Wednesday, November 28, 2012

My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor PhD

Book Summary (from Goodreads)

On December 10, 1996, Jill Bolte Taylor, a thirty-seven- year-old Harvard-trained brain scientist experienced a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. As she observed her mind deteriorate to the point that she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life-all within four hours-Taylor alternated between the euphoria of the intuitive and kinesthetic right brain, in which she felt a sense of complete well-being and peace, and the logical, sequential left brain, which recognized she was having a stroke and enabled her to seek help before she was completely lost. It would take her eight years to fully recover.

For Taylor, her stroke was a blessing and a revelation. It taught her that by "stepping to the right" of our left brains, we can uncover feelings of well-being that are often sidelined by "brain chatter." Reaching wide audiences through her talk at the Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conference and her appearance on Oprah's online Soul Series, Taylor provides a valuable recovery guide for those touched by brain injury and an inspiring testimony that inner peace is accessible to anyone.

My Review

This was the last book I read during the Read-a-Thon, a recommendation from my boyfriend.  It was a short book and it looked like the geeky non-fiction perfect subject to finish my quest and go to bed happy. Sadly I was disappointed. Don't get me wrong, is not a bad book. But I was expecting (once again, my fault, having high expectations kills sometimes the experience) some more insight. 

The author tells us a little bit about her life before the stroke and then my favorite chapter was the one that tells us how she got the stroke. That part I really liked; her description of feeling the lost of her brain functions is so scientifically thorough! How she knew what was happening and yet couldn't do anything about it; how somehow she managed to communicate with someone and hence save her life. How she got to the hospital and some people were less than kind and how she would've preferred being treated...except that this part started being repetitive...a little bit too much. 

And then it got (somehow) spiritual...the power of well being, and self healing...things I was not expecting. I am not against this at all, I believe in the fact that if you feel well you have better chances of getting better, but I cannot accept people telling me that they "cure" themselves from cancer through prayer, or through star bathing...I'm sorry if I offend anyone by saying this, is not something against religion or any type of believes, is simply that I am a scientist, and hence believe in medicine as much as traditional as what is called "eastern" medicine. I do not believe in over medication either, but I'm drifting of subject.

All of the sudden my "scientific geeky" book turned new age, and Dr. Bolte Taylor started talking about angel cards, and positive energy...again, here I was expecting to learn about how she reformed her neuron paths for fine synchronization; how she retrained motor skills; how her X hemisphere compensated for the other one being damage...instead I got a self help book in disguise (I do not like self help books in case you didn't notice)

I love my right side of the brain, is the one that gets all tingly when I'm listening to Tchaikovsky's Violin concerto in D (Op 35); is also the one who controls all my left side body. But I felt the book turned into a selling brochure for embracing your right side and how we are one with the universe...that's when my left side started complaining...a lot. I know is going to sound a bit mean, but I think her right side took over a little bit too much, pushing aside one of the things I like the most: Scientific Thought.

Then why 3 mushrooms? Because the part that was kept strictly scientific was very nicely written; because at the end of the book with the appendixes I finally learned, I felt that if anyone close to me had a stroke I was actually better prepared to be there for them; because of the nice, well explained intro to brain biology. And finally because of this lovely quote:

         Although many of us may think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, biologically we are feeling creatures that think

Sunday, November 25, 2012

TSS: Passing around books

Last Sunday Salon Angus, from Book Rhapsody, talked about borrowing and before that I talked about book sales and how a book is not a sacred thing, although it should be taken care off. In general, the topic of passing around books was in the air. Right now the library of my institute is giving away a bunch of old books and I scored this beauty:

Isn't it beautiful? is very old, and you can see the work and love that was put on this book :).
However, today my Google alert gave me a link to a beautiful story about really giving away your books. I've never done this you see, I've never really donated a book, and the reasons are exactly the same a lot of people have for not lending books: you want to know that this book that gave you so much is going to be well taken care of; that someone is going to read it, bring the story back to life again.

The closest I've been to giving away books was when I moved out of my country; for obvious reasons I could not just keep all of my books, so I gave them to people in my family, to friends. I sold a couple of text books (calculus and the sort) but even then, I had to keep one of my Biochemistry books with me, I just had to.

I've been the lucky one, the one on the other side, getting people giving me books, either intentionally or not. Once I was walking on the street and there was a box full of books to give away, no one was taking care of them, they were there for the grab. I could've taken the whole box, but at the same time I told myself, you are not interested in all of this books, you should just choose some and let someone else have the rest.

I did think about having a little free library in front of my house; I loved the idea of sharing some of the books I already read and that I know won't be read again. But you have to remember that I am still an student, there is a reason why when I buy books is at the library sale at 1 dollar each. But believe me, once I have an actual paycheck, this is one of the "giving back" things that I am going to do.

Other than that it has been a nice week, I managed to post 2 reviews: The Guinea Pig Diaries and The Mystery of the Tanias. Both books that I read during this years Read-a-Thon.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Mystery of the Tanias (a.k.a: El Misterio de las Tanias) by Sebastian Edwards

Book Summary (from Goodreads)

 To uncover his best friend s murderers, a professor will travel the world. After countless liaisons and thrashings, he discovers that the key to his friend s mysterious death lies in the hands of a group of women known as the Tanias, wealthy, attractive and influential, these women were recruited as Cuban secret service agents at the command of the Revolution. The Tanias represent the entryway to the mythical treasure chest. An excellent novel. The plot on the Cuban secret service, the lost money of the Montoneros and a California professor s misfortune, is one of most ingenious, amusing and intriguing that I have read in recent times.

My Review

I read this book during this year Read-a-Thon. It was recommended to me by my aunt, and I had it with me for a while before tackling it. Why? I'm not sure, I had other books with me, from the library, books to read before the movies came out...anyway, I decided I would finally read it and it seemed like a nice "rest" for my brain, being in Spanish.

You see, living your daily life in your second or in my case, third language is very tiresome sometimes! But worst than that is when you start forgetting the right words in your mother tongue because you rarely use it. You are going to ask me why then don't I write this blog in Spanish...well, because I want it to reach as much people as possible one day, and just like in science it is English that is the most accessible right now. 

Anyway, I think this is one of the problems that I had with Edwards: his Spanish. I don't want to point out every single expression that I found odd, every Anglicism used in the book, but it was hard to get into the story with this. And is not because he is form Chili, because I've read and loved Isabel Allende. I've read several Latin-American authors and never before did I have a problem with their writing. Sure, sometimes I would find expressions or words that were not familiar to me, but in this book it was the way things were said...maybe is just that he is more used to writing economics books, and going to fiction was not easy to him; also the fact that is his first novel...but I didn't like the construction of the story in itself.

The story wasn't bad, I thought it had a good premise which is why in the first time I accepted my aunt's suggestion. The story is even considered plausible by some, but for me there were several links missing while telling the whole story. 

I liked the way the Tanias are depicted, as very powerful, smart and beautiful women, who get infiltrated in the high circles of politics, awaiting for an order to act. But right there, I was hoping for a chapter actually letting us know more about them. We learn what was the principle of the operation, but we don't get to know the Tania herself, and I think that would've made the book more interesting.

This book wasn't for me. I had higher expectations I'm afraid. I know the book was well researched, hence the fact that could be consider as actually plausible, is what made me want to finish the book. But the fiction part of the book needed depth in my opinion.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Guinea Pig Diaries: My life as an experiment by A.J. Jacobs

Book Summary (from the book)

One man. Nine extraordinary quests. Bestselling author and human guinea pig A.J. Jacobs puts his life to the test and reports back on the surprising and entertaining results, Learn what it's like to go undercover as a woman. And impersonate a movie star. And say whatever is on your mind (as in, no filter, ever). And outsource every part of your life to India -including reading your kids bedtime stories. Plus several other life-altering experiments- one of which involves public nudity.

Filled with humor and wisdom, The Guinea Pig Diaries will change the way you think everything -from love to work, from national politics to breakfast cereal.

My Review

If you have been following me for a while, you already know I'm a Jacobs fan. So far I have enjoyed all of his books. They are non-fiction light entertainment with a little bit of reflections here and there. Having read The Know-it-All, The Year of Living Biblically and most recently Drop Dead Healthy, it just seemed natural to read this one. Plus there was an article on complaining about a certain section and that sparked my curiosity. Plus I wanted a light non-fiction book for the Read-a-Thon

In the book, as it was mentioned on the summary, Jacobs attempts different tasks, all of them presented in small chapters with a conclusion at the end of each one of them. Already in the introduction I found a very important piece of advice: 

       You have to be interested on the topic. That's the rule number one. If you aren't passionate, it shows.

It seems pretty simple doesn't it? But how often do we embark in a task that we just have to do. That's what makes it harder. I think that's why I enjoy his books so much, because he is always interested on what he is doing, and it shows.
I have to say, I didn't learn as much with this book as I did with the others, but I think is mostly because this is not about learning new things about a subject, but learning how someone reacts when in different positions or situations. Learning that maybe being 100% honest is not necessarily as good as it sounds; or learning that maybe you shouldn't' t listen to someone's advice just because they are older (Jacobs took anti-balding advice from his mother, that was a funny passage).

And something he never fails to give me is funny similes:

         First impressions are like South American dictators: overly powerful and unreliable.

I would say ANY dictator is like that, but I have to admit the comparison is just perfect to the point of make me smile just to think about it.
Now, as for the Jezebel article...I really enjoy that website, but sometimes I think they overreact. I agree that maybe the phrasing of the sentence is not the best: 

         Maybe that's why women do more housework. They're better at it. They were born with the tidiness gene.

But technically he is not wrong at saying that we are better suited to organize stuff, and that's just because the woman brain's connections between hemispheres. Which is also why we are better at expressing emotions. Also, we see colors better since our eyes recognize differences in hue the same time, he is not saying that a man cannot cook or clean up, or at least I didn't read it that way. For someone to be better at something it implies that someone else is good, but not as much.

Anyway, for certainly entertaining me and giving exactly what I was expecting from it, this book gets 5 mushrooms!