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Friday, November 14, 2008

Fall Reading Challenge

The reading challenge for fall is to read a book that won a Costa award. You can find a list at http://www.costabookawards.com/awards/previous_winners.aspx.

I chose:

***** The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. General fiction.

Well, this was a nice surprise. A bestseller that I actually loved.

Christopher John Francis Boone is an autistic boy. The story opens when the next-door neighbor's dog was killed with a garden fork and Christopher discovers it, and decides to solve the mystery, because he likes mysteries. They're puzzles, and he's good at puzzles, just like he's good at math, because he likes patterns.

In the course of his quest, we learn a lot about his life, and about the way he thinks, which in turn illuminates quite a bit about humanity in general. For example, Christopher has trouble with people because they're unpredictable, because he can't interpret subtle emotional and behavioral clues like facial expressions--pointing out, of course, how much the rest of us depend on those things.

Christopher's internal life is so clearly written that it's easy to understand how and why he behaves as he does... and easy to put myself in his shoes. It wouldn't even take that much--just a slight skewing of the mind.

But The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is not just a description of autism. There's also the story of a difficult and dramatic period in Christopher's life, precipitated by the killing of the dog. Since he's an unreliable narrator, that gives the story an added dimension, as the reader has to interpret how Christopher's observations would appear to someone else.

It's emotional and enlightening, but mostly I just found it fascinating to spend time in Christopher's head. That aspect reminded me of Tod Goldberg's Living Dead Girl, Crista Jean Chappell's Total Constant Order, and Mil Millington's Love and Other Near-Death Experiences. Maybe it's a remnant of when I was a teenager and wanted to become a psychiatrist, or maybe it's just feeling an affinity because of the skewed places in my own mind, but whatever the reason, I love reading about characters who don't think the same way as everyone else--or at least the way we assume everyone else thinks.

To participate in the reading challenge, leave a comment here or post on your blog to let us know what you read, how you liked it, and whether you'll be inclined to read a book from this category again.

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