best of year books, getting started
Joe and Richard at Forbidden Planet International asked me to answer some questions about the best books I’ve read this year and this decade. I couldn’t figure out how I’d get time to answer everything, but then I thought I could take it slowly and think of one answer a day as a blog post. I might even be super naughty and change the simplify the answers into my top three comics, top three picture books and top three novels (or text-only books). Then I’ll combine them all and send them off to FPI.
This book counts for the decade and for this year, because I read it about three years ago and have been re-reading it ever since: On Sight and Insight: a Journey into the World of Blindness by Birmingham-based John M. Hull. (link)
Hull’s account of going blind and being blind totally blows me away when I read it. Now I’m totally obsessed with this book, as I am with vision. I’m very short-sighted, and to keep myself from worrying myself into a frenzy, I’ve come up with elaborate plans about what I’d do if I ever went blind, so I’d be prepared in case it ever happened. (The plans mostly involve writing books instead of drawing them.)
Until I read this book, I’d always understood blindness as a lack of sight, but the writer made me realise its not so much a lack of something, but a different world entirely. Exploring the world of blindness is like reading the ultimate world-building science fiction. It’s like those people who go to the bottom of the ocean and find creatures even more fantastic than you’d ever expect to find in outer space. Hull writes:
If blindness creates a new world, then those who live in that world have a new consciousness. Entry into this consciousness, for those who lose sight, is experienced as a fall. At first, the fall is out of consciousness, into the dreaming life, into the darkness. Later on, in my own case at any rate, the fall was discovered not to be out of consciousness but into it. A new consciousness was born.
Hull takes us on voyages to explore his world, almost like something out of Jules Verne. We get to see the way that he switches his concept of a person from their face to their name and a their sort of core mass (but how he’s still obsessed with a woman being pretty). He contrasts seeing his first child before he went blind with having never seen his second child. He describes the experience of rain and wind as giving the world edges and a ceiling; the terror of an empty, windless field; the way that things cease to exist for him when they’re unfelt or unheard. And on a practical level, he mentions things I’d never thought of, like, when I’m leading a blind friend by the arm and there’s a staircase ahead; instead of just saying, ‘here’s some stairs’, also saying if the stairs go up or down.
When I started art college and was looking for a project, I started making a graphic novel in response to this book. I was trying to recreate this non-visual world visually, with typographical artwork, showing a woman going on a train journey to search for her lost dog. But I’d never really made comics before, and I realised I’d taken on something way too complicated and abstract for my first comic, so I shelved it after I’d drawn about ten pages. Here are a couple pages. Maybe I’ll come back to it some day, but I need to think it through a bit more. The first page is a visual soundscape of busy New Cross Road.
©2006 by Sarah McIntyre
My main character was formerly sighted, so here she’s waking up from a visual dream at the end of the train journey.
©2006 by Sarah McIntyre