A Memoir of 2020


From the New York Times book review of Fred D’Aguiar’s memoir you’ll learn that he is a poet, novelist and playwright who was born in London to Guyanese parents. He is 61 years old now, and lives in Southern California, where he’s a professor of English at U.C.L.A. In the fall of 2019 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, leading to a year of tests and probes and radiation treatments and surgery that took place while he was shadow boxing with Covid-19. “Part of his defiance in the face of cancer is to throw everything he has onto the page. The result is weird and articulate and angry; there’s some overwriting, and sometimes the thread is nearly lost. But his rage to live shivers in every sentence.”

D’Aguiar does not suffer vision loss, but at times he struggles with processing the printed page. From his elegant description on page 220: “I read slowly, as if everything were poetry in need of my singular attention. Really it is because I cannot think outside ruminations about the pandemic. No room left for anything else. I retain even less. My eyes land on words and bounce off them rather than picking up each, as if they were little shells on a beach, for closer scrutiny. The rhythm of the words stays with me, so I fool myself into thinking, even if their meanings slip from me. They chime in me like the sound of the sea.”

Imagine that, as a description of idealized reading. Our colleague, Dr. Curt Baxstrom, often refers to what children do who can identify words but not read with reasonable fluency or comprehension as “word calling”. D’Aguiar provides the contrast; the optimized role of what the eyes should be doing during fluid reading. They land on words picking up each, as if they were little shells on a beach, for closer scrutiny.

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