Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Howard Engel's "The Man Who Forgot How to Read"

I recently re-read Oliver Sacks' The Mind's Eye and appreciated the bit about writer Howard Engel, so I decided to follow up by reading Engel's memoir about his experience having a stroke and developing alexia sine agraphia.

This book was a short but very interesting read. You get a feel for his life before and after and you come to understand -- a bit! -- of the struggles that a person with this disability has.

My mother had a brain tumour and had a bit of the parietal and occipital lobes removed and developed "left neglect" and other cognitive deficiencies (particularly the inability to recognize faces). But she had no interest in either relating her sense of the world with these deficiencies or understanding why they had come about. She was an intelligent woman but her horror at her condition left her wishing to ignore reality and spend her time talking about family, friends, and the past. Engel is unusual in being willing to go into fair detail with the symptoms of his condition.

The book alerts the reader to the "little details" that come up with a stroke patient. Things that somebody who doesn't suffer these depravations is slow to recognize. Luckily he had family and close friends who provided a solid support team for him. But despite this you get a feeling for the struggles he underwent.

Another aspect the book brings across is personality. My mother simply gave up on life. Howard Engel fought hard to recover as much of his previous life as possible. In the real world, different people respond to things differently. There is no predicting who will respond how. You can guess, but you are likely to be wrong.

The book is not an unremitting trudge through tragedy. Engel has a light hand and finds humour in his situation. He keeps the tone light so that the book is informative but not depressing.

It is well worth reading.

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