MY NAME IS HOWARD ENGEL. I write detective stories. That’s what I tell people when they ask me what I do. I could say I’m a writer or a novelist, but that raises a false echo in my brain, so I’m happier with the more modest claim of writing detective stories. I’ve written quite a few of them.
Before I started writing I was a reader. I read widely, everything from the John, Mary and Peter primer of my early childhood to Corn Flakes boxes when there was nothing more inspiring handy. I’ve been a reading junkie since public school. I played little baseball because I was searching with Lancelot for the Holy Grail and helping to free the widow’s sons from the Sheriff of Nottingham’s henchmen. I came home from summer camp without a tan because of books and comic books. I was reading about astronomy before I knew where the nearest drug store was located. My universe began at Betelgeuse, not at Binder’s Drug Store. When I came home from university, my family didn’t know how to talk to me; I was so full of books, I was no longer able to understand a request to pass the salt without a philosophical discussion on the nature of joint ownership of property or state capitalism. When I lived in Europe, and I became frustrated with my lack of fluency in French, Greek or Italian, I sought out the local English bookstore.
I was in fact a very busy fellow, writing about my home town, St. Catharines, Ontario, and turning it into the murder capital of the world. Benny Cooperman, my personal private investigator, has been successful in more than a dozen novels, several short stories, radio broadcasts and two films. His name has turned up in crossword puzzles in the Los Angeles Times. He is doing well. Or, at least, he was doing well when I, the author of his being, was stricken with a sudden stroke in 2001, which put us out of the writing business by robbing me of the thing I loved above all things: the ability to read.
This book is about the road back. About how I coped, the people who helped me along the way and how I found my road back into the mysteries of what reading and writing are all about. It’s a success story, in a way, because at the end of this story I am writing again. Not only that, but I have had another Benny Cooperman book published. It is a story with palpable commercial possibilities, but that is not the reason I wrote it. For me it is much more important to look back and remember all the steps that got me where I am. I need to know that so I won’t forget that there was a struggle along the way and that there was a small army of people who helped me climb all those steps.
THE MAN WHO FORGOT HOW TO READ. Copyright © 2007 by Howard Engel. Afterword © 2007 by Oliver Sacks. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.