Mind's eye

Aug 8, 2003

I walked past the DMV the other day, and there was a line of people out the door and down the sidewalk, all of them presumably waiting to get a driver’s license. Not one of them, to my observation, held any sort of reading material. They were just standing there, for what I’m sure was a long wait. I shook my head as I walked on home.

Whenever I have 20 seconds or more of down time, I read. I can’t eat a bowl of cereal in the morning without having a newspaper or magazine in front of me. I sometimes miss my bus stop because I’m deep into a New Yorker feature. I’ve got a pile of books beside my bed. So, the idea of standing in line for an hour without anything to read is simply preposterous to me. I’m addicted to reading. I often think about being confronted with the choice between blindness or deafness, and while I cherish music and the sound of Erin’s voice and Anna’s laughter, I’ve always thought that I just couldn’t give up my sight – because that would mean a curtailment of my constant reading.

One fascinating article I read this past week was ’The Mind’s Eye’ by Oliver Sacks in the July 28, 2003 New Yorker (not online). Sacks writes about blindness and the variety of ways in which people compensate for the loss of their sight. One man was able to visualize so well that he could repair his roof in the middle of the night. Another man lost every semblance of visualization, and relied ever more on his hearing and smell and intuition. Seeing, it turns out, isn’t such a irresistible feature. Reading the article made me reconsider my rhetorical choice. Could I get the New Yorker on tape? I assume so. (In high school, I volunteered as a reader for the radio service for the blind; I got to read the Wednesday newspaper supermarket adds and advice columns.)

And then another New Yorker item caught my attention. Rebecca Mead writes about convicted felon and friend-of-Martha Sam Waksal, who made himself an Amazon wish list before he went to prison. How nice. While I never expect to go to jail, I’d want more than anything to spend the time reading (here’s my wish list). I read a book a few years back, by the Indonesian writer and dissident Ananta Pramoedya Toer. He compiled his quartet over many years, telling his fellow political prisoners the story and then sending it out on scraps of cigaretter paper. (See James, Jamie, ”The Indonesiad,” The New Yorker, May 27, 1996.) Perhaps Waksal should have it so rough.

My friend John Ettorre is writing daily entries to his blog now, and they are rich as loam. He had three straight literary posts, about books, literate cities and ”bookstores we have loved.” Start here.

Anton Zuiker

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