To Siri with Love: A Mother, Her Autistic Son, and the Kindness of Machines

To Siri with Love: A Mother, Her Autistic Son, and the Kindness of Machines

by Judith Newman
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To Siri with Love: A Mother, Her Autistic Son, and the Kindness of Machines 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous 7 months ago
"And there is the girl behind the counter too — I would as soon have her true history as the hundred and fiftieth life of Napoleon or seventieth study of Keats...." --Virginia Woolf Judith Newman says in her new book, To Siri with Love, that there are already many books about people with autism who have done extraordinary things and also about those who are severely impaired. So she set about to write of her seemingly ordinary family, focusing on her son, Gus, who is on the spectrum. The title of the book comes from a NY Times piece she did that went viral—how the iPhone’s Siri became an inexhaustible companion for Gus, a patient oracle. That’s the hook and an important theme, but the core of the work is family. We meet the characters: John--her eccentric but loving husband; Henry--Gus’s twin, who combines the wit of Groucho Marx with the hormones of a teenage boy; Newman herself, funny and self-deprecating but fiercely protective of Gus; and Gus, who loves trains and schedules and weather and Siri. The affection and connection between mother and son is warm and deep. One of the constant themes and tensions of the book is how much will Gus progress and trying to project what will his later, adult life be like. There is no easy answer provided, of course, but the love, support, nurturing, and humor of his family provide hope. His experience with Siri underlines how technology and machines are not always distancing; they can be a bridge for people with autism to approach the human world more slowly, carefully—on their own terms. Gus’s love of his possessions is more understandable—inanimate objects are more predictable than people. The trains with human faces in a television show combine both worlds—a bridge to reading facial and social cues and understanding emotions better, perhaps. The humor of the book didn’t surprise me—Newman is known as an extremely funny writer. I rarely laugh out loud reading even most humor books, but I did here. Even being familiar with the subject, I was surprised about how much more I learned about autism as a disorder and about how it affects people. Newman works in the instruction effectively, despite the book being primarily about her family. And I was surprised at how deeply moving the book was—not only regarding the challenges and issues they all have to face, but also about the love and humor and affection of their family. In the end, Gus is happy, and rather than pity him and his family, you envy them—their connection, their laughter, their embracing of their idiosyncrasies. A wonderful book--highly recommended.