luisa Rey faces down corporate greed; Sonmi-451 contends with societal greed on an unimaginable scale, leaving  Zachry, dealing with the fallout of the greed of past generations and grappling with greed in the present in its purest form: savagery.

I really liked this book and would recommend it without hesitation, regardless of what anyone thought of the movie . Each story benefited from the additional room to breathe that the novel’s length afforded, and the sections about Sonmi-451 especially achieved a richness that was not present in the film. Though Cloud Atlas was not quite the life-changing experience I was promised, it was a very good novel with quite a bit of food for thought.