I can’t believe it! Today is the last day of our 30 Day Book Challenge. A HUGE THANKS to everyone who has followed me through this journey and more so if you are also visiting Cumuloquoise‘s page. Truly, I am so grateful that Cumuloquoise is doing this challenge with me – even when I am often tardy and confused of what to choose. It has been a real entertaining eye-opener to discover her choices and understand her relationship with her books.
Moving on, it’s my pleasure to share my all time favourite book with you. Some of you may have already known this after reading “my favourite quote from my favourite book” post on Day 17 but I will tell you nonetheless. My all-time favourite book is “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes! *claps and cheers*
The main character and narrator, Charlie Gordon, starts the book as a mentally challenged man. With a 68-point IQ, he desires nothing more than to be intelligent. However, this possibility seems bleak as he is only capable of doing menial factory work. Fortunately, Charlie eventually finds out that he is a perfect candidate to have a brain operation that will him smarter. Algernon, a mouse, has already proven that the operation works on animals. He takes the doctors up on their offer and, with his family’s permission, undergoes the operation.One great thing too is that the surgery raised his intelligence by enabling him to learn. Instead of making him smart instantaneously, he still had to learn just like any other person and this allows us to follow his intellectual growth. However, Algernon deteriorates at quite a rapid speed and Charlie realises that the same thing could happen to him.
Aside from the amazing plot, the main draw of this book is the smart use of language and diction. Set up as a series of journal entries from Charlie as he undergoes the procedure, we are able to track his intellectual development through his writing style. I observed how his progress reports turn from flawed and full of poor grammar and spelling to very articulate and complex written narratives. This is a wonderfully simple and yet beguiling to see him rise without any lengthy explanations. Instead of telling us how Charlie’s brain works, Keyes showed it to us. I think this is the best excerpt to illustrate how the use of words and diction made Charlie’s story raw, sincere, hilarious and poignant:
“April 6—Today, I learned, the comma, this is, a, comma (,) a period, with, a tail, Miss Kinnian, says its, importent, because, it makes writing, better, she said, somebody, could lose, a lot, of money, if a comma, isnt in, the right, place, I got, some money, that I, saved from, my job, and what, the foundation, pays me, but not, much and, I dont see how, a comma, keeps, you from, losing it,
But, she says, everybody, uses commas, so Ill, use them, too,,,,
April 7—I used the comma wrong. Its punctuation…Miss Kinnian says a period is punctuation too, and there are lots of other marks to learn.
She said; You, got. to-mix?them!up: She showd? me” how, to mix! them; up, and now! I can. mix (up all? kinds of punctuation— in, my. writing! There” are lots, of rules; to learn? but. Im’ get’ting them in my head:
One thing? I, like: about, Dear Miss Kinnian: (thats, the way? it goes; in a business letter (if I ever go! into business?) is that, she: always; gives me’ a reason” when—I ask. She”s a gen’ius! I wish? I could be smart-like-her;
Punctuation, is? fun!”
Indeed, the way Keyes developed Charlie’s character in this novel is wise beyond words! Charlie is a dynamic character with so much substance and depth; he was no 2D cardboard cut-out. However, his intellectual advances don’t automatically equate to emotional advances. As he gets smarter, he also discovers sexual desires which he tries to understand. Hence illustrating how intellectual and emotional intelligence are not the same thing; Different capacities are needed in order to reach happiness in each area otherwise, a person will always feel incomplete.
In addition, since we are following a mentally challenged person, this book also offers us lessons on humanity. Charlie’s initial lack of intelligence made him a trustworthy and friendly man who assumed that the people around him are as well intentioned as him even when they are far from it. In fact, it’s disappointing to see how people disregarded, cast aside, ridicule or even abuse people like Charlie. I’m sure I’m not completely innocent as well. While reading the book, there were many points which made me question my moral compass. Even Charlie himself realised this. In fact, I was so heart broken reading this part –
“Only a short time ago, I learned that people laughed at me. Now I can see that unknowingly I joined them in laughing at myself. That hurts the most.”
Following Charlie’s trials and tribulations, this book is very thought-provoking and emotionally heavy. Even in Charlie’s happiest of times, I was filled with sadness either by the way others were treating him, or by the dread of what I knew was to come.
And herein lies the reason why I think “Flowers for Algernon” is the best book ever! It is filled with a number of real thought-provoking motifs. It can mean many different things to many different people. It could be a cautionary tale about what happens when man interferes with God’s work through science. One may be how higher intelligence comes with a price—the ability to relate to your peers. Or, it could also be seen as a commentary on intelligence-based discrimination, both for people of high and low IQ. And, you can have a new interpretation every time you read it.
Truly, “Flowers for Algernon” is my favourite of all time! This is a very compelling but heartbreaking read and is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Indeed, I sincerely urge you to read this book before you die.