101 Ways to Improve Your Memory, 2005, Reader's Digest, $29.95; Improve Your Brain Power, by Jackie Guthrie and Tim Preston, 2005, Reader's Digest, $29.95.

Recently, I sat at home for a couple of weeks, recuperating from surgery. And though I was feeling weak and whiny, it was a great chance to let my brain do some heavy lifting and have fun at the same time.

I played word games. I looked at pictures and figured out puzzles, memorized little lists and penciled my way through mazes, struggled to work out sequences, and even tackled number pyramids.

Along the way, I also read how the brain stores memories and what I could do to boost my ability, which isn't all that stellar.

Reader's Digest has produced a couple of thick, coffee-table style books that focus specifically on boosting brain power, and they contained all of the above, from the mazes to the amazing. "101 Ways to Improve Your Memory" focuses on understanding how the brain works, then uses games, tricks and strategies to give it a little help. "Improve Your Brain Power" contains more than 400 different games, puzzles and teasers.

Experts have long said that one of the best ways to battle brain robbers like Alzheimer's disease is to work puzzles, take classes, read like crazy and make learning a lifelong pursuit. But that's sometimes easier said than done.

It's about exercising that muscle nestled inside your skull. And these books bring a number of tools together that are not only enjoyable but serve as great examples as you look for other ways to improve your mind.

One of the most interesting sections of "101 Ways" focuses on self-discovery, with tests to help you see how your own memory works and what your skills actually are. For example, although I'm a word person by trade, the book confirmed that my brain is better at hanging onto numbers. Go figure. It was also interesting to learn what my "crutches" are.

The two books are not intended as a quick read but as a slower journey to be savored. Read a chapter, take a couple of tests, do a puzzle or two and come back tomorrow.

Will it actually improve memory? It's too soon to say as I wend my way through. Each book has more than 350 pages. But they're colorful and captivating.

E-mail: lois@desnews.com