A Book Review by Dorothy Black

A Memoir of Deafness
By Henry Kisor

No, this is not a handbook for farming, as one might think at first glance!  It is, instead, an account of the experiences of a man who lost his hearing at the age of three due to meningitis. And a heart warming and intriguing account it is.

At the time of writing this book, Henry Kisor worked for the Chicago Sun-Times as a columnist and book editor. He had been in the newspaper field for twenty-five years, quite long enough to figure life out and the journalistic world too!

That he could hear nothing did not seem to discourage this sensitive and talented newspaperman. He grew up in a hearing world and learned to communicate by speech and speech reading, supported by his family and a special teacher. His coping strategies and practicality helped him along and he ambitiously headed for a career in journalism, dealing with personal challenges along the way with humor and practicality. He tells many stories of how various situations were dealt with and in reading of them we realize that many are similar to our own challenges in being deaf. He includes personal happenings that are sad as well, such as the loss of a baby daughter after difficult births of two sons. Hospital experiences, dating, travel, getting an education, effects of his deafness on his family and other challenges are shared with us and we much admire the way the author never seems to feel sorry for himself.

Henry Kisor has the ability to laugh at himself, plus a fine intelligence and sensitivity that makes this book a great autobiographical read.

Many aspects of being deaf are explained and demonstrated here such as the ambiguities of lip reading, with words often looking alike. Then, an expressive face may save the day and one learns cues that make all the difference. It is mentioned that women are easier to understand than men but that always, guesswork is the major component of lip reading – you have to fill in the blanks. One to one conversation is far more successful than with more people, and we strategize by plotting ahead of time if we can – how is the lighting? am I able to face the person? are there distractions such as a baby crying or a train rumbling by? Whatever, and in addition to much else, one’s understanding will be much impacted upon.

The book tells us about the hearing aids and services of twenty years ago, which makes for comparison with today’s offerings. Inability to use the telephone was a constant difficulty that he had to deal with, and as many of us have found, obtaining a computer was of great significance to communication.

Oh yes – I’ve kept you waiting long enough for an explanation of the book’s title. The story behind that is that his five year old son came running into the room to ask “What’s that big loud noise?” and his speech reading father thought he had said “What’s that pig outdoors?” Quite the example – if you look in the mirror and speech read, the two phrases look the same.

WHAT’S THAT PIG OUTDOORS?  A Memoir of Deafness
By Henry Kisor
copyright 1990 by Henry Kisor
Harper & Collins, Toronto

Dorothy has been writing book reviews for the SayWhatClub since 2007, has racked up 15 reviews and is destined to continue.  Once an artist, Dorothy’s artist’s eye remains and she enjoys her environs to a degree she suspects the average person does not.  Reading, however, is an early love that remains and like art, ever a solace over the years of growing hearing loss.  Now, with a cochlear implant, life has new virtues.  Dorothy says of her love of reading, “In listing the books I’ve reviewed, I note how many I would never have read if I hadn’t been trying to give SWC a variety.  So it must be a beneficial job…  Thinking back, I remember how as a child I would get a book every Christmas, and exasperate my dear mother by finishing it in a day.  I would read while doing the dishes, (propping the book up), hold it under the table edge during meals, and even take it to the farm’s outhouse to make use of every moment.  In this modern age, I am not likely to go to an e-book!  Give me a real book, with soul!  And I felt quite superior recently when we were waiting for some time for our airplane to take off and my husband could not use his e-book but I read merrily through the delay.”  Dorothy originally came from Saskatchewan but she has lived in British Columbia, Newfoundland and now Ontario.  She and her recently retired husband have three married (or facsimile!) children.

0 thoughts on “A Book Review by Dorothy Black

  1. I read this book a few years ago. Just him telling the story of how the title came to be cracked me up. It was interesting reading about how he over came obstacles and did what he wanted to do. I learned a lot about speech reading this book.

  2. Nice book review! I also read the book a few years back and completely enjoyed it. I thought his early childhood history interesting. He certainly had a positive outlook on life!

    I wanted to comment on eBooks. I used to feel the same way, but it is great to be able to carry fifteen books on one small device while traveling. Nowadays with most airlines requiring you to pay to check your bags most of us are limited to a carry on and simply can’t fit in travel books plus a decent assortment of reading material. Nook has a much larger storage capacity than Kindle, so that you can easily access your books off-line almost anywhere. Kindle has almost unlimited storage, but in cloud format. If you’re in an airport or hospital that blocks internet access, you can only access what you have physically downloaded to your device. With almost any new device there is a learning curve.

    However, there is nothing quite like turning the pages of a good book.

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