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The Man Who Forgot How to Read: A Memoir Hardcover – July 8, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In Engel's memoir, he relates the difficult journey from bookworm word-jockey to near-illiterate and back again; a successful mystery novelist in his native Canada, Engel awoke one morning to discover he'd lost the ability to read. Soon, he's informed that he suffered a stroke while asleep, and is afflicted with alexia sine agraphia, a condition in which he can still write, but can't read-even what he himself has written. While battling alexia in rehab, Engel juggles a young son and a girlfriend, and tries to figure out how to support himself and his family. After accepting that he will never again write adventures for his long-time lead, detective Benny Cooperman, he eventually finds himself forging a therapeutic novel in which Benny suffers from a brain injury similar to Engel's own. This intriguing account of personal tragedy, overcome with grace and humility, is an inspirational and instructive tale.
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Review

“Howard Engel brings to his memoir, The Man Who Forgot How to Read, all the skills he has learned as a crime writer working on the Benny Cooperman books. It is witty, insightful, moving without being sentimental, and it keeps you turning the pages. I urge you to read it.” ---Peter Robinson
“In The Man Who Forgot How to Read, Engel tells his story from the inside, with extraordinary insight, humor, and intelligence. It is a story that is not only as fascinating as one of his own detective novels, but a testament to the resilience and creative adaptation of one man and his brain.” ---Oliver Sacks



In Engel's memoir, he relates the difficult journey from bookworm word-jockey to near-illiterate and back again; a successful mystery novelist in his native Canada, Engel awoke one morning to discover he'd lost the ability to read. Soon, he's informed that he suffered a stroke while asleep, and is afflicted with alexia sine agraphia, a condition in which he can still write, but can't read--even what he himself has written. While battling alexia in rehab, Engel juggles a young son and a girlfriend, and tries to figure out how to support himself and his family. After accepting that he will never again write adventures for his long-time lead, detective Benny Cooperman, he eventually finds himself forging a therapeutic novel in which Benny suffers from a brain injury similar to Engel's own. This intriguing account of personal tragedy, overcome with grace and humility, is an inspirational and instructive tale. (July) (Publishers Weekly)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; First Edition edition (July 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031238209X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312382094
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #918,787 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Five-and-one-half years ago I almost died during brain tumor surgery. Going into brain surgery, you would think that my fear of dying was my biggest fear... but it wasn't! I told my son Justin that I wasn't afraid of dying, because I know I raised him correctly, and he became the man he is today... and being the man he became, I was prouder of him than anything I had ever done in my entire life... so I knew he would be ready to carry on. I also was able to say goodbye to him the way I wanted to, as the second's ticked away leading to my surgery. A lot of people watch too many movies, so they think everybody gets to be like John Wayne... and get to give a big emotional speech as they die in someone's arms. My absolute biggest fear... which I told my son, and my brain surgeon... is becoming a "vegetable"... or having this super-fast brain I was blessed with... locked in a body... and not be able to communicate. I made my son promise to tell me the truth, and not lie to me after the surgery, if I made it through, and couldn't repeat certain key statistics to him such as all fourteen Major League ballplayer's who won the triple crown.

I survived the surgery (I wasn't told for three weeks about what really happened during the surgery.) despite some unexpected developments, including bleeding in the brain, which occurred during the surgery. When I was allowed to go home, I didn't know what Jello was... I didn't know what a lamp or dresser were... I didn't know what a bagel was. And probably the most heart-wrenching memory "shortcoming" was that periodically I knew who Justin was... but I couldn't remember that he was my son. It was the most frightening thing I had ever experienced... and remember I just went through major brain surgery.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on August 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Howard Engel woke up one morning, opened his daily paper and discovered he could no longer read. "The letters, I could tell, were the familiar twenty-six I had grown up with. Only now, when I brought them into focus, they looked like Cyrillic one moment and Korean the next."

He had had a stroke. As the morning proceeded he forgot names - including his own. Familiar landmarks appeared in unfamiliar places. He was unable to say what relation he was to his son.

While all this would be devastating to anyone, the alexia - his inability to decipher written words - was a special blow. Engel was not only a voracious reader, he was a writer, the award-winning Canadian author of the popular Benny Cooperman detective series. He had lost his means for making a living.

Or maybe not. Engel had alexia sine agraphia. Which meant he could still write - he just couldn't read what he had written. "The sine agraphia was the sop designed to make me feel good. It was like being told that the right leg had to be amputated but that I could keep the shoe and sock."

But the possibility continued to percolate as he went through weeks of rehab and readjustment. Engel relates this time of confusion and effort with humor, clarity and insight, exploring the mysteries of the brain and its elastic abilities to compensate and fill in gaps.

Back at home, while still putting garbage in the dishwasher or laundry in the fridge, a book begins to take shape. Benny, his detective, hospitalized with brain damage after a blow to the head, solves the mystery of how it happened without leaving his hospital ward.
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Format: Hardcover
Seventy-seven year old Howard Engel, who lives in Toronto, Canada, has been a "reading junkie" since he was a little boy. He is the creator of fictional private investigator Benny Cooperman, the hero of "more than a dozen novels, several short stories, radio broadcasts and two films." Engel wrote almost a book a year for over two decades and in the mid-eighties, he quit his job at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to devote himself to full-time writing. One morning in July, 2001, the author suffered a stroke that robbed him of his ability to read. This memoir describes the author's struggle to regain his literacy, assisted by "a small army of people who helped [him] climb all those steps."

When he had his stroke, Engel was seventy years old, a success in his chosen field, widowed, and the father of a twelve-year-old boy. For some reason, Engel did not panic when he realized that the letters in his local newspaper did not appear to be in English. "They looked like Cyrillic one moment and Korean the next." He bundled up his son, Jacob, and called a cab to take them to the hospital. He soon learned the name of his condition: alexia sine agraphia, "word-blindness" or the inability to recognize printed symbols without losing the capacity to write. Ironically, Howard could not decipher the words that he put down on paper. His stroke had damaged his occipital cortex on the left side. He also lost a quarter of his vision "in the upper right hand side of the visual screen."

"The Man Who Forgot How to Read" is Engel's mostly upbeat recollection of his brief time in Mount Sinai Hospital, his stay in the Toronto Rehabilitation Hospital, and his return home. His account is dryly humorous, poignant, and remarkably devoid of self-pity.
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