My post today is due to a lucky intersection of my love of the new release shelf at the library and being stuck in my novel.
My TBR could be all new fiction releases. It really could. And as I am tearing into today’s book while my son plays at the library I am going back and forth with myself over if it could be a social science book or a nature book for BookRiot.
And then I was like, why does it matter? I can read and review anything I want and it doesn’t have to fit into a challenge. It’s Oliver Sacks’ last book. It’s been on my Amazon wish list since I learned of it. And when it’s shining at me in its library issue apocalypse proof dust jacket from the new releases cube it becomes mine for the next four weeks with no thought.
And this is what reading can be about, too. Expanding horizons but going back to the old loves. So I am letting myself read a book before the challenge is completed. The joy of the book I see on the internet in front of me in all its accessible and free glory. I can’t forget that. I can’t forget how I used to choose books as a kid: some my mother told me to read, but then sometimes I went to the library with the only agenda of combing the shelves to find some unknown gem that I needed to entertain me next. I used to go to the library before a camping trip and pile up four or five of the things and get through them in a week of binge reading punctuated by being outdoors.
River of Consciousness, Oliver Sacks
The last collection of his own essays that he put together, knowing that his death was imminent. I am not counting this even as a posthumous book because this is the year I am reading The Master and Margarita for that. And it’s his essays, not an anthology. I am almost embarrassed at how hard I tried to fit this into a category when it was early March when I picked it up and have a ripe 10 months to go to get through a 24 book challenge with a one sitting book and another comic book I have not gotten to on the list.
Oliver Sacks lived one of the academic lives in this world I wish to have a chance to live. I say academic because he lived through the Second World War in England as a young child and I’ll pass on that. But in Sacks’ writing he brings back the fascination of the world of science and neurology. I always looked at an article that would get in the New Yorker of his because I knew it would take me into territory I had not been in before. He brings back the magic and mystery to science in a world that has imagery now and unbelievable technology.
Even after my fancy psych degree, he adds to my understanding of evolution and the social history of science, as well as explaining the hard to understand neurological concepts behind the functioning of the brain. He talks about rare case studies, which is how I started reading him in college with An Anthropologist on Mars, but in this book he also considerably talks about the history of discoveries and their context.
It always looks to me like Sacks is playing in his writing, gathering up the existing ideas to challenge our conceptions or help us understand them. It reminds me of the enjoyment I honestly derived from putting together college papers, learning something new via my research and my own joy of discovery. The nerdery is real.
There is a fascinating essay in this book on how the changes in the brain can change not only someone’s speed in interacting but their conception of time and how it can be drastically different from what is measured on the clock. He writes about ideas that were right way before their time but discarded and forgotten about because there was no knowledge base or context with which to understand them. He writes about how creativity is fundamentally different than virtuosity and how something completely new comes from what has already been done. He writes about hiccups in neurology that increase our understanding of the typical functions of the brain. He talks about the work of Darwin, the work of Freud pre-psychoanalysis and the times when science was looking at brain function as a collection of centers responsible for a specific task. He talks about science when it was about classification and description and moving into explanation and theory of why something is the way it is. And the consciousness of life forms previously thought to have less self awareness than they might in all reality have.
If you like nature, and science, and neurology and social science and the history of scientific discovery, Sacks’ written for an educated public dabbling is absolutely ideal. I can’t read too much of his neurological accidents because I start to worry that my own brain is too delicate a network of functions that could go awry at any moment of my life leading to any number of weird debilitating conditions. Conditions that would force me to rely on my own neuroplasticity to overcome more than the fancy medicine of today. While this fear is not entirely without ground I have too many other things to think about while I hope to not have something like that happen to me and take reasonable measures to prevent it, like driving safely and trying to eat more plant based foods than cheeseburgers. Mmm, cheeseburgers. And crappy Mom wine. Sometimes Diet Dr. Pepper. Anyway.
I am stuck trying to add a villain motivation in my novel. The one motivation that he does have is not enough and there is a duality that exists and both sides of the duality need explanation. Can’t just have gratuitous evil with nowhere to go. I mean, maybe you can, but I don’t want those of my ilk saying, ‘it could have been better if this particular aspect had more use in the context of the story.’ It would be a missed opportunity, right? Like every time something comes along in your life that you would be really proud of yourself for pulling off but to actually get there is an obstacle course of setbacks, self doubt and general suck.
Comments/Likes/Shares! Any villains want to share some motives with me? What about people who also have a deep love for Oliver Sacks and his prolific contributions to the understanding of the fascinating natural world? Please let me know.