Tag: Naoki Higashida

Q2 Challenge Report 2015

Another quarter of the year is gone and summer is upon us. June in particular was a busy month for me, so I was anxious to check in on my challenges, worried that I may have let my attention slip and headed back into my old habits.

2015 Goodreads Challenge

2015 Goodreads Reading Challenge LogoAt the beginning of the year, I set my reading meter to 116, planning to slow down and focus on my second goal. But unless I have more busy months like June, I’m currently on track to exceed last year’s total of 130 books. So far this year I have read 71 books, putting me at 61% complete only halfway through the year. However, if it means I end up reading even more diverse books, so much the better. But I was a little worried that my busy schedule might have distracted me from mindfully choosing my reads.

Diversify 2015

Inspired by the good work of the folks at We Need Diverse Books and Diversity in YA, at the end of 2014 I took a look at my stats for the year and found that only 10% of the books I read qualified. So for 2015, I specifically set my sights on reading more books by authors from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, an area where I felt I was particularly lagging. Knowing I would need to be able to measure my efforts, I set a goal to make sure that 25% of the books I read in 2015 would be by authors who were members of visible minorities.

Of the 31 books I read or listened to in Q2, 12 qualified for the challenge, working out to about 39% of my books, a slight uptick from my overall total of 35% in Q1. But since I don’t review every book I read, I realized I also needed to be paying attention to where my review energies were going. Fortunately, of the 22 books I reviewed in Q2, 10 titles qualified, working out to about 45% of my reviews, down just a tick from 46% in Q1. Even though I was busy in Q2, the stockpile I built in Q1 ensured that I had a selection of diverse books on hand to choose from, preventing me from backsliding.

Cover image for To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny HanThe stockpile of diverse books was particularly important because during the month of May, I also undertook an unrelated month-long mini-challenge, aimed at knocking off a few of the unread books that have been sitting on my shelf for a while. I forswore buying any new books for the month, and was only allowed to check out reference material (such a travel guide books) and audiobooks from the library. I read ten books from my own library, and finally got around to titles such as Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida, and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han.

Year-to-date, 22 of the 48 books I have reviewed have been by minority authors, for a total of about 46%. Of my total reads, 26 of 71 have qualified, for a total of about 37%. As I’ve been reading more books by a wider range of diverse authors, I’ve noticed the various  suggestion algorithms on the sites I use catching up with the shift. For Q1, I was mainly finding books by picking out names and author photos from dust jackets and book reviews, but now Goodreads, NoveList, and Amazon are all responding the the change in my reading. This is both helpful and discouraging since on the one hand, I am getting a technological  assist finding the types books I want, but it may also imply that the suggestions for minority authors are tied more strongly to other minority authors than to genre, style, or other more significant appeal factors. This makes increasing the visibility of these titles in other ways all the more important.

In that spirit, onward to Q3!

The Reason I Jump

Cover image for The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashidaby Naoki Higashida

Translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell

ISBN 978-0-8129-9487-2

“Not being able to talk means not being able to share what you’re feeling and thinking. It’s like being a doll spending your whole life in isolation, without dreams and without hopes.”

Originally published in Japan in 2007, The Reason I Jump was written by a thirteen-year-old, non-verbal autistic boy who composed the slim volume by means of pointing out characters on an alphabet grid. In it, he tries to answer the usual, sometimes impertinent, questions other people might have about his condition or behaviour, such as “why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking?” and “why are your facial expressions so limited?”

Some of Higashida’s answers are very insightful, reflecting a great deal of thought and care, while others are simplistic, fanciful, or incomplete. However, including both types of response in the book shows him working through things, towards an understanding of his condition. Sometimes he has no answers at all, such as to the question about the unusual sleep patterns of autistic people, and instead merely offers a plea for empathy and patience in a neuroptypical world. Higashida’s answers are not scientific explanations about the causes of autism, but rather, answers about the lived experience of an autistic person, and the feelings and motivations, voluntary or involuntary, that seem to drive particular quirks and behaviours.

Higashida sometimes narrates as “I,” speaking for himself, and other times as “we,” speaking for people with autism more generally. He doesn’t always draw a clear distinction, and no doubt some of his generalizations are not true of all, or even most, people with autism. However, he demonstrates a great deal of empathy for other autistic people with symptoms different from his own, such as those who are very sensitive to touch, writing that “being touched by someone else means that the toucher is exercising control over the person’s body, which not even its owner can control properly. It’s as if we lose who we are. Think about it—that’s terrifying!” In his own way, he has a better understanding of consent and control than many adults.

The English translation of The Reason I Jump was made possible by the efforts of author David Mitchell and his wife, KA Yoshida, themselves the parents of an autistic child. Finding great comfort and insight in the book, they wanted to be able to share it with other parents longing for insight into the minds of their autistic children. Their translation is quite colloquial, but I must leave it to others to say whether or not this accurately reflects Higashida’s Japanese prose style.

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