A writing cliché I’ve heard many times is “Nothing bad ever happens to a writer. Everything is material.” Divorce, all types of unhappy childhoods, and alcohol and drug addiction have all been turned into great books, stories, essays, and, more recently, blogs. Death, of course, can’t be turned into literary gold and long prison sentences, particularly life sentences, probably aren’t worth the tradeoff—although Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is currently serving a life sentence without parole, did recently publish a book. So maybe it’s only death and permanent comatose states that keep good writers down.
In Christine Hyung-Oak Lee’s memoir Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember: The Stroke that Changed My Life she recounts a stroke she had when she was only 33. Due to memory loss, this isn’t normally a topic that can be written about in great detail by the sufferer of the stroke. Writing about recovery from one’s stroke is certainly possible, but the debilitating effects of a stroke normally erase any memories of having the stroke and the weeks and possibly months immediately following it. Hyung-Oak Lee, despite being rendered incapable of taking care of herself and forming short term memories, was miraculously able to keep a journal about what she went through and to ultimately use the material in Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember.
I was initially resistant to the author looking at the stroke as a positive experience. I worried the book would get too heavy on eternally optimistic self-help drivel, but Hyung-Oak Lee mostly stays away from this. Instead she explores how the cause of the stroke actually tied into an undiagnosed problem she’d had her whole life—a problem she had thought was in her head.
I listened to the audio version of Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember. Emily Woo Zellar’s reading of the book is lively (occasionally too lively for my taste) but mostly on target. This is a good listen, and I’m sure a good read, that does a great job balancing the author’s experiences with medical information on strokes and research on how the brain functions.