"In January of 2002," writes the neuroscientist Oliver Sacks, "I received a letter from Howard Engel, a Canadian novelist describing a strange problem."
On July 31, 2001, Engel woke up, dressed, made breakfast, and then went to the front door to get his newspaper. "I wasn't aware," he says in our NPR interview, "that it was any different from any other morning."
Engel had suffered a stroke. It had damaged the part of his brain we use when we read, so he couldn't make sense of letters or words. He was suffering from what the French neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene calls "word blindness." His eyes worked. He could see shapes on a page, but they made no sense to him. And because Engel writes detective stories for a living (he authored the Benny Cooperman mystery series, tales of a mild-mannered Toronto private eye), this was an extra-terrible blow. "I thought, well I'm done as a writer. I'm finished."