Tuesday, December 21, 2021


Author:  Lisa Genova
Publication Information:  Harmony. 2021. 272 pages.
ISBN:  0593137957 / 978-0593137956

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Picture a penny in your mind's eye."

Favorite Quote:  "And yet even when the meaningful is forgotten, memory doesn't define what it means to be human ... Nor is memory required for feeling the full range of human emotions. You don't need memory to love and feel loved ... Take it seriously. Hold it lightly. Memory isn't everything."

Lisa Genova holds PhD in neuroscience from Harvard University. Her fiction novels are inspired by neuroscience and its impact on individuals lives. Her first book, Still Alice, dealt with Alzheimers. Her fiction writing is based in research but focuses on the story of people grappling with neurological diseases. The stories attempt to document the challenges of life with the diseases so as to educate and encourage understanding but do so by putting a memorable face and a story to the disease.

This book takes a different tack. It is Lisa Genova's first nonfiction book, and it attempts to make the science of memory accessible to the lay person. The book is sectioned into three parts - How We Remember, Why We Forget, and Improve or Impair. The Appendix: What to Do About it All presents a summary of the sixteen key takeaways. Interestingly, the book includes a suggested reading list for the scientific base of the book but does not include an index that would be expected in a nonfiction book on a scientific topic.

The tone of this book is conversational. It is written not for the scientists but definitely for the layperson with a casual interest in the subject. That is clear by looking at just the table of contents with chapter titles like "Your Brain's Wikipedia" and "Fuggedaboutit". I am somewhat torn about this tone. One the one hand, I would likely not read a scientific tome about the science of memory. On the other hand, does the tone imply a "dumbing down" of the information itself? The book is entertaining and easily read. I confirm ideas I already knew and learn some new ones. So, overall, the book works. Yet, at times, the tone infringes on the information and the knowledge on which the book is based.

In addition to the general education about the science of memory, this book seems to have another recurring theme. Repeatedly, it highlights the difference between what might be considered "normal" or expected and what might the be result of a neurological disease. Repeatedly, it attempts to dispel the fear that may begin with the forgetting of some information particularly as one ages. The conversational, at times almost humorous tone of the book, would fit well with this purpose.

This theme of diseases such as Alzheimer's ties back to the author's fictional work Still Alice. Perhaps, it implies an audience for this book beyond someone who just has an interest in the topic. Perhaps, the intended audience is someone struggling with memory concerns and the fear of disease or someone who sees a loved one struggle. Perhaps, this book may become an initial source of information. It may lead to a conversation with a physician.

For providing another tool in the arsenal to help someone deal with such a situation, I applaud the book. For providing an approachable yet scientifically based text, I applaud the book. For its tone, I question the book. Yet, this is one I think I may reread occasionally such that I can remember its lessons.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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