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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Book Response: Flowers for Algernon

Though I read this book some time ago, I unearthed it yesterday while finding a book for James to read, and as I saw it and looked down at it, I felt this rush of emotion and thought go through me as I remembered this book.

To briefly summarize: "Flowers for Algernon" is about a man named Charlie who is intellectually disabled (old speak=mentally retarded), and takes part in an experiment and operation which could make him smarter. The experiment is successful and as his intelligence grows, he changes as a person--his friends, his work, his life. As he ever more quickly surpasses the intelligence of the original designers of the experiment, he begins to do his own research and tests to determine if the intelligence is a permanent state. Is it? Read to find out. ;-)

Once I got into this book I could not put it down. Charlie's transformation and the repercussions that swept through his life were both completely unique and yet, universal. The idea of intelligence lost and found (and maybe, lost again), was something that touched me deeply, and seemed to shake me. When I finished the book I felt unsettled in the way a good book does--like I had looked into my soul and seen something true, unprocessed, and perhaps, uninvited.

I guess fundamentally, I felt like I was Charlie. We learn and we grow, but as we move ahead and onward, sometimes we forget what we leave behind and what it meant to us. At the same time, in a very REAL sense, I have had moments, days, weeks, months, in which my mind seemed to break into a different plane of understanding (often because of the practice and experiences with Yan Xin Qigong, a meditation practice that I study, albeit rather badly much of the time). While I have been in this altered state of consciousness, for lack of a better phrase, certain words, ideas, phrases, and readings have taken on new meaning. Where once there was flatness, things sprung suddenly into depth and there was so much more to see that there wasn't enough time to write down all my thoughts, to think over every thought. One thing would lead to three, and as I made my choices about which way to let my mind flow, there was some understanding that the road not taken would not be seen again.

But these states fade, often the understandings with them. Now sometimes I read back on things I had written during these times, or things I had READ during these times, and gleaned great meaning from, and I find that I cannot understand. Often, that I cannot even understand my own thoughts as I wrote them.

Am I alone? I'm not sure if it is the practice of Yan Xin Qigong alone that brings me to this place--I feel as if sometimes people who are very religious or practice other forms of meditation can also get into these places . . . but as I finished "Flowers for Algernon" and put the book aside, unsettled was definitely the word for my feeling. I was Charlie, unable to comprehend what I once knew, and sometimes, too ignorant even to miss it.

For this reason and many others, I would highly recommend "Flowers for Algernon".


Alyssa said...

I remember reading this in high school, but only remember the ending. I'll have to read it again!

Nicole said...

Alyssa, I dont remember it very well either. I think I was in 8th grade when we read it. I never liked reading things for school, only for fun.

jessum b said...

i just read a very good article on intelligence and how we perceive intelligence- whether it be as something that is fixed or something that is malleable- totally forms how we go about in education as well as what we think we are capable of and what effort we put into things and whether or not we challenge ourselves. it makes perfect sense, but the article obviously goes thru more detail. personally through meditation and experience, i know/feel/____ that everything is always changing...including intelligence! and guess what, i believe in multiple intelligences as well!

Jessica said...

I just wanted to let you know that I have never read this book (at least that I can remember) not even in high school, but it sounded so interesting that I am checking it out from the library and bringing it on vacation with me this week.

justadrienne said...

Oh you two Jess's.

Jessie B--I totally believe that we can increase/decrease our intelligence based on how much we exercise our brain, meditate, lots of things. It is definitely interesting that whether or not you think this would effect your learning in school though, but it doesn't surprise me!

Jessica--I'm glad I inspired you! It is definitely hard to put down once you get into it (or it was for me)--I'll be interested to know how you liked it!

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