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THE MAN WHO FORGOT HOW TO READ by Howard Engel

THE MAN WHO FORGOT HOW TO READ

A Memoir

By Howard Engel

Pub Date: July 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-312-38209-4
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Straightforward account of how the author of the Benny Cooperman mystery series coped with a life-altering stroke.

Engel discovered one morning in 2001 that his daily newspaper, the Toronto Globe and Mail, appeared to have been written in Cyrillic or Korean. Recovering from his stroke at Mount Sinai Hospital, he was diagnosed with alexia sine agraphia, which meant that though he could still write, he could not read what he had written. This was a severe blow: Engel was, he writes, “a one-trick pony, and reading was my trick.” A brief account of his childhood and early years illustrates his addiction to reading and his introduction to writing. The memoir focuses, however, on his post-stroke life. For three months in a rehab center he worked with a specialist who helped him master the exhausting process of learning to decipher words letter by letter. Strategies that helped included writing letters in the air with his finger or tracing them on the roof of his mouth with his tongue. He began a “memory book” to help keep track of details that his scrambled brain could no longer retain; pages from this and from a journal he also kept are reproduced here. On his return home, Engel got reacquainted with his computer—the various screens looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t read the instructions—and began a new Cooperman mystery (Memory Book, 2006). He drew on his rehab experience to depict his private eye waking up in a hospital with alexia sine agraphia; friends helped by reading his written words back to him aloud. When the novel was finished, neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote an appreciative afterword for it, as he has for the present work.

Insider’s view of brain damage clarifies the experience with honesty and humor.