For April’s must read Book of the Month, I have chosen Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks (2008, Picador). Dr Sacks was a British neurologist who was born in London in 1933 and died in New York in 2015. He received his medical degree in 1958 from Queen’s College, Oxford and moved to the United States where he spent most of his career. I first came across Dr Sacks as an author through his book and the film Awakenings, and was impressed by his medical detective story approach to investigating and describing neurological problems. His work lives on in the official website of the Oliver Sacks Foundation https://www.oliversacks.com/ .
Musicophilia is a long, comprehensive book about how our minds process music and the many strange ways this can be affected when something goes wrong, usually through injury such as accident or stroke. The book illustrates the different variants of neurological damage with case studies of people diagnosed with the conditions described, and the ways sufferers and their partners tried to cope. The book concludes with the idea that because our knowledge and appreciation of music uses so many different neural pathways, musical memory is one of the last things to be lost to dementia, and can often be used to help someone interact again when otherwise unresponsive to normal social cues.
A friend gifted me a copy of Musicophilia, knowing that much of my life revolves around playing and singing music, including playing church organ on Sundays and leading the weekly singing for lung health group Breathe Better Sing Together. I found the book a fascinating ramble through all the different aspects of music in our thoughts, our lives, our health and our well-being; so much so that I couldn’t resist reading all the copious footnotes also included to find out more about the individuals affected by the different conditions described.
The book helped me to realise how lucky most of us are to be able to listen to the music of our choice and enjoy it, in this day and age when music is ubiquitous and silence is the rarity. It also helped me realise what a gift music is for those who are able to read and play, and just how complex are the workings of our minds.
So there we have it, April’s Book of the Month! Be sure to check back in May as I’ll be revealing another must read.