Author: Howard Engel
Howard Engel lives and breathes the written word. He's a voracious reader (kindred spirit?) and an award winning author when he opens his morning newspaper only to discover that he can't read. At all. Any of it. He can see the paper. He can see his couch and all his surroundings: there is no general blindness aside from the inability to recognize words. With an alarming degree of calm, he wakes his son and heads to the hospital under the assumption that he had perhaps suffered an unnoticed stroke. There his fears are confirmed. He did in fact suffer a minor stroke resulting in serious damage to the parts of the brain responsible for word recognition, memory and sense of time. The part of the brain responsible for writing remained undamaged. Engel could write - but couldn't read back what he wrote.
Imagine the devastation he must have felt looking ahead at a life without reading (the readers' forced to imagine this sense because he glosses over it with an almost robotically calm description). I honestly can't say for sure if I'd have any desire to continue on with life if that meant a life without books. I would feel like I had lost my entire purpose in life. In fact, simply imagining the situation causes anxiety. I think the urge to take to my bed and wait out the rest of life would be overwhelming. This was not the case for Engel.
"The Man Who Forgot How To Read" is a remarkable tale of overcoming disability through creative solutions and acceptance. We get to watch Engel devise intricate systems for memory, and learn letters one by one again (he eventually is able to read by sounding out letters of the word in the same way a first grader does.) Engel finds a way to keep writing and regain his independence. His story is inspiring in it's nature. However, Engel's reactions seem robotic. He never veers from a neutral place. There is no anger, depression, elation or fear expressed. Throughout the book, I was never sure if this is a product of self preserving denial or an affect created for the purposes of telling his story. His reactions seemed totally unrealistic making it difficult to develop a keen interest in him as a character. I found it to be highly off putting.
The last 40 pages or so are ridiculously awe inspiring. I had urges to move onto another book in the middle but was grateful to have pushed through by then end.
I wouldn't label it a must read, but it is a short and fascinating tale for anyone whose interest is peaked by this sort of circumstance.