This month’s challenge was to read a book that was published the year you were born – 1989 for me – and required a lot more research than I’m used to having to do for the LSH, as well as several different library trips, since several times over, I wasn’t able to find the books I was looking for… Luckily, I eventually managed to find this list, and a couple of the books on it were available in my local library! 😀 The one I eventually picked (which was originally published in 1989, although I actually read a more recent edition) was…
An exploration of Deaf culture and identity; of the history of Sign language (and American Sign Language in particular); of how languages (both visual and auditory) effect the brain; and many other related topics – from the perspective of somebody who is not part of the Deaf community, but clearly has great admiration for it.
This was a difficult book to review (and to rate) for a number of reasons. Firstly, I have no connection to the Deaf community whatsoever; in twenty-seven years of life, the only exposure I’ve had to Deaf culture is in the occasional (and usually not particularly prominent) deaf character on TV, and pretty much everything I know about the community (or deafness in general), I’ve learnt from this book. So I am entirely unqualified to make any argument concerning Sacks’ right- or wrong-ness. Secondly, I read fiction almost exclusively, and have never before reviewed a book that was not a novel (or short story), so many of the things that I’ve trained myself to think about when I read (plot progression, character development, world-building, etc.) really don’t apply here. Nevertheless, I will do my best to produce something coherent.
In regards to the content of the book, I will say this: Much of it was completely over my head, but I progressed through it feeling interested, and ended it feeling informed – if not as informed as I might have been, had I understood more of it. Sacks’ lack of objectivity is evident, but I don’t think it was trying to be an entirely objective scientific/sociological study so much as a documentation of Sacks’ own journey into the world of the Deaf, and all the interesting things he learnt along the way. And – as an outsider myself – his outsider perspective made the book relatively easy to follow.
My main problem with the book was actually the way it was formatted. Around a third of the main body of text (i.e. discounting the bibliography/references/etc.) was notes – many of which were extremely long – and constantly having to flip back and forth between sections meant that I was continually losing track of what Sacks was trying to say (and losing my place). True, there’s no need to read the notes if you don’t want to, but I found that they contained some of Sacks’ most interesting observations.
The rest of the text was divided into three sections (A Deaf World, Thinking in Sign, and The Revolution of the Deaf), the first two of which had previously been published as self-contained essays, and therefore reproduced much of the same information. Reading A Deaf World, of course, this information was all new to me, but Thinking in Sign (the longest section of the book) dragged quite a bit in consequence. The Revolution of the Deaf – a documentation of the Deaf President Now protest at Gallaudet University in 1988 – was the only part of the book that was written specifically for Seeing Voices, and was very different to the rest of the book; less scientific, and more sociological. It’s also the most easily accessible part of the book, though when I was reading it, I appreciated having the background information provided by A Deaf World and Thinking in Sign.
As a final note, I’d like to suggest that anyone who’s unsure about reading this book check out some of the other reviews on Goodreads, which are, for the most part, considerably better-informed and better-articulated than my own.
[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]