Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Book Review: My Stroke Of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor

My Stroke Of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, read by the author

The author of this book, Dr. Taylor, is a neuroanatomist, and at the age of 37 (in 1996) she had a stroke. This book is the story of her stroke and recovery. While it was interesting, it was not for me.

She begins with two chapters of anatomy and physiology of the brain, which was starting to be a bit much for this English major (and she spoke too quickly through this section with a lot of medical jargon), but luckily she got into the story of the stroke just then. That part was fascinating. And then I was reconsidering my initial opinion that she should not have recorded her own book. When she had realized finally what was wrong with her and was struggling to get help, she managed to be both poignantly desperate, and also a little bit funny. It took her 45 minutes to remember a phone number and figure out how to work a phone (by matching the squiggles as numbers didn't mean anything to her at that point), only to discover that she couldn't speak! I really felt for her and was on the edge of my seat while she worked at getting help, as she struggled to remember to try to say, "This is Jill, I need help." Her recovery was also interesting, when her mother moved in and let her sleep and quizzed her incessantly in between. As opposed to what is commonly held to be true (anything you don't get back in the first six months is gone forever), Dr. Taylor took eight full years to recover all her knowledge, skills, and personality. Thanks to her background, she was basically a test subject as her and her mother frequently went against standard practices in her recovery. I do hope that her experiences have led to some changes both in the initial medical interventions as well as the subsequent therapy, but to my surprise she never addresses that question.

Finally, she spent a full third of the book discussing how this whole journey affected her emotionally. This section really turned me off. While I am thrilled for her that after the stroke she was no longer perpetually angry and found she could maintain that, which led to her belief that personality traits aren't ingrained in stone and can be changed, I didn't feel that merited the space or importance that it got. A single chapter would have been sufficient, not several. At this point the book changed from a memoir to more of self-help/New Age. She discussed how you can "attract" good feelings and even good events to you through the power of your mind, and how you can push away bad feelings and bad people, which is a theory I personally find highly suspect (a la The Secret) and not worthy of a physician. She's certainly welcome to believe that all she wants, but given that the first two third of this book are highly based in science, I was rather annoyed she'd give a New Age theory such prominence, as her background and the premise of this book will lend this theory more credence than I feel it deserves.

Mostly I was annoyed because I wanted to read a memoir, and it was only that for two thirds. I suppose if I had a better idea going into this book what it was going to be, I'd have liked it more. I should have done a little more homework, as I was interested in this book solely from the author's interviews on NPR, which focused on the beginning of the book. I think others who are fully aware of the mid-book transition in genre will like it more. The author's narration grew on me, and there were pluses and minuses to her reading it herself, but I think it did work well. But I was disappointed.

This book is a part of the Audiosynced roundup of audio book reviews at Stacked. She'll have a post May 1 with the full list.


Anonymous said...

This book has been a life saver for me. When my loved one had a TBI the reports from the doctors were bleak and hopeless. This book is all about hope and faith and will power and the ability of the brain to recover. I hope your book review does not get in the way of people finding help in a rare and precious source.

Carin Siegfried said...

I agree it can be really helpful, and as I said, I even mentioned the book to a couple of people, but as I personally was expecting a rather different kind of book, I was disappointed. I think this is an excellent example of when a flap description has failed. Others who are forwarned ought to like it more than I did.

Anonymous said...

It seems that your left brain had an expectation of what this book would be and because the book was different than that preconceived expectation you gave a negative report. Thousands of people are desperate for this information. I agree with the other commenter, I hope your closed mindedness does not get in the way of people using this manual for stroke recovery assistance.