title: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly [support independent booksellers and purchase at Strand]
author: Jean-Dominique Bauby
originally published: 1997
source: New York Public Library
In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby, then editor at French Elle, was taking his son to see a play when he suffered a massive stroke that left him completely and utterly paralyzed. Diagnosed with “locked in syndrome,” this basically meant that the only part of his body he could move was his left eyelid. Utilizing an alphabet that arranged the letters in frequency of occurrence, Bauby dictated this memoir. By blinking.
Let me reiterate: He wrote this book by blinking his left eye. BLINKING HIS EYE. WROTE A BOOK. WITH HIS LEFT EYE. This memoir is the best kick in the pants any aspiring author could ask for. Feeling uninspired? Mundane distractions of day to day living stealing your attention? If Bauby could write a book BY FREAKING BLINKING HIS LEFT EYE, there is now ABSOLUTELY NO VALID EXCUSE for not writing. None. Consider yourself inspired.
And it’s a good read. Quick, simple, but incredibly moving, Bauby relates with such clarity and lyricism what it feels like to become a prisoner inside your own body. The most heartbreaking parts for me came when Bauby reflects on the things he misses he had once taken for granted. Since Bauby can no longer eat (remember: he can’t swallow. Only blink his left eye and write better than most can hope), Bauby relates which meals and smells he misses the most (like french fries). He misses grabbing a glass of scotch and taking a long bath with a good book. He misses being able to reach out and ruffle his son’s hair. Those simple images were the most beautiful, most universal, most honest, and the hardest to read.
Rubric rating: 8. If Bauby had lived long enough to have written more, I definitely would have sought it out.