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2014 L&H DISCUSSION SCHEDULE - Facilitator Notes


Wed, Dec 17  

Book: Billy Lyn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (same book as below, different location for discussion) 


Wed, Dec 3 LDSH Pugh Boardroom

Book: Billy Lyn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain  (same book as above, different location for discussion)

Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

The novel, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, takes place on Thanksgiving Day when decorated Iraq war veterans from Bravo Squad are scheduled to appear alongside Destiny’s Child as part of the overblown spectacle at a Dallas Cowboys football game.  With a satirical pen, Ben Fountain skewers Americans’ pieties about the war, our infatuation with football, our facile patriotism, and the all-too-common lack of real empathy for veterans.   He also creates a winning, reluctant protagonist in Private Billy Lynn.  This darkly funny novel has been called the Catch-22 of the Iraq war and was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2012.  

Wed, Nov 5 LDSH Pugh Boardroom

Book: The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

Facilitator: Mark Matheson, D. Phil

Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s The Leopard was his only novel, and he died in 1957 while trying to get it published.  The book first appeared in 1958, and it soon became the basis for a feature film by Luchino Visconti, which was released in 1963 with Burt Lancaster in the title role.  (Please try to watch this film before our discussion.)  The Leopard is a historical novel set in Sicily from 1860 to 1910, and it represents the transition from an older European aristocratic society to nationalism, capitalism, and modern representative government.   The central character is Prince Don Fabrizio Salina, the Leopard, whom Lampedusa based on his own great-grandfather.  The Prince takes seriously his obligations to longstanding traditions and the old social order, of which the Catholic Church is a bulwark.  But he moves pragmatically to try to hold onto his high position as social and ideological changes break across the generally inert world of Sicilian life.  His nephew Tancredi is his hope for the future—he regards him as far more spirited and noble than his own children—and he seeks to marry him to Angelica, the beautiful daughter of a local mayor who has become unexpectedly rich in the new commercial economy.   The novel offers a subtle exploration of the Prince’s inner life and his responses to the decline of the privileged social class to which he belongs.   It contrasts the emerging world of modernity, in which money will become the ruling force, with an older aristocratic society based on monarchy, a caste system, and traditional prejudices.  Lampedusa’s evocation of this historical process and its consequences for individual characters is both ideologically deft and richly sensuous.  Our reading of the novel will be a chance for us to consider issues of social class, inner lives, and historical change in our own country and time—and also the costs and benefits of the complicated process that produced modern society.

Wed, Oct 1 LDSH Pugh Boardroom

Book: Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

Kevin Powers' 2012 novel, The Yellow Birds, was awarded Finalist for The National Book Award for its moving depiction of a soldier's desperate experiences in the Iraq War 2003-2009. Powers, a veteran of this war with an MFA in poetry from the University of Texas at Austin, writes poetically about the psychological traumas that have devastated this generation of soldiers. This session in October is the first in a two-part series on the theme of the war in Iraq;  the second session in December will consider Ben Fountain's novel, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, also a National Book Award Finalist. Participants are invited to join us for either or both sessions. 

Wed, Sept 17 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: What Doctors Feel by Danielle Ofri

Facilitator: Susan Sample, MFA

In her fifth book, Danielle Ofri investigates what she calls medicine’s elephant-in-the-room:  physicians’ emotions.  The internist at New York’s Bellevue Hospital wrote How Doctors Feel in response to the “emotional conundrum” she and other physicians experienced when they were faced with telling a patient they had cared for, and cared deeply about, that she would die.  Chapters rich with description about Ofri’s relationship with this patient, Julia who has congestive heart failure, alternate with longer chapters that explore emotions, ranging from fear of misdiagnosis to grief over a patient’s death to empathy as “clinical curiosity” to disillusionment with the practice of medicine.  Ofri draws upon extended interviews with other physicians and research articles, in addition to her own experiences as a medical student, resident, and attending physician, to consider how positive and negative emotions influence patient care.  Ofri masterfully tells stories to illustrate her points, although she never claims to know the answers, which makes the book, as one reviewer says, “an invaluable guide for doctors and patients on how to ‘recognize and navigate the emotional subtexts’ of the doctor-patient relationship.”  We will begin our discussion with the chapters “Drowning,” “Scared Witless,” and “Burning with Shame.”      

Wed, Sept 3 LDSH Pugh Boardroom

Book: Season of the Body: Essays by Brenda Miller

Facilitator: Susan Sample, MFA

How our bodies give shape to our most intimate relationships is explored by Brenda Miller in Seasons of the Body. Although she shares memories from her childhood, the twenty essays in the collection focus on the years often designated as a woman’s “fertile” period, her twenties and thirties.  For Miller, these decades are notable for the losses she bears. She suffers two miscarriages and, at age twenty, is told she will never have children; her mother took DES during her pregnancy.  She ends a long-term relationship with a man who wants children and another with a man who has two children.  Yet she also volunteers to hold preemies in an NBICU and develops a close relationship with her godson.  Through these experiences, Miller re-envisions the “emptiness” of her body in prose that touches and teaches all bodies.  Her writing combines an exquisite sensitivity she learned and practiced as a massage therapist, with intelligence and eloquence honed during her graduate study in creative writing at the University of Utah.  For our discussion, we will focus on the chapters:  “Needlepoint,” “Names,” “A Thousand Buddhas,” “Artifacts,” “Infant Ward,” “Time with Children,” and “Seasons of the Body.”            

Wed, Aug 6 LDSH Pugh Boardroom

Book: Being Dead by Jim Crace

Facilitator: Aden Ross, PhD

Like the title of this book, Jim Crace anatomizes the phenomenon not of dying but of being dead. Readers of Quarantine, his fictional study of Christ wandering the desert with other religious zealots, might expect some consolations of an afterlife. Not so. Being Dead begins unforgettably with an almost medical description of two bodies slowly decomposing on a sand dune, a middle-aged married couple inexplicably and brutally murdered. Never one to follow his readers’ expectations, Crace moves outward from that mesmerizing scene, winding together four narrative strands. While one strand tracks the dead couple’s decomposition, another traces the day of their death and backtracks to their initial meeting thirty years earlier. A fourth narrative strand follows their semi-estranged daughter’s increasingly urgent search for their bodies.

The result, a kind of reverse entropy, parallels the macrocosmic world of human life with the microcosm of maggots and flies, all with a style mixing scientific precision and unexpected beauty. Our discussion will probably encompass contemporary definitions of death as well as the extraordinary measures medicine takes to keep patients “alive.” But ultimately, like a memento mori, this novel challenges us to contemplate our own human life within the natural order, to reflect on our own growth and decay, to value the ephemerality of love. 

Wed, July 2 LDSH Pugh Boardroom

Book: Post Mortem by Phillip Mackowiak 

Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD

Post Mortem: Solving History’s Great Medical Mysteries doesn’t solve every medical mystery, but does address the conditions of twelve important historical figures, from Akhenaten to Joan of Arc to Booker T. Washington.  Author Philip Mackowiak is both a physician and historian of medicine, and draws on these dual specialties to give a detective’s attention to the lives and deaths of these famous people.

Wed, June 18 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink (same book as below, different location for discussion)

Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD

Five Days at Memorial is a careful, in-depth look at the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as it was experienced at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans. After the hospital flooded and lost power, help was excruciatingly slow in coming and staff had to make decisions about who would be rescued first.  Written by physician and journalist Sheri Fink, who spent years unraveling the desperate scenarios that took place in a hospital left to fend for itself.

Wed, June 4 LDSH Pugh Boardroom

Book: Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink  (same book as above, different location for discussion)

Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD

Five Days at Memorial is a careful, in-depth look at the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as it was experienced at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans. After the hospital flooded and lost power, help was excruciatingly slow in coming and staff had to make decisions about who would be rescued first.  Written by physician and journalist Sheri Fink, who spent years unraveling the desperate scenarios that took place in a hospital left to fend for itself.

Wed, May 7 LDSH Pugh Boardroom

Book: Opened Ground: Selected Poems by Seamus Heaney

Facilitator: Mark Matheson, D.Phil

Thank you for reading some of the poems of Seamus Heaney.  I know poetry can represent a challenge, but I think you’ll find Heaney’s work very rewarding.   I’m going to list some poems, found in his volume Opened Ground, that I’d like you to read for our discussion:

  1. “Digging, “ p. 3.  A poem about Heaney’s vocation as a writer and his relationship with his father and the generations of men in his family, who tilled the soil as farmers.
  2. “Follower,” p.10.  Another poem about Heaney’s father and his legacy for the poet.
  3. “Mid-Term Break,” p. 11.  This is the one I mentioned at the end of our last discussion together.  Heaney’s younger brother Christopher was killed in an auto-pedestrian accident at the age of four.
  4. “Wedding Day,” p. 65.   The oddness of feelings on a day of great ritual and moment.  Very, very far from the emotional stereotypes perpetrated by the Bridal Industry.
  5. “Mother of the Groom,” p.66.   The progress of the generations.
  6. “Exposure,” pp. 135-6.  An Irish poet meditates on his role as an artist in the unfolding history of violence and conflict in this homeland.
  7. “A Dream of Jealousy,” p. 169.  Desire and pain.
  8. Stone from Delphi,” p. 207.  Another poem, I think, about Heaney’s vocation as an Irish poet in the second half of the 20th century.
  9.  “The Master,” p. 256.  The daunting struggle to reach wisdom and greatness of heart.
  10. 10.   “The Haw Lantern,” p. 275.  “Haw” refers to the fruit of the hawthorn tree.  Flame as both warmth and the light by which one’s inner value is scrutinized and judged.
  11. 11.   “Clearances,” pp. 282-290.  A group of short poems that Heaney wrote about his mother after her death in 1984.
  12. 12.  “The Strand,” p. 406.  A “strand” is a beach, an “ashplant” a cane.

 Consider also the two-line poem that serves as an epigraph to the volume called The Haw Lantern (p.267):

    The riverbed, dried-up, half-full of leaves.

    Us, listening to a river in the trees.

 Heaney won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995.  His speech on accepting it is printed at the end of Opened Ground, and you might find it interesting and helpful as a reader of his poems.

Wed, April 2 LDSH Pugh Boardroom

Book: Raising Henry by Rachel Adams

Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

Hard work, ambition, and intellectual acuity had paid off for Rachel Adams.  With a tenured position in the English Department at Columbia University, a successful husband and an adorable first son, her life had gone very much according to plan.  However, moments after her second son, Henry, was born, she experienced the shock of her life when her doctors told her that her baby had Down Syndrome.  In Raising Henry:  A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery, Adams recounts the crash course in living with disability she and her family experienced over the first three years of Henry’s life.  With humor and honesty, Adams uses her own family’s experiences to engage with larger debates about disability in our society, including the roles of prenatal testing and genetic counseling. 

Wed,  March 19 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: Second Suns by David Relin

Facilitators: Gretchen Case, PhD and Geoffrey Tabin, MD

Second Suns is the nonfiction account of pioneering cataract surgery in Nepal by two ophthalmologists, Sanduk Ruit and Geoffrey Tabin. Together they founded the Himalayan Cataract Project in 1995 and have developed inexpensive lenses and surgical procedures that can effectively cure blindness due to cataracts for less than $25. David Oliver Relin, the author of Second Suns, has been widely cited not only for his compelling storytelling but for his honest appraisal of the project and its two founding physicians.  Dr. Tabin, who practices here at the Moran Eye Center, plans to join us for our discussion of the book.   

March 5

LDSH Pugh Boardroom

Book:  Pulse--Voices From the Heart of Medicine: More Voices: a second anthology by Paul Gross MD and Diane Guernsey

Facilitator: Susan Sample, MFA

By request, we will read the second anthology of stories and poems that originally appeared in the online journal, Pulse—Voices from the Heart of Medicine.  These short narratives share with the first anthology the overall theme of the “giving and receiving” of health care, but the authors featured and the topics focused upon in this second book cover a wider range.  A virologist in India describes a poignant hospital scene she witnessed, while an American physician who wrote prostate cancer screening recommendations tells of unexpected emotional responses.  Domestic violence, prescription addiction in the elderly, and homelessness are new topics sensitively dealt with.  More Voices, as the title suggests, also includes more narratives:  twenty one months’ worth.  You may read them in chronological order, or consult indexes at the end, which group the pieces by subject and genre, and provide a one-sentence summary.  For our discussion, I’d suggest selecting two narratives written by someone who shares your perspective (for example, if you’re a pediatrician, a poem by a pediatrician) and another two written by someone whose perspective you do not share (if you’re a nurse, a story by a family medicine resident).  We’ll open with “Ladies in Waiting” that begins on page 179.   

Wed, February  5


Book: The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally

Facilitator: Aden Ross, PhD

The Daughters of Mars, by Thomas Keneally, follows the lives of two sisters from Australia, both nurses who enlist to serve on the European front during WWI.  It is a novel of extraordinary scope and depth, dramatizing the war from the unusual perspective of Australia’s contributions to the Great War, both in battle and in medicine.

Keneally, best known for his novel Schindler’s List, vividly describes a wide range of sympathetic individuals attempting to survive everything from primitive aerial bombardment to mustard gas to the Spanish flu, all while dealing with lack of supplies, diminishing medical staff and overwhelming casualties.  He portrays the larger effects of war as well—its devastation on the emotional, physical, psychological and familial well-being of an entire generation.    Meanwhile, the Durrance sisters and their friends all desperately try to find or keep whatever human bonds they can under conditions as random as they are violent.

Apart from providing a solid background about medicine in WWI, the novel contains excellent,  page-turning descriptions.  Keneally’s creation of the sinking of a hospital ship is about as gripping  as writing gets.

Wed, January 8 LDSH Pugh Boardroom

Book:  Deep Play by Diane Ackerman

Facilitator: Mark Matheson, D. Phil

Diane Ackerman has had a distinguished career as an essayist and poet, and her work often bridges the divide between science and the humanities.   Her book, Deep Play, is an exploration of playfulness in many contexts, including the evolutionary, the ethnographic, and the spiritual.  She offers a host of alert observations and provocative claims about the role of play in animal life and human experience, and our facilitator is  confident that her assertions will be a stimulus to lively discussion.   But in some sense the book is also an exhortation to play, and in this respect Dr. Matheson thought it might be very interesting for us.   As members of what might be called the professional classes, we live in a world from which play seems to be effectively banished.   Overwork, routine, and fatigue have arguably become the fundamental characteristics of life for people across the professions.  So I’m interested to know if you agree with this assessment—that playfulness is increasingly absent from our professional lives--and (in any case) whether a reading of Ackerman’s book can serve as means for recovering the spirit of play and the benefits she believes it can bestow.