On becoming illiterate

Dr Lynley Hood

In 2009, author Lynley Hood was diagnosed with a rare eye disorder. In this video, the audio of which is transcribed below, she describes the devastation of ‘becoming illiterate’.

For every person who’s got a white cane or a guide dog there are ten people who are struggling to read, and they’re very frightened about what the future holds. I was reading in bed one evening and my left eye went blurry. I thought, time to put the light out. And in the morning it was still blurry…

But while the tests were going on, my right eye started to behave erratically and give intermittent blurring. It made me very frightened. I thought, if my right eye goes as suddenly as my left, what would I do? How would I cope? …

My vision, it’s like patches of thick cloud, actually – sort of like the cloud up there taking away the view of Flagstaff. I’ve described it as being sort of like a visual static, like a television screen that’s off the channel.

One of the most troubling things was that even when I could see the words on the page, I was having repeated experiences of reading a sentence or a paragraph and then thinking ‘That doesn’t make sense’. And I’d reread it three or four times and it still wouldn’t make sense. But then I’d go away for a while, come back, and would find that I’d missed out a line or a word, and I was looking at perfectly formed sentences. But when it stops you mid-paragraph, it’s totally demoralising. You think, why bother, if I can’t finish reading what I’ve set out to read?

Groucho Marx said, ‘Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.’

Books can open up so many worlds through history and time and space… like learning about the life of a little Jewish girl trapped in the ghetto during the war, or those first-hand experiences of what it’s like to be a slave in Africa. How could we even know and understand the lives in the world around us? How shallow…

Newton talked about standing on the shoulders of giants. All the work that’s gone before is saved and recorded in books, and that gets built on in our understanding of all aspects of the world.

Books become chapters in your life. You absorb the geography of a book as you read it. For example, I was looking for a quote in Janet Frame’s Faces in the Water. I knew it was five or six pages in from the front, and down the left hand side, and a couple of paragraphs from the bottom.

Restoring literacy for people who’ve been rendered illiterate by sight loss is a huge gain – for the individual and the community.”


Dr Lynley Hood is an award-winning non-fiction writer. Her website is: www.lynleyhood.org

The video was directed, produced and edited by Moana McAuslan and Aaron Oatley, School of Occupational Therapy, Otago Polytechnic.

2 thoughts on “On becoming illiterate”

  1. Truly sorry to hear this sad news for Dr Lynley Hood. I’ve been having injections in both my eyes for the past 3 years. On my last visit with the specialist he sat before me and said. “This is getting boring.” Meaning that the injections were not working as hoped. Over that 3 years I’ve written several poems around the subject of my eyes and these injections. The last one is titled “The History of Boring”. Though much has been learnt regards eyes we still have so much more to learn. At the moment I feel in limbo. But we’ll see what the New Year brings.

    I hope something can be done for you Dr Lynley. Every good wish.

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