Thursday, November 18, 2010

Forgotten Copy of The Memory Book

Oliver Sacks had a piece in the New Yorker this summer about the Canadian novelist Howard Engel.  (Only the abstract is available online for non-sunscribers - ) Engel lost the ability to read and to recognize words and letters after suffering a stroke.  He could still write - but he could not read what he wrote. 

After I read the article, I dug out my stack of Howard Engel novels.  I have all of his Benny Cooperman novels - about a wise-cracking small town PI in Canada.  Long ago I started but never finished his first book, The Suicide Murders.  It was okay - light entertainment, nothing great.  Something I need to be in the mood for.  I'll get back to it someday.

Tonight while doing laundry I found another Howard Engel novel (I have green Penguin editions of his books except for this one, which mean it doesn't live with the Penguins in the bookcase devoted to Penguins).  Its the first one he wrote after his brain injury.  Its called The Memory Book and instead of sorting socks I started reading it.  Benny Cooperman suffers a traumatic brain injury - much like Paul Cole in Donald Westlake's Memory - the book I am currently reading - and wakes up weeks later in the hospital.  With a shattered memory and with the same inability to read or recognize letters as Howard Engel himself experienced.  Though I only read a few chapters of it, The Memory Book is on much sounder ground with the science and medicine of memory loss and brain injury.  Of course, it was written 40 years after Memory.  While I am enjoying Memory, I cringe at the fact that I'm deriving entertainment from a character suffering from traumatic brain injury from a period before much was known about these things. 
Also lurking with my green Penguins I found this:
Supposedly its a classic in field on amnesia-noir lit.  I bought it after reading about it in reviews of the Vintage Book of Amnesia edited by Jonathan Lethem.  I thought it would be cool but could never get into.  Maybe I'll  have another look at it since I seem to be temporarily interested in this kind of thing. 

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