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Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.

Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger's

Parallel Play - Tim Page The bare facts of Tim Page’s professional life show that not only has he been tremendously successful, he’s very decidedly followed his own path. His lifelong love of music led to employment as a radio show host, a platform that allowed him to interview many of his living heroes in the arts world. He won a Pulitzer Prize writing as the Washington Post’s classical music critic, a job title he’d coveted since the age of three or four. When he discovered Dawn Powell, then a mainly forgotten author he found he loved, Page got most of her works back in print, edited books of her diaries and letters, and wrote a critically acclaimed biography. Page is now is a music and arts journalism professor at the University of Southern California, an especially impressive accomplishment since he dropped out of high school because it bored him so much he could not force himself pay attention, even when he stuck himself with pins in a futile effort to stay alert. While high school couldn’t hold his interest, Page has had passions that have brought him attention since he was very young. His fascination with silent movies kept him busy writing, producing and filming his own shaky, black and white versions, using the neighborhood kids as his cast. “A Day with Timmy Page”, a documentary about Page’s movie making, shows Page as a talented, somewhat tyrannical, very young looking 13-year-old charging around shouting stage directions to his friends and yelling “Lights, action, camera!”While turning the neighborhood kids into movie stars and chasing his passions into adulthood have caused people to admire Page for “thinking outside the box.”, Page confesses early in his newly released memoir Parallel Play that he has never had more than a shadowy, uneasy sense of what those “boxes” are. The boundaries of the boxes are invisible to him, he can’t make out why other people think they are significant, and he’s uncertain how to steer his life around or through them—leaving him with what he describes as an anxious, melancholy feeling that his entire life has been spent in “parallel play”, next to but irrevocably separate from everyone else. At the age of 45 he was finally given a name for his condition—Asperger’s syndrome. Aspperger’s syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder, though Asperger’s differs from conventional autism in that language and cognitive skills are not much compromised. People with Asperger’s can be brilliant in their chosen fields, and if they are lucky their talents line up with skills that are considered valuable. Some of the traits “Aspies” can have include an abhorrence of changes in routine, the tendency to be easily over stimulated, a knack for being uncoordinated, the inability to effortlessly understand social cues like body language and tone of voice, and an inclination to develop obsessions they become extremely knowledgeable about that are often shared in long winded, one-sided conversations. Neurodiversity is a relatively new word for the idea that atypical neurological development is a normal human variation. Advocates make the case that neurodiversity is as important for the vitality of human society as biodiversity is for the health of the planet. Neurodiverse Aspies enrich our lives with singular creations and penetrating insights into their fascinations of choice. A Googled list of famous people who may have been Aspies includes Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau, and Ludwig van Beethoven. But while many Aspies have made wonderful contributions to the world, it is not always a lot of fun to be one or live with one. Page says that as a child his “memory was so acute and his outlook so bleak” that he was sometimes described as a genius, even though he had difficulty telling left from right, and he continued to absentmindedly wet his pants into adolescence. His peculiar understandings and creative abilities may have been celebrated by the adults in his life, but he was also given any number of medical tests, psychiatric screenings, exercise regimes and medications, all with the goal of curing him.Reading Parallel Play is eye-opening, and learning what life with Asperger’s is like is really only a small part of it. Page vividly remembers things people with more ordinary brains have long forgotten, and his descriptions of what it feels like to be a child are so fully realized they can reawaken that sense in the reader, even bringing back to life personal memories long hidden in some dusty neural crevice. Parallel Play is also packed with entertaining details of the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll mentality rampant in the 60s and 70s, the era when an idealistic girl Page knew was determined to turn her naturally carnivorous dog into a vegetarian, and when hippies could be pro “free love”, but clueless about or even hostile towards gay rights. Page relates the history of the time and his own stumblings toward adulthood with compassion and humor. Parallel Play began as an August 2007 New Yorker article, and though it has been greatly expanded it still maintains the deeply moving quality of the original. Asperger’s and Autism memoirs are fascinating reads and are almost numerous enough now to have their own genre, but this one has the advantage of being written by someone who is a close observer of culture and a professional writer, so it’s beautifully composed. Page is both insightful and unwaveringly honest, and while the book can be painfully sad it is more often hilariously funny.