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

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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!

September 2018 – My Boyfriend Chooses My TBR!

Published September 9, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to something a bit different on bibliobeth today. I’ve been with my boyfriend coming up to sixteen years now and he’s well aware of my “little problem” with books. To bookworms like us though, it’s not a problem right? It’s a necessity! Anyway, for something a bit fun, I asked him if he would mind picking out five books for me to read this month from my shelves and I gave him free rein to run amok. At first, he rubbed his hands in glee (I think he was preparing to be a bit devilish and pick some HUGE tomes) but in the end, he picked a fabulous list with some great reasons for doing so which I’ll share with you in this post. This is what he picked and why:

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

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.”

Why did he pick this?:

This is one of the books that my partner has already read and thoroughly enjoyed and he wanted to know what I thought about it too so we could compare notes. I’m delighted he chose it as I was considering it for Non Fiction November but if I’m honest, other books would probably have beaten it to the eight coveted spots that I’m considering. Hey, I have a lot of non fiction on my shelves. Now however, I can get to it sooner than expected, hooray!

2.) Cop Town – Karin Slaughter

What’s it all about?:

Karin Slaughter, author of the bestselling Will Trent novels, is widely acclaimed as “one of the best crime novelists in America” (The Washington Post). Now she delivers her first stand-alone novel: an epic story of a city in the midst of seismic upheaval, a serial killer targeting cops, and a divided police force tasked with bringing a madman to justice.

Atlanta, 1974: As a brutal murder and a furious manhunt rock the city’s police department, Kate Murphy wonders if her first day on the job will also be her last. She’s determined to defy her privileged background by making her own way—wearing a badge and carrying a gun. But for a beautiful young woman, life will be anything but easy in the macho world of the Atlanta PD, where even the female cops have little mercy for rookies. It’s also the worst day possible to start given that a beloved cop has been gunned down, his brothers in blue are out for blood, and the city is on the edge of war.

Kate isn’t the only woman on the force who’s feeling the heat. Maggie Lawson followed her uncle and brother into the ranks to prove her worth in their cynical eyes. When she and Kate, her new partner, are pushed out of the citywide search for a cop killer, their fury, pain, and pride finally reach the boiling point. With a killer poised to strike again, they will pursue their own line of investigation, risking everything as they venture into the city’s darkest heart.

Relentlessly paced, acutely observed, wickedly funny, and often heartbreaking, Cop Town is Karin Slaughter’s most powerful novel yet—a tour de force of storytelling from our foremost master of character, atmosphere, and suspense.

Why did he pick this?:

Now I didn’t know this but ever since I suggested to my partner that he could do this for September he’s been making little notes on his phone every time I moan about a book that I’ve been meaning to read for ages. This is especially true of Karin Slaughter who I am woefully behind with her books and because I’m such a stickler for wanting to read things in publication date order, Cop Town is the next one I need to read. I won’t go on and on about how much I love him for listening to me and putting this on the September TBR (I don’t want to make you all nauseous) but I’m SO HAPPY RIGHT NOW.

3.) A Brief History Of Seven Killings – Marlon James

What’s it all about?:

Jamaica, 1976. Seven gunmen storm Bob Marley’s house, machine guns blazing. The reggae superstar survives, but the gunmen are never caught.

From the acclaimed author of The Book of Night Women comes a dazzling display of masterful storytelling exploring this near-mythic event. Spanning three decades and crossing continents, A Brief History of Seven Killings chronicles the lives of a host of unforgettable characters – slum kids, one-night stands, drug lords, girlfriends, gunmen, journalists, and even the CIA. Gripping and inventive, ambitious and mesmerising, A Brief History of Seven Killings is one of the most remarkable and extraordinary novels of the twenty-first century.

Why did he pick this?:

We did this little thing after he chose the September TBR where he hid the books from me then brought them out, one by one and told me his reason for choosing them. When he brought this one out, my reaction was so mixed it was funny. I’ve been wanting to read this book for AGES, ever since it won the Man Booker Prize in 2015 and I heard all the hype about it. My other half actually listened to it on audiobook and hasn’t stopped going on about how good it was so I know I need to get round to it. I don’t know why I’m feeling a bit anxious about it – perhaps it’s the size at 688 pages? Or maybe it’s the fact that it won a huge prize and I’m worried I won’t agree with the hype? We’ll soon see.

4.) Buried In Books: A Reader’s Anthology – Julie Rugg

What’s it all about?:

For bibliophiles, life is full of tricky problems: wondering whether a small trunk full of reading material can be taken on board as hand luggage; how to smuggle yet another guilty stash of tomes past the nearest and dearest. But as Julie Rugg shows in this anthology, bibliophiles are by no means new. For centuries bookish types have been delving in bibliophilia. Buried in Books is a compilation of more than 350 literary extracts, quotations, and bon mots arranged in 14 chapters that cover every aspect of bookish behavior: reading, buying, borrowing, recommending, hunting, even defacing. The selections range from short, pithy quotations to more extensive extracts, and they are taken from diaries, memoirs, novels, plays, and letters by authors from Samuel Pepys to Iain Sinclair, Laurence Sterne to Lucy Mangan. If you are an obsessive reader, stroke this book lovingly, listen as you riffle through the pages, and be proud: you are in good company.

Why did he pick this?:

In his words, he wanted to pick something that “you wouldn’t necessarily pick for yourself,” and he’s absolutely right! Not that I’m not looking forward to this book but there’s so many books on my shelves that this one does tend to take a bit of a back seat to others that excite me a bit more. Books about books are really wonderful but are almost books you want to dip in and out of rather than read in a couple of sittings. I’ve decided that’s exactly what I’m going to do with this one and perhaps read a little from it each week.

4.) My Name Is Leon – Kit de Waal

What’s it all about?:

It’s 1981, a year of riots and royal weddings. The Dukes of Hazzard is on TV and Curly Wurlys are in the shops. And trying to find a place in it all is young Leon.

Leon is nine, and has a perfect baby brother called Jake. They have gone to live with Maureen, who has fuzzy red hair like a halo, a belly like Father Christmas, and mutters swearwords under her breath when she thinks can’t hear. Maureen feeds and looks after them, and claims everything will be okay.

But will they ever see their mother again? Who are the couple who secretly visit Joke? The adults are speaking in low voices, and wearing pretend faces. They are threatening to take Jake away and give him to strangers. Because Jake is white and Leon is not.

As Leon struggles to cope with his anger, certain things can still make him smile – like Curly Wurlys, riding his bike fast downhill, burying his hands deep in the soil, hanging out with Tufty (who reminds him of his dad), and stealing enough coins so that one day he can rescue Jake and his mum.

Evoking a Britain of the early eighties, My Name is Leon is a story of love, identity and learning to overcome unbearable loss. Of the fierce bond between siblings. And how – just when we least expect it – we somehow manage to find our way home.

Why did he pick this?:

Once again, I was really delighted when my partner pulled this out from behind his back. He picked this as it’s a book he’s actually interested in himself and he didn’t realise I had put it on my latest Five Star TBR Predictions TBR. (Which by the way, I’m getting on dismally with – I’ve only read two of the five books so far – Dadland and NOS4R2). I’m relieved he chose it as it will push me to get to it that bit sooner. Although I was planning to read this in the next month or so anyway – promise! 😛

I really enjoyed having my boyfriend pick out my TBR for the month and to tell you the truth, I think he really enjoyed the process too! It’s something we’ll definitely be doing in the future but probably not until early next year as I now have “ARC/Netgalley” month in October, Non Fiction November in November and Chrissi Cupboard Month in December to look forward to. 

What I’d love to know is have you read any of these books? Which were your favourites? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Love Beth xxx