Brainy Books that Will Blow Your Mind

You know you’ve reached the epitome of nerdom when you’re at a party and someone asks you about your favourite non-fiction books and you start babbling about the fascinating world of neuroscience. (Just for the record this did not happen to me; it happened to a friend of mine. Cough cough.) It’s essentially the last frontier of the human body: we know less about our brains than any other body part. (Except for maybe the appendix. Has anyone figured that one out yet?)

Don’t take my word for it though- take Michio Kaku’s. His popular neuroscience books take complex scientific concepts and frames them in a way that the rest of us mortals can understand. My favourite, The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance and Empower the Mind answers the more fun questions of the field; for example, do humans really have the capacity to move things with their mind? (You’ll have to read his books for yourself to find the answer.)

For the more ambitious reader, Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read by Stanislas Dahaene chronicles every little nanosecond the brain takes to process the written word. After you read about the effort that it takes for your brain to recognize, understand and memorize letters, you’ll never look at reading the same way again. (Read slowly; this one left me a little cross-eyed.)

After learning about the memory championships (yes, there is such a thing), journalist Joshua Foer dug deeper into the why and how of what we remember and how we can better train our memories using long-forgotten techniques once used to learn entire religious manuscripts. The resulting book is called Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything– part memoir, part history lesson, part how-to book. Even if you’re not a neuroscience nerd like me, you’ll appreciate this one. Some of the techniques from the book that I’ve tried have actually worked really well!

While I certainly haven’t learned how to move things with my mind, master speed reading, or memorize the order of an entire deck of 52 cards, reading these books still gave me a better understanding and a new appreciation of how our efficiently and intricately brains work. But like I said, don’t just take this nerd’s word for it.

Psst- wanna see which books have previously graced my bookshelves? Click here. Want even more fun reading recommendations? I’ve got some for you here. Don’t forget to find me on Goodreads so we can snoop each other’s bookshelves and dish about our favourites.

Best Books of 2018

I posted my picks for 2017 so late this year that I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to share with you some of my favorites books I read in the year 2018.

Fiction
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton is one of the few books of the epic-story-sweeping-across-generations type that actually caught me off-guard with all of its plot twists and turns. It kept me guessing right until the end.

It’s easy to see why We’ll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night by Joel Thomas Hynes won the Governor General’s Award (which is pretty much the prize you want to get if you’re a Canadian author). It was so beautifully written that it got passed around to all of the neighbours in my building. Warning: foul language afoot! (But it feels more colourful than gratuitous.)

I’ve been waiting for Arundhati Roy’s follow-up to The God of Small Things for years now and although The Ministry of Utmost Happiness doesn’t quite compare in my opinion (although really what follow-up does?), it’s worth the read simply to experience the magic gift Roy has with words.

One of my besties has been begging me to read My Brilliant Friend by Italian author Elena Ferrante for pretty much forever, and I was so glad I finally did. The writing is beautiful and intimate; Ferrante has an amazing talent for finding the words to express even the deepest, darkest emotions of a human being. It’s the first in the The Neapolitan Cycle and I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest.

Arcadia by Iain Pears is one of those novels that’s hard to define: it takes its readers across time and space in a way that’s comparable to Cloud Atlas, then takes the best parts of The Chronicles of Narnia, Alice in Wonderland and The Lord of the Rings and kind of mushes them all together into this suspenseful, epic tale. (A little psycho-mathematics helps too!)

Non-Fiction
Your life is possible pretty much because of this woman, so you owe it to her memory to read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. I’m not even kidding. This book will change the way you think about modern medicine.

Logomaniacs unite! Simon Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary is fascinating not only because of the people behind the authoritative dictionary; it’s the sheer breadth and scope of the task and how they pulled it off that amazed me the most.

What were some of your favorite books that you read in the past year? Did anything on my list show up on yours? Share your recommendations with me by commenting below or by emailing keepingbusyb@gmail.com

Best Books of 2017

I started doing an annual round-up of the books I loved a couple of years back, but for one reason or another I didn’t end up sharing my picks for 2017. Seeing as it’s almost the end of 2018, I thought I’d share my thoughts on some of my favorite books from the titles I read last year…it’s about time, right?

Fiction

It’s a total coincidence, but I still love the fact that all of my favorite books that I read last year were written by women. Some are old, some are new, but all of them were really, really good:

Even though Bel Canto is about a diplomatic hostage situation, author Ann Patchett manages to take what would be normally be a horrifying, violent situation and transforms it into a moving story about the things that bring us together as humans, even when we’re divided by political or social borders.

King Lear is probably my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, and I love the fact that author Jane Smiley chose to reinterpret it through the eyes of one of Lear’s daughters in her novel, A Thousand Acres, which I read last fall. (And no, it’s not the one he likes.)

Suite Française by Irene Nemirovsky might be slow for some, but keep in mind this is an unfinished work- there may still be some kinks in the story, but you can still appreciate this collection of novellas for its beautiful prose.

The main character in Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics is brainy, verbose, and maybe just a little bit obnoxious, but I ended up falling in love with her (and the book’s cast of quirky characters) anyway. (It’s another one I read last fall.)

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker is like a perfect fairytale, but for adults. Even if you’re not into fantasy, I still insist you read this. I’m not even kidding when I say I couldn’t put it down. (It first appeared on my bookshelf here.)

Although English author Kate Atkinson is quite prolific, I’ve never gotten around to reading one of her books until I picked up Life After Life (another recommendation from the waiting room). I wasn’t disappointed- this tale of a perpetually reincarnating girl kind of blew my mind. (What was disappointing? Its follow-up, A God in Ruins, which I read this year. In my opinion, it didn’t even come close to the awesomeness that is this book.)

Non-Fiction

I’ll read just about anything, and I would say about one-third of what I read is non-fiction. No topic is off-limits; I like to keep an open mind. You can get me interested in just about anything, as evidenced below.

When he’s not exploring the mysteries of Germany’s Black Forest, author and forester Peter Wohlleben is writing about them. It may seem like the most boring topic in the world, but don’t be fooled: The Hidden Life of Trees is actually full of fascinating discoveries. (For example, did you know trees can communicate with each other? Yeah, my brain exploded too.)

Everyone knows that reading and writing go hand-in-hand, but Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose gave me a whole new perspective on the way that I write, as well as the way I read. It’s a must if you’re a self-confessed bookworm like me.

I wrote about the mini-controversy presented by the hygge trend a while back, but despite its ties to commercialism I still really enjoyed The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking. I’d even say that it’s useful- it’s basically a manual on how to slow things down for someone who has trouble slowing down.

What are some of the books you enjoyed last year? Did you read any of the titles I talked about here? Email me at keepingbusyb@gmail.com with your top picks, or leave your recommendations in the comments below.

Psst- wanna see which other books have previously graced my bookshelves? Click here. Want even more fun reading recommendations? I’ve got some for you here. Don’t forget to find me on Goodreads so we can snoop each other’s bookshelves and dish about our favourites.