The Free Library has selected the next book for its annual One Book, One Philadelphia reading program: “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time” by Mark Haddon, published in 2003.
It’s a curious selection for the Free Library.
In the 15 years since the Free Library started One Book, One Philadelphia, this will be the first time the author will not be present citywide reading program. The British writer is not available to come to the city for any events speaking engagements or events.
That’s OK, said Siobhan Reardon, the director of the Free Library, because the book is worth it. It’s different from books selected in previous years, which have been mostly tragic stories about war, orphans on trains, and Japanese mail-order brides.
“They’ve been beautiful books, but this is something a bit more lighthearted, and actually fun to read,” said Reardon. “This is a really charming book.”
The book has been turned into a Broadway musical, which will come to Philadelphia in March. The novel is rich with programming possibilities; it has been published both for adults and young adult readers, it’s a mystery, and it has autism at its center.
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is narrated by a 15-year-old boy who tries to solve a mystery of who killed a neighborhood dog. The boy, Christopher, is highly intelligent and has autism. He has trouble connecting emotionally with people and is more comfortable with numbers and logic systems.
The author has said this is not a book about autism, and he claims to know little about the neurodevelopment disorder. But Dr. David Mandell, associate director of the Autism Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said he got it right.
Haddon “managed to capture the nuances of the way symptoms of autism, especially with people with above-average IQ, are expressed, in terms of the range of emotion, how they interpret the world, and how they interact with other,” said Mandell.
Mandell likes the book, having read it in 2003 when it was published at the urging of friends. He plans to reread it during One Book, One Philadelphia. But he warns while it may ring true, the novel does not capture the breadth of ways autism can affect people.
“There’s a well-worn adage among people who work with individuals with autism: ‘If you’ve seen one person with autism, you’ve seen one person with autism,'” said Mandell. “I wouldn’t want someone to read this book and decide that the way Christopher is and the reasons for Christopher’s behavior — or at least the way Christopher describes his behavior — are the reasons all people with autism act the way they do.”
The Free Library is now programming events related to many aspects of the story, including culinary demonstrations, because Christopher prefers lists and logic-based information: following recipes to cook fits the bill.