Brains, cotton mills, and vanilla legal thrills

January is off to a solid reading start, largely because I’ve developed some ankle woes and my gym/hiking/cycling time has become extra reading time for three weeks running. I’m about to see an orthopedic specialist, though, so here’s hoping I can find out what’s ailing me!

Read but not reviewed in the past week were:

  • The Most They Ever Had, Rick Bragg
  • The Guardians, John Grisham
  • Welcome to Your Brain, Sandra Aamodt
First up was John Grisham’s The Guardians, which…well,  I can only echo my review of The Whistler. It’s a very vanilla legal thriller: perfectly enjoyable, perfectly forgettable.  The inclusion of a cabin cursed by voodoo adds an interesting flair to the endgame, but’s just a story about a lawyer trying to free people failed by systems that favor verdicts more than justice.   Did the lawyer have a name? Did his victims? Yes, but I’ll have forgotten them come this weekend.
Next, and continuing with my exploration of Alabama humorist/storyteller Rick Bragg,  I considered his reflection of a mill village in Calhoun County, The Most they Ever Had.  For nearly a century, the textile mill provided for the economic health of its people, even as it destroyed their physical health. It was central to a fight for human dignity in the early 1930s, as the community was forced to strike against the feudal rule of a particularly foul boss, and for  decades thereafter the mill was one of the few places in Calhoun County where a working -class family could earn a decent living.  The book is not a formal history of the mill, though; instead, its history is learned through the lives of people who lived and worked at the mill their entire lives,  sometimes in pride and sometimes with regret; their stories, from organizing a union to losing an army,   flesh out the story of the mill until its closing.
Lastly,  I kicked off this year’s science reading with Welcome to Your Brain, Sandra Aamodt’s survey  of all things grey matter.   Aamodt begins with a physical tour, lobe by lobe, before visiting aspects of the brain — memory,  emotion,  reason, changes with age, and so on.  Aamodt and Wang purposely try to correct popular misconceptions about the brain — that we only use 10%  of our minds, for instance, or that concussions are a reliable means of  incurring and recovering from amnesia.    As surveys go,  it’s broad and generally fascinating, but the amount of material to cover means that interested reads are only given an agonizing taste of many subjects.
Next week…..three of my science holds have just come in, and while I’ve taken care of the brain books, that leaves two outstanding — one on animal intelligence, the other on human sexuality. (Neither were on my science survey 2020 preview…)

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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10 Responses to Brains, cotton mills, and vanilla legal thrills

  1. Mudpuddle says:

    i liked “Broca’s Brain” when i read it quite a few years ago… this doesn’t sound much like that, tho… i hope the ankle thing isn’t serious: no cycling? utter shock!!

    • I can’t remember Broca’s Brain too well (read it in…2007?), but I don’t think they’re too similar beyond the general science theme. According to my ‘review’ of it in 2007, it was a collection of essays.

      And yes, no cycling. It’s dispiriting as you can imagine. 😦

  2. Brian Joseph says:

    The Brain book would be particularly interesting to me. The human brain and consciousness has fascinated me. In some ways, the brain is the most intriguing thing in the universe. At least in terms of what we hand learned so far.

  3. I’ve not read a Grisham in years. I don’t know that anything can ever top The Client or A Time to Kill.

    • I honestly think he’s just phoning it in at this point. I haven’t read any novel of his that I REALLY LIKED in at least fifteen years. I just keep re-reading Rainmaker, Firm, etc — the early stuff. Have you ever tried Scott Turow or anyone similar?

  4. Oh gosh yes, The Firm also! That was my first Grisham book. I was 11 when I read it, no joke. My aunt loved Grisham too and always had his books around her house. I have gotten this impression from other people as well and I think that is why I have not bothered with any of his newer ones, basically anything publishes after I was in college I think.

    I did read one Turow book, but I was pretty young then too, and I don’t remember which one. There was always more Grisham around!

    • I’ve given a few Turow novels to my sister (another Grisham fan), but never read them myself. I keep wondering if he’s worth trying.

      BTW, there’s a new Titanic book out called “Titanic: First Accounts:, edited by Tim Maltin. In the bookstore it has some of the usual survivor accounts (Whiteall, Beasley, etc) plus reports from an investigating committee. I’m not sure how it compares against “The Story of the Titanic”, something which is very similar in approach — anthologizing survivor tales. My review of the book inspired me to switch to individual reviews because I had so much to say about that one in particular!

  5. Like Brian I am fascinated by books about the brain. One of the best in my reading experience is Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain by Antonio Damasio.

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