Writing about the death of a parent presents the tempting trap of invoking cheap sentimentality to tug at readers' heartstrings; sidestepping those easy clichés is the mark of a mature writer who knows how to craft a powerful tale with the arsenal of unique details that makes a person irreplaceably dear to their loved ones, illustrating the extent of the void that their passing has created. Elizabeth Nunez's memoir, Not for Everyday Use, takes the four days between the frantic phone call that has her rushing to her native Trinidad from her adopted home in New York to the burial of her mother and couches that surreal blur of emotions and necessary tasks in a past that goes far beyond her own lifespan in a testament to the immortality of personal history and the vivacity of one's heritage.
The third-oldest in a family of 11 children, Nunez grows up with a vantage point perhaps a bit too mired in adult responsibilities at too young an age. While this has imbued her with a strong sense of familial responsibility that remains with her through the present day, she ponders that perhaps a little less preparation for the real world and a little more parental affection might have made her a little more well-rounded in terms of the balance between her emotional needs and passionate determination to succeed. The forced retrospection that comes with death, however, shows that Nunez has long ago reached the point where she can observe her mother and father as flawed but well-meaning individuals separate from their parental roles, appreciating all the good they've done for her and accepting that their lesser moments embody the dueling forces alive in every person.
Indeed, Nunez cannot call forward the myriad roles she plays--daughter, sister, mother, woman, educator, writer, storyteller--without acknowledging that everyone else is a collection of components that are constantly fighting for prominence as different situations call for different personas. As her memoir progresses, the reader gets a glimpse of her vastness of character through all the identities roiling within; the implication is that if she wears so many hats and is pulled in so many directions, her parents and siblings must be, too. As a natural spinner of fictions, Nunez confesses early in Not for Everyday Use that she has a tendency to conflate facts for the sake of bettering the story: This admission makes Nunez immediately believable and even more likable, ready as she is to lay bare her inability to resist polishing reality to fit her narrative standards. But it also hints at her self-awareness and her own flaws while simultaneously underscoring the fact that she recognizes when a story needs no embellishments because of its inherent significance and emotional weight.
Being both an immigrant and a native of a former British colony that is still in touch with the dark underbelly of colonialism's prejudices have put Nunez keenly in touch with the way places leave their own individual impressions on a person just as much as living relations do. Trinidad is as alive as the people influencing Nunez's past and present, its tropical locale adding natural color to her narrative, right on down to her parents' two mango trees that serve as subtle metaphors for their decades-long marriage, having grown indistinguishable from the other save for the flavor of the fruits they yield. But it is not just the local atmosphere that Nunez captures: The class divisions, oppressive Catholicism and slowly shifting gender stereotypes of her home color Nunez's upbringing, especially by contrasting the stifling attitudes of her parents' younger days with her generation's more liberated perspective. Furthermore, it highlights the divide between the judgments cast by different cultures: Many of the Nunezes bear darker skin, the stigma of which they have mostly transcended by living in a class-based society's upper-middle class; in countries like America, their expansive educations, elite jobs and enviable salaries do little to deter strangers from assuming that their generous doses of melanin pin them as thieves, junkies and sub-par parents.
Nunez's inner conflicts are rooted in something much deeper than societies' superficial prejudices, though: She has her own family, her own gender and her religious upbringing to contend with. Reconciling her lofty ambitions, determination to leave the world in a better state than she found it, the maternal desire to be surpassed by both her son and her students in talents and achievements, and her long-held religious doubt with the old-fashioned world in which she was raised fuels Nunez's ongoing battle within herself. Ever the academic, she tackles each issue point-by-point, laying out how she came to each bump in her road via past beliefs and modern understanding, such as resenting a society where mothers were burdened with veritable litters because birth control was a one-way pass to eternal damnation, robbing otherwise strong, motivated women of a life outside the home and leaving her with a lingering sense of feminine failure when her marriage crumbles and she produces only one child.
But Not For Everyday Use is ultimately a celebration of understanding and empathy, as Nunez scrutinizes herself and her loved ones with a curious intensity that betrays her need to examine individuals as fiercely as she loves them. It is a demonstration of both the intellectual freedom her parents encouraged her to pursue and the strength they pushed her to discover---the end result more than justifying the means, well-intentioned but perhaps not always flawlessly executed as they were. It is proof that family doesn't have to be in close proximity to remain close-knit. It is confirmation that blindly extended affection is but a wan facsimile of the kind of love that grows from accepting a person for everything that they are, imperfections and all. ...more
I've not read anything by Paul Auster before, including his Winter Journal that's both a companion piece of sorts and predecessor to Report from the Interior. While the earlier work is an account of Auster's physical state, the title of this unconventional memoir is absolutely indicative of its inward focus, with the author examining himself through memories of childhood (the lens of recollection is, thankfully, not slathered with Vaseline), the movies of his adolescence that have left the deepest impressions, letters to the woman who would become his first wife written during their college years, and a photo album highlighting points of interest from the book's first quarter. While I imagine Auster's fans would derive the most enjoyment from observing this particular author's inner formation, Report from the Interior made for a warm (if not charmingly self-indulgent) introduction to the writer's style and personality.
One of the things that makes a memoir compelling enough to read about someone's else's life is the universality it brings to each memory, how a writer translates a personal experience into the language of ubiquitous milestones. Using the weirdly compelling second-person as his narrative vehicle for most of the book, Auster leads his readers through the awe of one's early years, winding his way from idyllic youth to adulthood's harsh realities, each childlike expectation derailed by adult-sized disappointment becoming a foothold in the uphill battle of dawning awareness. But as he learns that not all people are as trusting as he is or that even heroes are imperfect men, young Paul also inches closer to the person he'll become as the world of literature reveals its secrets with an ever-increasing generosity and as life itself becomes a richer place as he discovers things like dancing with girls, unsupervised days at the cinema and the nonstop rush of New York City.
While each mile marker between youth and maturity is Auster's alone, he zeroes in on the heart of the memory, locating the reason why that particular moment sticks out more vividly than others and addresses the relatable humanity of the moment. He recalls his boyhood idolization of Thomas Edison, the heady rush as degrees of separation dwindle between the two when he finds out his barber also cut Edison's hair and how his own father once worked in Edison's lab, and the acute despair of discovering that Edison himself fired his father for being Jewish: The players and details comprise Auster's own drama but the slap of cold realization that comes with a hero's irrevocable fall is familiar to all who've passed through that checkpoint on their ways to becoming jaded adults.
Auster shares a number of life lessons gleaned through firsthand experience, particularly those that impinge on his developing sense of justice, and the movies that have left the most striking impact on his formative years' memories were his first tastes of life being unfair on a grander scale. Two films (The Incredible Shrinking Man and I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang) receive special attention for how viscerally Auster's younger self responded to them: Both forced their young viewer to accept that sometimes the hits just keep coming, especially if, like the films' protagonists, one just happens to be an unfortunate victim of circumstance. In a book that relies largely on firsthand experiences, examining the effects movies can have on their audience and hinting at how entertainment like books and film can be an excellent supplement to one's emotional education, as illustrated by the palpable horror Auster felt on behalf of the characters he observed. Letting an observer live vicariously through a fictitiously upended life without suffering through actual consequences cultivates the kind of empathy that comes with living vicariously through a tormented character for the duration of their story.
The letters Auster wrote to his college sweetheart and first wife, writer and translator Lydia Davis, offered a glimpse of the writer as a young man in the cusp between collegiate freedom and adult responsibility, even if they are awash in a young writer's inability to resist the showiness of burgeoning talent and a wordsmith's experimentation with a medium he is on the brink of mastering, even mentioning how his parents won't address a pressing issue in letters because Auster has the advantage over them. But they're an honest time capsule that screams of uncertainty and potential colliding in that desire to experience everything with the exuberance only a university student can sustain.
I've found that one of the biggest appeals that memoirs hold for me is the assurance that other people--successful, decidedly functional people, no less--have experienced and felt things I always wondered if other people went through. Far beyond the general coming-of-age embarrassments and skin-thickening hurdles are those little moments that could either be personal quirks or things no one talks about for one reason or another. This is where writing in the second person best serves the readability of Auster's autobiographical tale, as it's almost comforting to realize that statements like "you would walk around in a state of stunned disassociation" (and a page later, "you have never completely outgrown this tendency to vanish from your own consciousness") and "once you were old enough to compare your situation to that of the other children you knew, you understood that your family was a broken family, that your parents had no idea what they were doing" offer a sense of comfort and belonging, knowing that this is a categorization of things that happened to someone else but feeling like that someone else is acknowledging that they happened to you, too.
Report from the Interior is a quite beautifully written attempt at reclaiming youth's lost relics through vivid recollections, a tribute to the fact that you can't predict what memories will stick around decades later or what details will define them, but that you can make sense of what they say about the individual by wrangling them into a written work....more
"The future business of journalism will resemble the past and will also be unlike it," proclaims journalist-cum-professor George Brock as he begins the final chapter of Out of Print, an enlightening and engaging exploration of how journalism got to be what it is through trial and error that also calls upon the industry to maintain its spirit of flexible experimentation if it wishes to thrive in the 21st century. It's a line that perfectly encapsulates the spirit of a book that is part history/part dissection/part prescriptive measure for the current state of journalism, an industry in upheaval that has been struggling with outdated business models in this hyper-personalized, swiftly moving era that bears little resemblance to the world a decade prior, to say nothing of the centuries before when the only available medium, still in its fledgling state, was adapting to the needs and wants of an increasingly informed public.
I've officially been out of print journalism longer than I was in it but, hey: You can take the girl out of the newsroom but you can't take the newsroom out of the girl. Especially when she fled job satisfaction for job security and resents the decision on a fairly regular basis. At the time, anything was preferable to fearing for my job every three months and not being able to hear myself think over what sounded suspiciously like the death rattle of an industry I arrived at just in time to watch it crumble around me. In hindsight, I do wish I'd stuck around a little longer to administer palliative care to something I truly loved being a part of, though I think I got out just in time to be able to justify recalling my newspaper days with perhaps a tad too much nostalgia rather than the exhausted, overworked frustration that punctuated those last months.
So when I heard about Out of Print--which examines the interlocking past, present and uncertain future of journalism with a focus on newspapers--I felt like it was one of those rare times when I was actually part of the target audience. Perhaps for that reason, or because the book maintains an unflinching but rationally optimistic attitude about what's in store for journalism, I found it to be the perfect example of the educated tome one needs to read in order to form both a credible, well-informed opinion on the state of journalism today and an idea of what it will take to ensure that we'll one day look back on these times as a turning point rather than a terminus.
With his book, Brock effectively dismantles the myths born of lazily connected, coincidental cause and effect, presenting a much-needed reminder that what a thing is and how it looks are rarely the same. Two easy examples: One, the dawn of the internet didn't really strike the death blows to more traditional media, especially print, so much as it merely exposed their long-festering issues, like how advertising dollars have been on the decline since the '80s but were easily mitigated by cinching editorial budgets, a decline in competition, and predominantly stable developed-world economic conditions; two, hindsight offers us the luxury of looking at the whole in retrospect to create a history by linking media milestones but actually living in the middle of one--without the comfort of flipping to the end of the chapter to see how the turbulent present fits with the paradigm-shifting moments of the past that led to this current transition--feels more like standing on unstable ground than witnessing another historical epoch from the inside. As someone who used to vehemently, bitterly complain how those damnably stubborn dinosaurs before me destroyed print journalism with their refusal to either adapt to newer models or embrace the internet as a supplement to rather than replacement of the newspaper, it was strangely comforting to see the extent of just how wrong I was in that regard, to finally understand that it's not easy to consider the implications of new technology when the daily, immediate demands of having a job to do often demand one's full attention.
Furthermore, Brock points out that every sudden expansion of information has ripple effects that are both long-lasting and often delayed. When the rise of the internet's accessibility didn't have immediate effects, it was hard to anticipate either the full impact or the personal and practical application of these modern connections that have rapidly decreased the size of world while mind-bogglingly increasing every individual's opportunity to access information both ancient and up-to-the-second current. As someone who has been using the internet since elementary school, it's easy to forget that such far-reaching connectivity was daunting in its scope to anyone not looking at it for the first time with an adult perspective rather than a child's easy acceptance of new discoveries.
I can't speak for someone who never experienced that odd combination of personal excitement and deadline-driven occupational pressure that comes with watching historical events unfold from the strange vantage point of a newsroom, surrounded by like-minded people in that surreal suspension of time between waiting for results and scrambling in unison to create a product that not only passes along but elaborates on such information for public consumption, but as a former journalist with an admittedly romantic notion of what the industry can accomplish (with a shameless bias for newspapers, whatever the lacking regard many seem to have for them), Out of Print offers plenty of rational reassurance that we're not facing the death of something but rather its rebirth--should it choose to adapt rather than stagnate. The book is optimistic without being sentimental, thought-provoking without being pretentious and realistic without being harsh, which makes it comforting for someone with a keen interest in seeing journalism prevail and hopefully eye-opening for those who wish to better understand it....more
For a book that comprises less than 200 pages and can be read in a single sitting, The Reason I Jump is deceptive in its brevity. Using a computer and an alphabet grid to form and "anchor" words "that would otherwise flutter away," it is the first real chance that then-13-year-old Naoki Higashida had to share his rich but silent inner world and explain the impulses that drive his seemingly erratic behaviors, as autism had prevented him from responding to the volley of questions and years of unwanted stares his condition has prompted from others.
The book itself is nearly a decade old but was only recently published in English, as British writer David Mitchell and his wife KA Yoshida translated Naoki's painstakingly chosen words from their original Japanese. While Naoki's own jovial warmth and tactful sincerity deserve much of the credit for the charm within these pages, the couple adds a palpable sensitivity to the task of bringing this big-hearted book to a new audience with their unique combination of struggles, as their son has autism and Mitchell himself is a stammerer; while a stammer may not be as debilitating and imprisoning as autism, it does lend the afflicted a keen understanding of what it's like to be rendered speechless and to have one's intelligence doubted by a wanting verbal fluency, never mind the capacity for eloquence that waits in frustrated silence.
Both Mitchell in his introduction and Naoki in the Q&A portion that comprises the bulk of The Reason I Jump emphasize that autism is by no means a disorder of universal constants, though it does feature a handful of commonalities--enough commonalities, in fact, that Mitchell said this book allowed him to "round a corner" in his relationship with his son. While Naoki tends to speak in the first-person plural when he talks about autism, he does so usually with a preface that he's basing his explanations on his own experiences and most often as a plea for understanding. Early in the book, he answers the question "Do you prefer to be on your own?" first as a person and then tinged with the communicative defeat faced by a person with autism: "I can't believe that anyone born as a human being wants to be left on their own ... The truth is, we'd love to be with people. But because things never, ever go right, we end up getting used to being alone."
Naoki fields a battery of questions with a combination of maturity, grace, honesty and willingness to admit when he just doesn't know how to answer a question that is remarkable for a teenage boy. He effectively dismantles the longstanding presumptions society has assumed about people with autism, such as a lack of empathy or that there can be blanket catch-all descriptions for the way autism manifests itself in each individual, the latter being a point that Mitchell, too, makes by pointing out that "[e]very autistic person exhibits his or her own variation of the condition--autism is more like a retina pattern than measles."
Of all the autism myths that are effectively, beautifully obliterated in The Reason I Jump, it is that supposed dearth of empathy that is most enthusiastically debunked. Naoki acutely feels the stress he places on his caretakers and the frustration they feel over his powerlessness to resist the impulses that keep him jumping, spinning, running, repeating, organizing and wandering. He gently reminds his audience that while the caretaker's exasperation is fleeting, he is the one who will always feel like a captive in a body he can't control. But Naoki also says that he no longer would trade being autistic for being "normal," as his autism has helped him see the beauty in little things while offering him comfort in realizing that he's a part of something much bigger that connects us all.
Tucked in amidst Naoki's thoughtful explanations are short stories that read like more ethereal Aesop's fables, demonstrative of Naoki's active imagination, knack for parable, and desire to emphasize a thought or feeling he finds worthy of extra mention. He revisits the Tortoise and Hare theme to illustrate the necessity of kindness; another metaphorical tale shows that even those we envy are always searching for happiness and self-fulfillment. The final section of the book is a longer, emotionally ripe allegory for what it's like to live with autism, which would read as an apology for the stress he has caused his parents if it weren't so girded with hope: "If this story connects with your heart in some way," Naoki's foreword to the short tale says, "then I believe you'll be able to connect back to the hearts of people with autism too."
One of the most remarkable features of this book is not even that is was laboriously created with an alphabet grid or that Naoki displays nearly tireless optimism but rather the slow dawning of empathy it quietly draws from its reader. He explains what it's like to live inside autism using "normal" examples that betray an outsider's wistful observation, such as likening his inability to move forward in certain actions without a verbal prompt to a pedestrian waiting for the "Walk" signal, as well as explaining his interests in terms of exaggerated reactions to routine stimuli, like his love of nature offering comfort in its sense of belonging to something so big it reduces a person to the tiny speck in the universe that so many of us try to forget that we really are.
Naoki's inventive approach to writing a memoir offers an enlightening look at a still-misunderstood disorder while embracing the beauty in imperfection and proving that one person's normal is another's mystery. It doesn't provide all the answers, which isn't a reasonable request from any one person anyway, but it begins an invaluable dialogue by approaching all the right questions.
(A final thought: Surely if David Mitchell's fabulousness extends to his abilities to translate Japanese, he should be the obvious choice to translate any and all future Murakami works, yes?)...more
I've stuttered since first grade. My relationship with that part of myself is oceans better than it used to be, though that doesn't mean I'm completelI've stuttered since first grade. My relationship with that part of myself is oceans better than it used to be, though that doesn't mean I'm completely at peace with it. The little girl who was too afraid to assert herself for fear of sputtering all over the difference between what she wanted to say and the tangled ghost of approximation she had to settle for quickly supplanted the even younger girl who had no problem hamming it up with improvised songs and dances on home videos; the adult she grew up to be, on less fluent days, automatically apologizes for stuttering and will feel a wave of relief no less powerful than the countless ones before when her conversational partner says they've never noticed. The wild dream of unblemished speech is just not a realistic one after a certain point, so acceptance is the only viable option: Realizing that one merely chooses to live in fear of their own voice and can just as easily choose not to is a moment nearly as empowering as sudden fluency.
Speech therapy was presented as an option exactly once, in what felt like an ambush when my elementary school's speech therapist pulled me aside during class a year later. Not being able to withstand the internally embellished embarrassment of a public outing as someone needing to be fixed while also imagining all the ways I could be reprimanded for interrupting class, I insisted I didn't need help just to end the inquisition as quickly as possible; I now have to assume that academic professionals wouldn't let a clueless seven-year-old have the last say, and that my parents (who, after asking my pediatrician how to treat my stutter, summarily ignored his advice and chose to make fun of me for years to come -- which did have the benefit of making the surprisingly few schoolyard jabs roll right off my otherwise too-sensitive self) or whatever teacher initiated this encounter didn't see the worth in pressing on.
The first time I decided I was ready to try speech therapy was in high school. I only wound up seeing the school's specialist a handful of times, as the sessions pretty much involved me reading aloud from whatever book she had available and her declaration that I didn't have a problem. At that point, after nearly a decade of living with a stutter, I knew my own patterns well enough to be frustrated with a seemingly optimistic prognosis: I have good days and I have bad days, with the problems mostly flaring up at double consonants or when speaking on the phone, and rarely occur when a book or a script supplies my every word.
I doubt I'll ever work with someone to "fix" the way I talk just as much as I doubt the possibility of shedding the verbal flaw I've sported for more than two decades, as I am now more interested in what I can do to encourage understanding but have been unsure of what exactly my options are. So when I stumbled upon an article about this book, I had two immediate reactions: "I absolutely need to read this" and "I absolutely should have written this." (Later, "Why wasn't I interviewed for this?" would come, but fleetingly and only half seriously.) I have never spoken to another stutterer and certainly never had a chance to ask the probing and probably eagerly invasive questions I've been dying to lob at someone else who knows what it's like to live with an invisible hand at one's throat: This book was that chance. Here is someone offering up not only her own experiences but also those of so many others.
Out With It: How Stuttering Helped Me Find My Voice is a story in two parts. It is an unflinchingly honest account of its author's nearly lifelong battle with her stutter as well as a study of how the condition manifests itself in others, the schools of thought proposing various coping methods and solutions to hide behind, and the search to understand just what exactly causes this particular speech impediment. It is the need for inner reflection happening in tandem with outward-focused curiosity that turned Katherine Preston's debut into exactly what I expected a stutterer's memoir to be, as the affliction makes it impossible for a person to remain in ignorance of how his or her faltering speech affects and is perceived by every single person who serves as our audience. To stutter at an early age is to find out what happens when childhood's blissful lack of self-awareness is replaced, with a callous prematurity, by adolescence's almost paranoid perception of harsh scrutiny.
It is a book fraught with disappointment, frustration and embarrassment, but also determination, hope and self-discovery. Stuttering is, as Katherine quickly points out, not a fatal disease but it is a decidedly unexplored and misunderstood one. It is a condition that is unpredictable and humbling, that lays the afflicted vulnerable to the slings and arrows of society. It is a childhood bully who tends to retreat by adulthood, though not all of us will reach the wonderland of fluency: "Statistics will later break us into two groups," Katherine writes. "Those who "recover" and those who don't."
Katherine traces her journey with an unwanted passenger whose mission it is to mangle her every word -- her phonetic renderings of a voice made exasperatingly arrhythmic brought to mind another stutterer, the estimable David Mitchell, and his personification of the impediment through the inimical Hangman -- from its first appearance at the age of seven through the already daunting terrain of adolescence to finding a place in the adult world that will accommodate her years of accrued baggage. It is a personal voyage so punctuated with objective reflection and the slow growth of inner strength that any stutterer would be proud to call it their own.
For all my knee-jerk self-reproachment at having been beaten to the punch in terms of penning the definitive stutterer's memoir, Katherine's is by no means the path we all have followed. Despite her numerous attempts to find "success" in speech therapy, her gradual shift in knowing that she would give anything to divest herself of a speech impediment that makes simple verbal communication grounds for a panic attack (let's not even approach the unique horror the prospect of phone calls brings) to realizing that the hurdles such a condition has helped her overcome and the resolve it has instilled in her is empowering and paved with tiny victories but it is her own path to self-acceptance and hers alone, though her milestones and breakthroughs and jumbled emotions are all stops along the way that I can't help but believe are common to all stutterers' experiences.
The part of me that read this book in the hopes of recognizing echoes of myself and feeling a little less alone for it was dizzyingly satisfied. Katherine is roughly the same age as me and began stuttering around the same time I did. She, too, is a rarity among rarities, being a female stutterer who carried the disorder into adulthood. She is able to examine her younger self, her fears and her insecurities with a clinical eye and an improbable amount of heart. Reading about her early retreat inward, her horror over being seen as something broken, her struggle to overcome a speech impediment that overshadows all she is and is capable of every time she ventures a spoken thought offered me a sense of empathetic kinship that is usually reserved for the beautifully damaged fictional characters I've come to favor. Like me, she is no stranger to deploying an arsenal of thesaurus-gleaned stutter-friendly synonyms to dodge the words that are habitual problems. She adopted accents and affectations to gloss over verbal traps. She was reluctant to identify herself as a stutterer, preferring to ignore that which plagued her until she finally had to learn all she could about the foe within. Later, having realized that she could make her written voice do all the things her spoken one couldn't but being unsure of how to make it as a writer, she tried her hand at journalism.
It was what Katherine and I shared that made the differences in just our two stories appear so divergent, though: It was so easy to sympathetically nod along when she was navigating familiar territory that being jarred from it had the strange sensation of an out-of-body experience, or seeing the same role played by two different people. She emphasizes her parents' unflagging support and willingness to help her "get better" without pushing her beyond her comfort zone and reducing her to incurable disfluency, and I couldn't help but envy her of that. Her tales of speech therapy, the brief spurts of hopeful fluency that sputtered into the resurgence of the stutter she thought she had finally put to rest, were genuinely surprising, as I had always fancied that corrective measures were the ticket to speech unencumbered. And, because I can't help it, yes, I compared the severity of my stutter to those both reprinted and spoken of in this book, and was profoundly grateful that my worst days are what someone else wakes up hoping for.
The bravery Katherine embraces in exposing that which has been the most fiercely guarded part of herself is incredible. She digs into old diaries and painful memories to pinpoint relevant stopping points along her journey, which read as an offer of trust to the reader rather than cheap bids for congratulations. As an adult stutterer, I found it reassuring that someone was so open and detailed about this things so few people truly understand; as a younger stutterer, I imagine I would have found relief in knowing that someone else has trod this path before without letting the all-too-easy giant-in-chains excuse keep her down.
It is that honesty and refusal to sugarcoat her life as a stutterer that makes Katherine such a perfect voice for those who have yet to embrace their own. She examines how stuttering twists the things most people take for granted, like being able to supply one's own name quickly and effortlessly or making a joke without fearing that the punchline and timing will be ruined by an inopportune loop of repetition, but it is her straightforward examination of how a stutter affects one's professional path that nearly had me giving myself whiplash by nodding in such vigorous assent. "It turns out that careers are a sticky subject for stutters," she writes as an introduction:
Many advocates argue that any job is possible. They have a point. I have met stutterers in every career that, at twenty-two years old, I had assumed were nigh on impossible. ... Their hearts were in the right place, but there was one rather large problem. They gave me the distinct impression that any job was possible as long as there wasn't a discernible speech impediment. I could have anything I wanted as long as I didn't stutter obviously. ...
If you have the advocates on one hand, you have the realists on the other. They appreciate the sentiment that no job is impossible, but they refuse to drink the Kool-Aid. Instead they take to emphasizing the degree of the stutter. What may be possible for a mild stutterer is not always possible for someone who stalls on every word.
Katherine is able to take a step back from a condition she knows all too well in order to consider the non-stutterer's vantage point, to recognize the severity of each stutterer's impediment. She is a narrator who is remarkably adept at sidestepping the pitfalls of judgement in favor of considering all sides before attempting a thoughtful, logical assessment.
Out With It is engaging and insightful, showcasing its author's curiosity and capacity for overlooking the worst of a situation in order to focus on its benefits. While it's obviously got loads of appeal for stutters in particular, the gist of the story is making peace with one's imperfect demons and learning to look outward. Katherine's book "is not one of deliverance" nor does it have that moment where she is "magically fixed as the curtain drops" -- and it's all the better for delivering one of the book's unexpected messages: Recognize the difference between being grateful for what you have and settling, and know when wanting to be better becomes the same as demanding too much.
Katherine bemoans how she was in her twenties when Hollywood finally presented a stuttering cinematic hero in The King's Speech, and how there are few role models for stutterers beyond those who have successfully hidden their impediment to land some some of societal prominence. In unloading so much of herself in a book that's less of a memoir and more of a promise that someone has not only shared those moments of seemingly insurmountable mortification but also overcame all those same hurdles to become what she knew she was meant to be, I can't help but believe that Katherine Preston is filling that once-absent role all by herself....more