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16 February 2011

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I actually did like some Oliver Sacks books when I had to read them for psychology class several years back. But I later abandoned my psychology degree to become a librarian. Now, a few weeks ago I tried to read Gary Small's The Naked Lady Who Stood on Her Head, and found it horribly dull, for all the reasons you listed above.
I think these sorts of books must only be interesting for people who are already interested (and immersed) in the subject matter.

Mandy,
I think you're probably right about readers already interested in the subject matter, particularly where Sacks is concerned. It just seems like he's a really popular author--I wouldn't have thought there were that many science/medical readers around.

And, I would guess, as a librarian, you still make plenty of use of your psychology studies. Do you?

I read “An Anthropologist on Mars” many years ago and thought it was fantastic. I don’t have a medical/scientific background. I found that Sachs made the science, at least in that book, very understandable to a layman.

Ruthiella,
That's one of his I haven't tried! Does that book follow one personal story, or many? I think another think I didn't like about this one and The Man Who Mistook His Wife was that he told all these disjointed personal stories and then just moved on. It wasn't so much that I didn't find his science understandable--I do think he does that, although I still find him dry--but perhaps that I didn't find his science very personable. Or something like that.

I don't know how he differs from science writers I love--writers like Carl Zimmer (who is AWESOME) and Idan Ben-Barak--because they don't tell particularly personable stories either. Perhaps I find in Sachs absolutely no sense of a sense of humor. Is that possible? Was anything about "Anthropologist" humorous or absurd?

I tried "Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain" and didn't get very far before putting it down. I'm a musician so a certain level of tech-speak is fine, but I just didn't find it engaging. I decided he must appeal to learned readers and not necessarily the general masses. (Guess I'm more "general" than "learned.")

I don't recall it being humorous or absurd, more poignant and sometimes a little sad. Actually, I don’t think you would like it, since as I recall, it was just a bunch of disjointed stories. "Anthropologist" is the one that introduced Temple Grandin, the high functioning autistic, who has since gained some fame. And I was particularly fascinated by the story of the man who had been blind since birth and then his blindness was “cured” but he still could not make certain distinctions due to the way the brain develops. You know how little kids call all animals one thing, like “wowo”? Apparently this is normal. The brain eventually develops enough so the child can make the distinctions (in size, shape and texture etc.) between birds and cats and horses and so one. But this guy could not as an adult, because at that crucial time in adulthood, his brain had no need to develop that connection. I just find that sort of thing interesting. I will have to pick up some other book by Sachs to see if this was just a fluke

Sorry, I meant "that crucial time in CHILDHOOD".

Yes, I still make some use of my psychology studies, but not a great deal since I'm in a public library. The things that interested me in psychology are the same things that led me to librarianship though. What I liked most was the mystery, and the search for answers....now I get to solve mysteries every day in the form of reference questions.

Marcie,
Hey, good to know that even a musician didn't make it all the way through "Musicophilia." I couldn't do that one either and wondered if all the people who bought it actually read it. My brother's got it now--he's been interested in music theory lately, prompted by his love for American Idol--he's very "sciencey" himself so I'm waiting to see what he thinks of it.

Ruthiella,
Thank you for explaining the appeal--I think you're right on with both "sad" and "poignant," which are not attributes that typically do much for me in reading. Well, "sad" maybe, but definitely not poignant. I find the brain stuff fascinating too, but then I think I prefer to read more straightforward NF titles on neuroscience--of which there's been a ton lately. I should make up a list.
Have you also read Robert Kurson's "Crashing Through," about Mike May and his blindness? I'm curious if you'd like that. Was Sachs's story about May? Seems very similar...

Mandy,
Well, you certainly get to use psych insight in the public library. Mostly, I found, about suppressing one's own fight or flight instinct. :)

CR, I will have to check out the "Crashing Through" book. I am always trying to increase my non-fiction reading, since I lean towards fiction. Although, I don't know if I could read an entire book about it. I think I liked the fact that "An Anthropologist on Mars" was disjointed stories. I don't know how much science my puny brain can actually manage.

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