Book Review: Across Two Novembers: A Year In The Life Of A Blind Bibliophile, by David Faucheux
Browse any virtual or brick-and-mortar bookstore or library, and you will undoubtedly find dozens of inspiring tales of blind people who have excelled. Extend that search to a collection whose target audience is blind people and that number will be in the hundreds.
I have binged on those books at least once a decade since the late 1970s. Memoirs or biographies highlighting the real or metaphorical scaling of heights which have, ultimately, positioned blind people at the pinnacle of achievement in chosen fields of music, science, law, drama, sports, adventure, and more.
David Faucheux wants us to know (indeed, methinks he doth protest too much on the subject) that he is not that kind of blind person. He is not a "super achiever" or super hero. He is not wealthy or well connected. And yet, as one who has overindulged on blindness memoirs more than once in the past few decades, Across Two Novembers struck me as the most genuine depiction of life from the blind side that I have read.
The book is a journal, spanning 13 months from November 2013 through November 2014. And, in keeping with the title, it is clear throughout these pages that the author is a blind man and that he loves books.
A Look Into A Life
Because it is a journal, we walk with David Faucheux day after day as we read this book. His life is small by some standards: he lives in an apartment in Lafayette, Louisiana, and does not have a job or school expecting him to attend every day. He has the occasional meal with a friend, goes to church and medical appointments, gets groceries or a takeout meal, and distributes what wealth he has, books and food, with others in a way that is both commendable and touching. Because he has Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) as well as a possible sleep disorder, his schedule is sometimes truncated and his energy easily depleted. These elements are woven into his daily entries, as are the more mundane minutiae of any real person's day: the weather, household tasks, what was for dinner, and private fears. He has two college degrees and once hoped to have a career in the world of libraries, but those plans didn't work out.
There are quirks in his routines that might prompt some head scratching. He marinates laundry in the refrigerator and/or bathtub, for example, and has a remarkable reserve of information regarding supplements and healthy food. He irons his clothes and is creative in the kitchen. The pieces of each day that comprise life for David Faucheux are, in other words, simple and unremarkable. And yet, his recounting of these parts is far from prosaic.
We wait with him (and feel his anxiety) when the paratransit is late or the street too wide for comfort. We travel with him and understand his choices to spend some quiet time alone one day and venture into the unknown the next.
The single common thread that runs brilliantly throughout the book is the author's love of books and of knowledge. Just when it seems you have hit a mundane plain in Across Two Novembers, Faucheux sprinkles in another delicious quote from an author, summary of a book that you want immediately to add to your own reading list, or a fascinating factoid from history.
Sometimes, the bonus he slides in so casually is information about body or brain health or the highlights of a famous person who has died that day or even, sometimes, instructions for preparing something delicious in the kitchen.
All About that Tech
Readers who are anywhere on the blindness and low vision continuum will find some common denominators with Faucheux's relationships with technology. From beginning to end of this book, the integral part played by technology in the life of any competent blind person is readily apparent. As is the case with everything Faucheux does, the references to access technology are casually woven into other bits of his day. The death of a movie star or politician, the anxiety over catching a paratransit ride, and the sheer helplessness he experiences when a computer stops speaking--all of these might appear on the same page. This, of course, is exactly as it should be, as this is how a real life unfolds.
We learn about his 20-year-old trusted braille notetaker and his special Dvorak keyboard (purchased in the hope that typing on it would increase speed and reduce fatigue). He marvels more than once at the miracle of having so many books to read (thousands on his computer, he tells us), after having grown up in the 1970s when braille books were, by today's standards, precious and rare.
With the same candor that he writes of the frustration of looking for hours for a plastic container, he recounts his disappointment as it becomes increasingly clear that a software package he needs for a job he has worked hard to pursue just might not be within the grasp of a blind computer user.
We learn about online sources of entertainment and education, some specifically for blind people, and we learn how central email communication is in the life of this man's quiet life. We learn about captchas and programs to interpret them. We learn about computer companies and publications. And, of course, AccessWorld is mentioned more than once.
Since books are so intrinsic to his relationship with the world, we learn about the many sources and formats for accessing reading materials for people who are blind or low vision. From early records to cassettes to digital books and downloadable material, he clearly explains for the uninitiated and stirs memories for those who have sung in the same choir. Organizations relevant to every aspect of blindness - from access technology to civil rights to fun and games online or on chat lines - he provides abundant information without ever being tedious.
Just when an entry is bordering on contrite, Faucheux's sense of timing comes into play and he throws in another bit of history or trivia or a book review.
I would be negligent not to mention Faucheux's vivid descriptions of all things food-related. He quips that perhaps he should get an MFA in Gastronomy, but I, for one, would encourage him to think seriously about such a pursuit. Whether describing food he has prepared, a dish in a restaurant, or just some musings about combining particular ingredients, his words about food will make you hungry!
Across Two Novembers is not the kind of book many of us will read in one sitting. You might read a month of journal entries at a time, for example, put it down, reflect, and come back several days later for more.
The resources the author has compiled are outstanding. In addition to a detailed bibliography of books referenced, he also includes a wealth of blindness resources, sources for book lovers, and websites related to his various interests.
David Faucheux has not broken any world records or even yet fulfilled his dream of appearing on Jeopardy! He has, however, done a wonderful job of capturing the essence of an ordinary blind person's daily life, where no tool and no emotion takes center stage, but all of it together makes a whole. If you want to introduce a sighted person to blindness, this book would be an excellent place to start.
Across Two Novembers: A Year in the Life of a Blind Bibliophile, by David Faucheux
Available at: Amazon (Kindle and epub), $4.99; and at Bookshare.
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