Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Book Review: Listening Closely

By Melissa Amster

I am probably the best and worst person to read "Listening Closely: A Journey to Bilateral Hearing" by Arlene Romoff. And it's for the same reason: I have two children with hearing loss. The part that makes me the best reader is that I have the interest and appreciation for what Ms. Romoff has gone through. The part that makes me the worst reader is that my insurance provider is going to hate me for wanting to get both children bilateral cochlear implants. (Although one kid has one already, I'd like him to get the other one as soon as possible, based on the information I got from reading this memoir.)

Arlene Romoff started losing her hearing in her teen years and it progressively got worse until she could barely communicate with anyone verbally. Then she got a cochlear implant and her whole world changed. Eleven years later, the implant broke and she was plunged back into silence for about a month. This is where her journey truly takes off.

I found "Listening Closely" to be a fascinating memoir. Ms. Romoff takes the world of a cochlear implant user and puts it into terms that are easy for a person who can't relate (or has never heard of a cochlear implant) to understand. She paints a picture of her situation through journal entries detailing her journey from silence to full sound. She uses a lot of symbolism and talks about some interesting coincidences that have happened in her life in relation to her hearing loss and receiving the implant. I was glad that she wrote this book, as it allowed me to understand what my kids are going through, as they can't put it into words as beautifully and succinctly as Ms. Romoff is able to. She allows the reader to feel her emotions along with her and I even found myself laughing and crying at times. I ended up e-mailing her after I read various parts of this book and I would ask her questions or tell her how I could relate in other ways to a concept she was conveying. Since she is Jewish, I'm able to relate on that level too. She doesn't shove religion down anyone's throat, but uses it as a tool to convey her spiritual journey that occurs along with her hearing journey. Anyone practicing any type of religion can appreciate it on that level.

This memoir does leave me with a concern though. Since Ms. Romoff was born with hearing and has been able to experience both hearing and deafness (or close enough to it), her experiences have given her a bias towards hearing, which is presented in this book. I feel it is a great tool for audiologists and ENTs (ear, nose and throat doctors, or otolaryngologists) as it would convince their patients to get a cochlear implant (or perhaps two). I also think it would interest anyone who has hearing and wants to know what it is like to lose that sense or anyone who has experienced hearing loss for themselves or someone close to them and remedied that loss with an assisted listening device. However, if someone has been deaf all their life and they choose not to even consider a cochlear implant (which is their prerogative and I would never fault them for it), they may want to take a pass on this book. There is always going to be some push-back on cochlear implants in the Deaf Culture in general. Since Ms. Romoff is very much "pro-cochlear implant," this may come off as frustrating to someone who feels that implants are taking away from their culture and community. I also felt that the comments about people needing to hear in order to function as "human beings" would bother someone who has always been deaf and feels they are functioning just as well as anyone else. I'm not saying there's a right way or wrong way to feel in regards to hearing loss, but I would still tell someone who is deaf to proceed with caution, should they be interested in reading Ms. Romoff's memoir.

I am personally "pro-cochlear implant," but if my kids had been born with hearing in the first place, I might not even have known this book existed. Therefore, I might not have thought to take the opportunity to read it, nor would I have had the chance to meet a remarkable woman (though online only thus far). And furthermore, I would not have introduced you to her last month so you could learn more about her and her memoir. Therefore, if you are open to reading about a different experience than one you take for granted, I would highly encourage you to read "Listening Closely." While I wouldn't categorize it as a leisurely "beach read," it is still very informative and easy to follow along with. You may even find yourself relating to Ms. Romoff in other ways, as she presents many facets of her life in this memoir.

Going forward, my only suggestion to Ms. Romoff would be to write her next book as a fictional novel with a heroine who has to deal with hearing loss and is perhaps stuck between two worlds, trying to figure out what is best for herself. She would be the best person to write this kind of novel as she has experienced both sides and has the whole gamut of emotions to put into such a lead character. She could also put in a lot of realistic facts, disguised as situations the character would have to deal with. I know I would definitely read this novel, were she to write it. With all the misconceptions of deafness and hearing loss out there, someone needs to set the record straight!

No comments: