Tuesday, January 07, 2014


Wow!! The world of books for people with print disabilities is opening up as never before. What better place to notice the change than in the search for the books on the short list for CBC’s Canada Reads 2014? For the first time ever, and with the help of three libraries, I will have the opportunity to read all the 5 books on the finalists list for the Canada Reads contest. There is a chance, in fact, that I will have the opportunity to read all five books before the contest airs on CBC Radio. I have already read Annabel by Kathleen Winter. It came to me in DAISY format on CD from the CNIB Library. I read it in bed, an hour or so of reading pleasure each night before sleep—and a little extra, because the book was so compelling. Next I will read Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan. I have borrowed a copy on commercial audio CD from the Edmonton Public Library. I searched for it on the Internet and placed it on hold. Now that it has found its way to me, I will read it as quickly as I can and return it for the next person on the holds list. On my next vacation, I will read Cockroach by Rawi Hage. I have downloaded it on a tiny card in DAISY format from the CNIB Library and it now rests on my pocket reader. On that same vacation I will also read The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood. Unlike the others, this book will be read to me in an electronic voice. I downloaded it onto my pocket reader from BookShare, a source where publishers can place electronic copies of their books for the use of people with print disabilities. I downloaded the book in audio format, but I could have chosen to get it in braille. The one book I do not yet have is The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. It was published in 2013 and is currently being recorded by volunteers at the CNIB Library. I will download it when it is available. The process of finding and getting books that blind people can read has undergone a revolution in the past few years. Public library collections have been greatly enhanced by the popularity of commercially available audio books. The Internet has made it possible to search for books and get them on demand. Recent changes in international copyright law have torn down the walls that used to limit cross-border access. The effect of the changes has been summed up by my friend Jim, a man who can read circles around me. Reflecting on how things were in the recent past he says: “Other people would be talking about information management and I would sit there wishing I had information to manage.” Reflecting on the future, I worry a little. Three of the five Canada reads books are provided by the CNIB Library, a reliable source of braille and audio books with a history stretching back more than 100 years. That library has been my rock. It is moving down a path toward integration with public libraries. Canadian books are not generally made available on commercial audio. As integration progresses, we have to hope that Canadian readers will continue to be supported in reading Canadian books to us in a timely fashion. Beyond the act of hoping, we will need to advocate for this. You can listen to an electronic book, but a human reader is far superior. For now, it is enough to be grateful that our book supply is better than it has ever been, to celebrate this elegant abundance. It is a giddy feeling to be able to get so many of the books I want after so many years of settling for whatever books I could get.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014


“When you see a good person, think of becoming like her/him. When you see someone not so good, reflect on your own weak points.” –Confucius Not long ago we celebrated our fortieth wedding anniversary. It is a notable accomplishment, I would say, to live with a person for forty years and still find that person interesting. But that is how it is, even though he changed a bit, and there were times when he missed the opportunities for self-improvement I so generously presented to him. Take, for example, the modern addiction to electronic games. I was unaltered by it. I was above it. So you can understand how I might have been just a little jealous when hours and hours of time we might have spent reading side by side were transferred to his total engagement of punching keys and flicking fingers. It set me to longing for the olden days when we used to sit in front of the 13-inch portable TV watching WKRP in Cincinnati. Sometimes I would wander into the office where, he said, he was going to update the bank records. But I was on to his deceptions. Bank records don’t cheer and boo you over the computer speakers. I would sit beside him, muttering to myself. “You have wronged me, wronged me,” I would say. Just try to talk to a person playing an electronic game! Just try to get him out of the house for an important visit! “Just a minute,” he would say. “I am almost done.” But any fool could see that he wasn’t. Denial is a common side-effect of addiction. How I wished that he were more like me, more focused, immune to such frivolous addictions. Never a quitter, I tried to change him. I shamed him. I made fun of him. I read more books in an effort to be more interesting than the game of Hearts on the computer. And when all of that failed, I recalled an old saying from my Granny’s stock of wisdom: “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” It was, I convinced myself, a challenge of self-improvement. I was not perfect. I could afford to improve myself a little. I downloaded a card game on my computer and played it for an hour. The game was hard for a blind person to play, not only difficult, but downright boring. So I didn’t copy it over to the new computer we bought five years later. In fact, I didn’t ever play it again after that first day. But in the background, a small and sinister voice whispered to me. “The rest of the world,” it hissed in a threatening tone, “is addicted to electronic games. What is wrong with you?” The road to self-improvement, like so many other roads, is confounded by potholes. Ten years passed, maybe thirteen. We were close, my love and I, yet different. I noticed that he was spending less time playing games on the computer. This would have been good news, except that the extra time was now spent playing games on the iPad with occasional breaks to play on the computer. I was still reading my books. By and by, I acquired an iPhone. I used it for email, and phoning, and even to read books. It is a handy little device. He said—a little unfairly I thought—that I was addicted to the iPhone. But what would he know. He may be a senior manager in a large corporation, but he is not a psychologist. Being a psychologist, I performed a trick of self-evaluation just to prove that I was not addicted. I tested myself to see if I was jealous of the iPad game time. Concluding that I was, I knew the iPhone had not truly caught me in a nefarious web. Just to double prove it, I invested $5.00 to download an audio game. Then I set out to play it. The game is called The Night Jar. Here’s how it works. You put on the earphone and the game tells you are trapped in a ship from which you must escape. Dark matter drips on you. Monsters noisily eat your former shipmates as you pass. You have to find your footing and head for escape doors. You search and you search. You fall a lot. You start over many times. I confess that I wasn’t very good at finding the doors. It wasn’t long until I grew tired of creeping past dark matter. There was good news though. I was a winner even though I never got off the ship. Once again I had proved that I was immune to electronic games addiction. Then came Christmas, season and nostalgia, season of wishes. You have time to remember things at Christmas. I remembered that I had often harboured a secret wish that somebody would give me a game for Christmas. In sixty-one Christmases it has hardly ever happened. It occurred to me that, as a special gift, I could get my own game and prove myself right about electronic games yet again. It would only be $5.00, but then, the last $5.00 was wasted. I decided not to bother, then changed my mind. This time I would look for a free game. Why waste money proving yourself right? I chose a game called Audio Archery. Never having, for one moment, been interested in shooting arrows, I knew I wouldn’t like it. I told my friend Jim about the game, and he said the very idea of a blind person shooting arrows from an electronic bow made him quiver. Still, the energy of downloading it would have been wasted if I did not try. When you play Audio archery, audio targets fly across the path between your left earphone and your right earphone. When the target reaches the centre, you fire your arrow by raising your finger off the screen. If you lift your finger at the right instant, you get a bull’s eye. In order to reach the end of the game, you need a lot of bull’s eyes. You have no control over the targets. They come at you one after the other in rapid succession, 70 in all if you hit enough of them, fewer if you don’t hit enough of them. There’s no way to stop the targets once they start. You have to keep hitting them. You really have to!!! The faster they come, the faster your heart races. It’s a matter of skill, a beautiful dance of concentration. In a perfect world, you would demonstrate perfect concentration. But this is not a perfect world. All too often, your concentration will be broken, jolted by somebody who speaks to you, or expects you to leave the house just when you are almost getting the highest score you ever got. Sometimes your concentration will be so complete, so perfect, that it will not be jolted by such a person until all the targets have crossed your range. Sometimes, between games, I would hear a small voice whispering. “You are addicted,” it would hiss. It was wrong. I knew it was wrong and I could prove it. Just to prove it, I downloaded a game called Seven words. It’s a thinker’s game, the kind of game that improves your vocabulary and enhances your reading. In future, when I have more time, I will demonstrate that my reading has been enhanced. Sometimes I take a break from Seven Words to shoot a few hundred arrows. And even though I still haven’t managed to reach Level 10 in Audio Archery, I feel the adrenalin rush that heralds the approach of true self-improvement. This is how Olympians feel! Things do change when you work hard enough, when you wait long enough. A week has passed since Christmas. I notice a man standing patiently waiting for me when we have a dinner engagement, or a plan to walk the dog. We have a lot in common. Forty years of marriage have drawn us closer.