Read This Book
Reader Be Warned. I am a fast reader. This book took me six months to read. Far from the Tree is, in the words of my friend Kathleen, a weighty tome. It is so weighty, in fact, that I read it on my Kindle because it was too heavy to comfortably sit in my lap. It’s well over 1000 pages (although several hundred of the pages are end notes).
Andrew Solomon is the author. He gave an amazing talk at the University of Michigan this past April promoting his book which I attended. He autographed my book (not the Kindle version, the physical book which I also bought) and patiently and respectfully listened while I babbled on and on about how much I loved his book and how it spoke to me.
To quote the press release, “Far from the Tree weaves together a richly detailed narrative about families with children affected by a range of cognitive, physical, or psychological characteristics that make them distinctly different from their parents.” The first chapter sets forth the analytical framework, explaining how vertical identities and horizontal identities differ. Vertical identities are identities in which children are like their parents – think ethnicity, socio-economic status, or religion. A horizontal identity is a condition/characteristic in which a child differs from his or her parents in a fairly significant way. Although many horizontal identities have a genetic base, others do not. The book is also about how parents and siblings react to having a child who is profoundly different from them and who, in many cases, requires considerable care and attention. Each chapter is a deep dive into a particular horizontal identity, a combination of extensive case studies and current thinking/science/moral dilemmas concerning the topic. Solomon clearly made the decision that if a family was going to take the time to talk to him, they would be included in the book. So there are many, many case studies (I think he worked on the book for 10 years). And the various horizontal identities profiled are fascinating. Dwarf. Deaf. Autism. Schizophrenia. Transgender. Criminal.
The book is informative and thought-provoking. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book which has caused such introspection and contemplation about parenthood, difference, and disability.
I realize that I sound completely brainwashed when I talk about this book. I am not alone. I was so glad to see Curtis Sittenfeld (author of Prep) rant – albeit more articulately than I do – about how amazing the book is. You can read her rave here. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/14/books/review/curtis-sittenfeld-by-the-book.html?pagewanted=all) (Scroll down to the question “What book has had the greatest impact on you?”)
Far From the Tree rocked my world. Read it.
Rating: ***** (out of ****)