Footnote of the Month: July 2010

People with alexia can see perfectly well, but their brains lose the ability to decipher words and letters. Howard Engel, the Canadian novelist known for his Benny Cooperman series of detective novels, put it this way:

The July 31, 2001, Globe and Mail looked the way it always did in its make-up, pictures, assorted headlines and smaller captions. The only difference was that I could no longer read what they said. 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. Was this a Serbo-Croatian version of the Globe, made for export? . . . Was I the victim of a practical joke? . . . I have friends who are capable of such things. . . . I wondered what I might do to them that would improve on this piece of foolery. Then, I considered the alternative possibility. I checked the Globe’s inside pages . . . I checked the want ads and the comics. I couldn’t read them either. . . .

Panic should have hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. But instead I was suffused with a reasonable, business-as-usual calm. “Since this isn’t somebody’s idea of a joke, then, it follows, I have suffered a stroke.”

from The Mind’s Eye, chapter 3.