Monday 28 January 2008

69. Songs of the Gorilla Nation

I am so glad I'm done with this book. A friend of mine lent it to me back in the Fall and while I was completely uninterested in it, I decided to try to keep an open mind and give it a shot. It's only 200 pages long, so I figured it couldn't be so bad.

I have since concluded that open-mindedness is entirely over-rated and is now on my list of things to avoid in the future. Dawn Prince-Hughes' Songs of the Gorilla Nation is an autobiographical look at how the author's relationship with some captive gorillas at the Seattle Zoo helped her figure out first that she was autistic and then how to begin to deal with it. The concept is not the problem here - it's the execution.

First of all, Prince-Hughes is just straight up a bad, bad, bad writer. By turns coldly intellectual and then shiteously sentimental, this book made me want to tear my hair and rend my cheeks at many points - but none more intensely than when she included the poetry she wrote pre-diagnosis. This poetry is even worse than what I imagine a drunken, self-pitying 14 year-old emo kid would write. The poetry was so bad I couldn't even make it funny by reading it aloud in "Serious Poet" voice, which usually works. Try, for example, reading the first paragraph of Cormac McCarthy's novel Blood Meridian in "Serious Poet" voice - good times.

Second, I'm sure autobiography is by its nature too self-interested for my tastes, but this woman was obsessed with reminding readers as often as possible that she has a PhD. On the cover, on the back of the book, every 5 pages in the book, I was reminded that this woman had doctoral studies under her belt. Okay, cool - except that I don't care, and much more importantly than my personal crankiness, all her claims about being more gorilla-like than human came to seem like so much mush-talk in the face of her obsession with this exclusively human marker of social prestige.

All my loathing aside, there were some good moments in the book, but they all involved the gorillas. When simply recording her observations of gorilla social structure and behaviour, Songs of the Gorilla Nation is pretty good - unfortunately, this doesn't happen enough and/or it leads into some poetry. Watching a gorilla create a two-piece tool to catch a moth, watching a gorilla make a scarf out of hay, watching a gorilla use international sign language to ask her if she is okay - all this is awesome, but comprises maybe 1/6th of the book. If I want to really learn about gorillas, I'll likely have to check out some Jane Goodall (whom Prince-Hughes ass-licks like nobody's business at the end of the book).

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