Do the Gute: Helen Keller

Helen KellerWay back in the back then I had a series of posts recommending public domain books available from Gutenberg.org. I’m bringing it back today to recommend the remarkable writing of Helen Keller. Of course we all know who she is, but get past the feral child played rather wonderfully by Patty Duke and the tasteless jokes and you find a remarkable thinker and activist with a gift for crisp writing.

Find her major works here. Of course you should read her autobiography, The Story of My Life, which is the best known and most familiar, but The World I Live In is well worth looking into for a more mature author who captures the experience of being deafblind; it is not about the pain of darkness and silence but the wonder of being so tuned to physical sensations. And see her long essay, Optimism, where she writes about “happiness as faith.”

In my mind there is a list of short books that can change your life: Hesse’s Siddhartha, Dillards’s The Writing Life, Wiesel’s Night, or Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.  Any of these three books could be on that list.

I do not know her writing process, perhaps finger-spelling to a transcriptionist, and later poring over drafts with the secretary finger-spelling her own words back into her palm. In any case, it could not have been easy work. Keller’s writing is wonderful and important without these considerations, but as a writer I have to think about and wonder at her resolve. Maybe the effort for every line led to the precision and power in her writing.

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