What I have been reading #5

13th book of 2021 – “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales” by Oliver Sacks

I added this book to my “to read” list back in 2015, when I read Oliver Sacks’s obituary in The Guardian, and became really intrigued about Sacks and his work.

Sacks was a neurologist, but also the author of numerous books about the patients that he worked with, and these books have inspired various films, documentaries and plays. This is one of those books. It presents 24 cases of patients suffering from various neurological problems, from inability to recognise faces, to Tourette’s or problems with balance. There is some discussion of the medical aspects of each case (for instance, whether someone’s inability to move their hand is related to a problem with the nerves in the hand or a particular area of the brain).

I can’t really comment on how good the medical aspect of the book is, given that I am not medically trained. Though, as the book was first published in 1985, I imagine that it is very outdated. What I really liked about this book was Sacks’s narration of the process of making sense of what he saw. That is, his attempts to understand the problem and to find a solution.

Sacks is very transparent about the confusion that he sometimes felt. He tells about a process of trial and error to find a solution to the problem in front of him, which includes numerous failures. For me, it’s that mix of curiosity, persistence and reflexivity that makes an “expert” – alas, a mix that is not very well suited for today’s cultural environment.

14th book of 2021 – “Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster” by Adam Higginbotham

This book was recommended by @Lornaocallaghan, whom I never met in real life.

As the name suggests, the book covers the explosion of one of the reactors of Chernobyl’s power station, in 1986. It provides a really useful (for me) introduction to nuclear energy, covers the historical background to the nuclear energy industry, looks at the cleanup and containment efforts, and includes an incredible discussion of the political impact of this accident.

I remember following the news of the explosion in Chernobyl, on TV, as a teenager. It was an event that marked my youth!. Though, until I read this book, I hadn’t really appreciated the extent to which this disaster contributed to the end of the USSR.

I really like work that delivers in-depth accounts and analysis of key events; so, I am a bit biased here. But, even if you don’t like this type of literature, I think that you might like this book because it manages to show the human side of this catastrophe that marked the 80s.

15th book of 2021 – Autismo by Valério Romão

A fiction book for my reading club, about a young couple who parent a boy with autism.

It is not an easy read – both because of the way it is written, and because of the way it ends. For instance, there are multiple voices and jumping timelines. 

However, it is definitely a really interesting exploration of the strain placed on the couple, how their relationship with their own parents shapes their expectations and experiences of parenting, the quest for a way to “fix” the son (and the charlatans that take advantage of other people’s desperation), and what it means to be a parent in such circumstances.

It’s definitely worth a read. Though, as far as I am aware, the book is only available in Portuguese and French.

Which books have caught your attention, lately?

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