October 8, 2011
During the summer, I stumbled across a book called, The Man Who Forgot How to Read, by Howard Engel, the celebrated Canadian mystery writer.
What happened was that the author woke up one morning, picked up the newspaper, and discovered it was full of unrecognizable print. Soon after, he was diagnosed with a mini-stroke that had impaired his ability to decipher letters and words but which hadn’t affected his ability to write. He could write a paragraph but not read it! The account, which was full of drama, fascinated me because I’ve always been intrigued by the workings of the brain. I learned that Mr. Engel started writing a new mystery, called Memory Book, during his rehab, partly because he wanted to see if he could still do it and partly because that’s what he’s used to doing. He’s a writer after all.
So I got a copy of Memory Book, devoured the first chapter, and reluctantly put it aside during the busy weekend.
On Monday, as I was getting out of the car, I pulled a bag of groceries across my lap from the passenger seat, swiping the sack too close to my face and giving my cornea a paper cut. Ouch! (Not only do I suffer the usual aches and pains of middle age, but I also sabotage myself.) Mind you, that was the eye I use for reading; I wear a contact in the other eye for distance.
After my eye stopped watering, I sat down, and pondered the fact that my mother had had eye surgery last week. While I had been sympathetic before, I instantly and more deeply related to her vulnerability.
To relax, I automatically reached for my book. No go. I couldn’t focus enough to make out the letters. Besides that, the pain was so bad all evening that I went to bed with an icepack nestled in my eye socket. The next day, I merely saw double, which was enough to make reading impossible. In desperation, I removed the contact from my healthy eye and picked up Memory Book, once again. In the story, detective Ben Cooperman, like the author, struggled to remember things. But what jumped out at me was that he couldn’t read. Neither could I, at least not with my injured eye. Although his was a cognitive rather than a visual problem, I knew the frustration he felt!
Fortunately, my eye healed in three days, and I can see again as well as before my accident. (Thank God, my mom’s eye is healing nicely, too!) I thoroughly enjoyed the story of Ben Cooperman, especially his humor, and rejoiced when he at last regained his ability to read.
Note: NPR conducted an interview with Howard Engel that’s posted online.