Friday, December 17, 2004

Doctors and Their Books

"Medicine is my lawful wedded wife, and literature my mistress. When one gets on my nerves I spend the night with the other...neither one loses anything by my duplicity."

Anton Chekhov, the Russian physician and celebrated writer, said this in 1888. He was referring to his dual careers in medicine and writing, a combination of loves that has always attracted me. This post, however, is not about the physician as author - that topic must wait for a separate puff of afflatus to fill the sails of my mind. Today my interest is in the physician as reader. As you know, it is hard to become a doctor without developing accomplished, if not magnificent skills in reading. After using these skills in years of study, the young doctor then enters practice and finds that the required reading material has only multiplied. So many charts, reports, journals, articles and textbooks lie heaped on his or her desk there doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day to cover it all - let alone read for what my grade school teacher used to call "pleasure". This is sad, because in my opinion pleasure reading is one of the keys to a fulfilled life.

I love to read. I have read for pleasure as long as I can remember. There was a time, though, when I did not use my leisure time for reading, because I had to choose between reading and sleeping. This interlude in a doctor's life is called the residency, when the hours worked in a week come perilously close to the total allotted in the calendar. This is a time of concentrated exhaustion, when a long trail of newly published books floats past the young doctor's life without fear of being netted. There is simply not enough time to seriously enjoy reading during the training years.

What happiness must arise then, when servitude finally comes to a close and the glory years of the doctor's life beckons...

...except now he or she must still wrestle with the daily schedule, unexpected emergencies, family obligations, personal matters, to name a few, in order to find a quiet hour to soak up a good book.

Still, doctors are well-read, even in today's hectic world. With this in mind, I would like my readers to share something about the books they have had a personal relationship with, so to speak. I want to know what doctors and other medical professionals feel about the books in their lives - are they enriching themselves as they deserve, or watching reruns of Spongebob Squarepants? Do they love books as a true bibliophile does, or are they just name-dropping when they brag that they read The DaVinci Code on the beach in Jamaica?

If you feel like commenting, please answer these three requests:

1. Name a book that you cherish and cannot wait to read again.

2. Name a book that you refused to finish, or simply could not bring yourself to complete.

3. Name a book on your shelf that you cannot wait to dive into.

If the responses are remarkable enough perhaps I'll even share my answers...until then remember what Sir Winston Churchill said on this topic:

"If you cannot read all your books, at any rate handle, or as it were, fondle them - peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on their shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends, let them at any rate be your acquaintances."


At 10:36 PM, Blogger Fwickafwee said...

I found your blog after reviewing my own, and clicking the "Next Blog" Button. I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on T.V. I consider my self a glass artist, and have most recently worked enriching the lives of adults with disabilties.

I never have any idea of what kind of blog I will find, and enjoy reading the variety of viewpoints and personalities that contribute to their blogs. As for your questions:

1. Name a book that you cherish and cannot wait to read again.

I am going to say "The Catcher In The Rye" by J.D. Salinger. I first read this when I was 12, and have read it several times since. Currently, I do not own a copy, as I lent it to my brother to read on his flight back home a few years ago. Holden Caufield was the first literary character that I identified with as a young person. Second runner up to "The Catcher In The Rye" is many Kurt Vonnegut books: The Sirens of Titan, Slaughterhouse 5, Jailbird, Dead-Eye Dick and Breakfast of Champions to name a few of many.

2. Name a book that you refused to finish, or simply could not bring yourself to complete.

I could not bring myself to complete "A Clockwork Orange" because I was too hung up translating from the glossary, and the parts of the story I could read seemed a little disturbing, although I appreciate the literal value of the book.

3. Name a book on your shelf that you cannot wait to dive into.

A friend recommended and gave me "Into Thin Air" to read by John Kuakauer, about a climbing disaseter on Mt. Everest. I have seen a varitey of documentaries lately, on expeditions to the north and south poles, to Mt. Everest, and other treks into frozen and still wildernesses.

I am currently reading "The Machineries Of Joy" by Ray Bradbury, and I have a personal rule that I have to finish one book before I read the next.

At 8:37 AM, Blogger Orac said...

Unlike the previous person commenting, I am a doctor and even have my own blog. Like your previous commenter, I also try not to start another book without finishing the one I'm working on. I really like your blog and have referenced it on my own. It was one of the things that inspired me to give this blogging thing a try.

In any case:

1. Name a book that you cherish and can't wait to dive into again:

Does a trilogy count? It would have to be "The Lord of the Rings" by J.R.R. Tolkien, my favorite books of all time. Since I discovered them around the age of 13, I've read them at least 8 times all the way through and often go back and reread individual chapters when the mood strikes me. This trilogy is, simply put, the greatest work of fantasy ever written. I desperately want to check out the extended edition DVD of "The Return of the King," but promised to restrain myself from buying it until after Christmas, because everyone complains that they have no idea what to get me...

Oh, one other book: "Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters" by Matt Ridley. One of the best works of explaining science to lay people. This guy can do it as well as Isaac Asimov could.

2. Name a book that you refused to finish, or simply could not bring yourself to complete.

I'll name a couple. One is "Snobbery: The American Version" by Joel Epstein. I started reading it and only got about 60 pages into it before concluding that I didn't like it enough to finish it. (And it's VERY rare for me not to finish a book, once I start reading one, particularly a book that is only 251 pages long.) The guy's just too snarky, and he doesn't even make enough good points to keep me interested.

Another would be "Ventus" by Karl Schroeder. It's a science fiction novel that just didn't float my boat. I got about halfway through it and just stopped reading. It was well-reviewed and it wasn't even really bad. Certainly I've finished books that were much worse. Somehow, it just didn't float my boat. I may go back and try to finish it one day.

Finally, here's a series that I got well into and then stopped reading: "The Wheel of Time" by Robert Jordan. Here was a series of epic fantasy that (I thought) would rival Tolkien. The first four books were excellent. Starting around the fifth book, the quality started to drop. Plotlines dragged on endlessly. One would be left hanging, only to be picked up in another book. Nothing seemed to be moving towards a resolution. But I was already invested in the series. I kept reading up through book eight. The author gave no indication how many more books before the series finished, continually pushing the estimate back. I got the feeling that the series was being milked for cash. I bought book nine, but could never bring myself even to start it. I think book ten is out now. These books averaged around 600+ pages each; so you can see what a glutton for punishment we physicians can be.

3. Name a book on your shelf that you cannot wait to dive into.

Here are some:

"Rising '44: The Battle for Warsaw" by Norman Davies. It's a history of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. In August 1944, as the Soviet Army approached Warsaw, the Polish resistance, thinking liberation was at hand, rose up against the Nazi occupiers. Stalin refused to help the resistance and held his armies back while the Nazis utterly destroyed the resistance and huge swaths of the city, killing hundreds of thousands.

"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" by J. K. Rowling. My secretary got me hooked this series a few months ago, and I'm ready to start book four.

"The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction." A hilarious parody of high school American History textbooks. I just started it the other day.

At 2:07 PM, Blogger Dr. Craig Hildreth said...

To Fwickafwee and Orac:

Thanks for sharing - amazing isn't it, the wide range of topics one is fascinated with? I myself almost bought "Rising 44" recently, but for some unknown reason selected "Making Friends with Hitler: Lord Londonderry, the Nazis, and the Road to World War II", mainly because I read the author's highly acclaimed bio of Herr Schickelgruber...

At 7:03 AM, Blogger m said...

Alas, I am neither a doctor nor do I play one on TV; I just very much enjoy reading your blog.

1. Name a book that you cherish and cannot wait to read again.

"Foucault's Pendulum" by Umberto Eco. My degree is officially in medieval history, though that was another life ago, and this is one of very few pieces of fiction that deal with topics medieval that I can bear. I've read it several times and intend to read it several more; every time I read it, I find something new.

2. Name a book that you refused to finish, or simply could not bring yourself to complete.

"Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas" by James Patterson. Emotionally manipulative, and depends entirely on that manipulation. Without it, it's not a terribly good or exciting story.

3. Name a book on your shelf that you cannot wait to dive into.

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" by Mark Haddon. I love murder mysteries, and I think this one has an interesting twist; I'm eager to see whether it's as engaging as it sounds like it will be.

At 1:47 PM, Blogger Hospice Guy said...

1. Book I cherish: The Rainmaker by John Grisham. Although I am breaking the rules, because I won't read it again. It is probably the first book I ever read 100% for pleasure, and I credit it for my love of reading. I bought it in the airport on the way to the beach for my honeymoon. Much to my wife's dismay I finished the book on my honeymoon. (The one book that I am sure I will read again is To Kill a Mockingbird. It is the first book I read that convinced me that pleasure reading was not oxymoronic.)

2. Couldn't finish Babylon Rising by Tim Lahaye. I enjoyed/enjoy his Left Behind series as mindless but somewhat thought provoking reading, but this new series is horrible. You know you've done something special when the first book of a series of books is unfinishable!

3. A Pirate Looks At 50: Jimmy Buffet's book about his life (he refuses to call it an autobiography) is zipped in my suitcase and ready to head to the airport in the morning. I love his music and hope to spend some of my Christmas vacation in the mountains dreaming of some place warm through the eyes of the ultimate beach bum.

At 2:46 PM, Blogger Caltechgirl said...

1. Book I cherish: (I have to put two)1. The unabridged Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. 2. The Shipping News by Annie Proulx.

2. Book I couldn't finish: Pet Sematary. Ordinarily I love Steve King, but ewwww. This one made me queasy.

3. Book I can't wait to start: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. I am a huge fan of Bryson's travel books and I can't wait to get into this one.

As far as The Rainmaker is concerned, I got that in paperback my sophomore year of college and read it so much that I am on my third copy. Definitely a good read.

At 8:10 PM, Blogger HypnoKitten said...

I'm not a doctor, but as a senior nursing student the time that I'm able to spend reading for pleasure has dwindled to nearly nothing.

Cherish and can't wait to read again: Remarkable Healings by Shakuntala Modi, MD. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. TranceFormations by Richard Bandler.

Refused to finish: OMG! Robert Jordan can kiss my butt if he thinks he's getting any more money out of me until he finishes his very last book. I started #8 of the Wheel of Time, and I have to completely agree, it has lost something. I put it down once I figured out it wasn't the last. Maybe I'll buy them all at a used books store if he ever finishes.

Can't wait to read: Does Kaplan's Test Prep for the NCLEX-RN count? I thought not. Most of the books I've bought lately have been study guides. I know better than to start reading for pleasure again right now. Clive Cussler and Dean Koontz both have new ones out, and I'd like to get them once I've finished school.

At 8:27 PM, Blogger Dr. Craig Hildreth said...

To m, CalTechGirl, HospiceGuy and Hypnokitten:

Thanks for your lists - perhaps it seems corny but I find it fascinating what books intelligent people are reading. I guess you have to be a true bibliophile to get something out of this topic...

At 11:36 AM, Blogger Dipesh said...

1. I can't wait to re-read the Chronicles of Narnia. I'm busy enough that I really can't justify the time on it yet, but perhaps in a few years when my son (who is 2.5) and daughter (who is 1.5) are old enough, I can read it aloud to them.

2. I couldn't bring myself to finish...hmmmm...I rarely end up not finishing a book. I do end up skimming impatiently, which is probably about as close to "not finishing" as I get. I recently did that with a modern Japanese novel about a man who finds himself afflicted with radish sprouts growing out of his legs. (I'm blanking on the title/author right now.) It was actually not bad, but the surrealism got tiresome after a while and I really found myself not caring what happened next after about halfway through.

3. The fifth Harry Potter has been beckoning to me from the shelf, but this year I can't justify spending the time reading it quite yet. (I could have justified it last year, when I was completing a master's degree in children's literature, but then again I was reading the first four then. :-) I also can't wait to get into "Being Human", Readings from the President's Council on Bioethics. Sadly, both will probably languish on my shelf for at least a few more months until I have the time to indulge myself in them. (I find I read library books much more quickly, primarily because they're due back at some point. :-)

Peace and Prosperity,

Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MS, PA-C
Physician Assistant, Pediatrics
Medical Student, Class of 2006
Champaign, Illinois, USA

At 4:25 PM, Blogger Texas Libertarian said...

Okay, I'll lead with the cliche', "I'm not a doctor but I have a close friend that is an OB/GYN."

By the way, your blog is both inspirational (to those of us who have family members lost or being lost to the wretched disease) and enlightening (to those of us who have no idea of the human struggles suffered by those in whom we entrust our medical care.)

1. Name a book that you cherish and cannot wait to read again.

"Coming of Age in the Milky Way," by Timothy Ferris. Anytime I feel ignorant or "lesser-than," I pick it up and read an excellent account of the progress of human intelligence and discovery, (as was understood at its writing), and marvel at how ignorant and "lesser-than" we all are. Mr. Ferris is very adept at explaining theoretical physics in a way I can's refreshing.

2. Name a book that you refused to finish, or simply could not bring yourself to complete.

"War and Peace," by Leo Tolstoy. I don't care if it is classic literature...damnit! I'm not reading it and you can't make me. And no, it's not the length (I finished Stephen King's "It," in two sittings over a weekend); it's just hard for me to read...

3. Name a book on your shelf that you cannot wait to dive into.

"State of Fear," by Michael Crichton. I hear he really jabs it to the enviro-whackoes. Should be a satisfying read.

Thanks again for your blog! Very, very uplifting.

At 12:30 PM, Blogger APeticola said...

1. Name a book that you cherish and cannot wait to read again. (I'm naming two!)
"The Case of Doctor Sachs" by Martin Winckler -- a 1998 novel about a French doctor (by a French doctor) that is mostly told in the second person (!) -- fascinating and touching -- was a best-seller in France.

"The Breast Cancer Wars" by Barron Lerner M.D. -- why the US did radical mastectomies long after they were abandoned in other countries, Barney Crile of the Cleveland Clinic, Rose Kushner and other activist patients, the American Cancer Society, etc. A fabulous, fascinating book!

2. Name a book that you refused to finish, or simply could not bring yourself to complete.
"The DaVinci Code" Friends made it sound good, but I thought it was a total bore.

3. Name a book on your shelf that you cannot wait to dive into.
"The Aspirin Wars" by Charles Mann and Mark Plummer is one I plan to get to, but as it's been waiting on my shelf for some time "cannot wait" is an overstatement. In fact I may reread both books above before I get to this.

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