I read a lot. I mean A LOT. My Kindle library has close to 1000 titles in it and I read most of them multiple times. I even had an Amazon Unlimited account so I can read books for free, but if I really like the books I usually end up buying them. I like to support the authors that way.
The other day I was browsing for new titles when I came upon a title I hadn’t read in decades. Over four of them really. The book itself was written in the late ‘50s. The only reason I read it when I did was that it was required reading in my seventh grade English class. I didn’t like to read back then and even if I did the books subject matter wouldn’t have been interesting to me at all.
I wonder if it’s still required reading for school children. Something tells me it’s not. The language used would probably be frowned upon in school these days. There’s nothing racial, vulgar really or anything else mentioned in the book, but some of the technical terms are from another time. (Interestingly, the book even mentions what would be around the beginning of the PC movement.)
I pondered what the book meant to me this go around and realized that I probably wouldn’t have even understood the concepts I see now at that age. I don’t think any child from that age range would really understand it. Frankly, I don’t remember much at all about the classroom discussion about the book. Sure we would have talked about how dark the book was. How sad parts of it were. I just don’t think we could really have grasped the point of the book.
Maybe I can ponder the book more because I have a niece that has Down’s Syndrome and is severely disabled. She will never be able to care for herself. I can wonder what she would think were she suddenly to become highly intelligent while keeping all her memories.
The basic plot revolves around an adult male with very low intelligence. The story is told through a series of “Progress Reports” this man is asked to write. At first the book can be difficult to read. A lot of the words are misspelled. Sometimes I found I almost had to read it out loud to figure out what he was saying. Charley works by day in a bakery and at night he goes to an adult learning class to try to learn to read and write. He lives on his own having been basically thrown out of his home as a young boy. Through contacts with the school, he is asked to take part in a medical experiment. His intelligence is tested against a little white mouse using mazes. He loses to the mouse every time. He is then asked to be involving an operation to remove damaged brain tissue and replace it with “revitalized” (their term, not mine.) brain tissue and then given drugs to suppress certain enzymes that damaged his brain before. The idea was to make it so he could learn. The idea is to make him smart. Well, obviously the treatment works otherwise there wouldn’t be a book
The tests Charley is given peg his IQ at 68. He can manage on his own barely. He works cleaning at a bakery and making deliveries for them. He has his own apartment that he lives in. He has no contact with any family or the institution they put him into when he was a young teenager. All his friends are through the bakery and in his class at the school he attends.
As the treatments continue, you immediately notice that his spelling improves and his through processes improve. Soon his IQ jumps up through the numbers and off the charts. That’s when the problems start. For one, he has a chance to look back on his memories and with his new found intelligence realize that his friends he worked with really weren’t all that friendly and often played dirty tricks on him. He remembered how he was treated by his own family and how he was abused and finally discarded. He also realizes that the scientists who treated him aren’t as smart as he thought. His "friends" become uncomfortable around him and he's fired from the only job he's known.
It becomes rather apparent that he may be much smarter but he hasn’t gained any emotional maturity or wisdom to go with the new found knowledge. Sadly no hilarity ensues as Charley comes to grasp with what he’s become now and what he will become next. It's a story about learning what you never knew and realizing what you know may not be true and that we may not be happier being smart after all.
***End of Spoiler Alert***
It’s not a "fun" book to read. It’s not really a light book to read other than the language is pretty basic. It is a thought provoking book to read however. If you haven’t had a chance in the past, try reading Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. It’s worth the effort to ponder the questions raised by it.