While considering what to write about for this month’s Literary Links article, I stumbled across the fact that October is “Right Brainers Rule!” month. The human brain is divided into two hemispheres, and each side of the brain handles different jobs. The brain’s left side is stronger in dealing with facts and logic in an analytical and methodical way; whereas the right side of the brain appears to be the more creative side. Some theorize that each of us ends up having a side of the brain that dominates the other. Of course, there is so much about the brain that we do not yet fully understand. One thing we really know about the brain, though, is that it’s the body’s only organ that can contemplate its own existence! So, let’s take a look at some books that explore this delightfully complex organ that is such a driving force in our lives.
Readers who are just curious about the brain in general may want to start with “The Human Brain Book” by Rita Carter, a beautifully illustrated and fact-packed look at the brain. The book opens with vivid scans showing the inner workings of this mysterious organ, followed by chapters exploring a range of topics including how the brain controls the body’s movement, both voluntary and involuntary; how it forms the very language we need for communication and how aging affects its development over time.
How did our brains come to exist in their present form? Bret Stetka explores the brain’s evolution in “A History of the Human Brain: From the Sea Sponge to CRISPR, How Our Brain Evolved.” Stetka offers an accessible look at this rather complex organ, using a succinct narrative approach. His book breaks the history of the brain down, starting with its most primordial origins. He also delves into the social aspect of humans and how it has shaped our brains. Finally, he explores the current evolution of our brain’s shape through diet and the new technologies we use every day.
“Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain” by Lisa Feldman Barrett also offers a history of the brain, albeit a much shorter version, along with seven additional essays on the physical workings of the brain and its role in influencing human nature. These essays touch on a variety of topics including the role of outside stimuli on developing brains; how our brains create our minds and personalities; and the social constructs and realities that exist solely because of how our brains work.
Human bodies can be reshaped through exercise and diet — can the brain be changed, as well? In “My Plastic Brain: One Woman’s Yearlong Journey to Discover If Science Can Improve Her Mind,” Caroline Williams explores whether neuroscience can help her make better use of her brain. She sets out to address some of her weaknesses — a tendency to fret, to procrastinate and to lose focus as she “spaces out.” Many lessons are learned along the way, including how flexibility in brains may be more valuable than strength!
Of course most of us do not have access to the latest and greatest technologies in neuroscience, so what might we do to keep our brains in good working order? Fortunately there are lots of tricks and exercises we can do on a daily basis to keep our brains up to speed. “Brain Hacks: 200+ Ways to Boost Your Brain Power” by Adams Media and “The Brain Fitness Book: Activities and Puzzles to Keep Your Mind Active and Healthy” by Rita Carter are two titles packed with ideas to keep your brain fresh — from diet tips to puzzles and more.
And, going back to the issue of right brain versus left brain creativity, is there any hope for a “left brainer” to become creative? Comedian John Cleese, in his book “Creativity: A Short and Cheerful Guide” explains that it’s all in how you approach it. This short book — really more of an essay — offers Cleese’s advice on how to set yourself up to better access your creativity, even for those of us for whom it doesn’t come naturally.