books · clinic · PGY-4

Notes today, and some Twitter-style book reviews

“[Patient] arrived 53 minutes late for a 60 minute appointment, so evaluation was somewhat limited.”


Book #13: The Martian, by Andy Weir: [1 star]

Left for dead on Mars. But rebuilt the oxygen converter. YAY!

[I was a chemistry major. I enjoyed chemistry quite a bit. But let’s face it, narrative descriptions of the Wagner-Meerwein rearrangement does not make for compelling reading. For an action-adventure-scifi novel, this was a snoozefest.]

Book #14: Boy Snow Bird, by Helen Oyeyemi [3 stars]

Snow White Re-Told: The mirror reveals hidden secrets.

[More “inspired by” than “modern retelling,” to be honest. A meditation on race and identity and mimesis. The switch in narrators part way through, then switch back to the original voice, was jarring. The plot twist at the end felt gratuitous. But overall, an enjoyable read from a compelling writer. I’m interested in her other modern fables, too, like Mr. Fox, and the Icarus Girl.]

Book #15: Hundred Foot Journey, by Richard Morais [2 stars]

Edward Said rolls over in his grave.

Oh god. This book. It got super hyped cause of the movie (which I still haven’t seen) but it was extremely simplistic and more like a fairy tale than a book. And a Kiplingesque fairy tale at that. India is heavily Othered, throughout the book. The protagonist was dull and diffident — the real characters are Papa and Mme Mallory, and the second half of the book without them slogs. Avoid.



File:Ernest Ange Duez - Resting - Google Art Project.jpg
Descando; Ernest Ange Duez; Wikimedia Commons

Somehow, even without having anything to do on the weekend, I find myself exhausted at the thought of work on Monday.

I find out where I matched for fellowship on Monday. So maybe that’s why I’m feeling so exhausted. I have a LOT of thoughts about the fellowship match process — it was much weirder than it was for the residency match, perhaps because fellowship match is newer (until just a few years ago, people just applied, were offered a position, and went it with). I am extremely nervous. I know it will be ok. I just don’t know what ok will look like, I guess. OK could take me, literally, across the country.


Books 11 and 12

The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

This was a fun little twofer, a beach read of sorts. (I didn’t make it to the beach this year, but it’s a similar light romantic comedy.) I usually hate romantic comedies because they are SO predictable, but The Rosie Project (the first book of the two), is actually a comedy that happens to be about love. So unlike 95% of romantic comedies, this one is actually funny! The premise is that Don Tillman, a Really Smart Scientist, decides to go about finding a wife, in the most rational manner possible: with a questionnaire. Meanwhile, a friend of a friend enlists his help in tracking down her biological father. Hijinks ensue — there is a lot of very physical and very verbal comedy in this novel. I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that it was originally pitched as a screenplay, and it would make a great movie.

The follow-up Rosie Effect loses some of the charm of the original, in part by transplanting the action from Australia to NYC, the city where dreams go to die. (Ask me how I really feel about New York.) Now Rosie is pregnant, so Don tries to learn how to be a model father … except no one can give him a straight answer as to what that means. Rosie was smugly irritating in this one in ways she wasn’t in the last, but the scenes with Don going off on his own to study young children in the park, or enrolling himself in a Child Welfare Project, were pretty amusing. A very satisfying read to them both.

Ratings: 4/5 for the first one, and 3/5 for the second.


Books #7 through 10

I’ve been reading, I swear! But a little delinquent on the book reports. Blame summer; even without legitimate vacation, it certainly lends itself to lazy days by the pool.

Book 7: Americanah, by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie. Rating: *****

Wow, that’s a mouthful! And it’s a mouthful of a book, too. It’s told from the perspectives of two Nigerians, once lovers now apart, as they navigate American and British sentiment on immigration, race, and the like. Strongly drawn characters; I preferred Obinze over Ifemelu — he is a deeply sympathetic man, while she is a force of nature. The structure is a little unusual and episodic, almost like its a series of connected short stories that were linked by interludes into this longer, book-length tale. But it’s the kind of book that stays with you for weeks after, especially reading it now, after the year we lost Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland. Definitely a desert island read, as was her previous book, Purple Hibiscus.

Book 8: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, by Laurie King. Rating: ***

Veeeeery different style. This one is the first in a series of mystery novels built on the premise that Sherlock Holmes grew old, retired to the English countryside (and kept bees??) and then was drawn out of retirement in the early 1920s by a proto-flapper by the name of Mary Russell. As an inveterate Sherlockian — the Great Detective features front and center in my personal statements ranging from college all the way to fellowship! — I’m always a little wary of adaptations and continuations of the canon. The BBC’s Sherlock won me over in spite of myself, but this one, somewhat less so. It’s really more of a Mary Russell mystery than a Sherlock Holmes mystery (and its quite a fine mystery at that), but it made the whole Sherlock thing seem like a bit of a gimmick to get attention. The sequel would probably be a good beach read if it landed in my lap but I wouldn’t go out of my way to hunt it down.

Book 9: The Frozen Thames, by Helen Humphreys. Rating: ****

I read this for my book club, way back in February or so. (To be honest, a frozen river sounds just awesome on this 90+ degree September day.) The premise of the book is simple: the River Thames has frozen solid 40 times in recorded history; Ms Humphreys has put together a series of vignettes for each of those times. She does an excellent job with the variations in style over time. And there are broader themes of hubris and wonder. In the words of my 7th grade English teacher: this book was Man vs Nature. (Funny how we never read any Woman vs Nature. I’ll save that rant for another time.)

Book 10: The Martian, by Andy Weir. Rating: *

I hated this book. I finished it, but I hated it. I usually like adventure stories, and survival stories, and what could be more adventure-survival than being left for dead … ON MARS! But the narrator was terrible. He was supposed to be a 30 something materials engineer (who randomly was also a botanist? Because people get PhDs in two totally disparate fields (“it’s science!”) by the time they are 30.) But the way he talked, he sounded like a 12 year old school girl. The flux capacitor is working!!! Yaaaay! Seriously. No. I almost expected to see hearts flying over his “i”s, the way the reeally popular girls did on the covers of their Trapper Keepers, in gel pen.

OK, folks, that’s all for now. More to come soon


Book #6: The Adventures of Miles and Isabel

The cover of this book caught my eye as I was browsing through the central library one afternoon. It’s the tale of two teenage misfits, Miles McGinty and Isabel Dowling, in 19th century Sydney who learn to build an airplane that actually flies.

In some ways, it’s the book equivalent of a Wes Anderson movie like Moonrise Kingdom. Young protagonists, joining forces against a weird adult world. And the story itself was compelling enough and funny enough. But Wes Anderson makes his movies work for adults by making them explicitly nostalgic — an adult looking back and thinking about this strange episode in their childhood. (The Grand Budapest is even more intensely layered.)

This book, on the other hand, was just adventure story, straight up. Miles and Isabel are born on the same day, grow up in very different circumstances (the satire of both upper and working classes was excellent), and then met somewhat serendipitously. It’s a picaresque (Candide, etc), but with a slightly unique structure in that there are two protagonists working their way toward each other. So … Candide but with Cunegonde’s life narrated in real time as well. But in some ways, it makes it seem like the book only gets its start two-thirds of the way in, when M & I finally meet and start collaborating on their flying machine.

Overall, a worthwhile story especially for a younger audience. I’d put the target audience of this one around ten or twelve, to be honest …. Not completely sure why it was shelved in the adult section, to be honest. Still, entertaining and charming.

[Rating: 2/5]

books · PGY-3

Book #5: The Monsters of Templeton

This was another book club read, from way back in February. It’s the story of a young archeologist who falls pregnant (as they used to say) and travels home to the Upstate New York village of Templeton to reconnect with her mother and escape from her married lover — even though she spends half the book mooning over him and wondering why he doesn’t call. Her mother promptly lands a bombshell on her, that her father was not a California hippie, but rather one of Templeton’s upstanding respectable men, scion of the Founding Family, and so Willie (aka Wilhelmina) spends her summer tracking down the descendants of Marmaduke Temple in order to discover who her father really is.

Taken as a mystery novel (whodunit = who got my mom pregnant?) it’s not the greatest. The plot “twists” are advertised a mile up the road. But as a study of a small town, especially through the centuries, it’s compelling. Each main chapter is narrated by a different Temple, ranging from the colonial era through relatively modern times. There are helpful family trees interspersed throughout the book, updated as appropriate as Willie learns more information about her family’s background. Willie herself is a tad passive, gleaning information from library books (Templeton has a library to rival the Bodleian in terms of access to primary sources, diaries, and whatnot) and mostly lets the truth fall into her lap.

A few subplots in the book were gratutitous. Willie has a friend with lupus cerebritis who calls up at all hours, stark raving psychotic. There’s a personal ghost — a strange moment of magic realism that doesn’t fit with the style of the rest of the book — and even more bizarrely, a Loch Ness monster named Glimmie who is essentially the town’s guardian spirit. Any of those elements would have been a good stand alone book, but I couldn’t really see how they added, complemented, or enriched the main plot of Monsters of Templeton.

Overall, 3/5 stars. I liked it and would check it out of the library again, but wouldn’t buy it.

[I’m going to start adding a star system to these reviews, as follows:

1/5: No good
2/5: Eh. Might pick it up again in a few
3/5: Enjoyable. Would check it out of the library again.
4/5: Pretty good. Would definitely read again, and recommend to friends.
5/5: Amazing. A desert island book. ]

books · PGY-3

Book #4: Purple Hibiscus

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has been on my to-read list for ages. I’ve had Americanah on my library Hold list for months. (I should just buy it outright, because after reading her first novel as a “consolation prize,” I can tell that this writer is going to be a keeper.)

Purple Hibiscus is a coming-of-age story in modern Nigeria, with themes of violence both domestic and national, religious influence, and family. POV is a teenage girl from a rich family, losing innocence and gaining some degree of awareness of the larger world. Structured very well indeed; you could almost map out the physical journey between city and country as a surrogate for the emotional journey she takes. The voice is excellent; it’s a real challenge to write a character on the border between childhood and adulthood, both in terms of the language as well as avoiding heavy handed flashbacks.

On a nerd level, I kind of loved that the opening line is “Things began to fall apart…” — clear allusion to probably the most famous Nigerian novelist in the Western world, Chinua Achebe.  I, like most former literature students, read Things Fall Apart in college, where it was presented as a colonial answer to Heart of Darkness. I remember at the time thinking it was much richer than that, but I’ve never gone back to it. Perhaps I should. In this novel, like that one, Nigeria the country, the land, is very much a character in itself. Purple Hibiscus intersects with the Nigeria of Chinua Achebe, giving us a contemporary world, where Achebe’s was historical (written in the 1950s but set a half-century earlier), and a domestic focus where Achebe was more nationalistic (again, that might have been the lens the professor was using).

The thing with this project is that every book I read opens up to at least three others. It’s like a fractal tree!

books · PGY-3

Book #3: Good Omens, and some life outside the hospital

I read this one for my book club, way back in January. It’s very much like The Hitchhiker’s Guide … to the Apocalypse. An angel and a demon team up to ensure that the end of the world goes smoothly, except of course it doesn’t. Mostly it’s a chuckling satire of bureaucracy and general human stupidity. I’ve never read anything else by Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman (those I’ve been gifted copies of the first Discworld book and American Gods, by wiser geekier friends) but I think I’ll have to hunt down some more of their work.

In other news, Spring is FINALLY here, after an endless East Coast winter. We didn’t suffer as much as the hardy fools in Boston, but I’m so so glad to see some green again. Especially that first spring green (Nature’s first green is gold) that signals that life is returned. One of my co-residents put it well: “I can tell you the exact time of year that I stop being a bitch — it’s the first day after Daylight Savings Time, when I walk out of the hospital and it’s light outside.”

It was a busy busy weekend for me. Socially as well as work-wise. I was the “senior” of sorts this weekend (all the real seniors are at the Academy meeting, so us 3’s are covering). This meant I had to round with the inpatient teams in the morning and generally make sure everything was ship shape. That in itself wasn’t bad, but part of being the senior means running stroke codes independently. Which means when that BEEP BEEP BEEP happens, you jump in your car and drive like a maniac. I wish we had little sirens to put on our cars, because waiting for a green light when there’s no one coming is the most frustrating thing.

But I’m glad I did it and got it over with. Monday morning was challenging, because I’d been woken up about every hour throughout Sunday, staffing consults from home. (The junior resident in house has to run things by the senior before calling the attending.) It’s a little weird being in a pseudo-attending role, I gotta say. But it’s a great sign of our program that I felt comfortable managing everything I got called with. I used to think that attendings had it easy compared to residents, but I’m starting to think it’s actually a lot more challenging. You are relying on someone else’s story to make decisions, which means you have to really trust that other person. It’s very different from supervising a med student, where you know you are going to retake part of the history and redo the exam. Just laying eyes on a patient makes all the difference — you get a sense of sick or not sick very quickly.

But the rest of this week has been a blast. I mean, I’m sitting on my porch after a very light clinic day (AAN this week = lots of cancellations), watching the sunset and drinking a leftover Bellini from a baby shower this weekend. Life could hardly be better.