Book Review: What I Want to Talk About by Pete Wharmby

Title: What I Want to Talk About- How Autistic Special Interests Shape a Life

Author: Pete Wharmby

Genre: Non-Fiction

Number of Pages: 224

Rating: B

Recommended?: Yes

Early on Pete Wharmby clarifies that this is ‘not a memoir’ because he doesn’t feel like he’s had an interesting enough life to warrant one, which is something I can respect. I’ve considered writing a memoir about my mental health experiences but eventually it just comes down to that same factor. So, acknowledging that his life has been relatively mundane (though not without its interesting moments,) Wharmby approaches things from a different angle.

As the title suggests, this book focuses on his late autism diagnosis and the obsessions he’s had throughout his life, which can sometimes be hard for people to understand. Each chapter is devoted to a different interest, like Lego, video games and Warhammer. Lemme tell you, his obsessions are INTENSE. He’s been cultivating some of them for 20+ years and it makes my autistic hyperfixations look kind of lame by comparison. It seems a little bit weird to me for a grown man to be obsessed with Lego and have a room devoted to Lego sets but I’m glad he’s able to enjoy the things he cares about and not care what other people might think.

Some of the book was a bit boring, because hey, his autistic obsessions aren’t my autistic obsessions. I enjoyed learning about the stuff he loved, though. It was so different from most of my interests and hobbies. Even though clearly states it’s ‘not a memoir’ at the beginning, part of me wishes there had been more about his life. It made me feel a little bit detached and I especially would have liked to read more about the people in his life, like his parents, the women he’d had relationships with, and his kids. I found it odd that his hyperfixations were ‘the most important part of his life’ when he had kids. I wonder how they felt about that.

One of the main problems I had with the book was the way he persistently seemed to portray neurodiverse people as having positive personality traits (an underrepresented level of empathy, the ability to think outside the box) and neurotypicals being largely unkind and unsupportive. I understood why he might have some anger about his experiences, but it seemed too simple to me. There are lots of assholes on the spectrum out there, and there are a lot of neurotypical people are really cool. Wharmby probably doesn’t actually think that most neurotypical people are awful, but it didn’t exactly come across that way at times.

I didn’t love this book and it wasn’t one of my favorite non-fiction books by a person on the autism spectrum (I highly recommend Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison, Parallel Play by Tim Page, Songs of the Gorilla Nation by Dawn Prince-Hughes, and Nobody Nowhere by Donna Williams.) It just didn’t have as much impact for me as those books did. I still enjoyed it though, and Pete Wharmby has an entertaining writing style and dry sense of humor. I appreciated his interest in writing a different kind of non-fiction book about autism, even though it wasn’t always my cup of tea. It made me think about my own history of hyperfixating on things (weird things. Trust me, really, really weird things) and how I felt when people didn’t necessarily get or appreciate them.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: What I Want to Talk About by Pete Wharmby

  1. As a short story writer, reading “What I Want to Talk About” by Pete Wharmby was an emotional experience. I could relate to the author’s struggles with being understood and appreciated for his passions and interests, and his honesty and dry sense of humor made the book a pleasure to read. While I didn’t find the book as impactful as some other memoirs by individuals on the autism spectrum, I appreciated the author’s unique perspective and willingness to share his experiences. It made me reflect on my own journey and how I’ve navigated being true to myself and my passions, even if they may be considered odd or unusual by others.

    Liked by 1 person

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