Marc Shell, Author . Harvard Univ. $27.95 (341p) ISBN 978-0-674-01937-9

Shell offers an impressive if challenging memoir-cum-treatise on the contributions of stuttering to the arts and beyond. Shell, who teaches comparative literature at Harvard, is fluent in cultures high, middle and low. He lunges between Moses and Marilyn Monroe, quoting rap music and Winston Churchill in nearly the same breath. Although it's often difficult to keep up with Shell's academic critiques, there are touching passages about his experiences growing up in Quebec with a stutter (and with polio, the subject of his previous book). Surrounded by languages—French, English, Hebrew and Yiddish—Shell learned to find the "right" word, that is, the pronounceable one, in another tongue. Similarly, he suggests that many great writers, such as Margaret Drabble, Lewis Carroll and W. Somerset Maugham, took up the pen as a way to "cure" their stuttering, and that their difficulty with spoken words improved their facility with those written. Shell's virtuosic ability to summon references from neuroscience, religion and philosophy is both exhilarating and exhausting. Indeed, at times it seems as if the structure of his peripatetic book is a metaphor for what happens in the mind of a stutterer in the pause before articulation: a frantic search through the mind that finally alights in the right place. 18 b&w illus. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 12/05/2005
Release date: 01/01/2006
Ebook - 352 pages - 978-0-674-04353-4
Hardcover - 352 pages - 978-0-674-33577-6
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