The book was sitting on the table at the library. Someone, who had taken it from the shelf, left it behind with a shrug I guess.
After looking closely I thought, isn’t there a mention of Helen Keller in Napoleon Hill’s ‘Think and Grow Rich’?
Yes, there is. So that’s my one and only reason to want to read it.
Otherwise, I’d have left it just the way its previous reader had left it on the table. (Maybe I should have!)
‘The Story of My Life by Helen Keller’ ~~ Synopsis:
It’s an autobiography of a girl, Helen Keller, born in 1880, who lost her ability to hear and see after suffering from a disease when she’s 19 months old.
For a long time, Helen believed that her world and other people’s world were similar.
But she soon finds that there’s a difference between her world, where there’s no sight or noise and the world in which people use languages to communicate with each other.
She describes her earliest childhood memories and what a mischievous child she’s.
Her life begins to change when her father appoints Anne Sullivan as her teacher at the recommendation of Alexander Graham Bell.
Anne Sullivan teaches Helen ‘how to communicate’ by writing words in Helen’s hands. That way Helen becomes able to communicate with people, who knew how to communicate by using the same method.
Anne Sullivan opens new horizons for Helen to explore.
Helen transforms from the child, who didn’t know about the world that existed around her to someone who went to college, learned quite a few languages and got her books published.
Whatever Helen Keller managed to achieve was indeed an achievement.
But I don’t think this can be overlooked that unlike many others like her, in her time period, Helen had amazing support system in her family and her teacher Anne Sullivan, who patiently taught her to make sense of the world around her.
About the Letters in the Book:
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t like to read anyone’s letters for two reasons:
1: I’m not a detective; it’d have been a different matter then. In simple words, they are boring!
2: Chances are you’ll find them uninteresting as you only know the one party (Helen Keller).
And the other one is a complete stranger and mystery to you. So you can’t make out what’s happening. (See point 1 to save you from the headache.)
Or the worst scenario, you don’t know the either party, which makes the eavesdropping even more uninteresting!
Here’s what I learned about Helen Keller from the letters:
1: She tried helping children with similar disabilities.
2: She’s involved in opening a library for deaf and blind children.
3: She became aware of the fact that she was mostly repeating what others told her and not showing people her story from her perspective. Something I started to suspect after a couple of chapters.
“I have always accepted other people’s experiences and observations as a matter of course. It never occurred to me that it might be worthwhile to make my own observation and describe the experiences peculiarly my own. Hence forth I’m resolved to be myself, to live my own loge and write my own thoughts when I have any.” ~~ Helen Keller (Book: The Story of My Life)
4: Since she could not differentiate between her words and the words of others, she was learning about, she ended up in a plagiarism controversy.
She reveals how the episode haunted her because some people she respected didn’t believe her that she didn’t do it intentionally. But she learned her lesson and moved away from it.
Despite learning all this new information, reading letters from ‘The Story of My Life by Helen Keller’ is still could test one’s patience.
After reading a few chapters I almost gave up reading the book.
Why? The author throughout the book talks as if she could hear and see (Note: I have nothing against how anyone wants to present themselves).
But my point is I picked the book to know her perspective on her life; what she felt after finding out the difference between her world and others.
At one point I started to wonder if she’s writing from her teacher’s POV.
For some reasons I continued reading and as I read on, the impatient side of me calmed down a bit. Nope, the story didn’t suddenly become interesting. I just hate leaving books unread after a certain chapter.
My suspicion that she’s telling her story as if “she’d see and hear” was confirmed in the introduction just before the section containing Letters by Helen began. And by her admission in one of the letters; see the quote above.
Before that I thought maybe I’m suffering from this feeling and being judgmental. By the time I was finished with the autobiography and was feeling less judgmental.
Think about it: how would you define or even explain the world around you if you have not even seen or heard it? So it makes sense that you’d try to make sense of the world by paying attention to what others would tell you.
There’s another thing quite noticeable in the book, that’s Helen’s positive attitude. I don’t remember reading complaints. There’s no blaming anyone or anything.
The narrative is so positive. You might easily either forget that the author could not hear or see or get annoyed with the language.
Something that surprised me because when something goes wrong in our life, even if it’s nothing serious, positive attitude is the first item that goes out of the window.
You might argue that she knew nothing about what she’d lost. So complain about what? To counter that I found this:
“Sometimes it is true, a sense of isolation enfolds me like a cold mist as I sit alone and wait at life’s shut gate. Beyond there is light and music and sweet companionship; but I may not enter.” ~~ Helen Keller (Book: The Story of My Life)
This is what I wanted to read about. Her story, her thoughts. I got a feeling that she censored a lot about her, good and bad.
I liked reading the autobiography, but can’t say the same about the letters.
The tone of the book is positive and she’s not explored whatever darker emotions she probably had about her situation. But some sentences speak volumes, like this one:
“A look is often the very soul of what one says.” ~~ Helen Keller (Book: The Story of My Life)
It’s difficult to read till the end especially when the letters section begins.
Most of us would probably want to read this book to know Helen Keller’s perspective on her life. She didn’t write that.
There are glimpses of how she felt here and there only. Maybe she was taught only to reflect and talk about her positive feelings and not negative or gloomy ones.
The book is not inspirational. How could it be when the author skillfully avoids discussing anything to do with her feelings and emotions?
You can read it for the love of the classics though.
Hit or Miss: Readable.
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