20 books in 2020: Flowers for Algernon

Bookshelf

20 books in 2020: Flowers for Algernon

I thought I’d challenge myself to read 20 books in 2020 because I felt I’d gotten out of the habit of reading and 20 was a reasonably high bar to set, considering even in a good year I’ve only read about a dozen.

First up was the classic science fiction novel, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keys. It’s the tale of a retarded adult, Charlie Gordon, who undergoes an experimental operation designed to make him smarter. The operation has been performed on a mouse in a lab, named Algernon, with seemingly positive results. However, the childlike naivety of Charlie means he’s ill-equipped to deal with the emotions and changes in perception that lie ahead.

I knew of this book years ago but had forgotten all about it until a friend at work recommended it to me. He found it so compelling that he’d blasted through it in two days so I thought it would be a nice one to start my challenge with.

It took me about a week and a half to get through as I was only reading it during my commute but that’s not to say it wasn’t an engrossing story. I was really taken in by the life of Charlie Gordon and I was maybe only 10% of the way through when I had the ominous feeling that it was likely to end in heartbreak. I mean, the clue is in the title but it didn’t take me long to start caring about the main protagonist and others in the story.

Despite the emotionally charged events, the book was a relatively easy read. It was only about two-thirds of the way through that I thought momentum had been lost and that Charlie was wasting his incredible potential. However, in the end I think it was a deliberate stall in the story – for a time, Charlie was just meant to live in the moment without being in pursuit of anything.

When I finished the book I felt crestfallen and there are only a few books that I’ve read in my time that have had that effect on me. In fact, it stuck with me for several days and delayed me starting another. It’s a rare treat to read something so impactful that has me questioning both how I’ve treated others and how they’ve treated me.

I would definitely recommend Flowers for Algernon. It’s maybe not the kind of book you’d go back and read again, but it is definitely a book that should be read at least once.