Katherine Bouton is a renowned writer on hearing loss issues. This week, she looks at books that make great gifts for people affected by hearing loss.
You Have to Read This
by Katherine Bouton
The holidays are upon us – and that means gifts. For your friends and family with hearing loss, I’d like to suggest a gift that requires no hearing at all – the kind of respite that’s always welcome after a round of gala and NOISY holiday events.
Three friends and I have formed a hearing-loss book club. Because we all have hearing loss we bring a knowing perspective to the books. I am rereading most of them, and after six years of being open about my hearing loss – writing about it, advocating for change, interacting with others with hearing loss –I find I am reading them quite differently.
Six years ago, I focused entirely on hearing loss as a “character” in the books, almost the point of them. On second reading, hearing loss becomes a lesser factor, one element in a life – just as it should be in real life. Hearing loss is a part of a life, not the life itself.
Reading memoirs about hearing loss is a good way to remind yourself that you’re not alone: there are literally millions of us. It’s also good way to remind yourself that you are more than your hearing loss.
It happens that your host as well as your guest blogger this week published books this year and I’ll unabashedly plug both.
You are all probably familiar with Gael Hannan’s “THE WAY I HEAR IT: A Life With Hearing Loss.” Her writing is as wry and witty as she is in person, and those who have seen her perform will smile even at the memory – if not laugh out loud. Gael writes about hearing loss from the valuable perspective of one who has spent a lifetime living with it – and who has still not lost her sense of humor.
My book, “LIVING BETTER WITH HEARING LOSS: A Guide to Health, Happiness, Love, Sex, Work, Friends… and Hearing Aids,” is a practical advice book, a companion to my 2013 memoir “SHOUTING WON’T HELP: Why I – and 50 Million Other Americans – Can’t Hear You.” And yes, there is a section on sex, including tips on dating and the kind of weirdos you may want to keep any eye out for. (Did you know there were hearing-aid fetishists?) Amazon.com is offering Gael’s and my books as a two-fer.
Another 2015 book, and one that’s slightly different from the others here, is Lydia Denworth’s “I CAN HEAR YOU WHISPER: An Intimate Journey Through the Science of Sound and Language.” Denworth’s son was diagnosed with hearing loss as a young child. Her telling of the story of their discovery of the loss (which came after many tests were thought to be false negatives) is moving and also well researched.
2014 produced two excellent books on hearing loss. Rebecca Alexander’s “NOT FADE AWAY: A Memoir of Senses Lost and Found” is a riveting story of her struggles – and triumphs – with Usher Syndrome Type 3, which first began to affect her eyesight, and later her hearing, in her teens. She is clearly a remarkable woman, and a good writer (aided by co-writer Sascha Alper) as well.
A completely different kind of memoir is Cece Bell’s “EL DEAFO,” a graphic novel meant for kids 8 to 12. Bell lost her hearing to meningitis as a young child and this novel is about a young newly deaf girl named Cece, who finds that her hearing devices give her superpowers that make her a hero to her peers. A Newberry Medal winner, it will delight adults as well as kids – and teach us all something about tolerance.
Novels featuring hearing loss are few and far between, but David Lodge’s “DEAF SENTENCE,” published in 2008, remains a classic. I first read “DEAF SENTENCE” when I was new to hearing loss, and I was astonished at how accurately he portrayed the experience of hearing loss. Little did I know then how universal his experiences are. Lodge is a very funny writer, and his curmudgeonly protagonist gets into a lot of amusing mishaps because of his reluctance to address his hearing loss head on.
Less funny, but also a good read, is Josh Swiller’s 2008 “THE UNHEARD: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa.” Swiller was a Peace Corps volunteer in a particularly violent village in Zambia. His hearing loss was one reason he signed up for the Peace Corps, and it was an important element in how he interacted with the villagers. In the end, however, hearing loss was a relatively minor factor compared to the enormous cultural differences he encountered.
Both Arlene Romoff and Michael Chorost have written about their experience with cochlear implants. Romoff’s books are “HEAR AGAIN: Back to Life with a Cochlear Implant” (2000) and “Listening Closely: A Journey to Bilateral Hearing.” (2011). Michael Chorost wrote about his hearing loss and cochlear implant from the perspective of a trained engineer in “REBUILT: My Journey Back to the Hearing World” (2006).
There’s another book/gift you can give a friend with hearing loss. Give him or her not only a good book (whether or not it’s about hearing loss) but also an audio book to go along with it. Reading and listening alternately is a great way to hone your hearing skills.
There are hundreds more books on hearing loss, tinnitus, hearing strategies, hearing and the brain, and dozens of other subjects. Your library may have some of them. You can also search Amazon or other online booksellers by filling in “hearing problems.”