My ability to read failed following the brain surgeries I underwent to remove clusters of blood vessels that hemorrhaged. After the second surgery, I discovered that my reading comprehension was non-existent—I couldn’t remember from one word to the next.
I had always been a voracious reader. I could spend hours lost in a book, often reading into the night, fighting sleep. As Alice, I played croquet with the queen of hearts in Alice in Wonderland. I marched through the Malayan countryside as Jean in Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice. Immersed in the Harry Potter books, I was Hermione, devouring books.
In rehab, I progressed from understanding sentences to paragraphs, to a one-page magazine article—I was back to reading. Over the next couple of weeks I finished a Harry Potter book—I was back to being a reader.
Or so I believed.
Several months later, I noticed that my pile of unread books was growing. While my book buying habits had not changed, my reading habits had.
Books that would have interested me in the past did not capture my attention. I gravitated towards shorter books with more dialogue, less description, and minimal reflection—easy-reading books. In my second year post-surgery, I learned that brain injury survivors manage better with larger print. Oh, so that’s why I favor children’s books!
My friend Cindy urged me to acquire an e-reader: “You could control the size of the print.”
I scoffed. Soulless plastic could never take the place of a living book; I loved feeling the paper slide across my fingertips, dry and warm. I couldn’t imagine reading without smelling traces of ink and dust.
A few months later Cindy repeated her suggestion. I told her, “I’d rather buy books in large print.” Thus, three years post-surgery, I purchased a large-print version of a book I would have inhaled in the past.
That evening, almost ceremoniously, I turned on my bedside lamp and climbed into bed. I huddled under my blankets, took a deep breath, and started reading.
I sighed as I completed the first page. This is it! Yet as I proceeded, my enthusiasm flagged. Maybe I’m too tired.
The next day, I again couldn’t sink into the pages. I braved another large-print book, to no avail.
I surrendered to easy-reading books, feeling a twinge of grief every time one of those ‘other’ books crossed my path.
I continued to stop into bookstores, and to ignore the e-reader displays. Until I was in a bookstore with my daughter, Sarah, and her friend, Jordon. They idly investigated e-readers while I hovered. When an employee approached, we fled, giggling.
The next time I went in, I glanced at the e- readers’ price list. Ridiculous!
A few weeks later, I ambled into the bookstore with my son, Daniel. An employee was discussing e-readers with a customer. I eavesdropped. I contemplated prices. The cheaper one would suffice.
I asked, “How would you control the print size?”
The employee demonstrated.
“They’re so expensive…”
“Mum, you should get one. I think it’ll really make a difference.”
The employee cleared his throat. “Actually, we don’t have any in stock.”
I felt like I was given a reprieve.
The employee smiled. “But you can reserve one.” He added, “You wouldn’t be committed to buying it.”
I guess it couldn’t hurt.
Then I forgot about it. A couple of days later, Daniel asked me if it had arrived. I checked my email. Not yet. The next day: nothing.
I phoned my parents: “I’ve been considering an e-reader. They’re a bit expensive, and I’m not really sure that it’ll do the trick—”
Mum interrupted, “We’ll pay for it.”
I was even more surprised when Dad added, “Don’t get the cheaper one. This is important.”
I told Daniel about their reaction. “Maybe you’re right.”
He rolled his eyes.
I received the email notification at 11:00 p.m. on a Thursday: the device had to be picked up the next day. I stood outside the store as it opened.
That evening, I curled up in bed and started reading. At one point I paused. It’s getting late. I’ll just finish this chapter. Suddenly I discovered I’d completed three chapters.
But why is this working? Why didn’t the large-print books work?
I looked down at the screen, which held less than a page in a real book. Of course! The print size isn’t the only issue—so is the amount of information.
I had regained a cherished gift, one I had believed was lost forever.
But…maybe it’s just wishful thinking. What about a denser book, with less dialogue, with more descriptions?
I downloaded a more challenging book. I intended to delve into it that evening.
But I didn’t. I’ll start tomorrow. I’m too tired. I didn’t open it the following day. I’ll wait until the weekend. I didn’t start it then.
Why? Is it this particular book? Should I download an easier one? Am I…afraid?
I was afraid. I was afraid that the gift would be snatched away again.
That evening I turned on the bedside lamp, climbed into bed, huddled under the blanket, turned on the e-reader, and set it to the first page.
A bit later I looked at the clock: midnight. I was tired; my eyelids were heavy. I glanced at the clock again. I’ll just finish this chapter.