Reading. A. Novel. Except for the graphic wordless novel I read last Spring, I haven’t read a novel in 3 years. Yeah, that’s a shitload of time taken from me by changed and unknown identity; grief; loss; lack of consistent, continual professional help devoted to my reading; and lack of social support to encourage me through the concentration headaches, crushing tiredness after reading, needing to use study-type strategies for light reading, failing over and over to remember characters and plot and what I read after I’d finished it. Sigh.
Yeah, I know brain injury is a never-ending hoover of need, but unlike professionals and social circles, those of us living in it don’t get to walk away from our never-ending cognitive problems caused by the injury.
It was a fellow writer who right at the end of November catapulted me out of this place I seemed to have gotten stuck in, that place of no novels. She enticed me back into readers’ territory. She asked me to review a new novel not yet out. She said it was a light, easy read.
But I was nervous.
Reading a few paragraphs of newspaper articles so that I’d remember them and could discuss them cogently or a few paragraphs of my own book Concussion Is Brain Injury so that I could update it was one thing. But a novel I hadn’t read before? By an author unknown to me? Also, no one was testing and training my long-term recall despite my repeated comments and requests. And it had been a long time since my neurodoc had read poetry to me despite every now and then saying he should. My eye surgery had changed a few things in our reading routine. One of them was dropping poetry.
Recently I heard about a poetry podcast and subscribed to it on my iPad. Every so often I see the notification and so remember to listen to it. It helps my brain get used to the sound of language. And maybe understanding too. But I digress.
My neurodoc said this novel was a good opportunity. He said that with him and my mother reading to me 5 (later we went up to 8) paragraphs and then me reading to them the same number (except when I got noticeably tired, then I read fewer), and me recalling after they read to me and also after I read to them and then discussing it and lastly writing a summary in a journal, it should be doable and I should remember. Plus hopefully by reading my journal summary, I could remember the whole long enough to write a review. (Only fly in this theory is I keep forgetting to summarize in the journal and no one reminds me in a way that enables me to overcome my initiation deficit.) I bet the author didn’t think that when they asked me to review the book they’d get three readers for the asking of one!
Turns out that since they miss what the other has read to me, I’m sometimes having to summarize for them before we begin our reading session. I remember enough so that they’re not lost in the story, but I also forget entire sections.
I am however keeping track of the main character, where she is, what she’s doing, the way the plot is moving: the big stuff. I’m also remembering the characters, major and minor, and most of their names! Pretty impressive when I can usually recall only characters who recur in a series.
I’m stretching the limits of my brain, more often than not getting a concentration headache, at first bad ones but then lessening. And I’m tired. I haven’t had any brain space to think about or feel this experience of returning to written novels. But somewhere deep inside I feel the need for these reading phone sessions and the calm they bring. I know this is real calm, for I also read 5 minutes at a time, twice, during brain biofeedback, for a total of 6 paragraphs; my heart rate drops about 10 or more beats per minute by the end of 11 minutes of reading and recall. Proof this is doing my body, mind, soul good.