Sunday, October 26, 2014

Howard Engel. The Man Who Forgot How to Read (2012)

     Howard Engel. The Man Who Forgot How to Read (2012) Afterword by Oliver Sacks. Engel went out to get the paper one morning, and found he couldn’t read it. He drove to the Emergency Department of the nearby hospital, where they confirmed that he’d had a stroke in the left occipital area of his brain, a part of the visual cortex necessary for the decoding of print and writing into words and hence into meaning. But he could still write. The technical term is alexia sine agraphia, non-reading without non-writing. This made him a rare case, which is one reason that Oliver Sacks not only agreed to see him, but also agreed to write an afterword for the Benny Cooperman mystery Engel eventually wrote, the only one I’ve not read yet.
     This memoir begins with reading. It was Engel’s life, the essence of his imaginative and intellectual interaction with the world around him. To lose that could have been to lose everything. But during six weeks in rehab, plus every day since then, Engel found ways of coping with this deficit. It’s a powerful read, a page-turner. I read a few pages one late afternoon, and devoured the book in bed. It’s not only the futile attempt to imagine alexia that keeps you going, it’s Engel’s wry humour, his clear-eyed vision of himself and his situation, his gratitude for his family and friends. He’s a mensch, someone you would like to know. He’s a damn good writer, too.
     Recommended. ****

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