Leavens her list with something spiritual

Greg Mentzer

Lisa Genova self-published her first novel, “Still Alice,” the story of a Harvard professor diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, after being rejected or ignored by scores of agents. It was eventually picked up by Simon & Schuster, sold 2.6 million copies, and was adapted into a film starring Julianne Moore. Genova, a Waltham native who has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard University, published her fifth novel this year, “Every Note Played,” which follows a pianist with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly called “Lou Gehrig’s disease.’’

BOOKS: What are you reading?

GENOVA:There Will Be No Miracles Here” by Casey Gerald. An awesome memoir. I’m also in the middle of the novel, “The Lost Family” by Jenna Blum, a Boston author. Also “Counting Descent,’’ a book of poetry by Clint Smith.


BOOKS: Is that a typical line-up of books for you?

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GENOVA: Usually I have a spiritual, self-help, or yoga book in the mix. Recently I read “Where in the Om Am I?” by Sara DiVello. She’s a Boston writer and a yogi who teaches yoga on the Esplanade in the summer. I always read a book about the brain too. On my to-be-read pile is “The Brain That Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge.

BOOKS: What’s your favorite book about the brain?

GENOVA: My favorite-favorite is Oliver Sacks’s “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.” It turned me on to the humanity behind neuroscience. Also “Phantoms in the Brain” by V.S. Ramachandran, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” by Jean-Dominque Bauby, and “Incognito” by neuroscientist David Eagleman.

BOOKS: When did you start reading about the brain?


GENOVA: I read the Sacks for the first time when I was 18. When I was in grad school and studying the molecular biology behind addiction I read “Drinking: A Love Story” by Caroline Knapp and “A Drinking Life” by Pete Hamill. I was always interested in the human stories that go along with brain disorders and diseases.

BOOKS: Did you find many of your fellow grad students or neuroscientists were avid readers?

GENOVA: No, I’ve always been weird in a good way.

BOOKS: What other memoirs have you enjoyed?

GENOVA: The only memoir that I’ve read more than once is Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love.” I know some people don’t like that book, but I loved it. I love “The Tender Bar” by J.R. Moehringer. He was raised by his mom and extended family, who owned a bar. From a very young age he basically lived in this bar.


BOOKS: How well do you remember the books you read?

‘I have a spiritual, self-help, or yoga book in the mix.’

GENOVA: Well, but if it’s not good I forget it instantly. I talk about the books I read. If you don’t talk about the books you read, it’s very easy to forget them. There’s neuroscience to explain why that is. If you told your best friend about the book or if you are in a book club you are building neural connections that support remembering what you read.

BOOKS: Are there any types of books that are especially good for your brain?

GENOVA: Any book that keeps you mentally engaged. I don’t mean jumping around from Twitter to Instagram to e-mail. You want to engage your imagination and the senses. Something that is challenging or immerses you in a world will affect the structures of your brain. You can feel the difference between scrolling through Facebook and reading a provocative chapter in a book. You don’t need science to tell you that.

BOOKS: Can Alzheimer’s patients keep reading books?

GENOVA: Absolutely. We picture Alzheimer’s as someone in the end stage of the disease, when they wouldn’t be able to but for people in the earlier stages, yeah. In fact reading is a lifeline. My friend Greg O’Brien, a journalist on Cape Cod who wrote a phenomenal book called “On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s,” said reading is one of the way to fight the disease and stay himself as long as he can. You don’t lose all those capabilities all at once. There are good days and bad days. And on his good days Greg is reading.

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Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane’’ and she can be reached at