Book Bag: ‘When War Came Home’ by Bill Newman; ‘I Can Hear You Whisper’ by Lydia Denworth



Last modified: Friday, May 23, 2014

WHEN WAR CAME HOME

By Bill Newman

Levellers Press

Northampton attorney Bill Newman, well known for his work as head of a regional chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, has also maintained a high profile over the years as a columnist for the Gazette. As an unabashed progressive Democrat and advocate for civil liberties, his politics are central both to his writing and his approach to life.

In “When the War Came Home,” published by Levellers Press in Amherst, Newman has collected many of his past Gazette columns and additional writing to present a personal narrative of sorts, looking at how the Vietnam War and the social turmoil of the 1960s shaped his beliefs and his life’s trajectory.

Newman was a student at Antioch College in Ohio in April 1970, when, just three hours away, National Guardsmen shot anti-war protesters dead at Kent State University. As he recalls, there was real fear that a planned anti-war rally by Antioch students several days later might bring a similar response: “My generation, as depicted in the media anyway, was supposed to be joyous, hedonistic. ... In truth, joy often felt in short supply, and I, like many others, lived with an undercurrent of fatalism.”

But though the anti-war movement fell short in different ways, Newman writes, it also helped build the foundations for more successful popular movements since then, from LGBT rights to environmental protection. And that belief in social change, in making American society more equitable and less violent infuses much of his writing, including his Gazette columns (many of which Newman says he’s revised a bit; he cites Sylvia Plath’s dictum that a published poem was not necessarily a finished poem but simply a poem “as it was at that time”).

Newman has arranged his selected columns, which date primarily from the mid 1990s to the early 2000s, and his additional essays by subject matter, such as war and politics, the legal hurdles faced by the poor, civil liberties, and the aftermath of 9/11. He also writes about family, including his two daughters as they grow from young girls to teenagers and then young women.

His voice can be gentle or humorous, as when he debates differences in musical taste with his then-teenage daughter Leah in “Radio Wars,” or quietly outraged but reflective in a piece like “Jewboy,” in which he recounts his response to anti-Semitic remarks. Among a number of local writers and others who have contributed blurbs for “When the War Came Home,” author Barry Werth might best summarize Newman’s accomplishment:

“Bill Newman is a born writer — observant, imaginative, and obsessive about getting life down on paper before the moment and the meaning dissipate.”

Bill Newman will read from “When the War Came Home” at a book-launch party on May 14 at 7 p.m. in the Coolidge Room of Forbes Library in Northampton.



I CAN HEAR YOU WHISPER: AN INTIMATE JOURNEY THROUGH THE SCIENCE OF SOUND AND LANGUAGE

By Lydia Denworth

Dutton

www.LydiaDentworth.com

Science writer Lydia Denworth followed the same routine most evenings when her third son, Alex, was a baby: She read aloud and sang to him, just as she had with her first two boys. But Alex seemed curiously unresponsive in some ways, and Denworth got a terrible shock when, shortly before he turned 2, Alex was diagnosed with serious, progressive hearing loss — meaning he’d probably never heard his mother’s lullabies.

In “I Can Hear You Whisper,” Denworth, a former Newsweek reporter, describes her devastation but also her determination to learn all she could about hearing. Early on, she and her husband decided to get Alex a cochlear implant, a life-changing piece of technology but also one that is loaded with controversy. Many in the deaf community view the implants as a wedge that denies children in particular access to deaf culture while giving them only partial access to the world of hearing.

Denworth tells not just the story of Alex’s subsequent journey but the history of early attempts to help the deaf. She visits laboratories and talks to neuroscientists who study the brain to try and understand how it processes sound. She also interviews educators at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., where deaf students learn to communicate primarily through sign language, and she encourages Alex to learn sign language, eventually learning it herself.

Denworth also examines the connections between hearing and learning, in particular why learning to read has so much to do with sound, and the ability of the brain to adapt to cochlear implants. She and her husband, who live in Brooklyn, eventually enrolled Alex for a time in the New York campus of the Northampton-based Clarke School for Hearing and Speech, where Alex, with his cochlear implant and an additional hearing aid, made significant progress in the aural world.

And, she writes, he also learned not to regard his hearing struggles as an impediment but as simply part of who he is — a key tenet of the deaf community. At one point the boy gives a big hug to a woman who is teaching him sign language when it’s time for her to leave. “She’s deaf like me,” he explains.

Part science, part cultural study and part parenting memoir, “I Can Hear You Whisper” is, as Publisher’s Weekly puts it, “a moving and informative book ... that parents, particularly of deaf children, may find indispensable.”

Lydia Denworth will read from and discuss “I Can Hear You Whisper” on May 19 at 7 p.m. at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley.


 


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