Monday, January 14, 2008


I am reading (not finished yet) The Echo Maker, by Richard Powers. To find that link I went to Amazon, and while I was there I checked out the reviews, to see what other people think of it. I was amazed. A lot of people seem to be reading a completely different book, or else to have missed the point. Or perhaps I am missing the point? But for me this has been (so far) the easiest read of any Richard Powers book, and also one of the most interesting in its subject matter. I am loving it.

Perhaps you have to have had a head injury to appreciate it? After getting hit on the head by a truck, I worried that pain was not my only problem and read a lot of books about brain injury. (I could not get an MRI until six months after the accident, because pain and nausea prevented me from lying down long enough for the scan. As it turned out, my brain was fine. Apparently I have a strong skull, and can dent a truck without killing myself.)

One of the things I learned from my reading was that with certain types of injury, the victim does not notice the change, and makes compensations for behaving totally weirdly. This lead me to think a lot about the brain and self (and to worry about my strange behaviour that the people around me were too kind to mention and my clever brain was hiding from me). If my brain has changed (and hence my behaviour) and I do not know it, am I still me? What is 'me,' anyway? Who is the 'I' that does not notice? How big a change does it have to be for my 'self' to be altered? If I hated cauliflower before and now I love it, is that a change in my 'self'? If my behaviour changes in small ways and I do not know, or I behave differently to the people around me, or feel differently towards them from the way I felt before the injury (but don't notice this change), am I still the person I was before? If I DO know, then there is some continuity in the sense of self (the self that notices the discrepancy), but if I don't, the problem becomes a different one. The narrative is gone.

And that is what I think the book is about – how we (or our brains) create narratives for our lives, and how we change the narrative to fit our changing sense of self, and what happens when we notice ourselves doing this.

Anyway, perhaps because I read so much about the brain, and had the worry of possible brain injury, I am perhaps more receptive to this book than some of the reviewers on Amazon are. I am finding the characters' struggles to come to grips with a shifting sense of self absolutely riveting, and thought-provoking.

Quite aside from that, it's a good story. And it includes birds.

I like birds, as you may have noticed.


Lia said...

sounds like an interesting premise. and birds are good. i hope you enjoy the rest of the book.

Keera Ann Fox said...

Oh, no! Philosophy! But I can answer the cauliflower question: Considering that people's tastes do change, and still feel themselves (or are certainly convinced they do), then the answer is... the answer is... Well, darned if I know. What is a change in one's "self", anyway?

kenju said...

I KNOW you like birds, and that is why when I saw this:

I said to myself, you have to send this to Badaunt!! Let me know what you think.

Badaunt said...

Kenju, what marvelous pictures! I've just spent the last hour looking at the photos on his various blogs - and I'm supposed to be catching up on paperwork. "Just a quick look" didn't work.

Ms Mac said...

But now I'm confused. Am I still me?