Saturday, August 14, 2010

Book Review - Algernon, Charlie, and I: A Writer's Journey by Daniel Keyes

Title: Algernon, Charlie, and I: A Writer's Journey
Author: Daniel Keyes
Year: 2004
Page: 228
Genre: Non-Fiction - Memoir

New to me author? No
Read this author again? Yes
Tearjerker? No
Where did it take place? US
FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library (inter-library loan)

Summary (from
In Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes created an unlikely duo-a laboratory mouse and a man-who captured the hearts of millions of readers around the world. Now, in Algernon, Charlie, and I, Keyes reveals his methods of creating fiction as well as the heartbreaks and joys of being published. With admirable insight he shares with readers, writers, teachers, and students the creative life behind his classic novel, included here in its original short-story form. All those who love stories, storytelling, and the remarkable characters of Charlie and Algernon will delight in accompanying their creator on this inspirational voyage of discovery.

First Sentence:
I never thought it would happen to me.
Why did I pick this book?
I read Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes earlier and found out the author wrote a book about how he came up with the story, and where he got the name Algernon from. I like reading "Behind the Scene" books (in fact, when watching DVD, sometimes I am more interested in the behind the scene clips than the actual movie/TV show itself). While I don't think I have what it takes to become a write, I enjoy reading about their thought processes.

My thoughts:
  • I really enjoyed reading this! I think if you like Flowers for Algernon, you will too. It definitely make me appreciate Flowers for Algernon more, after reading what the author went through to get the original novelette, and later, the novel, published. He explained why he decided to make it into a novel, after the success of the novelette (the novelette was included in the book). It was interesting how it evolved, it definitely didn't happen overnight
  • I think I like the novel better, as it went into more depth and had better character development. So now when I read the novelette, it was a good "cliff note" version, but I was able to fill in the gaps from what I remembered from the book. I think that's the reason I don't usually like short stories because you don't really get to know the characters. I know I'd said many times I like plot-focus books more than character-driven ones. But a plot-focus books with great characters are the best! I want something to happen, but I also want to feel something for the characters
  • He also talked about how he "cast" Charlie. The original (and subsequent) protagonists were nothing like Charlie, and he didn't feel right until Charlie came along
  • I really liked the ending of Flowers for Algernon. Interestingly, many editors told him to change it, but he stuck to his gun. I am glad he did! 
  • Another interesting fact - the book was made into a play. "Tomorrow", the popular song from the movie/play, "Annie", was originally written for Flowers for Algernon the play! Charlie was supposed to say it! But due to a couple of things, the song ended up being used by Annie instead. It is a song I love, but had no idea about the history! And the actor who played Charlie in the play - later went on to play Phantom in Phantom of the Opera! Don't you just love reading little tidbits like these!
  • The book also shed lights on the role of the critics - how powerful they could be - be it book, movie, or play critics. Made me be more mindful about writing my thoughts on books on my blog. But, I want to be honest. I hope the authors understand that book reviews are subjective... it's not personal.


    Although he (dad) and my mother had little formal schooling, it became clear to me early in childhood that they respected education, and demanded that I excel in school. Yet, in my adolescence, I discovered the more I read and learned, the less I could communicate with them (parents). I was losing them -- drifting away into my world of books and stories. (p15)

    "My education is driving a wedge between me and the people I love." And then I wondered: "What would happen if it were possible to increase a person's intelligence?" (p16)

    I had an idea I cared about. And a story line, and a few passages. But I still didn't have the character I felt was right. I was searching for a protagonist who would be memorable and with whom the reading and I could identify; someone with a strong motivation and goal who evoked a response from other characters; someone whose inner life gave him a human dimension. (p93)

    I write in the hope that, long after I'm gone, my stories and books, like pebbles dropped into water, will continue to spread in widening circles and touch other minds. Possibly, other minds in conflict with themselves. (p177)
    Rating: 4 Stars

    Have you read this book? 
    If you have, I would love to hear what you think! I'll link your review here if you wish!

    100+ Reading
    Memorable Memoir
    Non-Fiction Five


    1. I loved Flowers for Algernon, but hadn't heard of this book. I'm going to add it to my wish list - thanks for drawing it to my attention :-)

    2. Would love to hear what you think! I think I like this even a tad more than Flowers for Algernon, probably because I love reading about other people's thought/writing processes. It just fascinates me how they come to write their books.

    3. I have read "Flowers for Algernon" several times, but it's been a long time since the last time I read it. I'd like to read it again sometime soon! I wonder if I should read the memoir first?

    4. I've really wanted to read Flowers for Algernon. I hadn't heard of this one before, I'll have to take a look out for it.