The book reviewed here is ‘The Man Who Forgot How to Read’ by Howard Engel. Engel is a celebrated fiction writer who has devoted his life to books and writing but later suffers a stroke and develops alexia sine agraphia meaning that he can’t read but he can write. Engel is courageous in writing so openly about his experiences and in the process gives a voice to others who have suffered similarly. Here he describes how he has lost the ability to read for the first time
‘Where I could make out the text, the letters of the words appeared as though I was trying to make them out through a heat haze; the letters wobbled and changed shape as I attempted to make them out. What looked like an a one moment looked like an e the next and a w after that’
He is admitted into a hospital and describes the rehabilitation process and the support from his friends and the staff during this time. He then tells us how he reconnects with his passion – the world of books, but this time without the ability to make sense of the written word. What follows is a story of determination and ingenuity. He is able to write again (hence this book) but develops a number of techniques to help him to do so. During this time he makes a connection with another prolific author who can understand his experiences – Oliver Sacks – and their meeting has a profound impact on him. Indeed Sacks writes an afterforward in which he is able to provide another narrative – this time from the perspective of a neurologist. He is able to describe Engel’s experiences in terms of neuropsychological events with clarity giving the reader pause for further thought.
This is a poignant work, outlining Engel’s journey to reconnect with the world of literature and succeeding despite the tremendous challenges posed by his disability.
Howard Engel. The Man Who Forgot How to Read. Afterforward by Oliver Sacks. 2007. St Martin’s Press.
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