Friday, October 4, 2013

Reading For Pleasure

I learned to read when I was 2: my Mom was pregnant with my younger brother and bed-bound for much of the pregnancy. By the time I was 6, I could read a story-book upside-done, to the "little" kids, so they could still see the pictures. I read The Lord of the Rings when I was 10, after being told i was too young; I brought my Dad's volumes to school, since I couldn't take a copy out of the library. After that, I was allowed to read anything I wanted. 

In the same library, before I was 13, I was the first person to read the multiple volumes of the "Tales of 1,001 Arabian Nights" that had been gathering dust for about 80 years. I know, because I had to cut some of the pages (after I learned why some of the pages needed cutting, and why it was OK). 

By the time I was 17, I would re-read The Lord of the Rings in a weekend, though not sleeping much on the Friday and Saturday nights. I didn't know it then, but the escape that book offered was a coping mechanism of sorts. On a long train journey from Bangkok, I read War and Peace; I had to spend a few hours finishing it (and I skipped the second epilogue, which is too obvious if you read the book in one sitting). 

As an adult, I would read light fiction in an afternoon, anything more complex in no more than a week. Interrupting me while engrossed in a book was a good way to shorten my temper, if not make me lose it altogether. Books were a pleasure to be savor end and relished. I was almost never without one.

I've read Dickens, Chaucer and Milton, but not Joyce or Spencer; Tolstoy, Chekov, Solzhenitsyn and Dostoevsky, but not all of their great works; Rousseau, Diderot, and de Sade. I have read reams and reams of 'junk' some of it good, some of it utter crap, but I have stopped reading very few books in my lifetime. I own thousands of books, and have given away or left behind thousands more.

So, I think it is fair to say that reading has been a significant part of my life. 

That all changed when I had the strokes. I've written about and illustrated the visual deficits before, but never really detailed why they make reading so much harder. The diplopia doesn't make a lot of difference, since I'm occluding one eye. However, with One-and-a-half Syndrome it means that now I move my whole head more than just my eyes.

The biggest challenge comes from oscillopsia. Because my eyeballs move up and down rapidly, it has become very hard to read a longer line of text unaided. Larger text (available from libraries or eReaders) is less useful than greater leading (not usually an option), although it is a bit better. Small, dense print is effectively illegible.

Unfortunately, reading is now much harder work than it used to be.  Before, I might comfortably read a quarter of a book at night, now I'm lucky to read a chapter before becoming too tired. Audiobooks offer a solution for new books, but my pleasure has been in the reading itself, and hearing someone else's voice interpret text is no fun.

With either an eReader or an audiobook, there is also the problem of the thousands of books I already own, and can't afford to replace in other formats. Reading one of the books I've kept allows me to experience the world in a particular way, to enjoy a certain tasty idea or be thrilled by crunchy repulsion again, or just to find something new there that I hadn't perceived before.

The difficulty I have with reading is all about the physicality of the process. It will improve with time and practice. For the moment, though, it pretty much blows, and I've seen no way to restore what was lost. It's one of the areas where my stubborn insistence on recovery over compensation costs me most. TV isn't as good.