Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is an incredible human being. Not only is she a Harvard-trained and published neuroanatomist, she’s also now a New York Times bestseller, the first TED talker to go viral online (and now one of the top 5 viewed of all time), listed in TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world list for 2008, AND a premiere guest on Oprah. But she did all of this after experiencing a severe hemorrhage in 1996. It affected the left hemisphere of her brain and left her unable to walk, talk, read, write or even remember events in her life. Jill then battled these factors for eight years, which is how long it took to make recovery. It really is a remarkable and inspiring story. I feel so lucky to be able to interview Jill and learn about the books that have helped her become to the inspiration that she is. Jill is easily one of the kindest people I’ve had the chance to interview, and has been extremely supportive of our project here at The Reading Lists. It is such a privilege to present to you my interview with Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – how do you respond?
I educate the public about the human brain. I was a brain scientist at Harvard when I experienced a severe hemorrhage in the left half of my brain. On the afternoon of the stroke I could not walk, talk, read, write or recall any of my life. It took 8 years for me to completely recover and I wrote a book about it, My Stroke of Insight – which is now out in 30 languages. I travel the world educating the public about the beauty and resiliency of the human brain and its ability to recover.
When you think about your childhood, what book comes to mind?
In elementary school I was in love with all biographies, the Nancy Drew mysteries and anything by Anne McCaffrey, known for the Dragonriders of Pern fantasy series.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to grow up to be an interesting person.
What do you think your school aged self would think of the present day you?
My school aged self is grateful that I kept her alive and well all these years – I nurture my little Jill self with stained glass, stone carving, painting, singing and songwriting, etc, keeping her alive and well is a priority for me and she would think I was cool.
If you could wrap up a single book and gift it to yourself as you left education – which book would it be?
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney – it is my job to do three things: travel to faraway places, find my place by the sea and finally do something to make the world a more beautiful place.
Does your reading have routine? Is there a particular time or place that you like to read?
I keep 3-5 books in motion. Right now I am pounding through the entire Nancy Drew series, and loving it! Plus I have a tough book to read and another that I find fascinating. Sometimes I want an easy fast read, sometimes I want to learn and work my mind, sometimes I want to just be fascinated and carried away. I like reading in the morning with my coffee and at night before bed.
Not counting My Stroke of Insight, it would include The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes, along with The Right Mind by Robert Ornstein.
Do you have any books that you strongly associate with someone important in your life?
My Stroke of Insight – the relationship between me and my Mother who just passed away unexpectedly last December. My Dad and I would temperament type the world and Please Understand Me by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates was our family bible.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
The books I have recommended most are the following:
I like both equally well, non-fiction for learning (my left brain) and fiction for pure entertainment (my right brain).
Do you think reading is important?
It is very, very, very important as it expands our minds and and opens our perception of what is possible.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last 6 months?
Do you prefer real books or digital books?
For non-fiction I like to read real books, entirely because I mark them up for later reference. For fiction I LOVE a good audio book that I can play while doing my art or exercising.
Name a book that you feel every human should have to read by law.
Every medical professional should have to read My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor.
Every parent should have to read The Primal Teen by Barbara Strauch.
Every child should have to read Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney.
Every human should have to read Please Understand Me by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life?
My Stroke of Insight of course because of my experience, but Please Understand Me by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates has given me a wonderful way to view and value all people.
Other books that would make my reading list include:
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
Brain stuff of course, more Nancy Drew and then whatever appears and stimulates my fancy, I don’t plan my reading, I am a spontaneous reader.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
LOL, My Stroke of Insight…been there, done that!