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Corrente Reads Books!

a little night musing's picture

We read books: let's review them here! Leave your reviews in the comments.

Note: you need not write a long review. Just a few words telling us why you are mentioning the book can be useful. And feel free to stretch the definition of "book" if you like.

I have a cold this weekend (and why do people specify "summer cold"? Because it seems so unfair to get one in the summer?) - at least I'm fairly sure it's a cold, and not, for example, the flu. But who knows? People in the subway have stopped covering their sneezes, thinking perhaps that since it's summer, what they have must be allergies. Or maybe it's just that they lack sleeves. Hence, my cold.

And hence, the past couple of days, when I wasn't re-educating myself on the differential diagnosis of sneezing and sore throat, I spent my time re-reading and thinking about medical mysteries.

What are you reading or thinking about reading?

What have you been reading?

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a little night musing's picture
Submitted by a little night ... on

What I actually read this weekend were the two volumes of The Medical Detectives, collections of Berton Roueché's column "Annals of Medicine" from the New Yorker from the 1940s - 80s.

I first read many of these when I was young, in two small collections entitled Eleven Blue Men and The Incurable Wound. Famously or infamously, they are the origin of many plot elements in early seasons of "House M.D." - and in fact, there was another medical show a few years before House that used "Eleven Blue Men" as the basis for its pilot's plot. (There is, in fact, a Dr. House in one of the stories in the second volume of The Medical Detectives.) It was fun to see the plot elements coming, even though the writers of House often made the medicine different and less believable for some reason. (For example, in the pilot, the Orange Man seen by House in the clinic is straight from Roueché, except that in the book his color comes from carrots and tomatoes, and House explains it as carrots and niacin. Niacin can induce a flush, yes, but doesn't cause a longterm red color like excessive lycopene does, so I can't imagine why the writers changed it.)

It's interesting to read these stories now, even apart from the medical mysteries, to see the evolution of Roueché's version of the New Yorker style. Generally, I am put off by the arch and prissy New Yorker style - to my mind, the journalistic equivalent of that upper-class Mid-Atlantic accent that was so generally adopted by actors in American films of the 1930s-40s. But the medical mysteries are sufficiently engaging that I can ignore that feeling, for the most part, in these books.

Another source of interest is watching the changes in medical technology. In the 1940s, bacterial sources of infection are identified by a laborious process of passing them through several animal hosts. By the end of the 1980s, some early DNA testing is used to type salmonella strains. One can also see the increasing presence of women medical doctors and scientists as the years go by.

Despite the New Yorker style, Roueché is an engaging writer who often lets his subjects speak for themselves.

Another writer of true medical mysteries, very much missed, is the late Harold Klawans. I was fortunate enough to snap up one volume of his writings at a library book sale (as they sold off volumes from their shelves!). That was Toscanini's Fumble and Other Tales of Clinical Neurology. Klawans was a neurologist, and he is best at describing the process by which he observes and makes a diagnosis, presenting differential diagnosis as a fascinating puzzle. The stories are also remarkably human: two of the best, in my opinion, are "Wapniarka", which tells of a man who acquired a degenerative condition as a result of being forced to eat a diet of chickling peas in a concentration camp in WWII: and the last story, in which Klawans finds himself the "patient" he must diagnose. A very enjoyable and educational read if you can find anything he wrote!

Last but certainly not least, while re-reading Roueché I was reminded of Kathy Reichs, and specifically of her recent book Bones to Ashes. Because I had read Roueché's story "A Lonely Road", I saw the denouement happening in advance, but it was still an enjoyable read - maybe moreso. Reichs is my current favorite writer of medical-related mysteries.

Who is yours?

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

jeebus i hate PCs. nevermind...

trying again: The Day of the Barbarians, Alessandro Barbero. About the Battle of Adrianople 378 CE and its role in the fall of the Roman Empire.

Shadow and Light, Jonathan Rabb. Fictional exploration of the interwar years and the German entertainment and media industries. could be... interesting, given our modern day SCLM. we'll see, this was a rec and i don't this author.

The Ultimate Plant Book, Chief Consultants Kate Bryant and Tony Rodd (Global Book Publishing). thousands and thousands of encyclopedia style references, pictures, data, diseases, cultivars... you get the drift. perfect for when i'm breaking from the heat of the gardens.

The New Space Opera 2, Dozois et al. All his anthologies are must reads, if you're a sci fi buff.

Clan of the Cave Bear, cause i haven't read it since i was a youngling.

i can't really read heavy political and sociology books about Our Modern Times, anymore. i don't have much reading time, and anyway, they depress me. it was enough to read what reality based blogs were saying about The Shock Doctrine to know i didn't really want to see all the ugly details, for example. i know how bad things are, forgive me for being too weak to properly keep up beyond blogging. but if you're pressed for time like me, they are a fabulous way to keep up on Serious Political reading.

a little night musing's picture
Submitted by a little night ... on

I'm always torn whether to write an actual review, since people seem to react to my reviews by thinking that they are not "smart" enough to contribute here or that the books they read are not "intellectual" enough (a concern that once led to this post)

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

You say you don't know Jonathan Rabb. I read his Rosa not too long ago. The historical background was good, and I learned things about Rosa Luxembourg that I hadn't known. The novel was slow, heavy on atmospherics, but finally very good. I will definitely look out for Shadow and Light.

I also read Clan of the Cave Bear. I might have enjoyed it when I was a young'un myself, but I found it extraordinarily annoying as an adult. I wanted to strike out whole paragraphs of pointless cliched description (arrows are always swiftly flying, rather than, say, slowly meandering) and contradictory descriptions of clan mentality (no general concepts of tree as opposed to species of trees on the one hand, and highly sophisticated symbolic ceremonies on the other). I found it slow and not very good.

Submitted by lambert on

... which Leah sent me.

I'm really coming to understand why Asian cultures have "Don't waste food!" as a value, and last year, I grew a lot more than I ate. Bad!

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

lb: was that comment meant for this thread, as in "my books are now grown in the ground and not harvested by corporate pseudo tree growers?" :-)

and remember: CSAs! growing more than you eat? sell it! or sell your sunny patches of land, and let someone else work it for food to sell for your profit! farmer's markets and local slow food collectives want to help, and get you involved! and yes. we. hate. waste. you'll come to even more, the more you uFarm (urban farm). i believe with a bit of (gummint paper)work, you can donate what you grow yourself but don't eat to shelters etc. and get a tax credit.

like all corporate approved publications, Rabb's book makes me wonder, just looking at it. i don't read widely, i admit that. but that is a bonus, sometimes. i can often tell when a book is being pushed on us, by our masters, for a specific reason. my mind is open, but if this book takes a neoliberal or DLC style turn, i'll drop it like a hot potato. for all i don't read "political" books anymore, i'm really fucking sensitive to it (the modern, psyops kind) in my fiction. it's like a neighbor's dog's shit on my bedroom floor; i'll get really annoyed if my relaxation fiction reading time (which is highly limited) is cut into with libertardian, DLC, or "-ist" bullshit.

'cave bear' is sort of a well, um, stoner thing. heh. you know how there are times you want to read, something, anything? but you can't perhaps really get into "The Ancient City" or a Sumerian Emesal text, just now? or you only have 60sec on the Throne before you have to run out and get back to work, but gosh it's nice to be distracted for a minute? silly, light fluff and children's books i use for those times. i'm an addictive reader; my mind is unhappy if it's not processing some information stream. even when i sleep. :-)

Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

I have to admit, I'm intimidated by "Under the Dome". A small Maine(of course) town is cut off from the outside world after God's contact lens falls from the sky(OK, I made that last part up, the actual cause of the Dome hasn't been addressed yet, and to be perfectly honest, from what I've been reading from King lately, I don't think it will ever be addressed, FWIW)

I haven't read much from my Uncle Stevie(how he refers to himself to his Constant Readers, not an actual relative, BTW), and what I have read has been his typical stuff.

And this is typical, but atypical too. This is his attempt at writing American Literature, not just pulp. It's 1100 pages, and has a huge cast of characters. It's an interesting look at several aspects of American culture today, from the media culture(the fact that Anderson Cooper is now stationed outside the town the story is set in, because of the event which begins the book, had me giggling) our fear culture(the military is on scene within hours, and sentries around the town have been ordered to ignore inquiries from residents, town selectmen are throwing around the word terrorism). Small town politics, religious fundamentalism, mental illness and family grievances are all one the table for exploration.

He is devoting as much page space to this look at a small town, as he did to the end of the world in The Stand. I'm only 100 pages into this book right now, so I'll expand more when I have more information. My fave line so far is as follows, when an Army colonel calls the cell phone of the town's newspaper editor, in an attempt to reach a resident of the town, who is an Iraq war vet.

Julia(the editor): "Why are you calling me? If you want someone found, the police would be you're best bet."

Colonel: I grew up in a small town ma'am, and if there's one thing I know, it's that in small town, politicians don't know anything, the police know a lot, and the newspaper editor knows everything."