Reading as an Occupation: What I read in October.

Years ago, I saw an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show that chose members of the audience and had those members tell their story. These members did not know this was going to happen. So, this was not staged where they were chosen because the show’s producers knew that they were particularly interesting or those chosen knew beforehand what was going on and had their story prepared to tell the world. The choices were random. In every case, the story of the individual was rich and multi-layered. At that point, I internalized the lesson that everyone has a story. The books I read this month puts this concept of everyone having a story on display.

Disability Visibility: First-person stories from the twenty-first century. Edited by Alice Wong

Publisher: Vintage (June 30, 2020)

In this book, Alice Wong, championed not only disability rights, she also focused on disability visibility. Her website can be found here: Disability Visibility Project. This book review can easily be a novel because of the critical issues and stories that are presented.

Wong starts with a strong introduction of what precipitated this book, and her voice is one that is strong, focused on inclusivity, visibility, and advocacy. Her views go beyond disability rights, it expands into disability representation. Her definition of disability goes beyond physical disability and transverses to a multitude of characteristics of individuals that impact function in their community, in addition to the limitations of the community and the impact on the individual.  The first few pages of the book was her introduction. Those few pages added to my view of disability rights and underscored the need for disability visibility.

The stories in Disability Visibility captures the experiences of the authors in standard areas such as physical and mental limitations and the impact on function. However, there are also stories that focus on other areas such as gender issues, conditions such as incontinence, and enduring events such as paratransit use. There is a story of the debate of whether or not it would be beneficial to terminate a pregnancy if a child is disabled (with an argument against terminating the pregnancy by an individual with severe physical limitations) and so much more.

These essays are from the individuals themselves that have the lived experience of being disabled. They are provided a platform where they can candidly express what has happened in a certain aspect of their life and the window into that world is enlightening.

Some memorable quotes:

To my younger self and all the disabled kids today who can’t imagine their futures. The world is ours, and this is for all of us. -Alice Wong

Storytelling itself is an activity, not an object. Stories are the closest we can com to shared experience.-Harriet McBryde Johnson

Advocacy is not just a task for charismatic individuals or high-profile community organizers. Advocacy is for all of us; advocacy is a way of life. -Ki’tay D. Davidson

This book is one that can be used in an occupational therapy course for a course that focuses on intervention, underserved populations, community interventions, and advocacy.

Questions that can be presented for discussion and learning:

  1. What legislation has affected this particular individual in a specific story? How does the current legislation provide the necessary support that this individual needs to function in society? What areas of the law can be updated to address all of the individual needs and how can we as occupational therapy practitioners support the amendment of that legislation?
  2. What recommendations could be made to address the physical limitations that affect the individual in his or her community? What recommendations could be made to address the mental health of this individual to increase functional level in his or her community?
  3. What services can be provided or recommended to increase the functional level of the individual in this story?
  4. Which stories resonate with you as a future occupational therapy practitioner and why?
  5. Looking at the OTPF-4, what occupations are affected by the individual’s condition and how can a occupational therapy practitioner support the recovery process focusing on areas of needs in the following domains: contexts, performance patterns, performance skills, and client factors.

There are many questions that can be formulated to meet learning objectives with the book Disability visibility: First-person stories from the twenty-first century.

Rating: 4/4 Highly recommend. This book will change your view of disability and provide insight into the lived experiences of an individual with a disability.

Between the World and Me by Ta’nehisi Coates

Publisher: One World (July 14, 2015)

I was thoroughly impressed with the writing style of Ta’nehisi Coates after reading The Water Dancer. Apparently, The Water Dancer was his first fiction novel, having published many non-fiction books and articles. I had high hopes for Between the World and Me, but I also was cautious that the non-fiction genre would not be as captivating as a fictional story. I am happy to report that this book was a wonderful read.

Coates’s writing style is crisp, yet multi-layered. He puts together prose and makes it sound like poetry. He also does well with explaining concepts in one or two words that broadens your thought of what that word or phrase means. It is truly a wonderful experience reading his books.

Between the World and Me is a letter to Coates’s son where he writes on a bevy of topics related to race relations, and the way the world works. Coates’ chronicles his life in this book to teach his son how to function in a world that displays racism, inequality, violence, police brutality, and disparities in education. He uses the phrase, “those who think they are White” quite a bit in the story, which is a loaded phrase. He focuses on the Black body and protecting the Black body, again another play on words that makes the reader think about what that means in multiple contexts because it is clear that Coates’s words are chosen for a reason.

We learn about Coates’ life as a child in Baltimore, MD and how he survived in the streets. We also get insight into how he viewed education as a child and as an adult attending Howard University or as Coates refers to it, the Mecca. This is a quick read. However, each page is rich with information, lessons to be learned, issues to be discussed, and much more.

Rating: 4/4 Highly recommend. Coates’s writing style is a learning experience in itself. The book also delves into issues that will add to one’s view of the world.

The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede

Publisher: Regan Books (August 14, 2003)

This book chronicles events that occurred in Gander, Newfoundland on 9/11/2001 when the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and White House were attacked by terrorists. Having been in NYC on that fateful day, this perspective of what was occurring on that day outside of NYC was refreshing. Also inspiring was the stories of not only the passengers on the planes that landed in Gander, but also the people of Gander and their immense generosity.

With Gander’s location, planes landed at the local airport all the time to refuel or for an emergency landing. A plane of 300 people coming into town is one thing. Multiple planes carrying a total of 5000 people landing in a town of 7000 people is another. Regardless of the number of people that landed on that historic day, the town of Gander welcomed all the people that landed with open arms and…linens, food, shelter and much more. Each passenger had a story that continued in Gander despite the world events. There was strife, joy, trivialities, revelations, growth, and everything in between.

With this being a story of actual events, there are many updates of the characters on the internet that I will not include to prevent spoilers. But it is definitely interesting to see how everyone turned out years later. When reading this book, I was struck by the parallels to the current pandemic. When it was obvious that the planes were going to land, the leaders in Gander mobilized quickly and used the resources available to accommodate the influx of people coming to this small town. There were also instances where provisions were reimagined, necessary when there are limitations that cannot be controlled, similar to how life has been reimagined due to the coronavirus.  This book is one that will restore your hope in the good of people.

There is one thread that in this book that can be utilized in a curriculum, mainly leadership. The modifications that were made by leaders in this town were constant, a concept that will become important for the next generation of occupational therapy leaders. The main question would be, how can you use the principles that were provided in this book and apply them to a situation in the occupational therapy field where similar leadership capacities can be applied?

Rating: 4/4 Highly recommend. This book provides the reader with not only a historical record of what happened on that historical day, it is literally a blueprint to be a better person and can restore your hope in society.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Publisher: Penguin Classics (November 28, 2006; first published in 1959)

This book was mentioned by two authors on a New York Times list that asked authors the most frightening book they every read. This was the choice of Carmen Maria Machado and Neil Gaiman. With 2 out of 13 authors listing the same book, I had high hopes for the book. But, unfortunately, it did not live up to my expectations.

I recently heard of the phrase “mildly suspenseful” from the blog Reading Ladies Book Club and this book fits that description. There were many elements of the story I liked. The house was a character, which was intriguing. I enjoyed learning about the house, the history of its inhabitants, and the impact of its structure (doors slightly askew, angles a bit off, etc.) on the visitors’ psyche. The suspense always built up in the story, but never quite lived up to the buildup. Movements in the dark, characters that had little to say or a lot to say, shadows, and creaking sounds were throughout the story. But again, nothing major happened with each build up. I am more of a psychological thriller kind of person. So, the scarier the ending, the better. This book was written years ago. So, maybe at that time, it was quite suspenseful.  I would recommend it to someone that likes a book that is “mildly suspenseful”.

Rating: 2.5/4 Minimally recommend. If you like small amounts of suspense, you may like this book. If you prefer more psychological thrillers or a book with a plot that is more multilayered, this would not be a book I would recommend.

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