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The Shaking Woman, or A History of My Nerves

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  1,492 ratings  ·  134 reviews
In this unique neurological memoir Siri Hustvedt attempts to solve her own mysterious condition

While speaking at a memorial event for her father in 2006, Siri Hustvedt suffered a violent seizure from the neck down. Despite her flapping arms and shaking legs, she continued to speak clearly and was able to finish her speech. It was as if she had suddenly become two people: a
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published March 2nd 2010 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published 2009)
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Jul 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book is the result of a talk Hustvedt was asked to give as part of a series on Narrative Medicine. It's not a memoir, though its touchpoint is a personal experience of the author, but reads as an extended essay. As with the best of essays, its interest originates from the particular of the personal, then opens up into the general, the universal. Its focus is on the mind-brain conundrum, reaching back into its history and changing cultural meanings, as far back as Wittgenstein and even furth ...more
Jan 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
A magnificent book, I cannot formulate it any differently. Mind you, this is not a novel, rather a drawn out essay with an autobiographical focus. After all, Hustvedt describes how, from 2006 onwards, she regularly suffers from sudden, severe tremors, and in the book she describes her years of searching for an explanation and a solution to it.

So this is a very specialized, rather difficult book to read. Hustvedt tells about her wanderings along psychologists, neurologists, brain specialists, and
Mar 09, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
I wish there was a star rating for "didn't finish" or "not what I was after."

I heard the author on an NPR interview and, with my history of severe and constant migraines, though this would be an interesting book. But I expected to hear the author's story, to read about her shaking and her journey and her migraines.

I managed to read to page 92 (of 199) and it is entirely a philosophy book about the mind-body connection with a good dose of physiology thrown in. It's about how culture and medicine
Jul 27, 2011 rated it did not like it
So, OK: you're speaking before a large group of people and you have a kind of panic. Well, duh-. If you have a friendly publisher and MD, you can scribble it all down and soon Sign Books. The
terrific comic playwright, Chris Durang, gives us a hilarious play called "The Actor's Nightmare," wherein an actor doesn't know what play he's in. I was once drafted to give a Talk at a molto prestige 'place,' and, midway, gadzooks, wondered: "What the hell am I saying? I havent a clue." My eyes glazed, my
Dec 12, 2014 added it
A very intelligent memoir of illness, in which the author uses deep knowledge from several disciplines--neuroscience, psychoanalysis, literature--and her own experience to discuss the relationship between mind and body. Hustvedt is the best proof that very cerebral people are often also very sensitive (she suffers of numerous nervous afflictions), and that the "mind" and the "body" are inseparable. ...more
I'm glad I read this book; but I probably should have waited for a time when I would have been more focused on it than now! So, I plan to reread The Shaking Woman, Or, a History of My Nerves to fully appreciate, and fully understand everything into it!

Siri Hustvedt mixes her personal story and an essay about neurology/psychology; in fact, she is dealing with a situation she doesn't understand. She does research, and the book is the result of these researches about her personal case. She also wr
Mar 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
In 2006, Siri Hustvedt stands to give a short speech at the planting of a tree in memory of her father. As she speaks, she begins to shake, her body from the neck down convulsing as though she is having a fit. From the neck up she is calm, retains her faculty of speech, continues to talk as if her body is not answering some other call. In this book, she sets out to discover who the shaking woman is.

The search passes through neuroscience, psychology, psychiatry, philosophy, theology, poetry, and
Laurel Amberdine
Jan 13, 2010 rated it liked it
On reading the description, this sounds like the author is going to investigate her mysterious shaking disease, discover (and share) fascinating medical tidbits along the way, and presumably come up with a conclusion.

In reality... it's a lot more rambling and personal than that, and not quite as interesting.

After her initial shaking fit, Hustvedt did some research on her own into psychological disorders. She was already working with psychiatric patients, and felt well equipped to do so. She diag
This was an interesting and thoughtful book, if not exactly what I expected. The title lead me to believe that it would be more of a personal memoir of illness, while, although Hustvedt talks about her life and her shaking incidents somewhat, it focuses more on the history of "hysteria" and the biological vs. psychological views of the human brain. If you are interested in learning about neurology, the history of psychology, and philosophical discussions on the soul, then you will enjoy this boo ...more
Frank Jude
Siri Hustvedt is one of my favorite authors -- living or dead -- and it just seems she's incapable of writing anything uninteresting! This "memoir" touches on philosophy, psychology and consciousness studies through her own experience of an inexplicable experience of uncontrolled shaking that first came upon her while speaking at a memorial for her father. Throughout, Hustvedt explores the meaning of her experience with the aesthetics of the poet and the curious skepticism of the scientist. If o ...more
May 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2010
Went to a talk at Foyles by Siri Hustvedt about this book and the reason she wrote it. I found listening to her a very interesting experience. She's extremely articulate, intelligent and both engaged and engaging.

The subject of neuropsychology might otherwise be quite dry (and although I have a passing interest in psychology and to a much lesser extent neurology I would never pick up a book about neuropsychology otherwise) but through her writing style and the personal connection it has to her
Jul 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
I am a fan of Siri Hustvedt's fiction. This book is a sort of memoir and a sort of science book, an exploration of why she started suffering from a convulsion-type phenomenon. Very interesting, especially if you're interested in how the brain works. ...more
Fawad Khan
Apr 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is the second book that I have read by Siri Hustvedt. The first one I read was A WOMAN LOOKING AT MEN LOOKNG AT WOMEN. I feel that this one was a lot easier to read but the other one was a lot more insightful. Although I enjoyed reading this one I also felt that the ideas that are being discussed in this book were formulated with a lot more complexity in the latter. But that is also something expected as this one was written earlier.
If you haven't read any of her nonfiction work then I wou
Feb 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a very interesting read and Hustvedt has a way of making neuroscience and psychiatry understandable for someone who knows not a lot of things about these topics. I really enjoyed how she wrote about Freud as a scientist and was constantly debunking the myth of the sex-and-mother-obsessed couch psychoanalyst everyone has.

This book was recommended to me and I am very very grateful for that. Can't wait to read more of Hustvedt's work.
Jan 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
A most interesting look at the concepts of mind vs brain over the years, intertwined with Hustvedt personal experiences of her own unaccountable shaking body and the medical/psychological attempts to diagnosis it. Hustvedt has a wonderful ability to make complex concepts understandable, including the pockets of mystery and ambiguity that still exist in our knowledge of mind and body relationships. I have long loved her fiction and now love her prose as well.
Feb 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir-2017
Don't be mislead by the brevity of this book-- it's in fact dense with thoughts on everything from memory to dreams to psychology to neurology. Ms. Hustvedt covers a lot of theories in search for an answer to her sometimes bodily tremors and migraines.
I'll admit I thought this book would be a little more anecdote heavy and less psych/medical theory. But that really just meant I had to focus and pay attention a little more (less bus reading, more library reading).
I recently read Paul Auster's (Ms
Jul 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Finally, someone I’ve encountered who writes beautifully of multiple disciplines (psychology, psychiatry, neurology and philosophy) connected as one.
Sep 05, 2014 rated it liked it
I found this book in equal parts fascinating and annoying.

I thought it was going to be a chronicle of the author working with the medical system to try to figure out why she shakes, with a lot of directly or tangentially related information on the brain, neuropsychology, and related fields. It is all that, and much of that is fascinating. I did not realize that it was also going to be a literary, intellectual, and philosophical excursion. I don't have much patience with that type of thing; I fi
Lee Kofman
Jan 12, 2015 rated it it was ok
Normally I'm a fan of Hustvedt, but I barely got through this small book. It is a valuable piece of research but its quite narrow focus on Hustvedt’s peculiar condition was too boring for me. I wonder why she didn’t write about this as an essay rather than a book-long work. But it was interesting to learn how ill and mentally sensitive to all sorts of phenomena this woman is. Apparently she is like a walking/thinking collection of symptoms! The world through her eyes appears quite strange, in so ...more
Kasa Cotugno
Dec 30, 2009 rated it it was ok
Siri Hustvedt is an intuitive, exciting writer. Her fiction steams off the page with intriguing plot twists and characterizations that make her one of the most interesting observers of life out there. She evokes her New York settings with verve and firsthand experience. But this introspective journey to track down the source of her seeming seizures falls flat on the page. I started reading with interest, but by half way through, found myself skimming in order to give it a fair review.
Apr 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
Siri Hustvedt uses her experiences she has had with uncontrollable "shaking" as a starting point to delve in the history of psychiatry and medical knowledge about the brain. While we never find out why Hustevdt shakes, and neither does she, her research into why she shakes is fascinating. This book is much like an Oliver Sacks book. There is a lot of Hustvedt in it, but also lots of science and stories of others who have experienced "odd" behaviors in their brain. ...more
May 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
Super interesting story of the author's search to figure out what caused her body to uncontrollably shake while she was giving a speech. Lots of cool medical history since it touches briefly on several different types of neurological disorders that she rules out (including temporal lobe epilepsy, which I have). It always makes me stoked to learn more about these sorts of things! One of the best parts of the book is its work cited list, I got a lot of ideas for books to read from it. ...more
Jason Tougaw
Jul 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
You'd have to call this a neurobiography. Hustvedt, a novelist, finds herself shaking uncontrollably when she speaks at a memorial for her father--and then at all her speaking engagements. Searching for the cause, she explores both psychoanalysis and neurobiology. Along the way, she asks some fascinating questions about the relationship between mind, brain, body, and self. ...more
Jun 09, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
It's true that the author rambles and tries to tackle a lot in this relatively short book. I was pulled right in and the mix of personal experience with philosophical, intellectual and medical history really appealed to me. As a person who has struggled with migraine and a one-time inexplicable neurological "episode" I found this book particularly enlightening and cathartic. ...more
Jan 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa, siri-hustvedt
Siri Hustved takes you on a journey of discovering the connections or lack of them between body and mind and feelings and manages to do this in such a brilliant way that you never feel invaded by her personal story but feel you are in the hands of a very authentic person. I simply loved the way she shares the many different theories with her own thoughts and often very sensible questions.
Apr 09, 2010 rated it liked it
While I greatly admire the author's quest and research, I found myself flipping through pages for more of the story and less of the scientific history...I recommend this for people like my friend Linda or my son-in-law Nate who have a good grounding in neuroanatomy and biology. ...more
Jan 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2010, memoir
An intellectual exploration of the human psyche, of illness, and one woman's search for her own answers. For more thoughts:
May 24, 2010 rated it it was ok
I was expecting something more personal and less erudite.
Jun 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
This is a fascinating book, although the neuroscientific and philosophical knowledge base required is a bit beyond me. However, book is fascinating study of the "self" and all its permutations. ...more
Sarah chaher
Apr 11, 2020 added it
Shelves: 2020
A splendid book of psychoanalysis
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Hustvedt was born in Northfield, Minnesota. Her father Lloyd Hustvedt was a professor of Scandinavian literature, and her mother Ester Vegan emigrated from Norway at the age of thirty. She holds a B.A. in history from St. Olaf College and a Ph.D. in English from Columbia University; her thesis on Charles Dickens was entitled Figures of Dust: A Reading of Our Mutual Friend.

Hustvedt has mainly made

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