Book Review: Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate

nerdy shy socially inappropriate asperger autismNerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate: A User Guide to an Asperger Life
by Cynthia Kim
Nonfiction
240 pages
Published 2014

I’ve been picking up books on Autism since we realized my husband was on the spectrum, in hopes of finding tools to help us manage daily life. He’s too busy with school and work to do much reading these days, so I’ve been doing the research and bringing it to him to discuss. It’s led to some enlightening conversations and we’ve both learned a lot about each other. Cynthia Kim’s blog was one I pored over and read parts of to him, and I finally got her book from my library.

One of the things I noticed most was she details social rules in ways I never would have thought to do – she has a list of seven very specific rules for eye contact, for example. As an allistic person, most of those rules are things I do instinctively, without even really knowing the reason for them. Like, in conversation, looking up or to the side means you’re thinking, looking down means you’re done talking. I read that to my husband and he jumped in, surprised, with “so THAT’S why I get interrupted so much!” I never would have thought to codify that into words, but it’s something I naturally do.

She talks about meltdowns vs shutdowns, which are things we’ve already learned the difference between with my husband, but we’re both eager for strategies to avoid, mitigate, and recover from them. She gave some strategies as places to start, but that’s hard to give general advice on as every autistic is so very different in that regard.

The chapter on alexithymia was really interesting. Alexithymia being an impairment in identifying and describing emotions. It leads to a lot of “Hey, are you okay?” “I don’t know.” “Well, how do you feel?” “I DON’T KNOW!” We’d already been introduced to this concept through her blog, but she expands on it in the book.

Another interesting (and applicable!) chapter was the one on executive dysfunction. (We joke that I am my husband’s personal assistant – I keep his calendar and remind him of important dates/events/homework due dates, and sometimes nudge him to do things if it seems he’s having trouble getting started.)

Kim uses the term Asperger’s in her writing (as well as autism), but Asperger’s has been rolled into the greater Autism Spectrum Disorder since 2013. Very recently there’s been some debate about the Asperger name, as it’s been revealed that Hans Asperger at least cooperated with the Nazis, and possibly was one himself. It’s still used commonly, though, and there is a large community built around being Aspies. Personally, I think using the Asperger term is a little too divisive – it’s basically the same as “high-functioning.” But. I’m allistic and my opinion on the matter isn’t the important one, so. We use autistic for my husband. (His choice, and when I asked his thoughts, he also thinks the Asperger term is divisive and not useful.) There’s a number of Twitter threads and articles on the subject of using or not using the Asperger term, and what it means to the community.

Overall, this was a really great book for learning about how autism affects day-to-day life, and gave us lots of talking points and words for things we didn’t have the vocabulary for. I’m looking forward to tackling the rest of my Autism Reading List.

From the cover of Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate:

Cynthia Kim explores all the quirkyness of living with Asperger Syndrome (ASD) in this accessible, witty and honest guide looking from an insider perspective at some of the most challenging and intractable aspects of being autistic. Her own life presents many rich examples. From being labelled nerdy and shy as an undiagnosed child to redefining herself when diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome as an adult, she describes how her perspective shifted to understanding a previously confusing world and combines this with the results of extensive research to explore the ‘why’ of ASD traits. She explains how they impact on everything from self-care to holding down a job and offers typically practical and creative strategies to help manage them, including a section on the vestibular, sensory and social benefits of martial arts for people with autism.

Well known in the autism community and beyond for her popular blog, Musings of an Aspie, Cynthia Kim’s book is rich with personal anecdotes and useful advice. This intelligent insider guide will help adults with ASDs and their partners, family members, friends, and colleagues, but it also provides a fresh and witty window onto a different worldview.

Book Review: A Hundred Veils

hundredveilsA Hundred Veils
Rea Keech
Historical Fiction/Memoir-ish
307 pages
Published 2017

I picked this book up as part of my effort to read more diverse books. It centers on a young American English teacher who falls in love with an Iranian girl at the University of Tehran in the 70s. It wasn’t until I’d finished reading it, and finally read the About the Author, that I discovered the author is actually local to me. And I mean VERY local. As in my county library system had an event starring him THREE DAYS PRIOR to my reading the book! So I’m a little annoyed that I missed that, as I’d love to know just how much of the storyline was based on his experience in Iran. (He did actually spend some time in Iran with the Peace Corps, and the book is based off that.)

The book is also the winner of the 2017 Maryland Writers’ Association Novel Contest for their Literary/Mainstream category. (And now that I know that’s a thing, I might have to read the winners of the other five categories!)

On to the actual review! So the book is set at the very beginning of the Iranian Revolution – Marco is an American English teacher who’s come to Iran for a year. While there, he falls in love with his roommate’s cousin. The book is really their love story, while surrounded by political and religious unrest.

The writing is excellent. I’m sure I would get more out of the book if I could read Farsi, as each chapter is begun by a few lines of poetry in Farsi, written in both Arabic script and English letters. But the pacing is perfect, the descriptions apt – I really enjoyed this book except for one thing.

He sleeps with the girl he loves, without having made a decision as to if they’ll actually be together. He’s not sure he wants to stay in Iran. She doesn’t want to leave. And he sleeps with her anyway. My immediate thought was “You might love her, but you don’t care about her very much.” At the time, it seems like it was more of a dishonor, rather than an outright death sentence for the girl, but it still would basically condemn her to a life of prostitution at best, if he declined to marry her.

Perhaps I’m more aware of how dire those consequences are than most people who might read the book – though the shame she could face is mentioned in the book. My husband was an Arabic linguist in the military, and spent years learning about their culture. He’d come home and talk about things he’d learned, so I absorbed a lot of it as well. So the fact that the main character slept with her with no plan for their future kind of pissed me off. It wouldn’t be HIM that faced consequences for it, after all.

And yes, it was the 70s, before a lot of the religious extremism took hold – there was, in fact, a lot of enforced secularism. Women at the University were banned from wearing chadors in class, and shared classes with men. It’s actually really disturbing, seeing how secular a lot of the Middle East was in the 70s, and then to see how far they regressed socially in the following decades.

Besides the thoughtlessness of Marco in this matter, I really enjoyed the book. It reminded me a lot of the things my husband told me about Afghanistan. I’d really like to get a chance to ask the author some questions, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for any other events he might do.

From the cover of A Hundred Veils:

A young American teacher at the University of Tehran falls in love with a beautiful Iranian girl and gets caught up in the social, political, and religious turmoil of the times.

What ecstasy to fly through the sky
Tearing a hundred veils with every breath.
–Rumi