8 February 2015 § 6 Comments
The emptiness of a long string of days can rise, envelop one, carry one far from the shore, and compress time such that with a sudden gaze backwards, land seems only an imaginary line. So much more is this true if those days have had little to distinguish them from each other, if nothing in them has been recorded, if no particular goal or point in time has proven a culmination of labour.
I finally found my journal—it was hidden in the bookshelf; the urge to hide my journal sometimes seizes me, which is odd since I usually keep it anywhere and trust that others will have the respect not to read it—and discovered that the last time I wrote in it was the day before I started work in August. Rather than expounding upon grand intellectual aims, I seemed more concerned with my ability to find the lab and whether it was a faux pas to bring my lunch in a brown bag, rather than in my lunch box, which I had apparently left at home (in Tennessee, not in my apartment) under the assumption that I would not be given a lunch break. These details have in fact come to reflect more than grand intellectual aims would have the logistical and practical details that consume my daily work.
Dispensing with dullness, I turn to the things that envelop me in a more welcome way than does a long string of monotonous days: stories. A jumble of recently read books, including a few from last year, should provide a suitable entremet (or plat principal, if you have been lazy about reading) for your own literary pursuits.
Dracula has blood, sharp teeth, tears, transfusions (with no regard to blood type), layers upon layers of Victorian morality and sexual ethics (see also: transfusions), dread, fear, despair, old books, maps, European professors, really pale white girls, scheming, ships, séances (sort of), coffins (with dead, alive, and not quite either people in them), high collar points, garlic flowers, roses, crucifixes, and obviously a castle. I did not know the any of the story of Dracula before reading the book, which probably made it even more riveting. I read this book over several plane flights during interviews, and I am certain that a discussion of this book with the dean of admissions is the sole reason I was accepted to medical school. When I finished reading it, I closed my eyes for a few minutes and then dove into some Poe.
The Magic Mountain should be more popular in the current culture than it is, given its abundance of irony, metadiscourse, and athletic thinness. Its most exciting parts involve frequent nervous dread regarding the passage, fluidity, and mystery of time, patients dying (as they are wont to do when afflicted with tuberculosis and made to “take the cure” in the icy air of the Alps), and a few séances, which I promise are not becoming a trend for me. That is all I shall say about it, since I am feeling rather ashamed of reading it in English rather than in German.
In Search of Lost Time. Read it.
Antifragile (Taleb) offers an edifying compendium of my worldview, complete with Eastern Orthodoxy, good stories, lampooning of academics, and my favourite wines. He includes several fancy graphs, though his arguments are easily understood regardless of the reader’s mathematical abilities. It is always enjoyable to read something that you already agreed with; it is even better when the writer has actual reasons for his arguments and explains them with clarity and humour.
Genius on the Edge: The Bizarre Double Life of William Stewart Halsted (Imber) offers a factual overview of the life of the father of modern surgery. Although amusing and never dull, the book seems to have a particular audience in mind, as it is written on a second-grade level by a plastic surgeon (hence the epithet of “factual”), notwithstanding the copious cocaine/morphine abuse. I will resume my reading of the longer, more nuanced Michael Bliss biography of Harvey Cushing, whom I prefer anyway.
Internal Medicine (Holt) is a collection of short stories based on Terrence Holt’s residency training at UNC. Before entering medical school around the age of forty, he was an English professor, and he still teaches creative writing in addition to geriatrics. I attended a lecture given by him this week, and all he did was read one of the stories. It was the best medical lecture I have ever attended. No slides. No flowcharts of gene control. No deluge of acronyms. There was, however, compassion, humour, curiosity, and honesty, all of which should probably be given stat in an IV drip to any academic hospital.