Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Diving Bell and The Butterfly

This is not the first time lately that I have watched the film adaptation of a book and later purchased and read the book. I did this same thing with Notes on a Scandal, which I loved. In fact, I am often so intrigued when I like the movie that I will purchase the book and devour it within the next few days after viewing the film.

The Diving Bell and The Butterfly was written by French Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby after he suffered a massive stroke in late 1995. This stroke, as many of you I'm certain are aware, left Bauby in a state referred to as "locked in syndrome." Basically, his brain suffered no damage, but his body was completely paralyzed. Bauby's only means of communication was with the blinking of his left eye. Through the help of a speech therapist, who is wonderfully portrayed in the film, Bauby learns to communicate one letter at a time with his left eye. It is through these means of communication, that show unbelievable resolve, that Bauby creates The Diving Bell.

As a former vocational rehabilitation counselor, I had numerous clients with severe disabilities. These disabilities included paralysis, brain damage, and amputation. Due to my experiences, I have an interest in memoirs and films that portray the struggles and events in the lives of such individuals. Bauby's memoir is unlike any other I have read from a disabled or non-disabled person. Perhaps it is because of his inability to fully control the narrative on a grand scale and the probable strain it caused to spell out every word, the book is a collection of short descriptions of his life both post- and pre-incident.

One of the saddest parts occurs in the section titled "Paris." Bauby describes being taken by ambulance to a hospital in Paris from his usual room at Berck. The ambulance passes buildings he recognizes, including the building he worked in while at Elle. He writes, "I shed a few tears as we passed the corner cafe where I used to drop in for a bite. I can weep quite discreetly. People think my eye is watering" (p. 78).

When I purchased this book, the cashier stated, "Oh! This is the best book ever written." I cannot agree with her that there are no better books, but I can definitely recommend The Diving Bell and the Butterfly for its uniqueness and beauty and simply for how it was created. I can also understand one's enthusiasm for the book.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Dreams from My Father

There has been another gap between my last post and this one, due to my busy schedule. Summer begins soon, however, and I surely cannot wait. Summer = Break from teaching and late evenings!

I was able to still complete Barack Obama's memoir Dreams from My Father. Let me explain why I began reading this book. I did not vote in the California primaries. Earlier this year I doubted I would even vote in the presidential election. Feeling completely disillusioned and like all politicians are the same whether Democrat or Republican, I thought, "What's the point? Nothing is going to change."

When the Jeremiah Wright story broke, I was immediately curious. Who is this Wright guy and who exactly is Barack Obama? I then saw Obama's magnificent speech "A More Perfect Union" and I was simply fascinated. The following weekend I purchased Dreams from My Father.

This memoir is quite lengthy, but worth the read. It reveals the story of a seeker. You will follow Obama through his childhood, youth, and college years. A good portion of the narrative is then taken up with his work as a community organizer and his trip to Africa to discover his father and his African relatives.

I was most struck by the honesty and emotional and intellectual curiosity that rings through the pages. It was interesting to have this book with me at a place where I often have lunch. People had questions and comments. "What do you think of him?" "What does he say in the book?" "I like him." "Can I borrow that when you're done?" In fact, one of the waitresses is taking my copy home with her. She plans to begin reading it tonight.