So: the PhD. How’s it going? It’s still going, chugging along in fits and starts, sometimes wailing through dark tunnels, sometimes rolling happily in beautiful scenery; sometimes slow, sometimes fast, with a shifting array of passengers passing through the carriage where I’m the only permanent occupant. I’m year three now, so that means the end of the line is almost in sight. I’m looking at, perhaps, another twelve months – maybe a little more, maybe a little less, depending on the fuel in the engine and the limitations of my ticket…
Sorry, let me shrug off the metaphor. A couple of weeks back, I exposed my academic self to the public in a 45-minute presentation which scuttled through both parts of my research: the thesis and the novel. Happily, the whole thing was audio-captured and glued onto my Powerpoint slides for broader dissemination. People seemed to like it. Click this picture if you fancy a watch and/or listen:
A lot of people who came to see the talk noted that they were going to go and read some of the texts I had mentioned, so I thought I’d pop on here and do a list of my ten (current) favourite books about autism. I promptly wrote this list down on a post-it note and was most pleased to realise that 9 of these 10 texts were written by autistic individuals. Yes, there are some excellent autism books written by non-autistics (Neurotribes, of course), but to really get to the heart of the matter, to really get into the complex ins and outs of it, you’ve just got to go to the source. This list is a mix of academic texts, activist texts, fiction, memoir and poetry, so it covers all bases. In no particular order…
Authoring Autism by Melanie Yergeau (Academic/Activist)
AKA: the bible for my PhD. A rich, challenging, bruising read from a feisty, funny, and defiant writer. Yergeau burrows deep into the maddening complexities of being autistic, speaking of autisms, not-speaking with autism, autistic rhetoric, autistic a-rhetoric and the murky but thrilling hinterland in between it all. I want to read and re-read it until I’ve imbibed it all. It’s one of those books that makes you think differently about the whole world. It is a vital text for any PhD about autism.
Naming Adult Autism by James McGrath (Academic – but very accessible)
Grab a paperback copy of this and you’ll see my name on the back. I gave it a glowing review when it came out because I felt utterly compelled to tell everyone to get and read this wonderful book. McGrath navigates through the cultural and social spaces of autism with a particular focus on the adult (because things are still so child-centric with autism), but also takes in thrilling analyses of various texts including The Who’s rock opera Tommy, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and UK sitcom The Office. Despite being a so-called ‘academic’ text, the book is written in an accessible style with brilliant personal insight.
The Outside by Ada Hoffmann (Fiction)
Fabulous Lovecraftian cosmic horror sci-fi thrill ride with a multitude of autistic characters (both named and inferred) set in a rich future world of Godlike AI, struggling humans, wild space travel and mind-bending quantum physick. Be sure to also check out Ada’s short story collection Monsters in My Mind.
Loud Hands: Autistic People, Speaking edited by Julia Bascom (Memoir/activist)
An essential collection of activist and blog writings from a multitude of autistic writers. Covers every conceivable topic from evil behavioural ‘therapies’ to the pleasures of stimming, from the history of autism rights to the future of neurodivergent worlds. The Magna Carta of autistic writing.
On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis (Fiction)
Another excellent sci-fi novel from a very skilled writer. Tells the tale of an Earth on the brink of destruction from an asteroid while the autistic Denise fights for acceptance on the last generation ship preparing for escape. A thrilling page-turner which does a great job of showing how the autistic skill-set is a vital element for the continued survival of the species!
Autistic Disturbances by Julia Miele Rodas (Academic)
A sort of sister-text to Yergeau’s Authoring Autism, Rodas grabs hold of autism as a way of being and asks: how might that look if we autismify the way we tell stories? And then she says: well, we’ve already done it and gallantly shows the autistic side of classic texts like Robinson Crusoe, Frankenstein, Villette and the writings of Andy Warhol. Provocative, boundary-pushing, and very exciting indeed.
The Electricity of Every Living Thing by Katherine May (Memoir)
Part memoir, part nature writing, May tackles her autism diagnosis while also attempting to tackle the South East Coastal Path around Devon and Cornwall. It is a bracing read; as rich and expansive as the Jurassic Coast, as rugged and brutal as solo walk through blizzards, sleet and thick sea fog. Through it, May herself emerges newly reformed: a woman with a new visage, a deeper understanding of herself and a tentative new appreciation for her essential difference.
All the Weight of Our Dreams edited by Lydia X. Z. Brown, E. Ashkenazy, & Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (Memoir/Activist)
Similar in tone and length to Loud Hands, this collection zeroes in on the intersection between autism and race. Often erroneously seen as a very white condition, the spectrum of autistic colour is proudly (and angrily) displayed in these vibrant writings. The fury is palpable in discussions of how racial difference impacts upon neurological difference through anecdotes about hair, bullying, police brutality and cultural erasure. Features a lot of poetry and a particularly excellent section on autistic artistry.
The Autistic Alice by Joanne Limburg (Poetry)
A brilliant collection of poems which take Alice in Wonderland as a launch-pad into the beguiling world of growing up autistic. Much like the Lewis Carroll tale, the poems are colourful and celebratory, but with dark edges and a melancholic depth. Limburg is a writer whose words I will always delight in – she has recently written this meticulous and balanced piece on autistic ‘superpower’ for the Guardian.
A Mismatch of Salience by Damian E. M. Milton (Academic)
Milton is a core voice in autistic academia, a tireless champion of autistic rights and autistic participation. I used his key ‘Double Empathy Problem’ theory from this book in my talk and was delighted to get a tweet-based endorsement from the man himself when the video went live. This collection of articles, keynote speeches and other writings lays out some of the most progressive thoughts on autism I’ve seen to date, as well as some clear and balanced advice for those new to the field.
I’ve had a bunch of publications recently, so here’s a quick round-up:
My lo-fi horror story ‘The Incorcist’ is now available in issue 10 of The Ghastling magazine. Above is the utterly delightful artwork by Nathanial Hebert which accompanies it.
My bovine story ‘Bertha’, which blazed out of me one Sunday afternoon when I had an agitated mind, was splashed all over the website of the fabulous Ellipsis Zine. See it here.
Another quick little drabble appeared on The Drabble. My musings on the fate of the Loch Ness Monster in ‘The Legend’:
I was shortlisted for the Retreat West October Microfiction Competition with another drabble called ‘Turning Mermaid’. Didn’t win, sadly, but you can still read the story on the website.
I’ve also tried to kick my YouTube channel into action with some captured footage of me reading in the wilds. Here’s me reading a story called ‘There is no Undoing’ at Flim Nite presents The Craft, and, upon the same stage 20 days later, my reading of my new story ‘Disengage’ at Bad Language. Enjoy!:
And finally, a bit of music. I’ve fallen back into a Burial moment. Here’s Rival Dealer: