Friday Favorites: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Friday, June 18, 2010


Words are my life. I write for a living, I read for pleasure, I speak with family and friends. I can't imagine losing my ability to do all of these things.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the nonfiction memoir of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the former editor of the French Elle magazine. Bauby suffered a stroke at age 43 and woke to find himself completely paralyzed, able to move only his left eyelid. He was a victim of Lock-In Syndrome, his mind worked perfectly, but he was unable to move.

Using only his eyelid and a complicated # of blinks = letters system, he wrote this book to describe his experience. I was blown away by his lyrical prose. The writing would have been impressive on its own, but then you remember that he had only his eyelid to communicate with and he had to blink out each letter. It makes you think about how carefully he chose every single word. It gives each sentence such weight and power.

Bauby's sense of humor, though tinged with bitterness, haunted me long after I'd finished the short book. In someone else's hands the memoir would have been a depressing narrative, a cautionary tale that makes you wallow in sadness. Instead Bauby's book reminds readers to savor life and hang on to hope.

"Want to play hangman? asks Theophile, and I ache to tell him that I have enough on my plate playing quadriplegic. But my communication system disqualifies repartee: the keenest rapier grows dull and falls flat when it takes several minutes to thrust it home."

The book is a testament to how quickly life can change. No matter how horrible my day has been I can still give someone a hug or make myself a drink or laugh out loud. If you can read this and not value the little things in your own life (at least for a week or two) I would be shocked.

2 comments:

  1. "Lock In" syndrome sounds horrifying. I can't imagine experiencing something like that. I remember when this book was made into a movie ... I keep meaning to read it or see it. Thanks for giving me another reminder.

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  2. I haven't read this book yet, and that has mainly been due to the subject matter. I wasn't sure if it was going to be something that was incredibly depressing - in which case I'd try to find a time to read it when I could handle the seriousness. It just sounds so horribly sad, so I'm glad to see that you saw a hopeful side to it too.

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