Things I am Fascinated By:

1.  Ants
2.  Aaron Sorkin (I mean, seriously.  How is it possible that 30 Rock is still on the air and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip got cancelled after one season?  Seriously.)
3.  Birds
4.  People Who Get Drunk A Lot (Why? Just.......Why?)
5.  Moose (Actually, not really.  It's just something that has been making me and the husband laugh a lot tonight, so it made the list)
6.  Birth
7.  Words
8.  Neurology

I am unnaturally interested in the workings of the human brain.  You might think I'd be equally interested in the workings of the ant or bird brain, but I am not.  Just humans here.  But man, the human brain really impresses the crap out of me.  I'd like to be a neurologist when I grow up, but I'd prefer not to take any science courses along the way, so .... I'm thinking I'll stick with the gig I got.  But if I could do it, I would aspire to be Oliver Sacks.  Neurologist / Writer.  If he taught all the science classes, and the only homework involved reading books, I might get my wish.  Alas.

All this more-information-than-you-bargained-for comes by way of introduction to the book I finished a few days ago: One Hundred Names For Love by Diane Ackerman.  A dear friend, (who actually didn't know then of my secret neurology obsession), gave me this one for my birthday, seeing it as a good fit for number 7 on the list.  Ackerman tells here the story of her husband Paul West's terrible stroke and their journey through his recovery.  It purports to be about language and love and how the brain handles such a calamitous situation.  And there are parts in it that are terribly informative and appealing to my inner neurologist.  However, there are also parts that are essentially Ackerman whining about how hard it is to be a caregiver for her husband despite the fact that she can and does afford a lot of help in that arena.  To say I was annoyed with Ackerman was an understatement.  But when I could ignore Ackerman and concentrate on how the brain learns to reprocess language after severe damage, I enjoyed the book.

Ackerman is most effective when she is serving as researcher.  She defines the types of aphasia and provides solid descriptions of neural development, activity, and plasticity throughout.  And when she throws in references to her deep reading on the subject, it was great.  I have already noted the title of a book (The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes) that discusses the theorized difference between modern minds (with a univocal internal monologue) and ancient minds who heard multiple voices in their heads and accredited the other voices to the word of the gods.  Must.  Know.  More. 

I also appreciated the poetic turns Ackerman would use to describe what she and West were experiencing.  Especially at first, I was charmed by this description of her writer husband, Paul:
[he] had a draper's touch for the unfolding fabric of a sentence, and he collected words like rare buttons (17).
The problem with such writing is that it is lovely in doses.  In fact, my original sentence read "I appreciated the poetic turns Ackerman would occasionally use" but the reality was more like "I occasionally appreciated the poetic turns Ackerman would use and use and use."  After many pages of excess, I had grown weary of her voice and his pet names for her and their unusual relationship.  An unfortunate thing considering the title of the book (and an appendix listing all 100 names, including "Plethoric with Broken Limbs").  Forget the flowery words; I want to talk about the brain, people! 

I have a former student who is studying to be a neural researcher, so I got to talk brains with him the other day.  He recommended a few good things to read, and I was reminded me of the Steven Pinker I have up on my TBR.  I'm also hoping to attend this utter geek-fest this fall.  Got any other good brain matter to recommend? 

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