Books: Thinking in Pictures

August 19, 2017

Having watched the movie Temple Grandin with my younger son a couple of years ago, I had been meaning to read one of the books actually written by Temple Grandin. When I was looking for something on my 2017 Reading Challenge list that would be “a book by written someone you admire,” reading something by Grandin suddenly seemed the obvious choice.

I chose Thinking in Pictures. I had expected it to be primarily about herself, but Grandin also discusses different types of autism and what life is like for autistic people in general (to the extent that it can be generalized, considered the broad spectrum of the disorder).

For someone with an interest in autism and the perspective of the autistic person, it is a fascinating view into a very different way of thinking and perceiving life. I read a good deal about autism when my son was younger and struggling a lot more with school and with social interactions than he does today, but what I had read was mostly about people with autism. Actually reading something by someone with autism assures the reader that the writer really knows what she is talking about!

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Books: Animals in Translation

August 15, 2011

I had been intending to read a book by Temple Grandin at some point, but hadn’t gotten around to it. When I found Animals in Translation in the library catalog, I immediately put a hold on it. The book not only tells some of Grandin’s own story as a person with autism who has a successful career and communicates effectively, it explains a great deal about animal behavior, and touches on issues of language and brain research. Once I had finished reading The Big Burn, I read through Grandin’s book in a single day.

Besides touching on multiple subjects that are important to me, it’s an easy and enjoyable read. I had wondered what the writing would be like in a book written by a person with autism. Grandin had a co-author, Catherine Johnson, so I don’t know just how much of the “feel” of the book is Grandin’s and how much is Johnson’s, but I got the impression that I was hearing Grandin’s “voice.” (The acknowledgements section at the end of the book includes a section by each writer; Grandin’s section reads like the rest of the book, while Johnson’s reads quite differently.)

The writing is simple and straightforward, without the abundance of complex and subordinate clauses that many writers (including me) tend to use. Unfamiliar words (of which there are many, at least for a reader not previously familiar with the study of the brain and animal behavior) are explained clearly. I don’t think I ever had to go back and reread a paragraph because I hadn’t understood it the first time. But there was no sense of reading a book that had been deliberately simplified.

The focus of the book is understanding animal behavior. Grandin has a Ph.D. in animal science, and has spent her career working with livestock (designing equipment for humane handling of livestock and providing consulting on various livestock handling problems). She had noticed, both in her academic research and her work with livestock, certain similarities between how she perceives things and how it appeared that animals perceived things.

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