Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review:: Permanent Present Tense, by Suzanne Corkin

Title: Permanent Present Tense
Author: Suzanne Corkin
Format: Hardcover
Rating: ★★★★☆

This round, my book club on Habitica (previously called HabitRPG) selected from a set of non-fiction books. I was hoping that this (or The Victorian Internet) would be chosen. And I got my wish! While I definitely enjoyed it, as you can see from the rating, it wasn't a book without issues. It certainly felt "split," as if Suzanne Corkin couldn't decide if she wanted to write about H.M.'s life or his contributions to science.

I feel like having two premises in non-fiction tends to work poorly. When I read Devil in the White City, that was my main problem. All the focus on the architecture of the world fair would have been a short but nice book. All the focus on H.H. Holmes would have been as well. If Suzanne Corkin had chosen to do one or another, a biography or the story of his legacy, it would have been a much less disjointed book.

Granted, the writing itself was rather disjointed, and probably the book's weak point. Things are brought up in themed chapters, but specific details kept recurring in a way that did not feel intentional.

The book was also very light in parts, but dense in others, which further led to this split feeling. The chapters of Henry's life were easy to read, but the chapters on his contributions to science contained a whole bunch of condensed research papers. Once again, it felt like the book couldn't decide what it wanted to be.

That being said, I rather enjoyed the book, even if I was slightly turned off by how disjointed it was. The sections on what H.M. could learn, how he could remember, were incredibly fascinating. I also found the sections that dealt with the progression of brain imaging technology interesting, watching them get a clearer and clearer view of his brain.

All in all, I found it a rather fascinating book, but I'm not sure it's for everyone. Between the writing and the fact that it's a book by a scientist about a patient she worked with, there's plenty to turn others off, even if I enjoyed it myself.

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