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Check It Out

Courier & Press Article by Nancy Higgs
Sunday, February 17, 2013

Thinking About the Brain

I've had brains on my mind, and it has been interesting.  Sometimes I go on reading binges where I get a sudden enthusiasm, and read all about it for a while; then it's over, and I'm on to the next subject. Lately my enthusiasm has been about brains, and how they work, or sometimes don't work.

It started when I realized the new Lisa Genova book had been out for months, and I still hadn't read it. Pushing all the other books aside, I began reading  Love, Anthony by Lisa Genova.  The book caught my attention as I read the story of Anthony, an 8 year old boy with autism, and his mother's struggle to understand him.  Though entranced by the book, I didn't love it as much as the author's first two books. In those, Genova used her education in neuroscience to draw a clear picture of life with early-onset Alzheimer's (Still Alice) and Traumatic Brain Injury (Left Neglected), helping the reader truly understand the challenges faced by people with these conditions, and how it affects their families.  I love how Genova shares the reality of her characters, and how much I care about them. After finishing Love, Anthony, I reread the first two books. Still love them.

Reading those put me "in the mood," and I recalled My Stroke of Insight, which I read a few years ago. The author, Jill Bolte Taylor, was a 37 year old Harvard neuro-anatomist when she suffered a major stroke on the left side of her brain. Her book tells the story of her brain bleed and subsequent recovery, all from the perspective of a brain scientist.  Taylor absolutely conveys the sense of vulnerability she felt, the importance of recognizing and celebrating each tiny step toward recovery, and things she learned from this experience. It is truly fascinating, and I believe anyone who knows or works with stroke and brain injury patients should read this book. While rereading My Stroke of Insight, I discovered that Taylor is now working in Indiana, where she grew up, and also that she has done a couple of TED Talks.

If you don't know about TED Talks, then go to and start browsing. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, and they have conferences where folks come and spend up to 18 minutes talking about an idea they believe is worth spreading. North Park Branch Library is hosting a showing and discussion of 2 or 3 TED Talks each month (4th Wednesday, 6:30pm), and I needed to pick topics for upcoming months. After watching Taylor's talk, I decided that February's subject is the brain, and searched for other talks to go with it. I spotted a couple by V. S. Ramachandran, recognizing him as the author of The Tell-Tale Brain, the book that captivated me last summer. Ramachandran is a neuroscientist and researcher who uses his experiments and the things learned from them to help laypeople understand the human brain. When I read his book, I was constantly stopping to tell others the bit I had just read, it was so amazing. Come join me on Wednesday, February 27th at North Park at 6:30 pm, and we'll learn and discuss a little more!