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‘Across Two Novembers’: The Diary of a Blind Pepys

Going blind was a major fear of Samuel Pepys, the 17th-century English diarist (he did not).

Still, Pepys would have loved Across Two Novembers, by David L. Faucheux, a Louisiana man now in his early 50s, who, as a teenager, did lose his sight to glaucoma.

Don’t let Faucheux’s blindness put you off. He can still hear, taste, smell, and feel life’s joys, and the one sense he lacks he makes up in wit and thoughtfulness. And so Pepys would have enjoyed Across despite his fears, and, in fact, given Faucheux’s inspiring resilience, maybe the book would even have assuaged them a little.

Faucheux, yes, has suffered his share of woes. He made Phi Beta Kappa and earned a masters in library science at Louisiana State University. But no full-time permanent library job ensued, just internships and freelance work reviewing audiobooks for Library Journal. Too many managers in the library world today care more about skills such as prowess in technology---a challenge to many blind people of Faucheux’s generation in this era of graphical interfaces---than about a passion for books. And Faucheux wanted to stay in the American South, so dear to him, as a long-time resident of Lafayette, a gourmet paradise said to have more restaurants per capita than New Orleans or New York. Hence, no big-time library career.

Despite Faucheux’s misfortunes, however, he has not written a tear jerker. Rather he both lives and writes about his life with dry humor and aplomb; and in his diary, set in the years 2013 and 2014 and subtitled A Year in the Life of a Blind Bibliophile, he is far more eager to educate us and share his joys than to seek our sympathy. What else to say about a trivia-loving blind man who dreams of appearing on his beloved Jeopardy? Or who can jet off to Paris with friends, then dig up such gems as a critic’s critique of the Eiffel Tower, “a black asparagus.”

Before going on, let me reveal that I myself am a friend of Faucheux---he contacted me out of the blue after hearing me on Jim Bohannon’s radio show, and for several years I posted his entries to Blind Chance, perhaps the world’s first regular audioblog by a blind person. But I’d talk up his diary even if I did not know him. As an example of Faucheux’s prose style and scarcity of self-pity, at least as expressed in public, I’ll quote him on a kitchen accident: "I nicked my left little finger tip while peeling potatoes. It bled a bit. I hope I do not have a trail of red drops along the counter and on the living room carpet. I love eating, and I like the idea of cooking, but I dislike actually cooking; you can become a casualty! I’d rather paraphrase Cold Stone Creamery’s catchy trademark this way: I’ll dream it and have someone else ice cream it. Laura Martinez, I am not. She was featured several years ago on a news program as being the first totally blind chef. I am amazed. I wonder who her support people were. Even using a potato peeler, I have to be careful, because it can skid on a bump on the potato surface and catch on a finger, gouging it.”

Here's another Faucheux sample. Recalling the late Nader, his service dog at LSU, Faucheux wrote in the blog that his yellow lab enjoyed the university library. “He seemed to like to snooze under the table while bits of knowledge rained down on his slumbers. It’s basically easy to handle guide dogs in the library as their book needs are very small.” Here’s a Nader-related MP3 from the blog.

To be sure, Across Novembers may try your patience at times---it is not a book for all.

You may love the details in the above depiction of Faucheux’s kitchen adventures. But you might not be so fond of lists of what he ate at certain times. Instead you might favor a narrative with a well-defined story arc and only selective details, as opposed to a Pepys-style diary. Still, that is issue with the genre---even as a contemporary of Pepys you might have not have enjoyed the famous diarist’s work.

If, on the other hand, you are a patient, literate reader and love books, food, trivia and travel and can appreciate the sheer joie de vivre that permeates Faucheux’s pages, then you should give Across a try. I would especially recommend it to librarians and others working with people with special needs, including vocationally related ones. Based on various statistics and personal experiences, David Faucheux says three-fifths or more of blind people cannot find work. If nothing else, given Faucheux’s intelligence, curiosity, talent, and perseverance, his diary reminds us what we’re missing when even gifted people like him are left in the cold. As a bonus, disability historians in the future may find Across Two Novembers to be a treasure trove.

You can buy Across Two Novembers, self-published, at independent bookstores, Amazon, B&N, Smashwords and elsewhere or, yes, ask your local library to order it directly. The ebook costs only around $5.

Related: Upbeat review from AccessWorld Magazine---published by the American Federation for the Blind---which I did not see until I finished the above.