Book Review: ‘To Siri with Love’ offers provocative look at parenting | Spectrum

Emily Willingham

Science writer

In her upcoming book, “To Siri with Love,” journalist and author Judith Newman explores the affinity some people with autism have for machines and their wonderful predictability.

But another motif surfaces again and again: Parenting children on the spectrum is a lot like parenting anyone. You worry, you obsess, you see your child as frozen in developmental time and, on many an occasion, you underestimate yourself and your child. Actor Paul Giamatti may even keep your son from bolting out the front door at a birthday party. (No, that last thing is probably unique to this book.)

The book is a collection of personal essays that sprang from Newman’s hugely popular 2014 New York Times essay of the same title. Here, she uses vignettes to unspool a through line from her own experiences and those of her husband, opera singer John Snowdon, to the lives of their now-teenage sons. With a mix of sarcasm and brutal self-assessment, she submits an entry in the warts-and-all memoir genre that mostly engages with humor and poignancy, but is at times jarring and painful to read.

She opens the family storybook with a slice of life that’s likely familiar to any parent of young children whose social filters are still works in progress. It’s a scene in a supermarket in which her son Henry goads his brother, Gus, into blurting out that their parents are going to “do sex” when their father gets home from a trip abroad. Henry and Gus are twins, born prematurely in 2001, and Gus has autism.

Newman also sketches her own childhood interests and behaviors, noting that to a “lesser but still marked degree,” she shares many traits with Gus, including significant sensory issues. Her husband has his own set of immutable living specifications, deeply carved into the tablets of his daily life over 80-plus years.

The two of them reside in different homes and have done so throughout their…

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