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 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, insight, and thoughtfulness. And so Pepys would have liked Across despite his dread of all-encompassing darkness. In fact, given Faucheux’s inspiring resilience, maybe the book would even have assuaged Pepys’s fears a little.
Faucheux, yes, has suffered his share of woes, not just blindness but also fibromyalgia. He made Phi Beta Kappa and earned a masters in library and information 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 love of books impressive even by the standards of the profession. And he wanted to stay in a warm place near family members and friends who could serve as a support network. So Faucheux has remained in 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 in the past has dreamed of appearing on his beloved “Jeopardy”? Or who can 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 pearl. Recalling the late Nader, his service dog at LSU, Faucheux recalled 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.” Enjoy 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 more of an issue with the genre than with Faucheux in particular. Even as a contemporary of Pepys, you might not have fully liked the famous diarist’s work. Same idea applies to Faucheux’s book.
For the patient, literate reader
If, on the other hand, you are a patient, literate reader and love books, food, and trivia and can appreciate the sheer love of life 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. According to the National Federation of the Blind, only 42 percent of “working age adults reporting significant vision loss were employed in 2015.” 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. The ebook—a print edition is also available—costs only around $5.
Related: Upbeat review of Across from AccessWorld Magazine—published by the American Foundation for the Blind—which I did not see until I finished the above. Also, you can download The Diary of Samuel Pepys in ePub, Kindle, and other formats for free from Project Gutenberg.