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2015 L&H DISCUSSION SCHEDULE - Facilitator Notes



Wed, Dec 2 LDSH Pugh Boardroom

Book: The Children Act by Ian McEwan

Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

 In Ian McEwan’s novel, The Children Act, well-respected British High Court Judge, Fiona Maye, has made a career of bringing “reasonableness to hopeless situations.”  In her toughest case yet, she must decide whether Adam Henry, a Jehovah’s Witness with leukemia, will be compelled to forsake his religion and undergo lifesaving blood transfusions.  Making the decision more difficult is the fact that Adam is almost 18, the age at which he would be able to make his own decision under English law.   In considering her decision, Fiona confronts several conflicting ideals:  the protection of children, the sanctity of life, parental authority, patient autonomy, and religious freedom.  Not a writer of simple polemics, McEwan further complicates matters by putting Fiona’s marriage in jeopardy and infusing her own personal vulnerabilities into the story.

Wed, Nov 4 LDSH Pugh Boardroom

Book: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Facilitator: Aden Ross, PhD

The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion, is a lighthearted novel about a serious subject.  Don Tillman, a genetics professor, leads a life of tightly structured routine and excessive regimentation, dividing his endeavors into “Problems” and “Projects,” including cooking, sleeping and eating.  His rigid constraints serve him well enough until he decides that he needs a wife—the Wife Problem, which we recognize is a subdivision of the People Problem.  To solve the wife issue, he characteristically develops a questionnaire to filter out unsuitable candidates.  Enter Rosie Jarman, the most unsuitable candidate imaginable—irrational, vegetarian and late.

Because of Don’s literal-mindedness, insensitivity to social cues and revulsion at being touched, his behavior certainly falls within the spectrum of autism disorders; but it also makes him a lovable and unwittingly comic narrator.  Whether or not Don has Asperger’s Syndrome is less relevant than recognizing in him traits we all recognize in our family members, our friends and, possibly, in ourselves.  

This is a discussion about the power of emotion, the possibility of change and the importance of eccentricity. The Rosie Project a quick and charming read, but a substantive one.

Wed, Oct 7 LDSH Pugh Boardroom

Book: The Anatomy Lesson: A Novel by Nina Siegal

Facilitator: Susan Sample, MFA

This historical novel artistically fleshes out one of medicine’s most well-known paintings, Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, on multiple levels.  Nina Siegal draws upon six years of research in Amsterdam to vividly reimagine the city in 1632, a significant time for the evolving science of medicine.  Tulp, newly appointed city anatomist, commissioned the artwork to memorialize himself as well as instruct apprentice surgeons; attendees paid to view the dissection, in contrast to the prior raucous public executions and dissections of the criminals’ corpses.  

The novel creatively conveys this historical shift through characters’ alternating points of view in what might be termed a literary dissection.  Siegal infuses life into the painting’s corpse by giving voice to various body parts.  Chapters entitled “The Hands” provide a personal portrait of Tulp; “The Eyes” describe Rembrandt as a young artist; and “The Mind” tells of Renee Descartes whom the author imaginatively places at the dissection.  Straddling history and fiction are “The Body” chapters, based on historical details about Aris Kindt, a petty thief whose body is the famed corpse.  Siegal poignantly imagines not only Kindt’s early life but also Flora, a young woman who reveals yet another perspective on life in “The Heart.”     

Like the painting, the novel raises provocative questions concerning dissection and anatomy, science and art, religion and epistemology.  How does the scientific truth Tulp presents relate to the artistic truth Rembrandt strives for in his novel group portrait?  How does Descartes’ presence influence the anatomy lesson?  As you read, consider whether the novel influences the ways in which you look at the individuals in the painting, particularly Tulp and Kindt.  What is the relationship between what we see and what we know?

Wed, Sept 2 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir  by Roz Chast

Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD  

Roz Chast’s book Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?  is subtitled A Memoir, and it is a memoir, but not of just one person.  This is a memoir of a family.  The book centers on the relationship between Chast, a nationally celebrated cartoonist, and her parents as they age and pass away.  Chast’s words and images work together in this book to tell a complicated story of love, frustration, fear, and peace.  The story is not a simple one and not told in an entirely linear fashion, but will resonate with anyone who has participated in the aging and dying process with elders.  Although the subject matter is sometimes grim, Chast’s wit and sharp attention to detail leads to many humorous moments and a satisfying conclusion.      

Wed, Aug 12


LDSH Pugh Boardroom

Book: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Facilitator: Aden Ross, PhD

 “All the Light We Cannot See,” by Anthony Doerr, is one of the most compelling and best written novels in years, justifiably earning the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Set in the final months of World War II, the novel follows the lives of Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, and Werner, a German orphan conscripted by the Hitler Youth. When the Nazis occupy Paris, Marie-Laure and her beloved father flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo by the sea, taking with them one of France’s most valuable jewels from the Museum of Natural History.

Jumping back and forward in time, Doerr slowly interweaves the lives of both characters, paralleling Werner’s growing expertise with electricity and radios and Marie-Laure’s exquisitely rendered exploration of the natural and emotional worlds through her father’s eyes. The plot, suspenseful enough to keep you up at night, culminates in a scene where Marie-Laure is trapped in her hiding place as the town burns under Allied bombardment and a Nazi officer tracks her to steal the jewel. Apart from complex characters and an appropriately labyrinthine structure, Doerr’s style mixes vivid scientific details with gorgeous poetic metaphors, a true symbiosis of science and art. More than that, he explores vital issues. How can anyone remain good in the face of the violence and destruction of war? How is science simultaneously an instrument of wonder—and death? What comprises a person’s conscience—or an apparent lack thereof? How can one distinguish “good” and “evil” in war?

At one point, Doerr reminds us that all light is mathematically invisible and that the brain can create light in darkness. Between Marie-Laure’s blindness and Werner’s entrapment in radio waves, this novel ultimately asks each of us, what is all the light we cannot see?”

Wed, July 1 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: Falling Into the Fire: A Psychiatrist's Encounters with the Mind in Crisis  by Christine Montross 

Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD

Montross, with an MD and an MFA in poetry, is ideally positioned as a physician-writer to show us into her world of inpatient psychiatry.  She offers insight into the treatment of people in crisis due to mental illness, offering stories of some of her most challenging encounters as a psychiatrist.  With “asylums" long gone, replaced by improved but uneven systems for promoting and preserving mental health, Montross asks hard questions about how to help. 

Wed, June 3 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: Destiny of the Republic by Candace Millard 

Facilitator: Mark Matheson, D.Phil.

Candice Millard’s The Destiny of the Republic (2011) explores a little known moment in U.S. history: the nomination and brief Presidency of James A. Garfield, who was elected in 1880.   Some famous nineteenth-century figures enter the story, including Joseph Lister and Alexander Graham Bell.  A young and vigorous President, Garfield was shot early in his first term.  He lingered for over two months, in great suffering, before his death in September 1881.  Millard’s book becomes a striking medical drama as she recounts the political and theoretical dimensions of the President’s treatment.  This is arguably the best part of the book, and it will be of genuine interest to our group.   Lister’s theory and practice of antisepsis had been in place in England for fifteen years, but his ideas were still not accepted by the American medical establishment, and Garfield’s death was the result of massive infection.  The development of workable X-ray technology was more than a decade in the future, and Bell, who had already invented the telephone, tried to locate the bullet in Garfield’s body through the use of a primitive metal detector.   A role was also played by John Wesley Powell, a good friend of Garfield’s who had passed famously down Utah’s Green and Colorado Rivers a decade before.  Working with the Department of the Navy, Powell constructed an air-conditioning system to keep Garfield comfortable as he lay dying in the sweltering White House.   Millard’s book provides a compelling account of American medicine in the late 1800s—at the defining moment when it is called upon to save a President--and the broader culture of the time emerges in the historical tapestry of her narrative.

Wed, May 6 LDSH Pugh Boardroom

Book:The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

Leslie Jamison’s collection of essays, The Empathy Exams, covers many topics, from paid medical actors to reality TV to incarceration to sentimentality in literature to practices of self-harm, all of which lead back to her central question--how can we understand the pain of others?  Jamison has been compared to Joan Didion for her emotional sensitivity and intellectual rigor.  The book won the Graywolf Nonfiction Award in 2014.

Wed, April 1 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: Body & Soul: Narratives of Healing From Ars Medica, edited  by Allison Crawford et al.

Facilitator: Susan Sample, MFA

Sharing stories as a means of knowing others continues to be a guiding principle for the editors who compiled Body & Soul:  Narratives of Healing from Ars Medica.  The anthology of stories, essays, poems, photographs, and drawings originally published in Ars Medica:  A Journal of Medicine, the Arts, and Humanities is intended to help especially patients and medical practitioners better understand each other’s perspective on what it means to be ill.  “Illness,” writes one of the authors, “is a test of relationship, of values, and of faith…a test that, once passed, continues nonetheless.”  With that in mind, the editors have included stories by family members and friends, as well as by patients and practitioners, which are categorized into seven areas of health care.  Each story expresses with intelligence, insight, and eloquence a unique aspect of illness; together, the many voices and genres convey the rich complexity of life; the suffering as well as the compassion that illness reveals.  

Our discussion will begin with “On Pathography.” Since there are many stories to choose from, I suggest that, in addition to your favorites, we focus on:  “Hands: A Suite of Stories”; “My Little Heart Attack”; “On the Loss and Reconstruction of the Self”; “The Cure of Metaphor”; “I, Michael”; “Unpacking My Daughter’s Library”; “Something Happened”; “The Right Thing to Say”; “The Wong-Baker Scale”; “Denial”; “Refugees in Southeast Asia”; “Mid-winter Night / Summer Party”; and “Making Images.”  

March 4

LDSH Pugh Boardroom

Book:  Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

Atul Gawande, MD, MPH, is a distinguished surgeon, writer, and medical ethicist.  His award-winning essays on medicine are published regularly in The New Yorker and his best-selling books include Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science, Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance, and The Checklist Manifesto.  In his new book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Gawande, provoked by the death of his father from cancer, turns his attention to individual priorities at the end of life and medicine’s proper role in supporting these priorities.  This has been called Gawande's most personal book.

Wed, February 4

UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern Word  by Steven Berlin Johnson

Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD

Ghost Map tells the story of the mid-nineteenth century cholera epidemic in London that proved to be a turning point in the way such outbreaks were addressed, and not just in terms of medicine.  Johnson writes in a vivid style that allows readers to see the mystery unraveling for the physicians, government officials, and general public at that time.  Somewhat controversially, Johnson frames the stories of the people living through that terrible epidemic in terms of how lessons learned more than 150 years ago apply to today’s health and environmental crises.  

Wed, January 7 LDSH Pugh Boardroom

Book:  My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

Facilitator: Mark Matheson, D. Phil

Justice Sonia Sotomayor is the third woman and the first Hispanic to serve on the United States Supreme Court.  She began her tenure as a Justice in 2009 and published her memoir, My Beloved World, in 2013.  Her book is a remarkably candid account of her years growing up in a Puerto Rican community in the Bronx; her education at Princeton and Yale; and her career as an attorney up to the time of her appointment as a Federal District Judge in 1992.   Early in her childhood, Justice Sotomayor was diagnosed with diabetes, and dealing with this chronic disease is an important part of the personal story she relates in the text.  There are some fascinating glimpses into the medical world of New York in the 1960s, and she discusses how coping with the disease has contributed to her independence and self-discipline.  She also writes about a volunteer program she started at the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital during her Princeton years, her first experience in direct community service.  She was moved to do this by the poverty and isolation of the patients and the shortage of Spanish speakers on the staff.  While telling her story Justice Sotomayor engages with a rich variety of issues, from childhood to the workings of the criminal justice system, and as a person she emerges as both highly analytical and alert to the power of poetry.