A strange hybrid self-help book

The Brain Fitness Book by Rita Carter

This is a strange hybrid of a book. While it’s obviously aimed at the middle-aged, I couldn’t quite work out precisely which of us it is aimed at. Let me explain a little about the contents.

The book has four main sections. The first, ‘How the Brain Works’, is all about neuroscience and the brain’s biology. It’s short, but possibly slightly intimidating for non-scientific readers to begin with this. It does lay some ‘Unhealthy Ageing’ facts on the table though – which will make you want to keep your brain healthy. It was all very basic for me – but I’ve read and watched a lot on this subject.

The next section, ‘Brain Workout’, looks at the various things we can do to keep out brains healthy – each topic in a double-page spread, from reading to testing your senses and eating for a healthy brain. I felt that the first and second sections could have been combined for to make the biology bit less intimidating.

The third section is ‘Thinking Skills’, and after a couple of introductory spreads has twenty or so pages of exercises and problems split into groups looking at memory, working with numbers, problem-solving etc. I was beginning to think, this is more like it, and dived into tackling the puzzles. I had expected this section to provide the meat of the book, getting through the problems all too quickly. Answers are at the back.

The book’s largest, and most problematic section however, is the fourth – ‘Try New Things’.

It begins with more puzzles and challenges which is good. But then diversifies into developing hobbies and pastimes – from playing the piano or guitar to gardening, from origami to birdwatching, followed by various sports and a few good pages on languages at the end.

I felt that most of the hobbies, some of which only get a two-page spread like ‘Make a Clay Pot’ (left) were pretty useless as an inspiration and as a result slightly patronising if well-meant. Take the ‘Try Golf’ page. It has a series of diagrams to show you how to grip a club, the very basics of the golf swing, but also side boxes crazy golf and ideas for similar games like croquet – all in a double spread. What would have been useful would be mentioning driving ranges, public courses, club hire etc.

While the sports pages were far too basic, the music ones were almost the opposite. The six pages in three double spreads on how to read music were good, suitably technical yet cover all the basics. It moves on to piano and guitar – which naturally requires access to an instrument, giving each four pages. Being both a piano and guitar player, I recognised that the exercises included some quite difficult ideas of harmony and inversions, which are not for absolute beginners. The difference given to the music vs sports pages leads me to think the author is not a sportswoman.

There is some fun with languages at the end but you can do Duolingo on your phone these days. Some of the inclusions were puzzling – I didn’t need four pages on how to play bridge, which requires like-minded players, but presumably a spread on mind-challenging boardgames would need permissions, which is obviously a difficult area.

This book’s holistic approach is also its downfall. By encouraging using your brain indoors and out, puzzling and learning, feeding it properly etc, it can only offer the merest snapshot of all the ideas on offer. I would have liked more puzzles and problems in more different styles.

However, as you’d expect from DK, all the diagrams and photos are good and the layout is always clear and colourful. The text is brief but supportive and encouraging in tone, if limited in scope in that fat fourth section. By contrast, the single page of resources is not worth the paper it’s written on – a big mistake in my book.

In conclusion, I can only assume that this book is aimed at those without any hobbies. Sadly, it’s the second DK book in a row that has disappointed me (see here for the first). (5/10)

Source: Review copy via Amazon Vine. Rita Carter, The Brain Fitness Book (DK, April 2021) Flexibound softback, 192 pages.

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10 thoughts on “A strange hybrid self-help book

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      It was a strange thing! With the quiz book I had from them that was full of flaws too, looks like they’re trying to diversify, not entirely successfully.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I took the review copy because I love solving puzzles and problems. But didn’t really expect the rest.

  1. Liz Dexter says:

    Gosh, how strange this sounds. Also it’s all very well but Iris Murdoch had lots of interests, was very clever and did wild swimming and it didn’t help her, and unfortunately that’s what I always think of around this topic now!

  2. BookerTalk says:

    Does it delve into the question of whether there is any strong scientific evidence to support some of the ideas? Learning a language I know is considered one of the better activities but so many people started doing sudoku yet there is a big question mark over its efficacy

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