Another “Blind” Book

I’m sure I’ve missed a few, and once and a while I come across a book with a blind hero or heroine. As you all know by now, I get into a rant about these. Why? Because most are terrible. OK, so far in my life, they are all terrible.

What makes them terrible?

The author doesn’t do enough research. They may do some, and not enough. They don’t use sensitivity readers. They end up propagating all the horrific stereotypes about blind people that make life difficult for the rest of us.

We do not feel faces.
We do not count steps.
We are well aware of what’s going on around us.
We do not pick out our guide dogs as puppies and train them. In some states, that’s not even allowed.

Of course we know of exceptions to these statements. These are exceptions that prove the rule.

But seriously, most people’s faces feel kind of greasy and one’s steps change with shoes and fatigue levels and so many more reasons why this is all impractical.

So what is the latest abomination?

Blind Embrace by Suzanne Lee.

No, I have not read this book. I am not spending money on it despite how much money I spend on books every month. I hate spending money only to want to toss the book across the room or return it or something else unpleasant.

So this book I ran across looks as trite as all the rest. Cheerleader is headed for LA for a modeling audition. (Shouldn’t it be New York, the seat of fashion?), but is in an accident and goes blind.

Honestly, can’t these supposedly creative people come up with something other than an accident to make someone go blind? Yes, it happens, and diseases of the eye are far more prevalent such as retinal blastoma, retinitis pigmentosa, LCA, glaucoma, macular degeneration…

But I digress again.

Worse, it seems to be a Christian novel. I have seen too many of these books—she can see people’s hearts through Jesus or some rot.

I know I used to give people snarky responses. “The first face I’ll see clearly will be the Lord’s.”

Gag.

I was such a fraud.

But I digress yet again.

I am just horribly appalled by the fact that this author says she is qualified to write the book because she’s a nurse and that helps her know all about what someone goes through going blind.

No, being a nurse does not give her special insight. To say so is offensive to those of us who have actually gone through it. No way can she know what it’s like. To say so is the height of arrogance and ableism.

In fact, I have found some of the worst ableists are medical people, which makes me even more suspicious of this woman’s qualifications to write a book about a blind heroine.

I did reach out to this author and respectfully ask her some questions about her research and why she chose to write a book about someone going blind, etc. No response.

Please Don’t Do It

I don’t review books often. To me, an author reviewing another author’s books seems vaguely unethical. I have broken that rule of mine here for two reasons—I don’t write in this genre, and these are books that should have been—but weren’t—written by #OwnVoices authors. Both are a case for, at the least, a sensitivity reader before publication.

Not If I See You First

Eric Lindstrom

Let me begin by saying that Lindstrom is a pretty good writer, and he did a  great deal right in this book, possibly more than most books written about a blind character by an author who isn’t blind. A few things taint the book.

Parker is the main character. We learn right away that she is blind and her father has recently died. We also learn that she goes out running by herself every morning. This is admirable, except for how she goes about it.

She leaves the house and walks a block plus crosses a street without using a cane. This is not only stupid, it’s dangerous. That she runs in an open field is probably okay, though, again, with no one around also seems a little foolhardy. Obstacles could be in her way that weren’t there the day before. But that’s the least of the issues.

Parker wears a scarf around her eyes like a blindfold. Besides looking freaky, it also is significant that she doesn’t seem to have accepted her blindness. She’s been blind for ten years, not ten months. If it’s such an issue, why isn’t she in counseling? Why isn’t she in counseling with the grief of losing her father?

Next, we learn she lives with her aunt and cousins. They moved across country so Parker doesn’t have to learn a new school or new house. We don’t know how they were able to make the move so quickly, and it’s probably not that important. What is important is that the assumption is that she wouldn’t be able to make the move because she’s blind. So do they also expect her to never go anywhere, to live in the same place all her life? She can’t learn a college campus or dorm? She can’t move into an apartment? By their thinking, she’s stuck because she’s blind.

Blind people move all over the country, even the world, going new places all the time and do just fine. To think we cannot is, frankly, an insult to ability and intelligence.

One thing I like about Parker is that she’s kind of blunt and snarky. I did laugh several times at how she confronts people. This is good. She’s not shy because of her blindness. She does talk about it.

She talks about it incorrectly. She says her eyes are closed. I looked this up because it’s not the first time I’ve read a book where the protagonist who is blind has her eyes closed.

For the most part, this is incorrect, from my research. People who have been blind all their lives, who have never seen, sometimes—emphasis on the sometimes—have their eyes closed because they never learned to open them. Most are taught to open them for societal norms. People who were once able to see still keep their eyes open even after they lose their sight. Parker could see for the first seven years of her life.

So, please, authors, do not propagate the myth that blind people have their eyes closed. Most do not.

Other myths Parker propagates:

She is easily startled by people coming up to her. Untrue. This is a myth. If we are grabbed we might jump, but we rarely startle just because someone  comes up and talks to us. This one really annoys me. It makes blind people look like meek little rabbits or terrified of the world because we can’t see it. We’re not.

Parker counts steps. PLEASE stop this myth. Blind people may count steps such as up and down stairwells in a new place. Other than that, counting steps is impractical. Fatigue, different shoes, having to go around obstacles can all change the number of steps. And who wants to waste brain power on remembering how many steps to everywhere one goes? And what do people think we do in a new place?

Back to Parker’s eyes—at one point, she refers to them as being “dead” and “useless”. A newly blinded person might feel this way. Someone who has been blind a while does not. One’s eyes are just one’s eyes. My standard joke is that I’m blind in one eye and can’t see out of the other. I know no one from either my personal or professional life, even newly blinded people,  who has ever thought of her eyes as being “dead”. They’re not dead. The connection to the brain has a problem or the retinas are damaged. If they are dead, they are removed and artificial eyes are inserted. A prosthesis that looks amazingly real. A dead eye is white and … dead looking. An eye that still has white sclera and a colored iris is not dead. Useless maybe.

In just plain storytelling, the plot is often rambling and incoherent. Parker has some emotional growth, but the attempt at a romantic conflict comes across as slapped in as an afterthought. Worse, the incident that drove Parker and Scott apart happened in eighth grade. Really? In four years you haven’t gotten over it? Sure it wasn’t nice what happened, but eighth grade boys do dumb things. Let it go for your mental health. And, really, they’d still be in love with one another after four years? They might be in love with what they remembered as love, but this stretches my credulity. Lindstrom would have done better to have it have been the year before. The whole situation would have been more understandable.

On the positive side, Parker is refreshing for a blind character, as she is not shy and self-effacing. Many other characters are great. Characterization is Lindstrom’s strong point, and, as a lover of YA fiction, I will probably try another one of his books. I just wish he had had a couple of real blind people read this one first, people who have been blind a while and accepted the condition as a characteristic and not a flaw.

Love And First Sight

Josh Sundquist

I couldn’t find this book recorded by the National Library Service for the Blind, which speaks volumes on its own. NLS is quick to record any book with blind characters. Curious, as a librarian friend found this one for me, I began to read about the book and the author.

 This seems like a novel intended to poke fun at blind people. The sixteen-year-old protagonist is in high school. It can’t be his first time in high school if he’s sixteen. He must be a junior or year late sophomore. Either way, unless he has been blind for a short time, he makes stupid mistakes even newly blinded people don’t make.

 We don’t get the impression his blindness is new; therefore, I can only conclude that Sundquist is aiming for slapstick comedy at the expense of perpetuating many myths about the ineptness of blind people.

 The kid gropes a girl on the steps. Unless he did it on purpose, no blind person with half a day of mobility training will do this. For one, his one hand should be holding a cane and the other at his side, not at a groping level. Next, if he brushes against a girl, he will pull away, not continue to touch unless he’s a creeper.

 Next he sits on someone’s lap in the cafeteria. I have never heard of a blind person doing this. First of all, navigating cafeterias is notoriously difficult; therefore, most blind students get some kind of assistance. If they don’t think they need it, then they are far more careful than to sit on someone’s lap. Unless one is incompetent, one does not sit on a chair until one makes sure it’s free.

Again, Sundquist is saying blind people are stupid and incompetent.

So, the boy then makes a classmate cry. Not sure why without more than the book jacket says, and it’s inexcusable unless he’s an insensitive jerk. Maybe he is. Maybe he’s just unlikable.

So then his friends lie to him about girl he likes being pretty. Great friends. And of course, blind people can never have attractive partners. This is a common trope all through literature.

 The final clincher is that the boy gets his sight back by some kind of miracle surgery. Of course. Another trope is that person can’t be happy blind, so must be healed to be a whole person.

 What makes this whole thing appalling is that Sundquist has a disability himself. So why didn’t he write about a high school with that disability? Why does he have to mock another disability and then heal it as though being blind means your life is incomplete. Most people think all people with disabilities need to be healed to be complete and happy. We would like to stamp out this thinking, yet here is someone with disability playing right into it.

 Next time, Mr. Sundquist, if you want to make fun of someone’s disability, pick on one for which you have actually done some research.

Book Review: There Plant Eyes, a Personal and Cultural History of Blindness by M. Leona Godin

There Plant Eyes, A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness By M. Leona Godin
Reviewed By Alice Eakes

I have already written one review of this book. It went on and on and rambled;  therefore, I deleted it and decided to start from scratch. Then I sat at my computer for a while trying to figure out where to start. The previous review began at the beginning and basically analyzed each chapter. The last time I
did an exercise like that, it ran to twelve pages, nothing anyone wants to read on a blog. That was grad school, and this is for the general public, or all five or six of my readers.

None of the ramblings of the previous paragraph have helped me figure out where to begin; thus, I will simply plunge right in.

M. Leona Godin does not dumb down this narrative. This starts us off with the realization that she is smarter than the average bear and we will have to pay attention to keep up with her. As a fellow blind writer with a fairly decent education and advanced degrees (though not Godin’s Ph.D)., I appreciate the
intelligence and education behind the analysis of how blindness is treated in literature throughout history and into the present. Too often, as blind people, we are treated as less than thinking, intelligent individuals.

At the same time, Godin does not talk down to those of us who do not have her extensive grasp of numerous literary works. For her allusion to Gulliver’s Travels, for example, I had to dig into the recesses of my brain and recall the book I read when I was twelve or so. Somehow, I never took a class in my
pursuit of a degree in English lit, that read this amusing tome. The book was Braille, and I read anything in Braille I could get my hands on—literally.

Godin discusses Braille extensively, the creation of the writing form, the prototypes of raised writing that led to Braille, the lack of Braille education for blind people nowadays. Here is where the book got really personal for me, dredging up memories from decades ago. In subsequent blog posts, I’ll explore
some of those memories, and this is about Godin’s book, not my unique education in the public schools prior to the passage of 94-142, the disabled students’ version of Brown V. Board of Education.

Godin does not hold back in her criticism of how society either puts blind people on a pedestal, thus using them for “inspiration porn”, or diminishes them to beings who aren’t quite up to equal status with the sighted. Godin doesn’t cloak her criticisms in flowery words so as not to offend. She is straightforward about ableism and bigotry facing blind people in social interactions, job acquisition, and every other aspect of society. If one is offended in reading this book, one needs to read it again and check one’s
assumptions.

Assumptions are examined throughout this book and laid out where they belong—landfill (my words, not Godin’s, which are far more eloquent than mine). With passages of literature, historical writings, scientific writings and other forms of communication such as reports and interviews, Godin presents
prevailing social attitudes toward blind people in their work, parenting, sex, etc. I’m not sure at the moment, after a first reading, what aspects of blindness life she left out for examination from a personal and historical perspective with a strong foundation in research.

Here is full disclosure: I am in the chapter on blind writers, discussing what I have discussed on this blog and in my 2018 Huffington Post article—blind writers are the Cinderellas of the publishing industry, except we’re not even thought to be capable of cleaning up after the others.

The one place in the book where I grew a wee bit irritated with Godin was with the section on echolocation. I have heard an interview with the man who has made using clicks of the tongue a form of mobility. He hears the echo location of these clicks to do all sorts of things like ride a bike and hike. I am a strong believer in “facial vision”, a type of echolocation; however, I have two problems with the tongue clicking that are not brought up when being discussed.

Some of us cannot click our tongues in the necessary fashion. Not all tongues are created equal. Some of us can roll them and some of us cannot. I can roll mine, but I can’t click. I can’t roll my Rs either, so stuck to French for my other language. My other problem is that it works fine for those who can click when
the world is quiet. I could use it in my quiet neighborhood. The instant I get off the L, no way would it work. Imagine trying to hear an echo that subtle while cruising down Michigan Avenue at high noon, with the lunch-goers, the tourists, the street musicians, not to mention the several lanes of traffic. No
way. I can’t hear myself think and doubt anyone else can. Thank you, I’ll depend on my guide dog or cane.

On the other hand, leave a cabinet door open in your kitchen and 99 times out of 100, I will notice before I walk into it. I can do this even at noisy parties.  That’s facial vision echolocation. (As an interesting side note, I had a friend who had to have both her eyes removed. For six months or so afterward, she had no facial vision.)

Godin couldn’t include everything I’m sure she wanted to, and I would have appreciated a deeper exploration of the cons of tongue clicking/echolocation for mobility. None of the reports of it criticize it, and that’s annoying.

As someone, somewhat like Godin, who went from having sight, to having none, this book spoke to me on numerous levels, and I could go into further details. As someone who lives in a world that is, as Godin puts it, ocularcentric, I often found myself growing angry for the multitude of ableist slights that are
daily occurrences, the struggles for talented people to find openings, let alone equality in their art, and more. In other ways, I was comforted to know I am not alone in my struggles to build a world that is not ocularcentric and ableist.

The most important point I took away was that, though we have come a long way since blind people were placed in institutions and not thought to be educable, we have way too far to go. Godin makes this point with eloquence and skill and not too much snark.

Disclaimer: Although I received a complimentary copy of this book, I did purchase the audio book for my own library and thus am under no obligation to make this a positive review.

This book is available in E-Book, hardcover, and audio formats.

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