There are a few books I’ve finished over the last month, and not blogged about, but they’re now all in boxes… I’m moving house on Wednesday, to the other side of Oxford, and my bookcase is moving tomorrow – thus I had to empty it, and consign all my books to boxes. I did, however, see my new bedroom for the first time today, and it has lots of shelves already there! Hurray! My books need no longer be in piles by my bed. I’m sure they will be, but at least it will be out of volition rather than necessity.
I can just about remember the book I finished early this morning, without fishing it out of the box, and it strays a little from normal Stuck-in-a-Book territory: The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat by Oliver Sacks. I started reading this two or three years ago, simply because the title captured me, somehow it got shelved (I think termtime and essays got in the way) and now I’ve finished. For those who don’t know, it’s non-fiction, described by Wikipedia thus: “The book comprises 24 essays split into 4 sections which each deal with a particular aspect of brain function such as deficits and excesses in the first two sections (with particular emphasis on the right hemisphere of the brain) while the third and fourth describe phenomenological manifestations with reference to spontaneous reminiscences, altered perceptions, and extraordinary qualities of mind found in “retardates”
Gosh, doesn’t that sound dull. Well, it isn’t. Each chapter looks at certain patients/clients (as they were called, though Sacks rather disparages the term) and their medical predicaments – Sacks documents his interaction with these people, and his discovering why their conditions occur, without being too blinding-with-science. A woman who can only see the left-hand side of any object; twins who can identify the day of the week for any date over a span of 8000 years; the man, indeed, who mistook his wife for a hat. What makes this book interesting is twofold – the amazing things which the brain can do or cease to do, or ways in which illness can manifest itself, but secondly, and more importantly, the compassion and humanity with which Sacks describes the cases under consideration. One feels he was bucking a trend in his field of medicine in 1985, when the book was published, and has hopefully led the way. A unique compendium, perhaps, and one which is sometimes upsetting, often enlightening, and always fascinating.