Finally, the perfectChristmas giftfor a lefty
My grades were B-range, my haircut was like most other kids’, my athletic skills were nothing more than fine, my artistic abilities were average, I couldn’t dance or sing, and my upbringing was comparatively uneventful, lacking ample drama for future, heart-wrenching memoir. But at least I was a lefty.- David WolmanDavid Wolman has always felt that being left-handed is kind of cool. The Portland, Ore., journalist has written for Newsweek, New Scientist, Outside and many other publications, but decided to spend a year traveling the world, exploring the importance of left-handedness. In so doing, he wrote “A Left-Hand Turn Around the World: Chasing the Mystery and Meaning of All Things Southpaw.”While “A Left-Hand Turn” is chalk full of amusing anecdotes about Wolman’s history of awkward seating arrangements, the euphoria of confusing tennis opponents with his backhand and forehand, and his endearing affinity to other lefties – which he says amounts to 10 to 12 percent of the population – the book also has a strikingly scientific thread to it. Wolman covers a lot of ground, from running through some of the world’s icons who happen to be (or maybe it’s not just happenstance) left-handed, to interviewing chimpanzee researchers and an amputee whose left hand was reattached to his right arm.There’s nothing textbookish about this read, yet some of the stones Wolman unturns must certainly hold their weight to any previous rocket science done on the topic of handedness.All lefties may find a new bible in this read, and even those of us who are right-handed, especially those of us who like to leap between books uncovering the world’s mysteries to light entertainment, “A Left-Hand Turn” transcends genres.Wolman is currently touring around the U.S. promoting his book. Here is a Q&A he was kind enough to make time for with the Vail Daily.
Q: So, when specifically did you become most aware of your left-handedness?I don’t have a calendar peg answer for that one, but my guess is that around 4 or so. I was probably trying to throw a ball with my older brother and/or sister, and, as a strongly left-handed person, I would have surely done so with the left hand.Q: What has been the largest challenge you’ve faced in your life as a lefty?Few, if any. Although the book touches on obstacles or little this-that aspects of everyday life that lefties have to recalibrate -corkscrews, scissors, can openers, etc. It is not, I repeat, NOT a whiny book about how difficult it is to be left-handed.Q: In your mind, who, of all the lefties you became aware of in your research for the book, has been the most awe-inspiring? Why?Da Vinci. But this answer leads to a more detailed conversation addressing why he was (such a) genius and how much of that genius can or can not be attributed to the matter of handedness. The short answer is, not much, followed by six asterisks and three footnotes. From there, we’d discuss the subtle difference between some left-handers’ brains and some right-handers’ brains that could, maybe, possibly, connect to slightly different ways of seeing the world, which may or may not connect to Da Vinci’s brilliance. But again, nuance wins the day with this stuff, so a light touch and careful avoidance of too many declarative statements makes for intelligent writing on the subject.Q: Do you honestly believe that left-handed people have something special? What’s the most special aspect of being a lefty?
That subtle sense of otherness and not walking in step with the majority is something special; at least to those who choose to notice it and smile about it. Beyond that, no. I don’t have a thesis of lefty superiority that I’m trying to push. But I was surprised and delighted to find that science does have non-trivial things to say about how left-handers’ brains do differ from right-handers’ brains. Q: Do you think the world should pay more respect and give better consideration to left-handed people? How so?I’m not hot on this theme of a forgotten minority that’s been oppressed for too long. I think the world should pay more attention to lefties only in the curious sense, in that handedness is a mystery of asymmetry of our species and it’s rather interesting if you delve into it. It’s also another example of diversity in the positive sense.Q: Do you think left-handed people are more likely to be ambidextrous?An estimated 30-percent of self-reporting lefties are, in fact, mixed handed. ‘Ambi’ means equal dexterity with either hand for any given task, and many researchers say it’s exceedingly rare, possibly nonexistent.Q: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?Figuring out what to cut.
Q: What was the most rewarding part?Meeting marvelous and marvelously interesting people, and learning that handedness does matter – not in earth-shattering ways, but not in frivolous ways either. Q: What do you hope to accomplish with this book?I wanted to share my curiosity about this deceptively complicated and mysterious aspect of the human experience. I also wanted to write a science book that was an accessible, faster-tempo read mixed together with some pop culture and travel. Q: What’s the most interesting feedback you’ve received so far?An Ethiopian couple in San Diego the other night brought their 5-year-old son to the reading and asked me if I thought it was OK for them to let the boy become a left-hander. As this appears to be his natural tendency, I said, ‘Yes.’Vail, Colorado