I finished 7 books in June. One was a children’s book and one was a graphic memoir. Below are the first lines. The graphic memoir was quite excellent.
The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary
In the middle part of the fourteenth century, a text purporting to be the travel memoirs of an English knight named Sir John Mandeville began to circulate among the learned of Europe. Mandeville, the text claimed, had traveled through Asia Minor, northern Africa, and into India and had experienced many things unknown in Western Europe. Among these wonders was an Indian tree bearing gourdlike fruit, within which could be found tiny lambs, complete with flesh and blood.
Three hundred miles up the Mississippi River from its mouth – many parishes above New Orleans and well north of Baton Rouge – a navigation lock in the Mississippi’s right bank allows ships to drop out of the river.
This book is not about a love affair with the culture and antiquities of India.
The Man in the Crowd
There is a famous black-and-white photograph from the era of the Third Reich.
Santa Fe Railway
May 27, 1936
The movement of the train rocked me like a lullaby. I closed my eyes to the dusty countryside and imagined the sign I knew only from stories. The one just outside of town with big blue letters: MANIFEST: A TOWN WITH A RICH PAST AND A BRIGHT FUTURE.
I learned about a lot of things in medical school, but mortality wasn’t one of them.
I Was Six
[Sketches of the city from a distance, then gradually focusing on one house, then inside the house]
The titles and authors revealed:
The Misinformation Age - How False Beliefs Spread, by Cailin O'Connor and James Owen Weatherall. ©2019. 279 pages. 197 pages of text.
This book was okay, but I was rather overwhelmed by the many presentations of Bayes’ theorem-based models and such. My reading of it suffered from stopping halfway through and then deciding to resume. I didn’t get anything helpful out of it.
The Control of Nature is a 1989 book (272 pages) by John McPhee that chronicles three attempts to control natural processes. It is divided into three long essays, "Atchafalaya", "Cooling the Lava", and "Los Angeles Against the Mountains" (three essays previously published in The New Yorker). I read it for book club, and keep thinking about it, as climate change shows mastery over humans.
In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India by Edward Luce. 448 pages. 2008.
I speed read this because I wanted to read something that might explain caste before reading Wilkerson’s book, and because what I know about India is stuck in the 20th century. Even since the writing of this book India has changed a lot, with the BJP coming back into power, and then in 2021 tragically being struck hard by the covid virus.
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. 496 pages. © 2020.
I may publish a more extensive review at some point. Using the language of caste for historical and current social structures of the US is powerful and revealing. However, I found Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns to be more compelling than this book, perhaps because I thought this one relies too often on metaphors.
Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool (children’s lit). © 2010. 363 pages. (Newbery Medal Winner)
This book includes the KKK and illicit alcohol. Would your local school district ban it from the reading list? I enjoyed the characters, plot, and writing.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. © 2014. 257 pages.
I read this because my aunt and about a thousand other people told me to. At first, I was angry - the author seemed to be going in the direction that India is doing it all right and the US is doing it all wrong when it comes to how the elderly are treated. The situation he describes for his grandfather relies on the (unpaid) labor, resources, and goodwill of many, but Gawande does eventually recognize this fact.
Gawande’s book reinforces the point that Viktor Frankl makes in Man's Search for Meaning - having a purpose in life is crucial for human thriving.
Gawande makes the point that we are misspending our health resources. My own anecdote: My father contracted Parkinson’s Disease. After a while he was wheelchair bound, lost the ability to walk, and could stand only with the assistance of three trained people. He relished the opportunity to stand, and received the needed assistance through physical therapists for a short time. It was such a relief to him to stand up! But after only a few weeks, that particular physical therapy ended because he was not “making progress.” Damn it. He had a degenerative disease and of course he was not going to make progress. The relief of standing was taken away because Medicare would not pay for it. If Medicare doesn't cover it, it ain't gonna happen. To be fair, there were other therapies that helped him that did continue for a longer time.
As Gawande says:
A few months after he published the results, demonstrating how much better people’s lives were with specialized geriatric care, the university closed the division of geriatrics.
On average, in Boult’s study, the geriatric services cost the hospital $1,350 more per person than the savings they produced, and Medicare, the insurer for the elderly, does not cover that cost. It’s a strange double standard. No one insists that a $25,000 pacemaker or a coronary-artery stent save money for insurers. It just has to maybe do people some good.
Stitches: A Memoir, by David Small (graphic memoir) © 2009. 329 pages.
Do not read the liner notes unless you love spoilers! Do not even look!
This book was quite moving and excellent. Adult themes. I read it because the library book bingo had “graphic novel” on one of the squares. My daughter picked it out for me.