Reviews: e-books and auidobooks: on brain damage, animal behaviour
If you've had a concussion, you might think twice about reading Clark Elliott's book, while a millennial's memoir will make some of us feel old
Anyone who’s had a concussion will read this with trepidation. Is it the reason they tire more easily, feel their balance is off or have trouble with their memory? Or perhaps they’ve lost their sense of time or have trouble making decisions. After a car accident Clark Elliott went through all of the above. It once took him 90 minutes to walk five blocks because his body had trouble moving and his eyes weren’t co-operating. The professor of artificial intelligence describes what it was like living with a damaged brain that neurologists were unable to treat. He underscores the frustration of “knowing something, but not knowing that I knew it in the part of the brain that needed that information”. That he was able to write this obviously means he got better. Elliott improved with the help of a cognitive restructuring specialist who had him do visual puzzles, and his therapeutic glasses, which underscored the link between visual inputs, brain function and body function. This is a must for those interested in brain plasticity.
The Ghost in My Brain by Clark Elliott Viking (e-book)
One sure way to feel old is to read a book about millennials written by one. That's no bad thing, but Ryan O'Connell's memoir jars for a different reason: it's not terribly interesting. It is not a given that the young lack stories, but O'Connell downplays aspects of his life that others might highlight: he was born with cerebral palsy, which left him with a permanent limp, and lost the full use of one hand in a car accident. O'Connell is also gay, and spent much of his adolescence hiding it, although he keeps little under wraps about his sex life. Readers might find interest in his comments on how relationships are formed and finished in the 21st century. One piece of advice for dating is to ensure your internet persona is in "top-notch condition" because you will be Googled. And only call the person you're dating if you're actually dying, he says: human-to-human phone calls are a "major leading cause of terror in twentysomethings" these days. And uncoupling doesn't really happen now: we are all only a click away.
I'm Special by Ryan O'Connell Simon & Schuster (e-book)
Animal behaviour as a science is gaining popularity. As marine ecologist Carl Safina underscores in Beyond Words, the reluctance to anthropomorphise and attribute human thoughts and emotions to other animals has resulted in perpetuation of the opposite fallacy: the notion that only humans are conscious and can feel. The author points out that compassion, grief, friendship and satisfaction are emotions that didn't just appear with modern humans. "Complex animals have inherited very ancient emotional systems." Beyond Words focuses on wolves, whales and elephants but we also learn about anxious crayfish, defensive plants (especially those that sense the approach of a munching caterpillar), and tool-savvy octopuses. His message is that animals have individuality and exhibit behaviours not unlike those of humans. We have much to learn (the pecking order of chickens was not recognised until the 1920s) and we owe it to ourselves, and to other animals, to share our earth.
Beyond Words by Carl Safina Tantor Audio (audiobook)