February 20, 2009

Review: My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Taylor

Have you ever had one of those books that sat on your wishlist for so long that, when you finally got a copy, you couldn't remember why it was on your wishlist in the first place? And then, when you started reading, you really couldn't imagine why you wanted it, because it was just so terrible? My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Taylor, is exactly that book.

It's really, really bad.

That's really all you need to know, but here's the rest of my review anyway. The basic premise: Jill Taylor, Ph.D., brain scientist, had a stroke, and then got better, and found nirvana through stepping out of her left brain and into her right brain... or something like that. It's a little hard to tell, actually, because it's full of all sorts of sentences like this:
Startled by this ominous illumination, I fathomed the gravity of my immediate situation. (p. 45)

and this:
The memories from my past were no longer available for recollection,leaving me cloaked from the bigger picture of who I was and what I was doing here as a life form. Focused completely in the present moment, my pulsing brain felt like it was gripped in a vice. [sic] And here, deep within the absence of earthly temporality, the boundaries of my early body dissolved and I melted into the universe. (p. 49)

Achieving nirvana through stroke! Yippee! This is a weird little book, my friends, and it's not even well-written enough to make up for that. I couldn't stomach any more than about fifty pages. I wasn't even interested enough to find out how Jill recovered from her stroke. Plus, I'm pretty sure that the illustrations were done in MS Paint. No joke.

I feel like there's more that can be said, but the thought of spending more time talking about this book is making me very tired. Let's all go read books by Oliver Sacks instead, okay?

Edited to add: quite a discussion has begun in the comments here about the issue of style vs. substance/message. I've written a longer follow-up post. Please feel free to join the discussion there.

25 comments:

Nicole said...

Your review was the funniest thing I read all day. Sorry, I know it probably wasn't intentional.

Nicole’s latest blog post:Friday Finds ~ 2.20.09

Christine said...

Well, that's sort of what I was going for. But don't tell anybody; if I've managed to make a reputation for dour intensity, I may as well keep it.

Eva said...

I thought this review was hilarious as well! I hate it when a book disappoints me. :( And long live Oliver Sacks!!

Eva’s latest blog post:Orbis Terrarum 2009

bibliolatrist said...

LOL - I'm sorry you didn't enjoy the book, but it did make for a great post.

bibliolatrist’s latest blog post:Wilkie Collins never disappoints

Ali said...

Oh, dear, it all sounds very left-brained. But if it's autobiographical, I thought she was supposed to have discovered her right brain? Maybe she lost it again.

Ali’s latest blog post:A Journey Into Dorothy Parker's New York--Kevin Fitzpatrick (Book review)

Ania said...

Ha ha ha! Great review! That book sounds terrible. She may have acquired insight, but alas, not writing ability.

zibilee said...

Wow. This book sounds stunningly bad. I did laugh at your review though, so at least there is that. Don't think I will be picking this one up anytime soon.

zibilee’s latest blog post:The Weight of A Mustard Seed: An Iraqi General's Moral Journey During the Time of Saddam by Wendell Steavenson - 288 pgs

Krissa said...

I might have to at least check it out for the horrid graphics. :)

Krissa’s latest blog post:work & play

Melanie said...

I just read this for the same reasons you did. Your review captures it quite well. ;)

Melanie’s latest blog post:Kate's Food & Fiction Meme

christa said...

I'm glad I am not the only one who was disappointed in this book that was also on my to-read list. Here's my review (not quite as funny as yours though :))

http://christabutlerphotography.wordpress.com/2009/01/25/non-fiction-book-2-in-2009-my-stroke-of-insight-a-brain-scientists-personal-journey-by-jill-bolte-taylor/

monica tarzier said...

Trying to make sense of this review . . . how is it possible not to be touched by a magnificent woman's journey into near-death? The audio version, which I downloaded from the library, is hard to put down. Christine must have felt very threatened by the possibilities Taylor presents to us: that by silencing our "monkey brain" we actually gain a profound new appreciation of life.

By the way, "vice" is alternative spelling for "vise."

Christine said...

Not threatened; just allergic to terrible prose.

It doesn't matter to me how touching or amazing her journey was -- I review books, and the book she wrote was very bad, regardless of the events that triggered its writing.

monica tarzier said...

What do you mean by "bad"? Useless or uninformative, or just badly written as per your judgment? You seem to focus on style while ignoring content. I maintain that what a book says is just as important as how it says it. My Stroke of Insight should be required reading in every medical and nursing school. Having encountered unfeeling professionals in a medical setting, I deeply feel for a "wounded animal" (Jill's expression) who is shouted at, ignored, or treated as if deaf or stupid by hospital staff.

Her description of losing the ability to organize experience--what a gift. How many stroke survivors regain enough verbal fluency to tell their story? I maintain that this is a unique and extraordinarily valuable contribution, and not just because of its right-brain/left-brain spiritual implications.

Christine said...

By "bad" I mean that it's poorly written -- and yes, that is my judgement (whose it might be otherwise, I'm sure I don't know). My issue with My Stroke of Insight is that the style is so bad that I couldn't even get to the content. Perhaps I should have stuck it out, I'll give you that, but as I was reading the book I really didn't think it'd be worth the trouble. The writing wasn't good enough to hold my attention, and I moved on.

I have nothing against Jill Taylor. I think it's fantastic that she recovered so completely from her stroke -- would that more people could do the same. But her amazing recovery has little to do with whether she can write clearly or compellingly. And there are books out there that tell the same story, in better prose -- Norman Doidge's The Brain that Changes Itself, for example. Her contribution to the field of stroke recovery/treatment may be ultimately valuable, but her writing is not for me.

kris said...

maybe you'll like the soundbite instead then: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html

also. wtf is up with you style nazis? wtf is important with style if the message is important? i'll listen to a rambling hobo if there's something i discern of essence in what he is saying. is it just me or is it mainly women who read literature because they think "nice sounding" sentences is important?

and why do i care, i think everyone's stupid.

Christine said...

Sometimes your message can be misunderstood -- or just plain not understood -- if your style is not clear. How many people bother listening to the rambling hobo at all?

Ali said...

I'd listen to a rambling hobo's stories, for sure. Would I give his or her book a five-star review, though? Only if it were well-written.

Ali’s latest blog post:Books to Drool Over

jabru said...

I just finished this book. Perhaps not the best written, but its full of interesting information about the brain and its function and I found her journey fascinating. I found it helpful since my mother had a stoke, although a right sided one. Like Monica, I do not know why other's would make fun of the book.

Frank Anastasio said...

This superficial review may discourage some who could learn from the insights Taylor offers about how our brain works to create or distort reality.

snowflier said...

I'm sorry you didn't like the book. I found it interesting and inspirational, and plan to delve more into the subject. I agree it is not a literary triumph, but I don't think it was meant to be one. It is sincere and full of pertinent information for stroke survivors and anyone human!!

sensit said...

Buddhist-influenced perspective on My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor

http://sensit.wordpress.com/2009/12/13/my-stroke-of-insight-by-jill-bolte-taylor/
.-= sensit´s last blog ..Fountain =-.

Donna said...

I'm sorry some people didn't like the book. I really did like it. I will say that the end, the less technical stuff, was inspiring and fascinating. I am most likely dominated by my left brain and I would love to have my right brain speak up. Jill gives me hope that that is possible.
It also helped me understand what my mother was potentially experiencing during her stroke. That is invaluable.

Strawberry roan said...

Terrible book. Full of absolute rubbish.

tinnitis said...

@Markus I get your drift on where you were going there. I often think of my past and use it as a means to analyze where I am and where I want to get to. Where I struggel is balancing it all out. How do you guys balance things out?

Kris Lobrowski said...

I agree!
Nirvana speak I found myself calling it. Way too
much pigeon
holing and an awkward spiritual bent to Bolte Taylors book as well.