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2019 L&H DISCUSSION SCHEDULE - Facilitator Notes



Wed, Dec 11 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

The 1980s AIDS crisis in Chicago is the setting for Rebecca Makkai’s award-winning novel, The Great Believers.  The narrative is split between the extended social circle of Yale Tishman, a young gay man living in Chicago in 1985, and the survivors of that social circle in the year 2015.  Makkai’s research and interviews with people who lived through the early AIDS crisis give the story a strong quality of authenticity and realism.  The novel beautifully evokes not just the fear and frustration that abounded at that time, but the massive sense of loss we are still left with. 

Wed, Nov 13 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: Why We Revolt : A patient revolution for careful and kind care by Victor Montori

Facilitator: Mark Matheson, DPhil

Victor Montori is an endocrinologist who grew up and trained in Peru and who now practices at the Mayo Clinic.  In November we’ll discuss his book Why We Revolt: A Patient Revolution for Careful and Kind Care (2017).  The title is somewhat misleading about the book’s content and tone.  Montori offers a meditative analysis of what he describes as the current “healthcare industry” and of how its functioning degrades the clinician-patient relationship.  And he makes the point that this system damages not only patients but also doctors and other healthcare providers.  Genuine care is “co-created” by the patient and the clinician through a process of listening, imparting, and shared decision-making that Montori likens to a creative dance.  But this kind of dancing is increasingly rare in the factory-like conditions of present-day healthcare.  Montori’s diagnosis of systemic problems in modern medicine will be familiar, but he makes some thoughtful points about possible remedies, including a new emphasis not just on efficiency but on the “elegance” of care, as well as on building a culture of “solidarity” between patient and doctor.  He believes that real change is both desirable and possible, though he acknowledges that it will take time, just as building a cathedral is the work of many generations. We look forward to hearing your responses to Montori’s specific claims and to his overall vision for healthcare—and you’ll even find a reference to Hubert Humphrey!     

Wed, Oct 9 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America by Mary Otto 

Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD, MA

In Teeth, author and veteran health journalist Mary Otto exposes the silent oral health crisis that  pervades America. Otto reveals important connections, sometimes hidden, sometimes overlooked or ignored, between oral disease and inequalities in our society. Millions of people with chronic oral health problems, disproportionately the elderly and people of color, suffer poor job prospects, low education, stunted social mobility, and a problematic public health system. Otto describes how historically, despite evidence that oral health and general bodily health are closely related, dental health became separated from mainstream medicine. This book sparks a reflective conversation we invite you to join about why our teeth matter, unsettling truths in our unequal society and the extent and meaning of this oral health crisis.

Wed, Sept 11 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

Educated, the best-selling debut memoir by Tara Westover, tells the story of Westover’s upbringing in a family dominated by her violent survivalist father.  Westover grows up in a rural community near the Utah/Idaho border.  Her family’s roots are in Mormonism, but her father distorts their faith to justify his personal paranoias about medicine, education, government and “the illuminati.”  Because of their geographic and social isolation, Westover grows up knowing of the larger world only what her despotic father will allow.  Despite the physical and emotional abuse she endures as a young person, Westover senses there is a larger world beyond her family’s compound and is determined to discover it.  Her quest for education takes her first to Brigham Young University and ultimately to a PhD in history at Cambridge.  Her astounding and inspiring story of survival has been praised by people as diverse as Barack Obama and Bill Gates.  Please join us to discuss this important book. 

Wed, Aug 14


UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: Slow Medicine: The Way to Healing  by Victoria Sweet

Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD, MA

After reading God’s Hotel in 2013, we return as a group to the thoughtful prose of physician and historian Victoria Sweet with her 2017 book Slow Medicine: The Way to Healing. As the title suggests, Sweet addresses the fast pace of modern medicine and how it might not be as efficient or effective as a more thorough—albeit slower—approach to working with patients and colleagues. She calls us to attention through carefully crafted stories of her own family and of the patients she has encountered as a physician. She asks us to consider the consequences of hurrying, intensifying, and commodifying medical treatment. Perhaps controversially, she considers the place of prayers and perceived miracles in her approach and proposes “no” as an appropriate form of slow medicine when a patient or family asks that “everything” be done. 

Wed, July 10  UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer by Barbara Ehrenreich 

Facilitator: Maureen Mathison, PhD

 Not one to accept the status quo on issues, Susan Ehrenreich has taken on our fear of youthfulness and mortality. With a PhD in cellular immunology, she has an ongoing interest in wellness and health. To a certain point. Rather than falling prey to our culture’s preoccupation with ageless longevity, she settles into the comfortable position of accepting aging as a natural process. What precipitated her questioning of our obsession with health and wellness was an article in Scientific American that “reported that the immune system actually abets the growth of tumors, which is like saying that the fire department is indeed staffed by arsonists.” Given that the body has its own mechanisms, why do we think we can control it through our regimen of rigid diets and hours at the gym, efforts that attempt to stave off aging, ill-health, and dying? Natural Causes provides much to think about in terms of quality of life and living joyously, knowing that ultimately we all meet the same fate.

Wed, June 12 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: Through a Long Absence: Words from My Father’s Wars by Joy Passanante

Facilitator: Susan Sample, PhD, MFA

Winner of the 2017 INDIES Book of the Year Silver Award for Biography, Through a Long Absence:  Words from My Father’s Wars is the captivating account of Bart Passanante, a young Army surgeon deployed with the 91st Evacuation Hospital during World War II.  We read of harrowing surgical scenes but also pastoral landscapes from North Africa to Italy, England to France, Holland to Germany.  Drawing on his four-volume diary, hundreds of letters to his wife, his paintings and photographs, Joy Passanante uses her father’s words to reconstruct the time he was absent, the years he and her mother never talked about. In this way, Through a Long Absence is also the story of Bart and Bertie, first-generation Americans growing up in St. Louis.  Bart is the Italian foster child of a small-time gangster, graduating from medical school; Bertie, a seventeen-year-old Jewish girl, graduating from high school and forbidden to date a Gentile. In chapters alternating between Europe and St. Louis, we learn of Bart’s other “wars,” including conflicts in his unusual childhood--time torn from piano practice to bootleg—and the impact of his absence on his young marriage.  In this way, Through a Long Absence is also a memoir of a daughter discovering herself through the writing of her father’s life, especially after he lost the ability to speak.
For our discussion, we’ll be honored to have as our guest and co-facilitator Joy Passanante.  The author of a novel, short story collection, and poetry chapbook, Passanante is former associate director of the Creative Writing at the University of Idaho.  She has described her father as “a Renaissance man, a doctor, pianist and artist,” which suggests a good starting point for our discussion.  How did music and art, as well as the war, influence the development of her father as a surgeon? 

Wed, May 8 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: There There: A Novel by Tommy Orange

Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

Tommy Orange’s 2018 novel There There focuses on the lives of contemporary Native Americans living in Oakland, California, and the tremendous legacy of loss that this community experiences.  Orange draws compassionate but unsentimental portraits of twelve Native characters whose paths will cross at the Big Oakland Powwow.  There There has won numerous awards including the PEN/Hemingway Award, the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize and the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize.  Louise Erdrich says of Tommy Orange, he is “a new writer with an old heart.” 

Wed, April 10 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: Mend: Poems (Contemporary Poetry and Prose) by Kwoya Fagin Maples

Facilitator: Susan Sample, PhD, MFA

Mend is a stunning contribution to an ethical debate that has been ongoing for decades, if not a century.  J. Marion Sims was a renowned surgeon who practiced in the early 19th century in Alabama and New York.  He invented the speculum and pioneered surgical treatment for fistulas, a condition resulting from lengthy births that leaves women incontinent. What has been called into question is whether Sims, lauded as the “father of gynecology,” obtained consent from and provided anesthesia to his patients, enslaved black women.  The issue continues to be debated in professional journals ranging from Female Pelvic Medical Reconstructive Surgery to the Journal of Medical Ethics to Ethnic Health as well as in the popular press, including The Atlantic and The Washington Post last year. Mend adds a unique voice, literally. The book is a collection of poems written in the voices of the only three black women whose names are known:  Anarcha, Betsey, and Lucy. Interspersed with their harrowing yet tender narratives are excerpts from Sims’ autobiography and references to the author’s own medical experiences.  The juxtaposition not only humanizes abstract ethical issues; it challenges us as readers to reconsider history and the role poetry can play in fully imagining the past.

March 13

UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book:  From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty

Facilitator: Jenny Cochrane, MA

Sir Bentley Purchase, Coroner of London from 1930-1958, was once described as a man who found every aspect of death incredibly amusing; in her book From Here to Eternity, mortician Caitlin Doughty follows in his shoes. Full of gallows humor and perceptive, humane, and intriguing insights into humankind’s customs surrounding death, Doughty takes us on a journey throughout the United States and around the world on a cultural quest to find “the good death.” She explores the idea of what it means to treat the dead with dignity and how the way we tend to our dead impacts on individual feelings about death, mortality, and the way we expect our own body to exit this life. Warning: reading this book may cause you to rethink your own funeral plans and perhaps opt to be mummified and kept in your family home, or possibly become a grant-wishing human skull in Bolivia.   

Wed, February 13

UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: The Two Kinds of Decay: A Memoir

Facilitator: Susan Sample, PhD, MFA  

Sarah Manguso begins with an unusual disclaimer for a memoir: “The disease has been in remission seven years. Now I can try to remember what happened. Not understand. Just remember.” In short, spare chapters, she recounts vivid memories from hernine-year experience with chronic idiopathic demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy, a very rare condition “something like a chronic form of Guillain-Barre syndrome but not exactly…there isn’t a proper name for it yet.” What emerges is an exploration of language--how physicians use it; how she as a patient uses it—to describe and cope with illness. Manguso’s writing is precise, concise, and emotionally honest, so that by the book’s conclusion, we do come to an understanding of empathy.

Wed, January 9 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

Book: Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo

Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD

Stay With Me tells the story of a young couple in Nigeria who navigate marriage, infertility, and illness amidst familial and cultural expectations that mix ancient ideas and modern sensibilities. Yejide, the narrator, searches for a miracle that will bring the child that she and her husband Akin so badly desire, while her husband’s family seeks the same ending by bringing Akin a second wife. Stay With Me is Nigerian author Ayobami Adebayo’s first novel, and was on the shortlist for the 2018 Welcome Book Prize, which called it “the heart-breaking tale of what wanting a child can do to a person, a marriage and a family; a powerful and vivid story of what it means to love not wisely but too well.”