Reading: Howard Engel
I met Howard Engel shortly after we opened Parry Sound Books 20 years ago. Howard was already well known for his Benny Cooperman mystery series, and we were very pleased when he accepted our invitation to do a reading in Parry Sound. Since then he has returned to Parry Sound to do other readings and has become a friend. Howard will return to Parry Sound again this summer to do a reading on Wednesday, July 16, at 7:30 p.m. at the Charles W. Stockey Centre. I know he will charm and entertain the audience as he reads from his most recent Benny Cooperman mystery East of Suez published in April.
Actually, Howard will probably not literally read - he will probably talk. Reading has become a problem for Howard since suffering a stroke in 2001.
When Howard woke up on a summer morning in 2001 he knew there was something very wrong when he could not decipher the text in his Globe & Mail. He was diagnosed with having a very rare condition, alexia sine agraphia, as the result of a stroke. There were many other effects of course, but the one most devastating for a writer, and a voracious reader, was the inability to read.
"The thought of not reading the comics, billboards and newspaper ads destroyed me. Yet while I was falling into a depression about my loss, I looked around me and saw people hit far worse than I was by the undiscriminating club of a stroke. We took our pills or gave blood or urine when asked and tried to get through the day."
Howard found the strength and determination to fight his way back to an independent life - with the help of therapists and friends and family. He also painstakingly taught himself to read again.
Howard has written two books since that life-changing day. In addition to the new Benny Cooperman novel East of Suez, he wrote The Man Who Forgot How to Read, a very personal book about his voyage of recovery.
Howard tells us of his life before his stroke - growing up in St. Catharine's, a happy childhood despite a visible disability, education at McMaster University, a career with CBC, travels, marriage, children. Then, his life as a novelist and his retirement from CBC to take up the life of a career author - a rich and full life.
Yes, there had been some unhappiness along the way, and the death of his second wife, Janet Hamilton, left him to raise their son on his own.
But Howard is an optimist, a man who loves life. He has a large circle of friends who adore him and he managed. As he has managed to re-build his life since that morning when he discovered that he could no longer read. I think the audience will be as interested in Howard's personal story as they will be in his novels.
Benny Cooperman missed
During the years of Howard's recovery readers missed Benny Cooperman.
The early novels went out of print and I was always sorry to tell customers that the Benny Cooperman novels were not available.
We were delighted when Memory Book was published in December 2005. Howard gave Benny a head injury in this new book so that he could write about the experience of loss of ability, rehabilitation and the world he had been living in for so long.
The novel is every bit as good as the earlier ones and the story fascinating. Dr. Oliver Sacks, the renowned American neurologist, wrote the afterword.
Now Benny is back again,in East of Suez. Benny is still suffering the effects of his brain injury and, as he makes his way around the stifling hot island of Murinam searching for a missing husband, he is often lost in confusion. The amount of alcohol that he is consuming, and the number of naps he takes, are not helping either.
When he is able to sort out his situation he recognizes his pleasure at such an accomplishment, as he slowly pieces together the pieces of the puzzle that make up this mystery.
Benny misses his girlfriend, and no matter how often he asks, he cannot find a chopped egg sandwich in this godforsaken place. The government is repressive and Benny must watch out for both the bad guys, and the police.
Happily we see Benny onto a plane back to Canada – and I’m sure his first stop will be at his local deli for a chopped egg sandwich!