Get to know your brain better through these books

Each month the Columbia Public Library presents selections from its collection relating to a current bestseller or a hot topic. Public Services Librarian Anne Giroir compiled this month’s picks.

While thinking about what to write about for this month’s Literary Links article, I stumbled upon the fact that October is the rule of right minds! Month.

The human brain is divided into two halves, and each side of the brain takes on different functions. The left side of the brain is stronger at dealing with facts and reasoning in an analytical and systematic way. While the right side of the brain seems to be the most creative side. Some assume that each of us ends up having one side of the brain that controls the other.

Of course, there is a lot about the brain that we don’t fully understand yet. One thing we really know about the brain is that it is the only organ in the body that can think of its existence! So, let’s take a look at some books that explore this delightfully complex organ that is a driving force in our lives.

Readers who are curious about the brain in general may want to get started “The Human Brain Book” (DK Publishing, 2019) Written by Rita Carter, a beautifully illustrated and fact-packed look at the brain. The book opens with a scan showing the inner workings of this enigmatic organ, followed by chapters that explore a range of topics including how the brain controls body movement, both voluntary and involuntary; How it forms the very language we need to communicate, and how aging affects its development over time.

How did our brains arise in their current form? Brett Stetka explores the evolution of the brain in “A History of the Human Brain: From the Sea Sponge to CRISPR, How Our Brain Evolved” (Timber Press, 2021). Stetka offers an accessible look at this rather complex organ, using a brief narrative approach. His book breaks down the history of the brain, starting with its most primitive origins. It also delves into the social aspect of humans and how it shaped our brains. Finally, it explores the current evolution of what our minds look like through diet and new techniques we use every day.

“Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020) Written by Lisa Feldman Barrett also provides a history of the brain, albeit a much shorter version, along with seven additional articles on the bodily workings of the brain and its role in influencing human nature. These articles cover a variety of topics including the role of external stimuli in developing brains. how our brains make our minds and personalities; and social constructs and facts that exist only because of how our brains work.

Humans’ bodies can be reshaped through exercise and diet – can the brain be changed, too? in “My Plastic Brain: One Woman’s One-Year Journey to Discover If Science Can Improve Her Mind” (Prometheus Books, 2018)In this article, Carolyn Williams explores whether neuroscience can help her make better use of her brain. She set out to address some of her weaknesses: a tendency to worry, procrastinate, and lose focus as she “diverges”. Many lessons are learned along the way, including how flexibility in the brains may be more valuable than strength!

Of course, most of us don’t have access to the latest and greatest technology in neuroscience, so what can we do to keep our brains in good working order? Fortunately, there are plenty of tricks and exercises that we can do daily to keep our minds fast. “Brain Hacks: 200+ Ways to Boost Your Brain Power” (Adams Media, 2018) By Adams Media and The Brain Fitness Book: Activities and Puzzles to Keep Your Brain Active and Healthy (Dorling Kindersley Limited DK, 2021) Written by Rita Carter are two titles full of ideas to keep your mind fresh – from diet tips to puzzles and more.

Going back to the issue of right-brain versus left-brain creativity, is there any hope of a “left-brained” becoming creative? Comedian John Cleese, in his book “Creativity: A Short, Delightful Guide” (Crown, 2020)He explains that it’s all about how you deal with it. More than just an article, this short book offers Cleese advice on how to prepare yourself to better access your creativity, even for those of us who don’t come naturally.

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