I’m not sure I fully understand this little essay by Oliver Sacks. I do understand, because I’m experiencing it myself, the frustration that sets in when your eyes age and the long-familiar practice of reading becomes gradually more difficult. I’ve been adjusting to ocular changes by reading more and more on digital devices, so that I can adjust type size as needed.
Many others have been doing the same, which has led to a decline in the availability of large-print books. But Sacks doesn’t like using digital devices, so this does not seem to be a solution to him. He concludes:
If we are forced, later in life, to learn new ways of reading — to accommodate a loss of vision, for instance — we must each adapt in our own way. Some of us may turn from reading to listening, others will continue reading as long as possible. Some may enlarge print on their e-book readers, others on their computers. I have never adopted either of these technologies; for now, at least, I am sticking to the old-fashioned magnifying glass (I have a dozen, in different shapes and strengths).
Writing should be accessible in as many formats as possible — George Bernard Shaw called books the memory of the race. No one sort of book should be allowed to disappear, for we are all individuals, with highly individualized needs and preferences — preferences embedded in our brains at every level, our individual neural patterns and networks creating a deeply personal engagement between author and reader.
I empathize with his frustration, but what in the world does he mean when he writes, “No one sort of book should be allowed to disappear”? Large-print books have never been universal — most books don’t receive the large-print treatment — so what is Sacks asking for? Mandatory large-print versions of all books, enforced by law? If not, then what?
Sacks may not like e-readers, but thanks to Kindles and Nooks and iPads, more books are available to and readable by people with poor eyesight than at any time in human history — by a long shot. How is that not a win?
(And then there’s always the possibility of listening to books.)