The Unheard becomes an Amazon bestseller.

I’ve been talking about Josh Swiller’s The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa a lot, but you know, some things are worth talking about a lot. It came out last week. Josh went on NPR and his book shot up to #43 on Amazon’s rankings an hour later. 43!! That’s bestseller territory. (The best my book ever did is 800, and 800’s damn good.)

I read the book in manuscript and loved it, so I sent in a blurb that appears on the back cover. But now that I’ve read the actual book, I’ve discovered it’s even better than I thought it was. There’s something about crisp typeset pages that gives good prose all the more authority. It’s brilliant and funny and honest and unsentimental. It’s been getting rave reviews and it deserves them all.

There are enough books out there now to warrant the naming of a subgenre, the “deaf memoir.” David Wright’s 1969 memoir Deafness is one of the earliest and to my mind, still one of the finest. Henry Kisor’s What’s That Pig Outdoors? (1990) is very good. Beverly Biderman’s Wired for Sound (1998) and Arlene Romoff’s Hear Again (1999) are two of the earliest memoirs to focus on the cochlear implant experience.

But all of these books, as good as they are, are written in such a way that they focus on deafness, and thus appeal mainly to an audience that has a personal interest in it. But Josh uses deafness as a vehicle to address the universal issue of what it means to communicate and connect with fellow human beings, and in Africa, no less. (There are also a number of terrific scenes with his family in America.) That makes his book transcend the genre. It’s not just a superb deaf memoir. It’s a superb memoir, period.

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