Authors create an entrance to a book through the title and, if possible, their input concerning the cover design. What does the title An Archaeology of Yearning suggest to you as a reader? How do archaeologists go about their work in exploring a site? What might it mean to be an archaeologist of yearning? In relation to the cover art, consider how it fits the title and/or sets up an emotional tone for the book.
After you have read various chapters and/or the book as a whole, you might come back to these questions, especially in relation to reflecting on how the book strives to map or “grid out” the multiple artifacts and layers of yearning. Who are the “yearners”? For what are they longing? What has been found (or lost)? How and why are these artifacts, physical items, events, memories, stories important?
Connection to a book often arises from its relevance to our own lives. Even if we have not had the same experiences as the writer (or the people written about), we may find some emotional tie. Consider a personal memory or experience that you relate to from this book. What in the memory or event (and how it is told) led to this response? Discuss.
Of course, we may also come across a reading that does not speak to us or that has parts that hit us less forcefully. If this is your experience with An Archaeology of Yearning, do another kind of archaeological “dig” as a reader. What aspects or artifacts of your dig (e.g., scenes or chapters) do not engage you? Why? What might you still be trying to understand about the content or form of the book?
Like a singer’s or musician’s lyrics, riffs, melodies, and/or samplings, a writer’s voice emerges in the flow of words, sentences, images, and chapters. This memoir is especially attentive to language and metaphor in its effort to represent beauty, confusion, loss, and love. Select a moment when the emotion or meaning of a scene seems particularly connected to the choice of words and/or images. Discuss. Why would the author choose a more poetical voice at times?
Whether a fictional or nonfictional narrative, books often achieve unity through similar and conflicting patterns of imagery, events, and episodes. In these repetitions and oppositions, so to speak, we find meaning. What patterns do you see in the different chapters or throughout the book as a whole? Why do these patterns seem important, i.e., what larger themes might they suggest? Consider, for instance, how the tension between estrangement and connection plays out in various images and chapters–or how specific stories and the act of storytelling are important to the book.
The author has asserted that this book is ultimately not about autism but about the ritual of shared storytelling in sustaining ties across different ways of knowing. Still, it is clear that his son’s identity is tied up with his being on the autism spectrum. Take some time to go to the Autism Society of America website to learn about autism and/or find a resource that offers the DSM-V diagnostic description of autism. Investigate as well how those on the spectrum have talked about their autism. How does this information about and reflections on autism affect your understanding of an episode in relation to Jacob’s interactions with others and how the family interacts with him? In short, consider what it means to develop a relationship across different ways of knowing. Be sure to reflect upon the experience of those with autism as well as “neurotypicals” like the author of this book.
Memoirists inevitably trespass upon the lives of those with whom they live and who they love. What concerns might there be for a father writing about a son who cannot tell through words his own version of events? Are there particular responsibilities for someone writing about people who cannot narrate their life? Should the author have written this book at all?
How does An Archaeology of Yearning contain Jacob’s sense or vision of the world? Consider the last chapter especially in relation to this question. Directly or indirectly, how does this final section address the issue of representing the son’s yearnings in his own voice?
The memoir chooses to devote its third section to the daughter, i.e., the sibling in the family. To some degree, this disrupts the flow of the book by shifting from a focus on the father and son to the sister and brother and siblings more broadly. Discuss why the author might have made this choice. How does this layer or new archaeological “grid” flesh out or alter your understanding of this literary dig?
An ending to any book represents an especially important site. Focusing on the last two pages, consider why the author directs attention to the cave art and artist of Chauvet. In fact, what purpose is served by this final chapter’s exploration of the distant discovery of the Paleolithic cave art? In your discussion, pay particular attention to what is chosen from the past and how it is described. You might take a look at the official website of Chauvet as you reflect upon these issues. See http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/arcnat/chauvet/en/ .
The Autism Society of America website provides extensive resources and multiple perspectives on autism.
The Autism Hub is central point for blogs about autism from autistic people, family members, and students/professionals. It’s a great place to find many frequently updated links to original blogging with a diversity of perspective and interests.
On her personal website, Temple Grandin, one of the most widely-known individuals on the autism spectrum, offers resources and insights.