Navigable Neuroscience: Let’s Be Less Stupid by Patricia Marx

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I do not think I stand alone in advocating the theory that students return from summer vacations with decreased intelligence. Come August, I find it difficult to hold a pen, let alone write a coherent sentence. Despite this concerning cognitive slide, I am always comforted by the fact that I will be returning to school in September, forced to relearn all that I have forgotten and more. This year is different. I will not be hitting the books in a few months time, and apart from the book club-friendly beach reads I’ve consumed and reviewed on this site [I swear I read quality literature sometimes, too, but I’ll save the analysis of Austen for your high school English teachers], I haven’t done much that one would consider brain-bending. When I read about former Saturday Night Live and current New Yorker staffer Patty Marx’s new book, Let’s Be Less Stupid: An Attempt to Maintain My Mental Faculties, I pre-ordered it immediately. During my past few Barnes & Noble trips, I have found myself walking around for no less than ten minutes holding and thumbing through books about Neuroscience, pretending to myself that I will purchase and commit to the completion of the lengthy and complicated tomes, before I realize I’m lying to myself and abandon the book in favor of a trashy celebrity biography in the checkout line. This, though, this seemed like something I’d have no trouble committing to. I’ve never bitten the bullet with those Neuroscience books because the words of the scientifically minded do not resonate with me in the way that books written by Humorists do. Patty Marx was the perfect solution.

The book is a 180-page mixture of information on the ways in which to improve cognitive function according to various studies and quizzes and puzzles [of the humorous variety] that test your personal intelligence. I got the sense almost immediately that the book was targeted towards a reader a bit older than myself, but, in my opinion, it’s never too early to sharpen your mental acuity, so I soldiered on. The book didn’t exactly make me smarter [actually, it could’ve—I didn’t take IQ tests before or after, so I don’t really have a way of knowing], but it certainly did make me laugh. And, laughing, according to the book, qualifies as a mindfulness activity, which means it reduces cortisol while also reducing the size of the amygdala [part of the brain associated with anxiety] and increasing the size of the hippocampus [the good stuff]. I think. I finished the book in a matter of days, and, had I had more time, could’ve gotten through it in a single sitting. I gave the quizzes to my relatives, whom I was spending the weekend with it, and some of the questions had them laughing out loud.

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            One of the funnier aspects of the book is the self-deprecating tone Marx takes on throughout. She claims that she took an online IQ test that placed her mental sharpness on the same level as that of Muhammad Ali, who has the lowest IQ of all [78] in her “Match the Famous Person to their IQ” quiz. Yet, her Saturday Night Live and New Yorker credentials aside, Patty has authored six other books, and was the first female staffer at the Harvard Lampoon. Patty hardly flaunts her superior education, and she talks about herself in a way that renders her relatable even though I myself did not graduate from Harvard and do not currently, and likely will not ever, teach at Princeton. You’ll find yourself nodding in agreement as she recounts, with illustrations, the times she’s hung up her phone to look for her phone and walked into a room only to forget the urgent task she meant to conduct. The book inspired me to work not only on my mental sharpness, but also sense of humor—Patty Marx is truly hilarious. The book is best enjoyed around friends so you can all laugh out loud while partaking in the mental gymnastics within.

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