Early this year I heard David Finch’s interview on All Things Considered. I am a big fan of memoirs, especially memoirs about mental health disorders (if you have not read The Quiet Room by Amanda Bennett and Lori Schiller, put it on your list!), so his book, The Journal of Best Practices: A memoir of marriage, Asperger syndrome and one man’s quest to be a better husband, was a shoo in for me to read. Of course it got buried on my list and I only picked it up when the library had displayed it on the memoir “new and notable” rack.
The Journal of Best Practices was a compelling, easy, quick read. Sometimes memoirs are dicey when it comes to voice and tone, but Mr. Finch was engaging and easy to follow. But (can I admit this?), I was kind of annoyed by him. Obviously his burning desire for a Holly Homemaker wife got on my nerves, but at the same time I really admired his ability to tell his wife (paraphrasing): “I’m having a hard time with this really irrational desire. It’s upsetting me and I’m sorry. But I’m working on it.” So while I was thinking, what a jerk with half my brain, I also really found myself cheering for him. Who among us doesn’t have deep seating, internalized ideals and biases that we have had to or are trying to overcome?
It wasn’t just the “ideal woman” stuff, either. He makes several very gender stereotypical statements. Exhibit A (talking about empathy):
First of all–let’s face it–I’m a guy. That’s strike one. To make matters worse, I’m a guy with Asperger syndrome. If empathy were currency, men with Asperger syndrome would starve. The fact that I’m also a husband basically means that if you ever want to get your feelings noticed, you pretty much have to grab me by the cheeks and say very slow: “I. Need. You. To. Listen. To. Me.”
Interestingly, a second study revealed that among the general population, women scored significantly higher than men. A point that will come as no surprise to women.
These little asides (like the “a point that will come as no surprise to women” above) really got on my nerves. It’s one thing to make statements of fact about general trends and epidemiology. It’s a whole ‘nother thing to add in gender-biased commentary to it that supports traditional stereotypes of the Feelingz Womenz and the Clueless Menz. Bleh.
Side note: Asperger’s syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder, where people are higher functioning than a traditional autistic individual. In fact, there has been some debate about removing the separate labels all together when diagnosing these spectrum disorders. These disorders do tend to be more common among males than females (estimates ranging from 1.6 to 4 times as common according to some studies), and some children that are diagnosed with Asperger’s can “outgrow” the diagnosis through behavioral therapy and time.
But other than these annoyances, I really enjoyed the book. I think one of the things I love about reading mental health related stories and working in the mental health field is realizing how much of mood and personality pathology is a spectrum that we are all on. In every account of mental disorders, from bipolar disorder to schizophrenia to dissociative identity disorder, I see my own behaviors and thought patterns mirrored. I don’t see this as the old medical school student joke of becoming a hypochondriac with every new disease you learn about, but as an interesting statement on the fluidity of the brain. We all have our own neuroses and quirks that in some people can and do become disease. Not because of the fact that they are there, but because of the fact that they have become too consuming to live with. It humanizes us all to realize our connections and our similarities. Of course, searching for that connection is also the reason why I read in general.
K’s rating of The Journal of Best Practices: 7/10 mangoes