I decided to learn braille in January. In fact it was my 2012 New Year's Resolution. I wanted to see what it would be like to read with my fingers rather than with my eyes. And I wanted to see if I could do it. I thought it would be really hard but in fact I found it surprisingly easy. But what surprised me the most was how much I enjoyed learning it. I used the RNIB's Dot-to-Dot course which is a self-teach course for adult touch learners. What I particularly liked about the course was its sense of humour. It was written in a slightly quirky style and as I learnt more letters I found that most of the practise sentences were funny, and some were even a little bit rude. Every evening after work I would sit on the sofa, my eyes closed and my feet up, drinking tea with one hand and giggling out loud as I read slightly naughty sentences with the other.
But it wasn't just the subject matter which delighted me. Being able to read braille has given me another way of accessing words. It means that when I go to the British Museum I can read the labels myself rather than having to get someone to read them for me. It means that I can distinguish medicines inside the bathroom cabinet without having to put the light on. Like that Dr Seuss character, I can read with my eyes shut, I can read in the dark, I can read lying down, I can read in secret.
It has also turned reading into an engrossing and all-encompassing physical experience. Because I am still a braille beginner I have to decipher every letter as my fingers move along each line. And to do this my whole body seems to concentrate on the tip of the index finger of my right hand. I become still, focused and full of a kind of quiet serenity which reminds me of the feeling I got once at a meditation workshop.
Audio books are a great idea in theory, but in practise they always send me to sleep within minutes. This is because they turn reading into a passive experience. As a child my favourite audio book was The Railway Children and I knew the first paragraph off by heart. But I rarely got past the arrival of the men from the government before I was drifting off either literally or metaphorically. Reading braille is a whole different experience: it anchors me to the words as they resonate through my body.
Perhaps the very corporeality of braille reading is why the RNIB braille catalogue carries a surprisingly large selection of erotic fiction, including a very enticing collection of erotica for women. I am curious to know what reading erotica in braille would feel like. Until I get faster I imagine it would be a rather frustrating experience. But I suspect it would also lead to hitherto unsuspected realms of readerly pleasure.