The Journal of Best Practices
by David Finch; c.2012, Scribner; $25.00 / $28.99; Canada, 225 pages
Kristen Finch was irritated. It was her husband’s doing, but as you’ll see in the new book The Journal of Best Practices by David Finch, there was a very good reason.
David Finch was afraid.
He feared being splashed by water. He was afraid of being fired from his job – which he hated anyway, but still. He feared heights and schedule changes and surprises. Most of all, Finch was afraid his wife was going to leave him.
He knew their marriage had its problems. For five years, things had eroded slowly, and he mostly blamed himself. He had a flash-point temper and was insistent on the most insignificant things – but he couldn’t say why. Kristen hated it.
He fell in love with her long before the vice was versa. They’d been friends for a long time; she was the pretty, cool girl and he was the nerd who did geometry for enjoyment. Things were fun then, and they were even better once the couple knew they were meant for each other. They bought a house together, had two children together, and now everything was falling apart.
Until Kristen, a speech and language expert, came across a quiz online, a quiz her husband failed. An official diagnosis was made and everything made sense: David Finch had Asperger Syndrome, which explained his quirks and unique behavior.
Once Finch knew that his brain didn’t work like most “neurotypical” brains worked, the solution was obvious and, in typical “Aspie” form, he started to take notes.
Note-taking was the best way he knew to become the perfect husband…
With a superb willingness to poke fun at his own brain’s shortcomings, author David Finch gives his readers a hint of what it’s like when social niceties are confounding and everyday chaos is insurmountable. Finch writes with honesty about shocking melt-downs and seemingly-needless anger, and you’ll be saddened to realize that you know what’s going on while there were times in which Finch’s wife did not.
But Finch doesn’t let us wallow in sadness for long. He lets us peek at his journal’s notes: the laugh-out-loud funny ones and those written with hopes that they’d fix the marriage he so wanted to keep.
I loved this earnestly sweet, delightful book, and I think you will, too. If you’ve ever fallen for someone who is less-than-perfect, The Journal of Best Practices may be one of the best books you’ve ever read.
The Other Side of Normal by Jordan Smoller; c.2012, William Morrow; $27.99 / $31.99 Canada, 390 pages, includes index
You’d like to think you’re a normal person.
You shop for clothes where others shop. You like singing along with the radio (whether you do it well or not), watching TV, hanging with friends, playing with pets, hobbies, and being with family.
One hundred percent, no-two-ways-about-it… normal.
But if you hate TV, never shop, don’t like pets, what then? Surely, you’re not abnormal? Either way, author Jordan Smoller says that biology has shaped your preferences and behavior. In his new book, The Other Side of Normal, he explains.
Let’s say you have a major phobia about snakes. You thought you saw a snake lurking in the yard once, and the mere grimacing thought makes you jumpy. It’s almost as if they’re looking for you.
Phobic, delusional, and paranoid. That’s you, and Smoller says that’s normal – and, to a degree, abnormal.
“By the latest accounting,” he says, “more than half of all Americans meet criteria for a psychiatric disorder at some time in their lives.”
You can blame that on biology, he says, because much of who you are is hard-wired, brain-wise. Natal temperament affects personality, too, as do childhood experiences, nurturing, and genetics. Circumstance also changes your place on the normal/abnormal behavior scale.
Take, for instance, that snake in the grass.
You may feel disgust that he’s out there (disgust being a biological response), but that feeling might not be as strong if you only saw a photo of him. If your mother let your brother to torment you with a rubber snake, that comes into play. And even if you didn’t see the snake but you observed someone gazing at the grass with horror, you’re biologically wired to face-read, mind-read, trust – and run!
The Other Side or Normal is a little like a single-bed quilt: there are lots of colorful, imaginative patches, surrounded by an equal amount of gray. The bits are sewn together well, but it doesn’t seem to cover things like you wish it would.
I appreciated that author Jordan Smoller uses personal experiences in treating psychological disorders to illustrate how biology contributes to behavior. I liked how he explains psychiatric classifications and their overall relevance to and incompatibility with biologically-based actions. I was astounded by the number of studies he uncovered, and how antiquatedly cruel they seem today.
But The Other Side of Normal delves into a lot of brain science, the kind of stuff that’s been written in dozens (if not hundreds) of other similar books. It’s interesting but not unfamiliar, and my biological tendency was to mind-wander.