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Cockeyedby Ryan Knighton
Synopses & Reviews
This irreverent, tragicomic, astoundingly articulate memoir about going blind — and growing up — illuminates both the author's reality and our own.
On his 18th birthday, Ryan Knighton was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a congenital, progressive disease marked by night-blindness, tunnel vision and, eventually, total blindness. In this penetrating, nervy memoir, which ricochets between meditation and black comedy, Knighton tells the story of his fifteen-year descent into blindness while incidentally revealing the world of the sighted in all its phenomenal peculiarity.
Knighton learns to drive while unseeing; has his first significant relationship — with a deaf woman; navigates the punk rock scene and men's washrooms; learns to use a cane; and tries to pass for seeing while teaching English to children in Korea. Stumbling literally and emotionally into darkness, into love, into couch-shopping at Ikea, into adulthood, and into truce if not acceptance of his identity as a blind man, his writerly self uses his disability to provide a window onto the human condition. His experience of blindness offers unexpected insights into sight and the other senses, culture, identity, language, our fears and fantasies.
Cockeyed is not a conventional confessional. Knighton is powerful and irreverent in words and thought and impatient with the preciousness we've come to expect from books on disability. Readers will find it hard to put down this wild ride around their everyday world with a wicked, smart, blind guide at the wheel.
"Knighton, who teaches at Capilano College in Vancouver, started going blind in his teens, and in this hilarious and unsentimental yet moving memoir, he tells what it was like to lose his eyesight. He was born in the early 1970s, grew up in British Columbia and by 1987 was showing signs of poor vision. He began losing his sight early enough that the time frames of his coming-of-age and his coming-of-blindness overlap. Milestones such as his first driving experiences and his first relationships with girls, which would have been ordinary for other teenagers, were anything but for him. As he moved into adulthood, he also moved further into sightlessness, yet he turns the story into something so bracing that it reads like a travelogue — you can't wait to know where he's going next, whether it's to attend college in Vancouver, teach English in South Korea or get married. Wit can be a weapon, but can also be a kind of walking stick; being so gifted clearly guided Knighton long before anything began to happen to his eyes. Luckily for his readers, he was also gifted with a different kind of care and clear-sightedness, never stumbling into the maudlin. His book is an invitation to take a journey that no reader should refuse, to see life through another lens. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Sometimes, as a reviewer, I wonder why I'm assigned certain books. I get women's novels, I suppose, because I'm a woman, and Hollywood books because I write from Los Angeles. Crazy-seeming volumes sometimes come my way: I can only surmise that I have a few screws loose myself. But this particular book filled me with a sense of familiar doom. Ryan Knighton learned on his 18th birthday that he had retinitis... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) pigmentosa and is now (almost) blind from it. I've had macular degeneration for nine years. The only possible appropriate response to this kind of thing is a sort of cosmic Oh well! But getting to that elusive philosophical position takes time and anguish. This is Knighton's story; he tells it well, and grimly. The young Ryan always had bad eyesight, always wore Coke-bottle glasses. Everything else seemed OK. He was one of four kids in a pleasantly average Canadian family. But during one jolly Sunday dinner on his grandparents''hobby farm' when he was still in his early teens, an uncle jovially taunted him: 'Look at his face. Ryan's got a squint or something, in his left eye. See? He's kind of cockeyed.' Ryan excused himself and headed for the bathroom mirror. Yes, it was true; he had a squint. When he returned to the table, Ryan writes, 'My little brother, Rory, whined about how Ryan gets everything and how, if I had a squint, he should be allowed to have one, too.' Later, except for changing his prescription, the eye doctor didn't do anything or see anything wrong. By the time he was 14, Ryan had what he thought of as a dream summer job: working a forklift in a warehouse full of spas and pool equipment. These scenes are scarier than something from 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.' Here's this kid, careering about at the top of a cherry picker in a very dim — to him — space, plucking spas off high shelves, almost losing his balance and maybe his life, being jeered at by a sadistic co-worker, and then getting chided for his 'clumsiness.' Then Ryan gets his driver's license. 'Unbeknownst, to my family, my physician, or the motor vehicle branch,' he writes, 'by the age of seventeen, I was going blind behind the wheel of my father's 1982 Pontiac Acadian. Feel free to shudder. Other soon-to-be-blind people are on the road today enjoying a similar story, only they've still got some damage to do. Maybe you'll meet one of them at an intersection.' Ryan is a bad driver, of course. His eyes don't issue dramatic warnings, and he doesn't see a lot of stuff. His depth perception is iffy, and he has even more trouble seeing at night. But hey! He's a bumptious teen-age boy! He's always been clumsy. He lurches into things a lot. And he has his share of adolescent testosterone. There follows a literally hair-raising tale of him going to a party with a girlfriend, having a couple of beers, making a wrong turn on a foggy night and running his dad's car into a boulder. What was his dad to think? Simply that Ryan was an irresponsible teen-ager, driving drunk. But after the fateful birthday diagnosis, his dad goes through his own anguish. 'I wasn't drunk,' Knighton writes, 'I was blind, and he hadn't trusted me.' Ryan's still a roustabout teen-age boy. He moves out, gets his own apartment, listens to a lot of music in a lot of low bars. He finds a roommate, a beautiful deaf girl, and they stay together for several years. He — very reluctantly — goes to an institute for the blind and learns to walk with a white cane, but he hates it. He hates being defined as blind and generally keeps his cane folded up. He fakes seeing and often gets away with it. He goes to college, finds another girlfriend and goes with her to teach for some months in Korea. He's not docile over there. He wanders off. He's a man, for God's sake, not a collection of afflictions. It can't be said that 'Cockeyed' is inspiring or anything like that. In one extremely off-putting chapter, the author spends a couple of weeks at a camp for the blind and makes some merciless fun of his fellow campers. It would seem to be a form of — well, not self-loathing, but a loathing of circumstances so strong that your flesh longs to separate from your bones. Who would ever choose to be in such a place? Far better to huddle in a bar listening to loud music or barge around in a Korean market, threatening the breakable displays. Most of us, no matter what our inconveniences, learn to keep a bright public face. When something bad happens, we turn it into a story. Ryan Knighton takes the crate of lemons that was delivered to him on his 18th birthday and turns it into lemonade. It's drinkable; it's more than good. But it's bitter." Reviewed by Carolyn See, who may be reached at www.carolynsee.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Cockeyed provides an unexpectedly wry view of a life that twisted into the extraordinary." Boston Globe
"Engaging and insightful, literally shedding light on a dark and misunderstood condition." Kirkus Reviews
"Knighton's talent shines on every page of this feisty, bittersweet memoir....[A] compelling, sturdy read." Entertainment Weekly
"Knighton sees the world in tiny circles. He writes his memoir in this way, too. The whole becomes a powerful read." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Blindness isn't normally something to laugh about. But Ryan Knighton's memoir...is one of those rare exceptions where it's OK. The author encourages it." Dallas Morning News
Oliver Sacks meets David Sedaris — this irreverent, tragicomic, politically incorrect, astoundingly articulate memoir about going blind and growing up illuminates not just the author's reality, but the reader's own.
This irreverent, tragicomic, politically incorrect, astoundingly articulate memoir about going blindand growing up—illuminates not just the author's reality, but the reader's.
About the Author
Ryan Knighton was born in Langley, BC, but lives in East Vancouver without regrets. His first full-length collection of poetry and photography, Swing in the Hollow, was published by Anvil Press in 2001. Knighton teaches literature in the Department of English at Capilano College. Oh, and he's blind.
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