Having recently acquired hearing aids, I was eager to read Katherine Bouton’s Shouting Won’t Help: Why I—and 50 Million Other Americans—Can’t Hear You. A former editor at The New York Times and the New York Times Magazine, as well as a contributor to The New Yorker, Bouton suffered for decades with severe hearing loss of undetermined origin that eventually made her job almost impossible. (How do you interview people, review plays, or participate in an editorial meeting if you can’t hear what’s being said?)
For those suffering from hearing loss or those with friends or loved ones who are hard of hearing, this book provides valuable information and some comfort. Yes, as Bouton points out, when your hearing is poor, you avoid social situations because you usually lose the ability to separate out speech from the surrounding noise soup. Yes, when you unwittingly give inappropriate replies in conversation, the person you’re talking may think you’re dim. Yes, when you hesitate in responding to a question while you try to process what you’ve heard, the person who asked the question dismisses you as aloof or hostile. Yes, it is frustrating, depressing, and exhausting trying—and failing—to hear what is being said to and around you. Recognizing hearing loss and addressing it with hearing aids (Bouton has both aids and a cochlear implant) can make a tremendous difference (I speak from experience). The author examines types of hearing loss, its usual causes, and approaches to treatment. She reviews the varieties of hearing aids available, the significant improvements from those squawking devices your grandparents used, surgical approaches, therapy, and possible future fixes. She also has a chapter on what she calls “the ugly stepsisters” of hearing loss, tinnitus and vertigo. Between chapters, there are brief “case studies” of individuals with hearing loss (an opera singer and an orchestra conductor, among others).
Bouton should have had a better editor for this book, however. It suffers not only from numerous repetitions, but there is a large chunk of one chapter that chronicles an archeological expedition in which Bouton participated as a young woman. (She includes the section because she theorizes that something might have happened during the expedition that led to her hearing loss, but the connection is vague at best, and the details add nothing to the book.) Despite these shortcomings, Shouting Won’t Help might help some of the title’s 50 million hearing-impaired Americans and the people who love them.