non-fiction

All posts tagged non-fiction

Banned Books 2019 – JUNE READ – Arming America: The Origins Of A National Gun Culture by Michael Bellesiles

Published June 24, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Examines the American belief system regarding arms rights, and documenting the rarity of firearms in early America as well as the technological advances and events that made guns an integral part of American life.

Logo designed by Luna’s Little Library

Welcome to the sixth banned book in our series for 2019! As always, we’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book. Here’s what we’ll be reading for the rest of the year:

JULY: In The Night Kitchen- Maurice Sendak

AUGUST: Whale Talk– Chris Crutcher

SEPTEMBER: The Hunger Games- Suzanne Collins

OCTOBER: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn- Mark Twain

NOVEMBER: To Kill A Mockingbird- Harper Lee

DECEMBER: Revolutionary Voices- edited by Amy Sonnie

But back to this month….

Arming America: The Origin Of A National Gun Culture by Michael A. Bellesiles

First published: 2000

In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2003 (source)

Reasons: inaccuracy.

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: Full disclosure time – I haven’t had a chance to finish this book. To be perfectly honest, I did give it a shot and found it so dry and difficult to read. Additionally, even if I was reading this off my own back and not for our Banned Books Challenge I would have still DNF’d it halfway through the first chapter. I have however done a little bit of research on this book as I was still intrigued to find out why exactly it was banned. Like all of our banned books I go into it blind without finding out the reasons for challenging but you always have preconceptions about these kinds of things and initially I was certain it was going to be because of the mention of guns and potentially, violence.

Once again I was completely wrong – the actual reason is inaccuracy which has to be one of the most curious arguments I’ve heard yet for challenging a book and definitely made me want to find out more! Of course, inaccuracy in a work of non-fiction is never a good thing, especially when you’re writing information for your reader that they presume to be entirely factual. As I’m not an expert on this field though, I’d hesitate to offer my opinion on the matter.

CHRISSI:I have to admit, like Beth did, I didn’t read all of this book. It was a beast of a book at over 600 pages long. I was really confused to find out the reason why it was banned was inaccuracy? What? I thought it would be because it was violent subject matter. Very confusing. If you’ve read this book all the way through, please tell us if there’s something that we’re missing?

How about now?

BETH: The uproar behind the publication of this book appears to centre around parts of the author’s research being completely fabricated. It certainly has one of the lowest readings I’ve ever seen on Goodreads – 2.89 which made me slightly concerned to read it before I had even begun, I have to admit. It seems that the original Bancroft Prize which was awarded to this book was taken away, the first time in the prize’s history that it has been revoked and Bellesiles had to resign from his post at Emory University after “blistering criticism by a blue-ribbon panel.” The edition of Arming America I read had a new introduction by the author where he offered explanations behind his research in the original edition and that he had made changes in this edition where necessary. As I mentioned before, I’m not an expert in this field so can’t possibly comment on what he did or didn’t do wrong but I could understand readers becoming angry if they felt they were misled or in receipt of false information. For further information, I found this article quite interesting: http://hnn.us/articles/1185.html

CHRISSI: I can understand why this book has been banned if there was stuff in it that is fabricated and that could cause more damage. I doubt anyone wants untruths out there in a work of non-fiction. So although I don’t think inaccuracies is a good enough reason to ban a book, I can see why they did?

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: I’m afraid this book just wasn’t for me. I have quite strong opinions on guns anyway as a pacifist, but do respect other people’s points of view if they differ from my own. I’m a fan of non-fiction generally but sitting down with this book unfortunately felt like a chore rather than a pleasure. It’s a shame to say that I was quite relieved to make the decision to DNF it.

CHRISSI: Like Beth, this book wasn’t for me. I wasn’t impressed with the writing and it didn’t grip me like I wanted it to. The size of the book was intimidating and I found the writing was rather dry for my liking.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: Probably not.

CHRISSI: It’s not for me!

BETH’s personal star rating (out of 5):

 

 

 

COMING UP IN JULY ON BANNED BOOKS: In The Night Kitchen- Maurice Sendak

Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge

Published March 29, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In 2014, award-winning journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge wrote about her frustration with the way that discussions of race and racism in Britain were being led by those who weren’t affected by it. She posted a piece on her blog, entitled: ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ that led to this book.

Exploring issues from eradicated black history to the political purpose of white dominance, whitewashed feminism to the inextricable link between class and race, Reni Eddo-Lodge offers a timely and essential new framework for how to see, acknowledge and counter racism. It is a searing, illuminating, absolutely necessary exploration of what it is to be a person of colour in Britain today.

What did I think?:

I have tortured myself for literally months with how I begin to start talking about this book and eventually, I knew I just had to sit down and say what I’ve got to say and hope it all comes out coherently. I listened to this book through Audible and the wonderful thing about this was that it was read by the author so you really got a sense of her passion, commitment, intelligence, knowledge and of course, personal experience of race issues and racism in Britain today. I have to start this review by stressing that as a white woman, I obviously cannot even try to identify with any of the issues raised by the black community but what I really wanted to do with this book was to learn and be educated. I can definitively say that without a doubt this book moved me, horrified me, saddened me and taught me in equal measure and I was so very appreciative to get much more than I ever could have expected from Reni Addo-Lodge’s work.

Reni Addo-Lodge, author of Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race.

Precipitated by a blog post with the same provocative title, this work of non-fiction does its job immediately from the front cover to the very last page. It makes you want to pick it up, to find out what it’s about, to be informed and inspired and if you’re anything like me, to be left with so many whirling thoughts at the end of the reading experience, that it makes you feel quite dizzy. Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race is a thought-provoking, honest look at the history of racism in Britain and how it continues to pervade modern society, despite many individuals insisting it’s a thing of the past. As I mentioned earlier, there is no way I can imagine what living under the shadow of racism is like. I have lived my entire life within a blanket of white privilege and have never been treated differently purely because of the colour of my skin.

In fact, it wasn’t until I started to listen to this book that I realised how uneducated I actually was! We were never taught about black history at school and I’ve only learned small portions about slavery from the fictionalised novels I’ve sought out myself. It wasn’t long before I started to feel heartily ashamed of my ignorance until I suddenly realised that it was perhaps people like myself who would really benefit from reading or listening to this book. I will be forever grateful to the author for her informative, detailed and insightful words that gave me both a deeper understanding and a hunger to seek out even more knowledge (whether that be through fiction or more non-fiction).

This book is such an important and eye-opening read that I completely believe it should be required reading in all schools around the world. Personally, I find any sort of discrimination or racism absolutely abhorrent and I was humbled to read a book that explored so many different facets of the issue, including how feminism is often whitewashed (something I was appalled by), how children of colour are consistently marked lower in schools and looked over for potential jobs when a particular surname is noted on an application. Then there is the politics and science of racism – the ridiculous studies that were carried out on the intelligence levels of mixed race children, the connection of class and race and how rife under-representation or stereotyping is within the media or film industry.

Read this book if like me, you want to learn and become better informed about the history and current status of racism in our country. It’s an expressive, raw and intricate examination of an issue that definitely still needs to be talked about, no matter what your race or colour.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi (buddy read with Jennifer from Tar Heel Reader)

Published February 3, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

THE NEW YORK TIMES NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER
THE SUNDAY TIMES NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER
SHORTLISTED FOR THE WELLCOME BOOK PRIZE 2017

‘Finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option…Unmissable’ New York Times

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.

When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity – the brain – and finally into a patient and a new father.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when when life is catastrophically interrupted? What does it mean to have a child as your own life fades away?

Paul Kalanithi died while working on this profoundly moving book, yet his words live on as a guide to us all. When Breath Becomes Air is a life-affirming reflection on facing our mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

What did I think?:

When Breath Becomes Air is one of those books that I kept hearing great things about and it had been on my nonfiction shelf for much longer than was sensible before I got cross with myself and put it on my Nonfiction November TBR in an effort to ensure it was finally read! Well, thank goodness for buddy reads and Jennifer, a blogger bestie of mine who blogs over at Tar Heel Reader. She too had been desperate to read this book and sent me a message suggesting we should read it together. Of course I jumped at the chance. I count myself so very lucky to be able to buddy read with a quartet of wonderful bloggers and we always have such deep, meaningful and rewarding conversations about our reads that sometimes I wonder whether I should read every single book in my collection with a partner?!

Let’s be completely honest here. When Breath Becomes Air was never going to be an easy read. If you weren’t already aware, the book is a memoir following a respected neurosurgeon’s battle when he is diagnosed with cancer and, devastatingly, he passes away before he has a chance to finish the book. As a reader, you go into it knowing this cold, hard information but strangely enough (even though it’s ludicrous to say as you’re well aware of the ending), you feel a burst of hope throughout that the story might end up having a happy outcome. One of the worst things is reminding yourself that it doesn’t and that whole anticipation of the emotional trauma to come is nothing short of horrific.

Paul Kalanithi, author of When Breath Becomes Air, published posthumously in January 2016.

This wasn’t an absolutely perfect read for me – there were points where Paul is describing his college years that I’m sad to say, dragged slightly but one thing I will take away from this astonishing memoir is how poignant and gut-wrenching his journey was whilst battling stage IV metastatic lung cancer. He had this incredible lust for life and his passion for literature and writing really made me feel warm towards him as an individual. I also appreciated how he talked about his relationship with his wife and about himself as a person. There were flaws, there were issues but his brutal honesty about this made me respect him even more and believe in the authenticity of what he was saying.

When Breath Becomes Air is truly an evocative and heart-breaking read. I admired the determination with which Paul continued with his career despite having such a life-altering diagnosis and how he continued to achieve great things despite being racked with pain as the cancer slowly ravaged his body. I even found myself getting frustrated at times, particularly in the beginning when he suspected something was wrong with him but was too fearful to get it confirmed by another medical professional. Would he have been in a different situation if he had been diagnosed sooner? Probably not, his cancer was particularly invasive and aggressive but the thought of it made my stomach churn.

The most distressing parts of the book personally speaking came right at the end. Paul and his wife Lucy decide to have a child and Paul writes about holding her beside his hospital bed right near the end of his life. It filled me with sadness and despair, realising that that poor little girl would never really know her father although I think it’s wonderful that Lucy is keeping his memory alive in so many ways and that she will always have this book as a testament to her father’s life. Then there was *that* epilogue written by Lucy as Paul was unable to finish the book. Well, I was in bits by this time. I can’t imagine the bravery that it must have taken for her to write what she did and remain so hopeful for herself and her daughter’s future.

This is such an incredibly moving and thought-provoking read that I really believe will stay etched on my memory for years to come. If you’ve been putting it off like I had been, I very much recommend giving it a shot, it’s such an affecting reading experience. Thank you so much to Jennifer for reading it with me and the deep, fascinating conversation that we had – I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

For Jennifer’s fabulous review, please see her post HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Previous buddy reads with Jennifer @ Tar Heel Reader

Elmet by Fiona Mozley – check out my review HERE and her review HERE.

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay And A Mother’s Will To Survive – Stephanie Land

Published January 27, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Evicted meets Nickel and Dimed in Stephanie Land’s memoir about working as a maid, a beautiful and gritty exploration of poverty in America. Includes a foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich.

“My daughter learned to walk in a homeless shelter.”

While the gap between upper middle-class Americans and the working poor widens, grueling low-wage domestic and service work–primarily done by women–fuels the economic success of the wealthy. Stephanie Land worked for years as a maid, pulling long hours while struggling as a single mom to keep a roof over her daughter’s head. In Maid, she reveals the dark truth of what it takes to survive and thrive in today’s inequitable society.

While she worked hard to scratch her way out of poverty as a single parent, scrubbing the toilets of the wealthy, navigating domestic labor jobs, higher education, assisted housing, and a tangled web of government assistance, Stephanie wrote. She wrote the true stories that weren’t being told. The stories of overworked and underpaid Americans.

Written in honest, heart-rending prose and with great insight, Maid explores the underbelly of upper-middle class America and the reality of what it’s like to be in service to them. “I’d become a nameless ghost,” Stephanie writes. With this book, she gives voice to the “servant” worker, those who fight daily to scramble and scrape by for their own lives and the lives of their children.

What did I think?:

This review comes with a huge thank you to the lovely people at Orion Books who hosted an event just before Christmas entitled Books and Baubles where I managed to pick up a review copy of this moving memoir which was published on 24th January this year. I think I mentioned in a recent review that I love to read nonfiction that’s going to teach me a little something and if it has the ability to touch my heart in addition, well that’s a win-win situation for me! Reading real-live stories from normal individuals living extraordinary lives is another aspect that might draw me into picking up a book and when I read that it followed a single mother struggling to raise her daughter in impoverished circumstances within modern day America, I was too intrigued to let it slip through my fingers and had to pick it up and check it out.

On finishing and having been incredibly moved throughout, it hammered home how lucky I was in my current situation to have a guaranteed decent wage, roof over my head, supportive partner and the ability to treat myself on a monthly basis. Stephanie Land’s daily struggles to achieve the things I occasionally take for granted was both eye-opening and thought-provoking and I was constantly touched by her determination, ridiculously strong work ethic and maternal instinct to ensure her child never wanted for too much, even if it meant going without things herself.

Stephanie Land, author of Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay And A Mother’s Will To Survive.

Maid follows Stephanie’s tumultuous life with her daughter, from teaching her to walk in a homeless shelter to her difficult relationship with her daughter’s father. We watch her fight for appropriate, affordable housing that is still inadequate and has devastating consequences for her child’s health and witness her steely resolution to work as many hours it takes just to provide enough food for her family and keep them both warm and comfortable. The only work she is able to take on is as a maid which involves back-breaking tasks, a constant supply of energy and resolve for very little money. She has no choice but to pay for childcare whilst she is working and has to use a car to move between different jobs so the wages she makes barely covers all these necessities and she is forced to rely on government assistance just so she and her daughter can eat.

I was raised in a working-class family where before my mother went back to university and forged a career for herself, she was a mainly stay-at-home parent with my father receiving the only wage for our house (from the army, which wasn’t huge). We never knew poverty and for that I feel incredibly grateful but we weren’t well-off either and there were times when we couldn’t have everything we desired. However, all three of us never wanted for anything and I know my mum would have taken food from her own mouth if it meant that we ate that evening. Luckily, I don’t believe that was ever necessary. As I have a very close relationship with my mum, I really responded to Stephanie’s emotional connection with her daughter and her instinct to protect and defend her, even if that meant Stephanie suffering herself as a result.

Apart from being quite an emotional read, this book was memorable to me in the way it made me think deeply about situations I hadn’t really appreciated before now. For example, what it feels like to have to work so hard for very little and still not have enough money to be able to do things that you would enjoy. Then there’s the shame that Stephanie felt about having to rely on food stamps and how she was treated by (some very ignorant, might I say) individuals because of that. That is to say, people saying to her “you’re welcome!,” referring to the fact that it was their tax money that paid for her shopping or judging what she bought with her food stamps – particularly if it was chocolate or a treat for her daughter. It made me so mad! I found her relationship with her family and her daughter’s father especially upsetting as well. She really didn’t have a decent support system in place and some of her family’s attitudes or deliberate ignoring of her situation really made my blood boil.

I respect and admire Stephanie Land so much for first of all writing this book and secondly, for making other people more aware of the situation that has become a ridiculous kind of normal for many people all over the globe who are just trying to make ends meet and survive but are subject to hideous poverty and unstable living conditions. It was a poignant, revealing read that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey To Freedom – Yeonmi Park with Maryanne Vollers

Published January 19, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Human rights activist Park, who fled North Korea with her mother in 2007 at age 13 and eventually made it to South Korea two years later after a harrowing ordeal, recognized that in order to be “completely free,” she had to confront the truth of her past. It is an ugly, shameful story of being sold with her mother into slave marriages by Chinese brokers, and although she at first tried to hide the painful details when blending into South Korean society, she realized how her survival story could inspire others. Moreover, her sister had also escaped earlier and had vanished into China for years, prompting the author to go public with her story in the hope of finding her sister.

What did I think?:

One of the things I love best about reading nonfiction is taking the opportunity to find out more about different countries, cultures and belief systems and North Korea is one of those places that has fascinated me for a long time now. We hear so much in the media about the totalitarian regime i.e. the country being sealed off from nearby potential allies, the punishments doled out to those who try and escape, the secretive nature of how they conduct their business and the absence of freedom of thought/speech. There have been a few books published in recent years from individuals willing to speak out against the regime and I’ve been meaning to check one out so I was delighted to find In Order To Live on Audible which I managed to download and listen to in its entirety in a very short space of time.

Now I have to be honest, I really didn’t get on very well with the audio narration of this book and sadly, this did factor into my general enjoyment but I’ll go into that a bit later. I do firmly believe that if I had read this book rather than listened to it, I would have appreciated it a lot more so whilst I may not necessarily recommend the audiobook format, for Yeonmi’s harrowing story alone, I would definitely classify it as a “must read,” particularly if you’re interested in finding out more about North Korea or the refugee experience.

Yeonmi Park, author of the memoir In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey To Freedom.

When I first became an avid reader, I almost always stayed in one lane genre wise and tended to only read very narrowly within a specific field – mostly thrillers and crime fiction. Nonfiction wasn’t really for me, I did give it a go at times but in hindsight, I was picking completely the wrong things and nothing seemed to grab my attention or keep me interested until the end and I often gave up, professing that I was primarily a fiction reader. I’m so happy I carried on pushing myself nonfiction wise until I realised the kind of books that I would enjoy and In Order To Live falls perfectly into a few of my specifications. I like to be educated, informed, surprised, moved and challenged with nonfiction and this book did all these things for me, to the extent where I still think about Yeonmi and parts of her life even though it’s been a good couple of months since I finished listening to her story.

I wanted to learn more about North Korea and I knew it was going to be an emotional read but I still wasn’t prepared for how some of their rules and regulations would shock and indeed, anger me. Of course, growing up in a repressive state where you’re taught how to think and feel from the moment you are born is normal and natural for Yeonmi in the beginning as it’s all she’s ever known. However, it’s only when she manages to escape and see how the rest of the world lives that she realises how dangerous and destructive such a way of thinking can be for an entire population. Imagine being at school and being taught mathematics in the terms of war. I’m paraphrasing here but children were basically told: “if you have ten Yankee bastards and six of them are shot, how many Yankee bastards are left?” I don’t think I’ll ever forget that, it had a huge impact on me. I mean, if something like that becomes the norm for teaching such young children, what hope is there for their future and how they view other people, really?

A parade of North Korean soldiers.

I hope regular readers will appreciate that I’m always completely honest in my reviews and this is something I feel I have to be honest about but I feel awful for doing it. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t get on with the audio narration of this book and it was such a shame. I’d just like to mention that I love that they got a Korean girl to narrate the story, it made Yeonmi’s life much more authentic and my issue was nothing to do with her accent at all. How do I explain? I just felt that it came across like she was reading a script and at times it felt a bit mechanical and emotionless. Of course, this could be because English was her second language and I absolutely salute her for her obvious mastery of English BUT I felt that Yeonmi’s story was packed full of emotion, hardship and brutality and at times, I felt like I needed a narration where I could really feel the sentiments of the more horrific parts of the story. I really don’t mean to offend anyone, it’s just my personal opinion and it just makes a larger impact on me as a reader when I can really feel all the feelings, you know?

Aside from this minor niggle, I found myself thoroughly intrigued and touched by Yeonmi’s life. Not only did she have to grow up in such a difficult way but her childhood, innocence, dreams and hopes were ripped away from her in a way that could have been entirely preventable if she had lived in a different place. Moreover, I have to give her so much respect for speaking out against the regime and putting her own life at risk in order to try and prevent other young girls going through what she went through at such a young age. She’s a brave, inspirational young woman who has been through such trauma and suffering and emerged out the other side stronger, independent and much more resilient as a result.

I’d love to know your thoughts on In Order To Live if you’ve read it, especially if you listened to the audiobook. Did you have the same feelings as me? Please let me know in the comments below!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

Nine Pints: A Journey Through The Mysterious, Miraculous World Of Blood – Rose George

Published January 12, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Most humans contain between nine and twelve pints of blood. Here Rose George, who probably contains nine pints, tells nine different stories about the liquid that sustains us, discovering what it reveals about who we are. In Nepal, she meets girls challenging the taboos surrounding menstruation; in the Canadian prairies, she visits a controversial plasma clinic; in Wales she gets a tour of the UK’s only leech farm to learn about the vital role the creatures still play in modern surgery; and in a London hospital she accompanies a medical team revolutionising the way we treat trauma.

Nine Pints reveals the richness and wonder of the potent red fluid that courses around our bodies, unseen but miraculous.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Portobello Books for sending me a review copy of Nine Pints, a non-fiction book that does what it says on the tin and much more besides. I actually read this book as part of Nonfiction November and am shamefully only getting round to posting my review now as I found myself taking a rather unexpected break in December from my blog, another reason why you haven’t been seeing that many reviews from me! This book first came to my attention via my blogger buddy, Stuart from the fabulous blog Always Trust In Books and it’s also thanks to him that I managed to snag my very own copy. I’m so excited to finally be able to tell you all about it because this book could not be more “me,” even if it tried.

Rose George, author of Nine Pints: A Journey Through The Mysterious, Miraculous World Of Blood.

As a scientist working with blood as my day job, I knew I had to read Nine Pints and I was delighted to discover that what was inside was just as fascinating, insightful and informative as I could have anticipated. In fact, it completely surpassed my expectations and I discovered huge chunks of knowledge about blood, its history and the people who championed advances in science and technology that I hadn’t previously been aware of. The author focuses on a range of different topics related to blood and the format of having a variety of essay-like chapters specific to a certain subject made for a fantastic reading experience. I found myself immersed in a particular area like the use of medicinal leeches or the AIDS epidemic in Africa and was able to absorb the information given without feeling like anything was rushed or skipped over.

Rose George has such a personable writing style and the way she disseminated scientific and technical details to the reader was both clear and precise but with a wonderful entertaining quality that put me in mind of Mary Roach. I felt she really opened up the field of science to the layperson, without insulting anyone’s intelligence or assuming any prior knowledge of the reader but at the same time, never simplifying things down to the extent where you feel you’re back at school. Her engaging manner of writing meant that you never felt lectured to – you just felt you were part of the conversation WITH her and that’s such a rare quality in a writer, I take off my metaphorical hat to her.

Quick science lesson (!!) – the components of blood.

It’s true, I do have prior knowledge of this subject because of my day job however what I loved most about this book was that Rose George still managed to surprise me with exciting new portions of information and the topics she covered were so diverse and not necessarily expected for a book on the subject of blood. I especially enjoyed learning about Janet Vaughan (my new favourite lady scientist heroine) whom, amongst many other achievements, pioneered the blood donor system in Britain today. Who knows where we’d be without her? Then there were entire topics on menstruation, one following super-inventor Arunachalam Muruganantham, otherwise known as Pad Man in his fight to make appropriate and necessary sanitary protection for women in his country who were forced to resort to horrendous measures just to stem their monthly flow of blood. These specific chapters I found very affecting, especially as I hadn’t really realised how taboo menstruation still is in some countries – to the extent where women are forced to live in separate accommodation and not allowed to touch men whilst bleeding as they are thought to be contaminated.

Rose George approaches all these topics and so much more with intelligence, heart, a dry wit and sensitivity and it left me with a new-found respect for the life-giving fluid I take for granted both within my own body and the fluid I see as just a “substance,” when I work with it every day. If you’re at all interested in how our body works, how far scientific advances have come in history and sadly, how behind we are elsewhere in the world, this is definitely the book for you.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat And Other Clinical Tales – Oliver Sacks

Published November 27, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In his most extraordinary book, “one of the great clinical writers of the twentieth century” (The New York Times) recounts the case histories of patients lost in the bizarre, apparently inescapable world of neurological disorders. Oliver Sacks’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat tells the stories of individuals afflicted with fantastic perceptual and intellectual aberrations: patients who have lost their memories and with them the greater part of their pasts; who are no longer able to recognize people and common objects; who are stricken with violent tics and grimaces or who shout involuntary obscenities; whose limbs have become alien; who have been dismissed as retarded yet are gifted with uncanny artistic or mathematical talents.

If inconceivably strange, these brilliant tales remain, in Dr. Sacks’s splendid and sympathetic telling, deeply human. They are studies of life struggling against incredible adversity, and they enable us to enter the world of the neurologically impaired, to imagine with our hearts what it must be to live and feel as they do. A great healer, Sacks never loses sight of medicine’s ultimate responsibility: “the suffering, afflicted, fighting human subject.”

What did I think?:

This particular work of nonfiction might not come as a surprise to recent readers of my blog as I’ve been participating in Nonfiction November and being quite enthusiastic about the fact that neuroscience is one of my favourite things to read about. Saying that, it might come as a bit of a shock (and it certainly was to me!) that I haven’t picked up a single book by world-renowned neuroscientist Oliver Sacks who has written a plethora of books on the topic before sadly passing away in 2015. Awarded a CBE in 2008, Sacks even has an asteroid named after him for crying out loud! It was high time I discovered his work and I was delighted when my partner, Mr B picked one of his most famous books as part of my September TBR.

Generally, I have to say that I really enjoyed this fascinating little book. I have some small issues with it which I’ll go into a bit later but overall, it was a mind-blowing insight into the world of the brain when it happens to malfunction. It’s a book I absorbed in small chunks, reading a particular case each night and personally, I found this to be the best method of taking in the wealth of information that we are given as a reader. Now I’m quite lucky to have a scientific background because of my day job within science but I have to admit there were moments when I feel the author assumed the reader had a greater medical knowledge than they might otherwise have. This makes me slightly concerned that someone who doesn’t have any prior scientific know-how might be a bit turned off by portions of this book but thankfully I don’t think there’s too many instances of information overload and most of the time, I believe you would get the gist of what the author is describing.

Oliver Sacks, author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat And Other Clinical Tales.

I have to say, the cases that Sacks describes in this book are absolutely unforgettable. There’s the “Man” from the title who has issues with visual recognition, even attempting to lift his wife’s head clean off her neck, mistaking it for his hat! Oddly enough, as we find with many of these neurological cases, despite our man’s severe visual recognition problems, he still manages to work as a successful music teacher and live a fulfilling life. We also have a man suffering from Parkinson’s who can’t help but tilt as he walks, rather like the Tower Of Pisa and develops a strange method to correct his tilting when Sacks draws his attention to it. Then there is the lady who has a strange dream that she cannot feel parts of her body and one day, when she awakes, her dream seems to have become her worst nightmare. She loses all sense of where her body is in space and in time (known as proprioception) and she is forced to concentrate at every waking moment to assess where her body might be, even for something as simple as sitting down.

I think the most heart-breaking story for me was the story of the middle-aged sailor who Sacks meets and immediately forges a relationship with. However, our sailor believes himself to be nineteen years old and in the year 1945 and neglects to remember who Sacks is after a few minutes of leaving the room. There is sadness in a lot of the cases that Sacks recounts and other accounts that had me shaking my head in disbelief and wonder, purely at how our brain can mess up so randomly and most importantly, drastically affect the rest of our lives as a result. However, the most interesting thing is that in many of these cases, the person afflicted didn’t realise anything was actually wrong and seemed perfectly content in the new life that their brain had made for them. Does this make it okay? Of course not! But are they suffering? It’s hard to say and there’s so much about the brain that we still don’t know which makes it an endlessly fascinating subject for me.

Image from: https://charterforcompassion.org/science-and-research-compassion-book/what-neuroscientists-can-teach-you-about-the-brain

As I alluded to earlier, I do have some small criticisms about this book, aside from the occasionally complicated and unexplained scientific terms I mentioned before. I am fully aware that this book was originally published in 1986 and therefore, attitudes and political correctness were perhaps slightly different however I did find it uncomfortable reading when Sacks devoted whole chapters to individuals that were mentally challenged/autistic and referred to them in terms that would be derogatory nowadays i.e. idiot, retarded, simple to name a few. Of course I understand this was merely a sign of the times and wouldn’t be acceptable today but this book has had multiple editions published and I don’t think a quick update would have hurt? Just my opinion.

Apart from this little niggle, I found this to be a highly informative and intriguing read and I’ll be interested to pick up another of Sacks works in the future for sure.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat And Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks was the fifty-first book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!