Reading Tolstoy in Braille

In my previous post, I mentioned that I finished my first novel in Braille and would soon begin my second feat: Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Shortly after that post, the mailman rang my doorbell, and by the time I opened the door, all that was there were several big black packages all lined in a row on my doormat. Anna Karenina was here!

Tolstoy is known for his dense novels (War and Peace), and AK is no different: eight volumes of three-inch thick binders full of page after page of raised dots. It’s enough to drive a finger crazy.

My reading speed has not improved much since my last timing of myself–six minutes a page–but I’m keeping at it; my hope is to one day be able to read with my fingers as quickly as I was able to read with my eyes. I read every day, and I average about one volume every two weeks which, if my calculations are correct, means I read an average of thirteen pages a day which means I read for about an hour and twenty minutes per day…an hour and twenty minutes which I could spend working on my thesis. (This does not even include the time I spend listening to other books on audio–you can usually find me in the middle of reading two to five books at a time.)

Of course, as my first fiction instructor told me, you have to read in order to write. So I think of it as not just an enjoyment of literature but an exercise in craft–by observing how the literary masters put together their creative works of fiction, I can begin to shape and construct a piece of my own. Whether it’ll be my magnum opus is yet to be determined.

I started AK a little over two weeks ago, and I’m on p. 181/ch. 24. I’m not usually one to enjoy the classics–I much prefer contemperary and post-modern literature, but I am attempting AK because my professor, Robert Boswell (whose collection of short stories, The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards, was selected by Oprah as one of her notable summer reads in 2009) claims AK as perhaps the greatest novel ever written. I also found that because the novel is in Braille, I’m more willing to keep at it rather than give up. Had AK been an audio recording, I may have grown exhausted by some of the repetitiveness already (is it my translation?), but because I enjoy practicing Braille, I think I’ll manage to finish the whole novel. Same went for The Accidental Tourist which I did not like at all. If it had been in audio, I would’ve closed the door on that sucker long ago. Instead, I actually finished it. Perhaps a side effect of learning Braille is that I am also more consistent now at following through with things I’ve started. A sign of maturity? I hope so.,

I cannot say it enough, and so I must say it again: learning Braille has been such a fulfilling achievement for me, and I am now a huge advocate for promoting literacy to the sight-impaired. You really are not truly literate unless you can read Braille. Here are some resources on how to get started with Braille. I urge those of you who lost your vision to Neuromyelitis Optica/NMO or any other disease to not give up hope and your love of literature.

  • Hadley School for the Blind is a correspondence school which means you can take classes from the comforts of your own home. I first began learning Braille through their Braille Literacy courses here. They will send you the materials and lesson books by mail–all at a subsidized cost (read; FREE).
  • Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) is the state of Texas’ vocational rehabilitation center which helps those who are sight-impaired in Texas to become functional, independent, contributing individuals in society. This is where I finished out my Braille training through one-on-one lessons with a teacher. I found that I was much more motivated when there was someone there to push me rather than with a correspondence class. I would think every state has a state agency whose focus is on rehabilitating the blind and visually impaired; just google “vocational rehabilitation” and your state, and see what comes up.

You can read more about my adventures at my other blog.