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Literature & Healthcare Discussion Group

This informal group is facilitated by expert faculty from across the U and meets monthly to discuss books and other texts (films, essays, plays, etc.) that address health and healthcare. Our program draws on concepts developed by scholars advocating the importance of literature and narrative in healthcare education and practice.

Come across a book you think would be beneficial for others to read?
Heard about a book you'd like to read?
Read a book you'd like to discuss?

Let us know and we'll add it to our review list for the next year's picks!


*make sure to check each tab for details


    1.5 hours of CME credit     |     2nd Wednesday of the month     |     6-7:30pm     |     via Zoom*

    You will need to email the Center for a Zoom passcode to join the discussions
    book cover

    JANUARY 10

    Facilitator: Susan Sample, PhD, MFA

    Book: A Life in Light: Meditations on Impermanence
    by Mary Pipher (2022)

    CME Code:  10056

    Click to send email for ZOOM link & code
    book cover - Libertie


    Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

    Book: Libertie: A Novel
    by Kaitlyn Greenidge (2021)

    CME Code:  45056

    Click to send email for ZOOM link & code
    book cover - What My Bones Know

    MARCH 13

    Facilitator: Mark Matheson, DPhil

    Book:  What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma
    by Stephanie Foo (2023)

    CME Code: 73056

    Click to send email for ZOOM link & code

    will be the 1st week due to the Valentine’s Day conflict on the 2nd week

    book cover

    APRIL 10

    Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD, MA

    Book: Black Health: The Social, Political, and Cultural Determinants of Black People's Health
    by Keisha Ray* (2023)    

    HYBRID EVENT!!!  In-person: EHSEB 2948 (click here to send email for parking code)
    CME Code: 101056

    Click to send email for ZOOM link & code
    book cover - We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies

    MAY 8

    Facilitator: Hailey Haffey, Phd

    Book: We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies
    by Tsering Yangzom Lama (2023)

    CME Code: 73056

    Click to send email for ZOOM link & code
    movie cover - Crip Camp

    JUNE 12

    Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD, MA

    Movie: Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution 
    by Nicole Newnham, James LeBrecht, & David Radcliff (2020)

    CME Code:  164056

    Click to send email for ZOOM link & code

         ↑  *Dr. Ray is the 2023-24 Cowan-Mayden Lecturer and will be joining us for the discussion


    The Covenant of Water


    by Abraham Verghese (2023)

    Facilitators: Susan Sample, PhD, MA 
    & Sadie Hoagland, PhD, MFA

    MAY 29


    @Oasis Cafe (151 S 500 E, SLC)

    *not our typical meeting time

    book cover - Sometimes People Die

    JULY 10

    Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

    Book: Sometimes People Die
    by Simon Stephenson (2022)

    CME Code:  192056

    Click to send email for ZOOM link & code
    book cover - Mrs Dalloway

    AUGUST 14

    Facilitator: Mark Matheson, DPhil

    Book: Mrs. Dalloway
    by Virginia Woolf (1925)

    CME Code:  227056

    Click to send email for ZOOM link & code
    cover -essays


    Facilitator: Sadie Hoagland, PhD, MA & Rachel Borup, PhD

    Essays: The Aquarium & People Like That are the Only People Here
    by Aleksander Hemon (2011) & Lorrie Moore (1997)

    CME Code:  255056

    Click to send email for ZOOM link & code
    book cover - The Answers: A Novel


    Facilitator: Sadie Hoagland, PhD, MA

    Book:  The Answers: A Novel
    by Catherine Lacey (2018)

    CME Code:  283056

    Click to send email for ZOOM link & code
    book cover - The People’s Hospital


    Facilitator: Hailey Haffey, Phd

    Book:  The People’s Hospital: Hope and Peril in American Medicine
    by Ricardo Nuila, MD (2023)

    CME Code:  318056

    Click to send email for ZOOM link & code
    book cover - Taking Care


    Facilitator: Maureen Mathison, PhD

    Book:  Taking Care: The Story of Nursing and Its Power to Change the World
    by Sarah DiGregorio (2023)

    CME Code:  346056

    Click to send email for ZOOM link & code


    1.5 hours of CME credit     |     2nd Wednesday of the month     |     6-7:30pm     |     via Zoom*

    *To protect the privacy of all who attend and the tempo of the discussion:
    1)  meetings will start in the Waiting Room
    2)  participants need to email the Center to receive a passcode

    Our program draws on concepts developed by scholars advocating the importance of literature and narrative in healthcare education and practice. Each month, discussions of relevant books are led by members of the Center and other U of U faculty and staff.  The spirit of our program is captured by Rita Charon, MD, PhD, in the abstract from her  JAMA article (2001;286:1897-1902):  Narrative Medicine: A Model for Empathy, Reflection, Profession, and Trust:

    The effective practice of medicine requires narrative competence, that is, the ability to acknowledge, absorb, interpret, and act on the stories and plights of others. Medicine practiced with narrative competence, called narrative medicine, is proposed as a model for humane and effective medical practice. Adopting methods such as close reading of literature and reflective writing allows narrative medicine to examine and illuminate 4 of medicine's central narrative situations: physician and patient, physician and self, physician and colleagues, and physicians and society. With narrative competence, physicians can reach and join their patients in illness, recognize their own personal journeys through medicine, acknowledge kinship with and duties toward other health care professionals, and inaugurate consequential  discourse with the public about health care. By bridging the divides that separate physicians from patients, themselves, colleagues, and society, narrative medicine offers fresh opportunities for respectful, empathic, and nourishing medical care.


    A 10% discount is available for our book discussion friends
    at the following locations:

    U of U Health Sciences Bookstore
    26 2000 E, SLC, UT
    call     |     directions     |     website

    pickup:  sign marked parking space in Lot 70

    The King's English Bookshop
    1511 S 1500 E, SLC, UT
    call     |     directions     |     website


    1.5 hours of CME credit     |     2nd Wednesday of the month     |     6-7:30pm     |     via Zoom*

    *To protect the privacy of all who attend and the tempo of the discussion:
    1)  meetings will start in the Waiting Room
    2)  participants need to email the Center to receive a passcode

    JANUARY 11

    Facilitator: Mark Matheson, DPhil

    Book: Together: The Healing Power of Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World
    by Vivek H. Murthy, MD


    Facilitator: Sadie Hoagland, PhD

    Book: True Biz
    by Sara Nović

    MARCH 8

    Facilitator: Susan Sample, PhD, MFA

    Book: Heart of Caring
    by Mark Vonnegut

    APRIL 12

    Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

    Book: Joan Is Okay
    by Weike Wang

    MAY 10

    Facilitator: Mark Matheson, DPhil

    Book: The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
    by Bessel van der Kolk, MD

    JUNE 14

    Facilitator: Susan Sample, PhD, MFA

    Book: When We Do Harm: A Doctor Confronts Medical Error
    by Danielle Ofri, MD

    JULY 12

    Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD, MA

    Book: The Body Scout
    by Lincoln Michel

    AUGUST 9

    Facilitator: Hailey Haffey, PhD

    Book: Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
    by Robin Wall Kimmerer


    Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

    Book: Lessons in Chemistry
    by Bonnie Garmus

    OCTOBER 11

    Facilitator: Sadie Hoagland PhD

    Book: Blood Orange Night
    by Melissa Bond


    Facilitator: Hailey Haffey, PhD

    Book: The Doctor Stories
    by William Carlos Williams


    Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD, MA

    Book: Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation
    by Dan Fagin


    JANUARY 12

    Facilitator, Rachel Borup, PhD

    Book: Pull of the Stars: A Novel
    by Dr. Emma Donoghue


    Facilitator: Gretchen Case, MA, PhD

    Book: We Are All Perfectly Fine: A Memoir of Love, Medicine and Healing 
    by Dr. Jillian Horton

    MARCH 9

    Facilitator: Hailey Haffey, PhD

    Book: The Birth of the Pill 
    by Jonathon Eig

    APRIL 13

    Facilitator: Mark Matheson, DPhil

    Book: Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague 
    by Maggie O'Farrell

    MAY 11

    Facilitator: Gretchen Case, MA, PhD

    Book: The Genome Defense: Inside the Epic Legal Battle to Determine Who Owns Your DNA 
    by Jorge Contreras

    JUNE 8

    Facilitator: Susan Sample, MFA, PhD

    Book: Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted 
    by Suleika Jaouad

    JULY 13

    Facilitator: Maureen Mathison, PhD

    Book: Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine & Murder in the Scientific Revolution 
    by Holly Tucker

    AUGUST 10

    Facilitator: Sadie Hoagland, PhD

    Book: Exit 
    by Belinda Bauer


    Facilitator: Mark Matheson, DPhil

    Book: The Mike File: A Story of Grief and Hope 
    by Stephen Trimble

    OCTOBER 12

    Facilitator: Susan Sample, MFA, PhD

    Book: The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine 
    by Janice P. Nimura


    Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

    Book: Mercy Street 
    by Jennifer Haigh


    Facilitator: Hailey Haffey, PhD

    Book: The Hospital: Life, Death, and Dollars in a Small American Town 
    by Brian Alexander


    Wed, Dec 8 via    zoom

    Book:  The Vanishing Half  by Britt Bennett

    Facilitator: Maureen Mathison, PhD

    In her book, The Vanishing Half, author Brit Bennett weaves the story of twins Stella and Desiree, who at sixteen leave their hometown in search of identity. Growing up the twins are inseparable, yet unique. They have each internalized the early trauma of their lives but experience it differently in their search for self in a racialized world. Bennett beautifully addresses issues of race, family, and identity in her novel. Issues she raises are especially pertinent today as society continues to struggle with race and its legacy in our history.  

    Wed, Nov 10 via zoom

    Book: A Chorus of Stones: The Private Life of War by Susan Griffin

    Facilitator: Jenny Cochrane, MA

    Susan Griffin's A Chorus of Stones is, all at once, a historical narrative and memoir. Her prose weaves the story of global history into the lives of those who lived it--famous and inconspicuous alike--including the lives of her and her family. Much as stones carry the scars of the events of their environment, Griffin explores the idea that the trauma we carry is not ours alone but is a tapestry of pain past and present that we will, in turn, pass on to the future. She examines the toll that personal and global traumas take on our individual psyches--how they blur the lines of traditional gender roles, sex, health, safety, well-being, and sanity. Paragraph by paragraph, Griffin pulls the macrocosm of myriad historical events into the microcosm of identity and proves that we truly are products of all that is and all that has gone before. 

    Wed, Oct 6


    via zoom

    Book: The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts by Tessa Fontaine

    Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

    Tessa Fontaine’s relationship with her mother was difficult to begin with.  Then her mother’s devastating hemorrhagic stroke put Tessa in the complicated position of caring for a mother who had done a less-than-perfect job of caring for her.  To escape the stress and ongoing emotional trauma of her mother’s health crisis, Tessa learned to eat fire and joined the travelling World of Wonders sideshow, where she performed as Electra, the Electric Woman.  Her memoir alternates between scenes at her mother’s bedside, flashbacks to her difficult childhood, and scenes of adventure with her adopted carnie family.  Tessa is an amazingly gifted writer who studied in the University of Utah’s creative writing program.   Her memoir is sure to spark discussion about the ways in which atypical bodies have been exoticized and vilified by sideshows, the therapeutic benefits of performance art, how outsiders often form alternative communities, difficult mother-daughter relationships, caregiving, and complicated grief.  

    Wed, Sept 8 via zoom

    Book: The Plague by Albert Camus

    Facilitator: Mark Matheson, DPhil

    In his novel The Plague (1947), Albert Camus offers a compelling fictional account of an epidemic in a North African city.  The central character is a physician, Dr. Bernard Rieux, who is very active in the town of Oran before the plague and who becomes a leading figure in dealing with its catastrophic effects.  The novel offers a perceptively sequenced presentation of the outbreak, progress, and abatement of the plague.  Living as we still are with the COVID pandemic, we can appreciate Camus’s insight into the consequences of the plague for individuals and institutions.  In both the novel and our current reality, mass infection reveals a great deal about the character of human beings, as it does about organizations—medical, civic, ecclesiastical, and commercial.  One of the real interests for us in reading the novel will be comparing the responses to plague in Camus’s fictional city with those in 21st-century America.  One initial observation: while the narrator is aware that the plague raises political issues in Oran, there is an absence of the politicization of the epidemic along ideological lines that we’ve witnessed in the U.S. since March 2020.  There is also the question of how a physician—and how the medical establishment—deals with this kind of disaster.  Dr. Rieux is persistently stoic, but he faces exhaustion, numbness, and existential philosophical and spiritual quandaries.  The effects of the epidemic on Dr. Rieux—of human suffering on a scale he has never experienced, and about which he can do almost nothing—will be a rich topic of discussion when we gather in September.

    Wed, Aug 11


    via zoom

    Book: Hidden Valley Road:  Inside the Mind of An American Family by Robert Kolker

    Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD, MA

    Hidden Valley Road is frequently described as a “medical mystery” or “medical detective story,” but it is not fiction. Robert Kolker wrote this book about the very real Galvin family and their lives in 20th century Colorado. Of the twelve children in the Galvin family, ten were boys, and six of those boys were diagnosed with schizophrenia. Their situation was so compelling and unusual that the family was studied by the National Institute of Mental Health. This is a book about the unknowns of mental illness, about a family coping with trauma and hoping for better, and all the ways that medicine is still trying to fully understand the human condition. 

    Wed, July 14  via zoom

    Book: The Slumbering Masses: Sleep, Medicine, and Modern Life by Matthew J. Wolfe-Meyer

    Facilitator: Maureen Mathison, PhD

    Sleep is often a topic of conversation—mostly when we haven’t slept enough. Many often think of sleep as a luxury. While eight hours of sleep is desired, it is primarily aspirational for many Americans. The pace of modern life has overwhelmed our days to the point where something has to go, usually restful slumber. Others, suffering from various ailments, rarely have satisfying sleep patterns. The past year especially has highlighted our sleep habits as they have shifted with our lifestyles during the time of COVID. Sleep today embodies cultural, medical and economic issues that saturate our society.

    In The Slumbering Masses, Matthew Wolf-Meyer undertakes American sleep, an unusual topic, from an anthropological perspective. As an outsider looking in, he critically examines American views about sleep habits, and challenges us to think about them within the context of history and culture, including that of medicine. His book provides insights into sleep disorders and how they are treated based on three years of fieldwork in a sleep clinic.

    Wed, June 9 via zoom

    Book: What Are You Going Through: A Novel by Sigrid Nunez

    Facilitator: Susan Sample, PhD, MFA

    After visiting her friend who is hospitalized with cancer, the narrator in Sigrid Nunez’s novel, What Are You Going Through, reflects on her friend’s troubled relationship with her adult daughter and thinks: “This is the saddest story I have ever heard.” The narrator, like her wry friend, is an unnamed middle-aged woman, yet she is quick to name a movie, a musical, another story “the saddest” of all time. So, it is surprising that the novel, which revolves around her friend’s plan to end her own life and the narrator’s acquiescence to help, is not itself sad. Rather, it is an insightful, compassionate, and often humorous story about relationships, the meaning of life, love, and the limits of language.  It is, as the narrator says of a movie, “a beautifully told story [that] lifts you up.”

    Wed, May 12 via zoom

    Book: Learning from the Wounded: The Civil War and the Rise of American Medical Science by Shauna Devine

    Facilitator: Mark Matheson, DPhil

    Next month we’ll discuss Shauna Devine’s Learning from the Wounded: The Civil War and the Rise of American Medical Science (2014).  Devine understands that we typically wince at the subject of the wounded in the Civil War and the medical treatment they received.  But she also makes the case that American medicine advanced enormously during the conflict.  This progress took many forms: a more pervasive knowledge of anatomy, the use of experimental methods to treat injury and disease, and the development of medical research and specialization.  Devine’s study provides a fascinating historical perspective on 19th-Century medicine in this country, including the rise of medical education.  I’m confident the book will be of genuine interest to our group of engaged medical readers.

    In considering Devine’s book, I’ve thought often about the poet Walt Whitman’s service in Civil War hospitals.  In addition to discussing Devine’s work when we get together, I hope to talk just a bit about Whitman’s accounts of his experience.  When the War was over, Whitman wrote a prose work called Democratic Vistas, a passionate vision of the transformative future he believed American Democracy could achieve.  He notes that it was his experience in the hospitals of the Union Army that led him to write the book: “I know not whether I shall be understood, but I realize that it is finally from what I learn’d personally mixing in such scenes that I am now penning these pages.” He goes on: “One night in the gloomiest period of the war, in the Patent office hospital in Washington city, as I stood by the bedside of a Pennsylvania soldier, who lay, conscious of quick approaching death, yet perfectly calm, and with noble, spiritual manner, the veteran surgeon, turning aside, said to me, that though he had witness’d many, many deaths of soldiers, and had been a worker at Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, &c., he had not seen yet the first case of a man or boy that met the approach of dissolution with cowardly qualms or terror.  My own observation fully bears out the remark.” 

    “Let no tongue ever speak in disparagement” of the American people, Whitman declares at the end of this passage, “to one who has been through the war in the great army hospitals.”

    Wed, April 14 via zoom

    Book: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

    Facilitator: Hailey Haffey, PhD

    Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God is a Harlem Renaissance classic rich with insight for present-day analysis of the interplay between gender, class, race, religion, psychology, and bodies. Key for our conversation will be Hurston’s use of storytelling as it relates to the health and wellness of the self and the community. Published in 1937, Their Eyes Were Watching God follows the life story of Janie Crawford, an African American woman who recounts coming of age in rural Florida. Through both first-person and third-person narration, Hurston reveals Janie’s histories of trauma involving illness, death, racism, and gendered violence. In Janie’s relationships with men, with her community, and in the development of her own voice as a narrator, we see the necessity of storytelling as a device of reflection, self-knowledge, and healing in the face of suffering. Further, our discussion will also be framed by a conversation about the ways Hurston’s fiction employs ritual to make meaning through an  introduction to her work as a pioneering anthropologist who personally documented the symbolism and folk medicine of Voodoo culture in the Southern United States, Haiti, and Jamaica.

    March 10


    Book: A Cross-Genre Selection of Writings about COVID-19

    Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

    For March’s selection, Rachel Borup has put together a "COVID Reader."  The  pandemic has dominated every aspect of our lives for about a year now and will probably be the greatest health crisis of our generation.  In these short stories and personal essays, some of our greatest writers respond to this moment of great loss and social change with their  talent and creative vision.

    The COVID Reader:**
    Lorrie Moore, "Face Time"                
    Charles Wu, "Systems"                      
    Jennifer Rosner, "Recipe for Connection"
    Jesmyn Ward, "On Witness and Respair"
    Edwidge Danticat, "One Thing"
    Shana Mahaffey, Don't Stop Believin"

    **for pdfs in the COVID Reader, contact

    Wed, February 10


    Book: Every Last Breath: A Memoir of Two Illnesses by Joanne Jacobson 

    Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD

    Joanne Jacobson’s memoir Every Last Breath addresses in tandem her own rare blood disorder and her mother’s chronic respiratory condition, exploring themes of hope, loss, remembrance, and resilience. Jacobson combines aspects of poetry and prose in a series of essays on illness and wellness, concepts which take on new meaning when her memoir is read during the pandemic, a time of uncertain health for all of us. Her writing is lyrical and rich in both meaning and metaphors; her attention to detail, keen and resonant, transporting readers into the emotional core of the story. Dr. Joanne Jacobson will join us as a special guest and begin our discussion with a short reading from Every Last Breath.

    Wed, January 13 via

    Book: Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis

    Facilitator: Susan Sampe, PhD, MFA

    Martin Arrowsmith has for generations inspired readers.  His tumultuous journey as a medical student, clinical practitioner, public health officer, and researcher captures conflicts many physicians experience:  medicine vs. science, altruism vs. commerce, medical ethics vs. scientific fraud. Like many classics, however, Sinclair Lewis’1925 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Arrowsmith, can be read from multiple perspectives.  Recently, critical attention has been drawn to the depiction of public health.  As one physician-reviewer noted, “rather than seeming dated, public health aspects of the story can be viewed in the context of modern deadly viral infections and antibiotic resistant bacterial diseases.”  With COVID-19, Arrowsmith takes on new meaning.  We’ll begin our discussion with chapter 31 in which the protagonist, now working for a private research institute, is sent to a Caribbean island to study the effects of a serum he developed on the bubonic plague. The parallels are fascinating as well as uncanny.


    Wed, Dec 9 via    zoom

    Book:  Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay

    Facilitator: Jenny Cochrane, MA

     Christmas Eve is a joyous, festive time spent relishing family, friends, or even alone time as everyone awaits the bells of Santa’s sleigh. Unless you’re one of millions of healthcare workers across the world for whom Christmas Eve is a shift unlike any other. In ‘Twas the Night Shift Before Christmas, Adam Kay deep dives into his journals to give us a sense of what it’s like being on the front lines of healthcare on one of the most emotional nights of the year—Christmas Eve. He recounts the joy of babies born, the heartbreak of lives lost—made somehow more painful amid cardstock stockings and rubber glove tree décor, and the insane shenanigans of the drunk and disorderly who find their way to the hospital with turkey bones stuck up their noses or baubles stuck up their backsides. Prepare to laugh and cry through a night shift you won’t soon forget!  

    Wed, Nov 11 via zoom

    Book: The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live and Die by Keith Payne

    Facilitator: Mark Matheson, DPhil

    We look forward to our discussion of Keith Payne’s The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live, and Die.  Payne is a psychologist, and he’s interested in both the material facts of inequality and its psychological consequences for people both up and down the social “ladder.”  In addition to considering the effects of actual poverty and wealth, he argues that “status”—our perception of our relative position in the social whole—is an important determinant of wellbeing.  The sections of the book exploring health and medical care in the context of social inequality will be of interest to our group, and Payne also has much to say about politics, business, and race.  This well-received book from 2018 should provide an abundance of provocative topics for conversation, and it’s unquestionably relevant in the context of material inequality in the United States, which is both already precipitous and increasing.  (A recent study revealed that the 55 richest Americans have as much wealth as the poorest 168 million.) We are excited to explore this fundamental problem in our collective life.

    Wed, Oct 14 via zoom

    Book: Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach

    Facilitator: Jenny Cochrane, MA

    Everything in the military is engineered to win wars, including the people. With her characteristic wit and humor, Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War” Mary Roach examines the mental, emotional, and physical toll a human soldier in a warzone endures and how everything from a soldier’s haircut, uniform, and even cleaning regimen is designed to ensure victory in battle. Grunt covers everything from how the zippers on a soldier’s uniform can be a problem for snipers; how war—both simulated and real—affects hearing and, by association, balance and gait; how amputee actors help military medics prepare for the gore and horror of war wounds; and how the food a soldier consumes can mean the difference between staying alert and alive or being lethargic and dead. “Take a tour of duty with Roach, and you’ll never see our nation’s defenders the same way again!” 

    Wed, Sept 9 via zoom

    Book: The Farewell (film) directed by Lulu Wang

    Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

    The Farewell premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.  It tells the story of a Chinese family’s decision to hide their grandmother’s terminal cancer diagnosis from her, and, instead, stage a wedding as a way to gather all the family members together against for a final “farewell.”  The film is written and directed by Lulu Wang and is based on her own experiences, which she originally presented on the radio program, This American Life.  The film raises interesting questions about different cultural attitudes toward death, and also manages to be surprisingly funny and touching.  

    Wed, Aug 12


    via zoom

    Book: In Pain: A Bioethicist's Personal Struggle with Opioids by Travis Rieder

    Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD, MA

    Travis Rieder begins In Pain with the motorcycle accident that severely damaged his foot, but the story does not follow a typical recovery narrative. Instead Rieder shares the extraordinary—and yet so increasingly common—path he took to manage his terrible pain with prescribed opioids and then to manage his withdrawal from those same medications. Rieder, a bioethicist, brings keen insight to the historical and structural problems that underlie the problem of opioid use and addiction. He paints a tragically clear picture of what it is like to be a person in pain, who wants to stop using opioids, confronting a medical system that is not prepared to help. 

    Wed, July 8  via zoom

    Book: The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life by David Quammen

    Facilitator: Maureen Mathison, PhD

    First used by Charles Darwin, the metaphor Tree of Life has been used to study how species are related (the trunk), evolved, and differentiated (as seen in the branching) to persist. For Darwin and others early thinking was that species evolved vertically, that is, traits were passed down to offspring; mutations were in response to environment so that through natural selection the fittest could survive. With vertical thinking much of the focus in research was on inheritance and change through genetic mutation. Genetic research opened up the study of evolution and led biologists to examine how evolution occurred through gene loss, gene creation and gene duplication. And more.
    David Quammen’s book, The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life, takes up Darwin’s metaphor augmenting a unique perspective to explanations of evolution that impact human nature and health. The book traces various scientists and their contributions to thinking about evolution, from Charles Darwin to Tsutomu Watanabe (who identified horizontal gene transfer, which accounts for drug resistant bacteria), and to Carl Woese, who redefined evolutionary processes with his discovery of a third “domain of life.”
    In a lively volume, Quammen relays the history of evolution through the history of key scientists and their contribution to its study. With the knowledge that early life may have been less competitive than thought, and that mutations occur between species, the idea that we are of the same origen and that traits are only passed on through offspring has become uprooted and the metaphor of the tree has been made circumspect, and thus tangled.

    Wed, June 10 via zoom

    Book: That Good Night: Life and Medicine in the Eleventh Hour by Sunita Puri

    Facilitator: Susan Sample, PhD, MFA

    Palliative medicine, a relatively new medical specialty, often is mistaken for hospice or dismissed as “giving up” on seriously ill patients.  In her eloquent memoir, Sunita Puri, M.D., director of palliative medicine at the University of Southern California Keck Hospital and cancer center, invites readers into patient rooms where she share their intimate stories of suffering but also trust, honesty, dignity, and compassion.  Physicians help patients live; equally important, she says, doctors can help patients live well, even at the end of their lives. Puri, the daughter of Indian immigrants, follows her mother, an anesthesiologist, into medicine but finds herself curiously drawn to the limits of medical care where uncertainty, not the possibility of yet more procedures, reigns. In prose candid yet reassuring, Puri gently encourages physicians and the public alike to accept our mortality.  Her memoir and the questions it raises seem especially pertinent during the coronavirus pandemic, which will be a good place to begin our discussion.    

    Wed, May 13 via zoom

    Book: Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love by Dani Shapiro

    Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

    On a whim, the writer Dani Shapiro and her husband decided to take DNA tests. Shapiro received the shock of her life when her results revealed that the man she'd always known as her father, a pillar in the tight-knit orthodox Jewish community in which she grew up, was not her biological father. This realization turns upside down her sense of self, her cultural identity, and her confidence in the world as she knew it. Inheritance is the true story of her quest to find her biological father and come to terms with the new facts of her life. 

    Wed, April 8 via zoom

    Book: Man’s 4th Best Hospital by Samuel Shem

    Facilitator: Susan Sample, PhD, MFA

    Fast forward forty years:  Roy Basch, M.D., and colleagues who suffered through their internship years in the 1970s at the hospital known as House of God are recruited to work at a new “Future of Medicine Clinic:  Care, Compassion, and Cancer.” It is part of a fictional academic medical center known as Man’s Best Hospital--until it dropped to number four in national rankings. The reasons?  Electronic medical records, hospital mergers, corporate medicine, and insurance companies: villains Basch and his friends battle in this comic sequel to Shem’s The House of God.  The 1978 novel, a cynical view of medical training that “scandalized prominent reviewers within the health care community,” continues to be a favorite.  Shem—a psychiatrist whose real name is Stephen Bergman—said he wrote his new novel “to resist injustice, and the danger of isolation, and the healing power of good connection.”  One of the questions we will discuss is whether the book or novels in general can fulfill that intention.  Please note: you do not have to read Shem’s original novel; the sequel should stand on its own merit.  

    March 11

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    Book: RX: A Graphic Novel by Rachel Lindsay

    Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD, MA

    Rx: A Graphic Memoir is cartoonist Rachel Lindsay’s first book, telling her compelling personal story of how working on marketing campaigns for antidepressant medication, in order to have health insurance coverage for her own bipolar disorder, contributed to her declining health and hospitalization. Rx addresses intimate, personal issues of illness as well as broader, public issues of the US health care system.”

    Wed, February 12

    UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: In Shock: My Journey from Death to Recovery and the Redemptive Power of Hope by Rana Awdish

    Facilitator: Susan Sample, PhD, MFA  

     Seven months into her first pregnancy, Rana Awdish checked into the emergency department of the Detroit hospital where she was completing her training as a critical care physician.  She would lose not only the pregnancy and most of her blood volume; she would suffer septic shock, a stroke, liver tumors, miscarriage, and multiple surgeries over the ensuing months.  As she transformed from physician to patient, Dr. Awdish also experienced indifference and disregard from her doctors, which she attributes to medical education:  “I knew we valued the cure, the goal, the win.  We were far less comfortable in the gray, shadowed area of suffering.”  Too often, doctors are bound to the disease, rather than the patient; they emotionally detach from patients.  To do otherwise is to risk losing control, and, as she notes, “risk carries with it an inherent degree of vulnerability.”  Yet, it is precisely through exploring vulnerability--“a dark hole at the center of a flurry of what was otherwise highly proficient, astounding skillful care”—that physicians will connect to patients and colleagues.  As Awdish notes, “I didn’t understand that open channels would replenish my supply of self.  That there was reciprocity in empathy.”

     As you read Awdish’s memoir, note her comments on word choice as she repeatedly draws attention to the necessity of a shared language between doctors and patients.  Do you agree? Note also how she tells her story, frequently foreshadowing what will happen.  This technique eases some of the medical suspense, but does it heighten other aspects of her message?  From a patient’s point of view, do you find her suggestions for improving medical training insightful or not?

    Wed, January 8 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: Also Human: The Inner Lives of Doctors by Caroline Elton

    Facilitator: Mark Matheson, D. Phil

    Caroline Elton is a vocational psychologist who has worked with doctors, mostly in England, for the past twenty years.  In her book Also Human: The Inner Lives of Doctors (2018), she offers brief case histories of many of the doctors who have sought her professional help.  Elton acknowledges the longstanding image of the doctor as an embodiment of stoic strength, and she notes how sensitive it is to talk about doctors as being subject to disease and disability, especially of a psychiatric kind.  She takes the reader through many issues that can arise in a doctor’s life, including the emotional difficulties experienced during medical training, the pressures of choosing a specialization, finding oneself sexually attracted to a patient, and the inclination to leave medicine altogether because of a bad patient outcome.   Elton discusses responses within medicine to address the problems of stress and anxiety doctors experience, including greater institutional awareness of these issues, Schwartz Rounds, and the lesser-known Balint groups.  The substance of the book is Elton’s reporting of case histories and the findings of broader medical surveys, and the reader also gets a rather extensive account (incidentally) of how medical institutions function in the U.K. Some might wish for a more engaged analysis of a number of issues raised in the text, including the alleged “conspiracy of silence” among doctors on mental health issues in the profession, but the stories Elton relates are thought-provoking, and they will certainly provide valuable material for discussion and reflection when our group meets in January.


    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


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    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.”


    Wed, Dec 12 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe by Lisa Randell

    Facilitator: Mark Matheson, D.Phil.

    Lisa Randall’s Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs is an extended discussion of cosmology and the natural history of the Earth.  A physicist who has written a number of books on science for popular audiences, Randall offers a fairly dense presentation of “dark matter” and the Solar System.   She informs us that dark matter makes up 85% of the matter in the universe; we can’t see it, because it doesn’t transmit light, but we know of it because of its slight gravitational influence.  Randall notes that it’s quite possible, though not certain, that the meteoroid that hit the Earth 66 million years ago, leading to the extinction of the dinosaurs, was influenced by the gravity of dark matter.  The central portion of Randall’s book is a narrative of how this extraterrestrial cause of mass extinction was discovered by scientists, as well as the discovery of the actual spot on Earth where the impact occurred.  This is a dramatic story, and there is much else in Randall’s book to interest humanistically inclined readers.   Randall also looks to the future, based on her presentation of the material universe and the Earth’s past, and she encourages us to use scientific knowledge wisely as we face global warming and other environmental threats.  Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs has great value for those of us who are somewhat intimidated by modern physics, since it represents the current scientific understanding of the cosmos in a generally accessible way.  I look forward to our discussion of Randall’s presentation of the science of cosmology—and also to conversations about the humanistic and political implications of what we’ve only recently learned about the universe, based on the astonishing work of the scientific community.

    Wed, Nov 14 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Comfort Measures Only: New and Selected Poems 1994-2016 by Rafael Campo

    Facilitator: Susan Sample, PhD, MFA

    In Comfort Measures Only, his seventh book of poems, Rafael Campo sheds his white coat to reveal the suffering, regret, and ultimately love that many physicians experience caring for patients but few publicly admit. Campo, an internist at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, describes the abject bodies of addicts, the sordid scars of poverty marking marginalized patients.  More importantly though, he sees in each person the humanity he shares, giving it voice in language so rich and musical that we as readers know how healing and essential comfort measures--the touch of a hand, a listening ear—are in our increasingly technological and diverse world.  These are themes Campo will address when he visits Utah later this month as our inaugural medical humanities scholar.

    What characterizes Campo's newest collection is progression.  We can trace through his poems the evolution of medical care for HIV and AIDs patients whom Campo, himself a gay man, began treating during his residency in the 1980s.  We see the slow foregrounding of diversity in the culture of medicine, which Campo as a Cuban-American is keenly aware of.  And we hear the tensions between medicine as science and healing art that Campo continues to wrestle with.  To frame our discussion, we will look at the book's introduction, "Illness as Muse," and then follow up with your lists of favorite poems.  You might begin by reading:  "El Curandero," "The Distant Moon," "Ten Patients, and Another," "Lost in the Hospital," "What the Body Told," "The Abdominal Exam," "from The Changing Face of AIDS," "The Couple," "The Four Humours," "What I Would Give," "You Bring Out the Doctor in Me," "Absolution," "Health," "Faith Healing," "Iatrogenic," "Primary Care," "Comfort Measures Only," "The Chart," "Hippocratic Oath 2.0," and "I Imagine Again I Don't Let You Die."          

    Wed, Oct 10 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris

    Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD, MA

    Long before she wrote The Butchering Art, Lindsey Fitzharris created a modern audience for some of the most “grisly” chapters in the history of medicine and surgery, using striking visuals and compelling stories.  (Check out her online presence on Twitter @DrLindseyFitz and Instagram @drlindsayfitzharris for examples!).  In this book, Fitzharris focuses on the story of Joseph Lister, the 19th-century surgeon who revolutionized his craft with discoveries about infection, contagion, and sterility. 

    Wed, Sept 12 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure  Everything , by Lydia Kang

    Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD, MA

    In their book, Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, Lydia Kang and Nate Pedersen offer a faux-encyclopedic look at many aspects of false medicine.   Arranged in sections such as “Antidotes” and “Animals” and punctuated with “Hall of Shame” pronouncements, the book gives readers a quick glimpse of the horrors, scandals, and mere embarrassments perpetrated by the unscrupulous on the unsuspecting, all in the name of medicine and health. 

    Wed, Aug 8


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    Book: To Siri with Love: A Mother, Her Autistic Son, and the Kindness of Machines by Judith Newman

    Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

    In 2014, journalist Judith Newman wrote an article for the New York Times about her autistic son’s fondness for Siri and other technologically-mediated forms of communication.  The article went viral and resulted in To Siri with Love, her collection of essays about parenting her twin boys--one neurotypical and one neurodivergent.  The essays follow Newman’s growth as a parent from the moment she perceives a difference in her twin babies, to Gus’s diagnosis at age six of being on the autism spectrum, to the twins’ entrance into adolescence with all the attendant issues of sexual identity, independence, and self-sufficiency.  The book has been praised as a bracingly honest and humorous account of parenting two very different sons.  It also sparked some outrage in the autistic community for, at points, veering too close to what some perceived as ableism and even eugenics.  Please join us for a lively discussion of this engaging and controversial book.

    Wed, July 11  UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: Adventures in Human Being: A Grand Tour from the Cranium to the Calcaneum by Gavin Francis

    Facilitator: Jenny Cochrane, MA

    Dr. Gavin Francis is a General Practitioner and writer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Before he became any of these things, however—even before he attended Medical School at the University of Edinburgh—he wanted to be a Geographer. It was his love of maps, atlases, landscapes, and his inexhaustible longing for discovery that led him to his study of the human body. After all, says Francis, “the two didn’t seem so different at first…” During his own professional training, Dr. Francis was a trainee Neurosurgeon, worked in Psychiatry, Oncology, and Ophthalmology, and also served as an expedition doctor for an excursion to Antarctica. These experiences—written in Dr. Francis’ lyrical, straightforward, Edinburgh tone--along with his study of philosophy, geography, basic science, literature, and classical thought, has given rise to the part-memoir, part-epic, part-atlas that is “Adventures in Human Being”. This book is an exciting, insightful look into our own being and the body we spend that “being” in from top to toe. You may never see yourself the same way again.  

    Wed, June 13 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: Dreamland by Sam Quinones

    Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD

    Journalist Sam Quinones’ book Dreamland:The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic covers the scorched path that heroin and prescription opiates have blazed across North America, connecting small towns in Mexico with small towns in the heartland of the U.S.  Quinones finds the individual stories in the midst of corporate and criminal intrigue, connecting the many people affected by an epidemic that is still devastating many rural and suburban communities as often as urban areas.

    Wed, May 9 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: No Apparent Distress: A Doctor’s Coming of Age on the Front Lines of American Medicine by Rachel Pearson

    Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

    Dr. Rachel Pearson’s experiences as a bilingual patient advocate in an abortion clinic inspired her to give up her plans to become a writer and instead enroll in medical school.  Now, in her 2017 memoir, No Apparent Distress, Dr. Pearson has united her twin career goals.  In this memoir, she writes movingly about her journey to becoming a cancer surgeon and the ethical problems she sees in the current American health care system, particularly the unequal treatment of poor people and people of color.  Part coming-of-age story, part medical ethics discussion, Pearson’s book should be of interest to anyone who works in health care.

    Wed, April 11 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: Memory’s Last Breath: Field Notes on My Dementia, by Gerda Saunders

    Facilitator: Susan Sample, PhD, MFA

    Gerda Saunders, Ph.D., may be familiar to many of you. She retired as associate director of gender studies at the University of Utah in 2011. The reason: a diagnosis of microvascular disease, the second leading cause of dementia. Her colleagues gave her a journal, which Saunders, then 60, used to "report my descent into the post-cerebral realm for which I am headed. No whimpering, no whining, no despair. Just the facts." Her book does present a dispassionate self-analysis as Saunders courageously examines her condition as both subject and impartial observer. An erudite researcher, she quotes sources ranging from Albert Einstein to Marcel Proust, Don Quixote to neuroscience texts. Yet, Memory's Last Breath is equally personal—what her mother called "heartsoreness"--as Saunders writes about her childhood in South Africa, her marriage and family life. Interspersed with her lyrical prose are family photos and cartoons, scientific diagrams and news clippings, rendering her book not only imaginative but unique and indeed memorable.

    March 14

    UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book:  Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

    Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

    Lab Girl is a best-selling memoir by geobiologist Hope Jahren.  The book alternates between fascinating descriptions of the secret lives of plants and frank and funny accounts of her life as a research scientist, including the thrill of discovery, the desperation for funding, and the tedium of grunt work.  Jahren has often been compared to Stephen Jay Gould and Oliver Sacks and, like these two, uses her personal knowledge and experience as a scientist to ask broader philosophical questions about the human condition.

    Wed, February 14

    UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs

    Facilitator: Susan Sample, PhD, MFA

    Nina Riggs found inspiration for the title of her book, The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying, in a passage from her great-great-great-great grandfather, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Each morning, he would "cease for a bright hour to be a prisoner of this sickly body and to become as large as the World." Riggs does exactly that in her poignant memoir. In short chapters, some just one page, she writes with lyricism, humor, candor, and wisdom about fully living life, knowing it will end too soon. Diagnosed at age 37 with breast cancer, Riggs was told it could be easily treated. A year later, the former teacher and poet learns the cancer had metastasized. What began as a blog about her experiences as a wife and mother of two young sons grew into an essay in The New York Times and finally, the memoir, published last summer five months after her death. Yet, as she told an interviewer, "I really hope the book I wrote will make you feel much more joy than anything else"; "Even the scary parts are deeply intertwined with all the bits of life we cherish most." As you read, note both, the chapters you found heart-rending and joyful.    

    Wed, January 10 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

    Facilitator: Mark Matheson, D. Phil

    In his poignant memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance offers insights into America’s white working class culture-in-crisis from one who grew up in a poor Rust Belt town. Vance chronicles his family’s story from postwar American poverty in Kentucky to hopeful escape in middle class Ohio, his narration replete with a legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma. Vance, now a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, explains how upward mobility feels for him today, how effects of his family history persist for him, everyday. By sharing his story, he tries to shed light on a demographic in our country that struggle with the loss of the American dream.


    Wed, Dec 13 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: The Door by Magda Szabo

    Facilitator: Mark Matheson, D.Phil.

    Magda Szabo’s novel The Door is set in post-war Hungary. Szabo published the novel in 1987, and she died at 90 in 2007. The central relationship in this autobiographical novel is between a successful writer (the narrator) and her housekeeper, Emerence. The two women have a complicated life together over a period of twenty years. We might expect that much attention would be paid to the Soviet-bloc communism of the period, but more relevant contexts are Eastern-European Christianity, which the narrator embraces and Emerence rejects, and ancient Greek epic and myth, which influence the narrator’s perceptions in general and her specific attempts to understand Emerence. Medicine enters the story: in the latter part of the novel Emerence is hospitalized, and the doctors and those who know her attempt to deal with the difficult issues she raises as a patient. One is her right to choose death, which she fiercely maintains, and this issue leads to an estrangement between her and the narrator. These two women characters are very different but somehow deeply bonded, and the novel explores the many contrasts they represent, including the folkloric past with modern consciousness and a mythic (even heroic) sensibility with everyday domesticity and practical civic-mindedness. The narrator asserts that the bond she has with Emerence is one of love, and the novel is a sustained exploration of authenticity in human relationships both “official” and personal.  

    Wed, Nov 8 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: Becoming Nicole by Emily Ellis Nutt

    Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

    Wayne and Kelly Maines adopted identical twin boys and named them Wyatt and Jonas, but from the very beginning, it was clear to everyone that one of the twins was markedly different from the other.   Almost as soon as he could talk, Wyatt was insisting he was a girl stuck in the body of a boy.  Becoming Nicole:  The Transformation of an American Family is a moving account of a transgender girl’s coming of age and her conservative, blue collar family’s struggle to first accept her identity and then champion it in a landmark court case.  Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Amy Ellis Nutt takes readers inside the lives of each of these remarkable people. 

    Wed, Oct 11 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee

    Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD 

     Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee's 2011 book, The Emperor of All Maladies:  A Biography of Cancer won a Pulitzer Prize and ignited a new generation's passion for cancer research. His 2016 book, The Gene: An Intimate History, generated equal interest in the expansive and controversial field of genetics. Mukherjee impressed many in the University of Utah community with his brilliant and eloquent discussion of the ethical dilemmas in genetics in his 2016 Tanner Lecture on Human Values. Please join us as we dive into The Gene and discuss the questions this book raises about the history and future of genetic research.

    Wed, Sept 13 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

    Facilitator:  Susan Sample, PhD, MFA

    Since its publication in 2016, nine months after the author died, When Breath Becomes Air has remained on The New York Times bestseller list and deservedly so. The memoir by Paul Kalanithi, a 36-year-old neurosurgery chief resident at Stanford University diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, is, in a word, elegant. Kalanithi’s prose is graceful and sophisticated as he writes to understand and make meaning of his transformation from promising doctor to terminal patient. Ever the ambitious scientist, Kalanithi’s discussions of statistics, the application of probability theory to medical practice are equally pleasing in their precision and simplicity. He challenges us as readers to think about the interplay of scientific knowledge and existential authenticity, the role the humanities plays—or can--in the practice of medicine. The popularity of When Breath Becomes Air, according to the neurosurgeon’s widow, Lucy Kalanithi, a general internist at Stanford, is due to “people’s hunger” to talk about the questions Paul raised: “What are we doing to help each other live and die well? What should we be talking about that we’re not?” We can begin, and end, with these questions as well.

    Wed, Aug 2

    (Please NOTE date change to 1st Wednesday of Month in August)

    UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: Benediction by Kent Haruf

    Facilitator: Susan Sample, PhD, MFA

    Benediction is the final novel in Kent Haruf's trilogy—Plainsong and Eventide, the previous two--set in fictional Holt, Colorado, a small town on the high plains outside Denver. (No need to be familiar with the earlier books.) Often, rural towns are associated with stability and tradition; thought of as places unaffected by time and contemporary trends. Benediction, though, is a novel about change. From the outside world, Berta Mae's granddaughter moves in after her mother dies from breast cancer; she doesn't know her father. A new minister and family are reassigned from Denver where he spoke in support of a gay colleague. Change comes from inside as well when "Dad" Lewis is diagnosed with cancer. Not only are the lives of his wife and daughter affected; so, too, are relationships between neighbors, church members, and the community. Dad's impending death becomes a confluence, bringing people, their memories and their hopes, together.

    Haruf, described as "the most muted master in American fiction," takes on large existential questions that arise at the end of life. No answers are given. Yet, the title Benediction--"blessing"—seems like an honest response to the changes the community undergoes. As you read, consider how peace and imperfection, dignity and regret can co-exist. Also, think about the portrayal of Dad Lewis. Does his experience as a hospice patient seem realistic? Would you recommend this novel to a cancer patient, family member, or caregiver? Why or why not?    

    Wed, July 5 (Please NOTE date change to 1st Wednesday of Month in September) UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: Taking Turns by MK Czerwiec

    Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD

    MK Czerwiec’s new graphic memoir Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371, uses poignantly hand-drawn pictures and words to share Czerwiec’s experience as a nurse on one of the first hospital wards dedicated to the care of patients caught up in the AIDS epidemic of the late 20th century.   Czerwiec manages to tell not only her own story, but those of many of her co-workers and patients as well, based in large part on oral history interviews.  The graphic, or comic, format used in this book is part of a growing trend in telling stories of health care. 

    Wed, June 14 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: The Patient Will See You Now by Eric Topal

    Facilitator: Mark Matheson, D.Phil.

    Eric Topol is a cardiologist, professor of genomics, and director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, California. He makes large claims and predictions about medicine in his 2015 book The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine is in Your Hands.   In political terms, Topol believes that medicine is still paternalistic, especially in the doctor-patient relationship, but sees this era coming to an end, a process of change accelerated by the digital revolution. Smartphones and big data mean that patients will be less reliant on doctors, and their independence will continue to increase as new networks of medical information are created. Topol likens hand-held internet access combined with open information systems to the invention of printing in 15th-century Europe, a technology that helped bring about numerous social and political disruptions. The coming of massive, open, on-line medicine means that patients will be increasingly in charge of their own medical care, including making their own diagnoses. This technological revolution is also rendering traditional medical education obsolete. Topol thus makes many broad assertions about the future of medicine, and the reader is left to evaluate his provocative theses. There should be no shortage of topics for us to take up in our discussion.

    Wed, May 10 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

    Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD

    The eponymous protagonist of Frederik Backman’ novel A  Man Called Ove is an apparently cantankerous and unpleasant older man who has a rich life story and is capable of unexpected friendships.  This book explores preconceived notions about aging and death, questioning what is most important to people as they age, and how cultural differences matter at all stages of life.  

    Wed, April 12 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book:The Finest Traditions of My Calling:  One Physician’s Search for the Renewal of Medicine, by Abraham M. Nussbaum 

    Facilitator: Susan Sample, PhD, MFA

    Abraham Nussbaum adopts a line from the Hippocratic Oath as the epigraph to his memoir: “May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling….” It provides a context for the title he chose, The Finest Traditions of My Calling: One Physician’s Search for the Renewal of Medicine. Equally telling, however, are the two words he did not include. In order to reimagine medicine for the twenty-first century, the University of Colorado psychiatrist chooses not “to preserve” traditions. Rather, he critically examines how physicians have been traditionally educated and calls into question recent efforts at reform that he believes have mechanized the practice of medicine. “Call him a medical millennial questioning a past,” writes Abigail Zuger in The New York Times, who finds his writing “stronger for its frequent uncertainty” and “as notable for its process as its conclusions. The reader can actually watch him think.” Nussbaum, chief education officer for Denver Health, thinks a lot about what the role of the physician could be--scientist, technician, author, gardener, witness, and servant—so physicians can better help patients “seek health.” He looks for inspiration to other physician-writers whose work we’ve discussed in recent years, including Abraham Verghese, Paul Farmer, and Victoria Sweet. As you read The Finest Traditions of My Calling, consider how he syntheses ideas to argue that the renewal of medicine can be found in community and cultural spaces where the focus is on human relationships. Is this is even possible?

    March 8

    UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book:  Eleven Hours by Pamela Erens

    Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

    Pamela Erens’ Eleven Hours is a spare, short, and intense novel that takes place in the maternity ward of a New York City hospital.  It is told from alternating points of view:  that of Lore, a woman who shows up at the hospital pregnant and alone, and Franckline, the Haitian maternity nurse who takes care of her and is hiding her own pregnancy.  At first the two women are guarded and suspicious of each other.  But over the harrowing eleven hours of Lore’s labor, they come to trust and admire each other.  The book examines the emotional bonds that can develop between a patient and care provider in the brief, but powerful span of eleven hours.

    Wed, February 8 

    UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

    Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD

    Emma Donoghue’s novel is based on historical incidents of “Fasting Girls" and set in mid-nineteenth century Ireland, but the central questions of this mystery are quite modern: What happens when religious beliefs and health care practices are at odds? What responsibilities does science have to the investigation of miracles? The complex characters include a child on a tenant farm, apparently surviving for months without eating, and the Florence Nightingale-trained nurse sent to prove that the child is a fraud.

    Wed, January 11 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: The Warden by Anthony Trollope

    Facilitator: Mark Matheson, D. Phil

    Anthony Trollope was a prolific Victorian novelist. The Warden, published in 1855, was his first genuine success. In it Trollope tells the story of the Rev. Septimus Harding, a kindly churchman who serves as the warden of a “hospital” or home for the elderly, supported by the English Church, in the cathedral town of Barchester. The quiet of the town is disturbed by the reforming spirit of the mid-nineteenth century, and there is a challenge to the Church’s management of the charitable trust that supports the hospital. Over time, the value of the property included in the trust has increased very considerably, and the annual stipend of the warden has accordingly grown into a handsome sum. Modern reformers believe that these funds should be distributed instead among the twelve old men who live at the hospital, and the case is taken up by a young doctor in the town and the leading national newspaper. The Rev. Harding is vexed by this development, and in his goodness he wants to see the issue and his own conduct from all sides. As the critic Owen Chadwick has said, Trollope’s interest is in “the relationship of the individual to moral conduct when he or she is entangled in the toils of public institutions.” And here is where the Rev. Harding’s case might well be ours: how are we to act and make decisions in the complex institutions in which we live and work, as these institutions undergo the struggle between tradition and reform, engage in allotting large sums of (often public) money to various projects and individuals, and become subject to the scrutiny of a not always well-informed press? Henry James admired The Warden, and he said of it that an authorial “motive more delicate, more slender, more charming, could scarcely be conceived. It is simply the story of an old man’s conscience.” We look forward to discussing the novel with you and finding possible connections between the institutional life of a Victorian hospital and the twenty-first century medical complex.


    Wed, Dec 14 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson

    Facilitator: Mark Matheson, D.Phil.

    In Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter (2015), Kate Clifford Larson tells the story of a special-needs child in a famous American family. The third child and first daughter of Joseph and Rose Kennedy, Rosemary experienced serious developmental and intellectual delays, and this set her apart among her high-achieving siblings. Larson sketches the cultural milieu that influenced how the Kennedy parents attempted to deal with Rosemary’s needs. These include the Catholic Church, Irish Boston politics, and various early twentieth-century efforts to understand and address the problems faced by children with disabilities. Larson explores the complicated dynamics of the Kennedy family, including the marriage of Joe and Rose and the very high parental expectations they imposed on their children. The book is a portrait of an American family of great consequence, and Larson offers a thought-provoking exploration of the evolving medical and educational responses to special-needs children during the twentieth century.

    Wed, Nov 9 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: We are All Completely Beside Ourselves: A Novel by Karen Joy Fowler

    Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

    Rosemary Cooke and her twin sister Fern had a happy childhood until they were five years old and Fern was mysteriously sent away from the family, a loss that devastated young Rosemary.  What readers of Karen Joy Fowler’s novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves soon learn is that, while Rosemary is human, her “sister” is a chimpanzee and their unusual living arrangement has been orchestrated as a scientific experiment by her father, an animal behavior researcher.  Inspired by similar experiments in the 1970s, Fowler’s novel explores ethical dilemmas in scientific research and the complex relationship between humans and other animals.  By turns outrageously comic and deeply sad, the novel reveals the surprising impact of Fern on Rosemary and the way grief can act on a family.    

    Wed, Oct 12 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: Your Face in Mine: A Novel by Jess Row

    Facilitator: Susan Sample, MFA

    Plastic surgery has "a racial or ethnic component," according to Jess Row, whose provocative and acclaimed novel, Your Face in Mine, could be read as a support for his claim.  The book begins when Kelly Thorndike, a scholar who returns to his hometown of Baltimore after the death of his Chinese wife and their daughter in a car accident, happens to encounter a man who looks eerily familiar.  Only when the man addresses him does Kelly realize that the stranger was one of his closest friends:  Martin Lipkin, then a white Jewish teen who played in their punk trio.  Now he is Martin Wilkinson, a community leader and businessman, and he is black.  After suffering psychologically most of life from "racial dysphoria," Martin underwent racial reassignment surgery in Bangkok; even his wife, a black attorney, is unaware of his past. Martin's revelation launches the novel into a fascinating exploration of identity, race, and culture.  It focuses less on "passing" than on the impact others' identity has on our own personal history and sense of self. Additionally, the novel raises ethical questions surrounding medicine, including the ends of plastic surgery. As the author is quoted, "I wanted people to ask, 'If I could have the surgery, would I?'" 

    Wed, Sept 14 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks

    Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD 

     Oliver Sacks has been called “the poet laureate of medicine” and “the bard of brain disorders.”  Not an uncontroversial figure, he is one of the pioneers in narrative medicine, or the idea that listening to patients’ unique stories is a key part of diagnosing and treating their diseases.  In his 2015 memoir, On the Move:  A Life, the neurologist who famously found his patients’ compulsions so fascinating turns his analytic gaze on himself, examining, among other things, his early obsession with motorcycles and weight lifting, his experimentation and addiction to drugs, and his struggle to come to terms with his homosexuality and find intimate companionship.  Sacks died in 2015 and many call this last book his most revealing.    

    Wed, Aug 10

    UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: The Center Cannot Hold by Elyn Saks

    Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD

    In The Center Cannot Hold, Elyn Saks eloquently describes schizophrenia from the perspective of someone who has actually lived with its varying manifestations.  Saks brings impressive scholarship in the areas of law and psychoanalysis to bear on her own life experiences, elevating this book from simply a well-written memoir to a compelling study of what it means to be mentally ill, and how institutions and laws created to help people just as often limit and stigmatize them.  Saks’ writing urges the reader to reconsider many assumptions about schizophrenia and its treatment and to think deeply about ingrained concepts like normal, successful, or stable.  

    Wed, July 13 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: Paula: A Memoir by Isabel Allende

    Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD

    Allende is best known for writing fiction, and particularly for the magical realism of her novels.  But Paula is not fiction; rather, it is Allende’s searingly personal account of her daughter’s slow death from porphyria, a rare blood disease.  This memoir is written to Paula, in a coma in the months leading up to her death, but draws on family stories from times past.

    Wed, June 8 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: The Professor and the President by Stephen Hess

    Facilitator: Mark Matheson, D.Phil.

    The Professor and the President (2015), by Stephen Hess, offers a brief but focused account of the relationship between President Richard Nixon and Daniel Patrick Moynihan.  They were certainly an odd pair: a career conservative politician and a liberal Sociology professor from Harvard.  On being elected President in 1968, Nixon invited Moynihan to join the White House as his chief advisor for urban affairs.  Moynihan accepted, and he served Nixon for the two-year period covered in this book.   Hess provides a lucid account of the policy-making process that ensued, which was informed by Moynihan’s wit and vibrant intellectual life, and the book as a whole evokes quite powerfully the tumultuous years 1969 and 1970, an era of race riots in the inner cities, the Vietnam War, and campus protests.  It also returns us to a time when the two major political parties were capable of working together productively, as exemplified by the Nixon-Moynihan alliance, in a manner that seems impossible today.  Stephen Hess was Moynihan’s deputy at the time, and over the decades he served many Presidents as a moderate Republican.  Of course this quaint political identity makes him a rara avis in the current environment, and therein lies much of the book’s interest.  We are fortunate to have in our group a stray individual of this species, Dr. David Sundwall, who is no stranger to the work of crafting social policies that advance the health and well being of whole populations.  I look forward to getting responses from Dr. Sundwall and from all of you to Hess’s provocative presentation of the politics of another time.

    Wed, May 11 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflection on Race and Medicine by Damon Tweedy

    Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD

    Black Man in A White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflection on Race and Medicine. Physician Damon Tweedy’s memoir about his training and practice includes stories from top medical centers and remote rural clinics.  All of his stories are infused with his perspective as an African-American man in a field that has a troubled history with black patients and black providers.  He offers first-person experiences as the subject of bias and discrimination, but also lets readers see his own assumptions and prejudices.  This book opens an important discussion on how and why race matters to medicine in the United States.  

    Wed, April 13 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: Lasting: Poems on Aging, Edited by Meg Files 

    Facilitator: Susan Sample, MFA

    This unique anthology encompasses work by more than 100 respected poets who describe in language vivid and poignant, profound and downright funny, different facets of the aging, a topic that has been requested by discussion group participants. The authors keenly observe the bodies of parents and recollect grandparents' storied lives.  They translate complaints of old friends into warnings and wisdom; they imagine the lives of strangers with empathy and hope. The writers also turn inward, reflecting on their own identities as they move into and out of their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s.  What emerges is a prism of the aging process that shows the inevitability of death but more exquisitely, refracts time into myriad small, rich moments of lived experience that endure.  This is an anthology about the lasting quality of life.

    Even if poetry is not your favorite genre, I encourage you to read through this collection with impunity.  If you don't like a particular poem, turn the page; find a different writer giving voice to a different perspective.  I think you'll find these poems accessible and provocative, providing topics for discussion that all may join in.  For example, the anticipation of loss and the relationship between words, memory, and loss are addressed respectively in "A Brief History of Fathers" and "Living Room."  Other poems in the book's first section I'd suggest reading include: "Zahkia," "The Elders" and "Elegy, Kahuku."  In the second section, which centers on first-hand experience of aging, we'll discuss: "Silent Heart Attack," "That's Not Me," "The Lost Garden," "The Art of French Cooking," "From Hafiz on Aging…," "The Bookshelf," "Old Man," "A Woman Like Yourself," and "Fana Al-Fana."  In the last section on mortality and the finality of aging, we'll consider:  "Burial Rites," "Station," "Hawksbane," and "Out Here."

    March 9

    UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book:  Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

    Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

    Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Americanah tells the story of a young Nigerian couple, Ifemelu and Obinze, who leave their home country and painfully part ways to pursue their separate academic and professional dreams in the U.S. and England.  Adichie, a Nigerian-born Princeton-educated writer who continues to split her time between the U.S. and Nigeria, has a keen eye for the difficult and even ridiculous ways in which immigrants and people of color must navigate the complex issue of race.  Ifemelu never felt “black” until she came to America;  her blog posts, which form part of the novel, offer her frank and sometimes funny observations on the way race comes up in everyday interactions in the U.S.  The story comes full circle when Ifemelu and Obinze return to Nigeria and try to reconcile who they once were with all that they’ve become.

    Wed, February 10

    UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book: Do No Harm:  Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh

    Facilitator: Susan Sample, MFA, PhD

    Henry Marsh is recognized as one of Britain's leading neurosurgeons and his memoir is ranked among the top 100 books for 2015 by the New York Times.  It is a "frank and absorbing account [that] combines biography, descriptions of operations and considerations of policy."  Each chapter begins with a definition of the medical term that serves as the title.  Many are commonly known—"Aneurysm" and "Glioblastoma"; others--"Angor anima"--not so much.  The stories that follow, however, are unique, as the 65-year-old surgeon describes not only technical difficulties of operations in intimate detail but the emotional predicaments.  "The surgeon is now a villain and perpetrator, or at best, incompetent, no longer heroic and all-powerful," he writes after visiting a patient he "damaged."  What sets Marsh's memoir apart is the candor of his reflections.  As he notes in "Hubris," "this was the time when I became a little sadder but, I would like to think, much wiser."  Whether physicians, other health-care professionals, or the public, readers certainly benefit from Marsh's honesty and insight.  For our discussion, I suggest we focus on the chapters:  "Melodrama," "Tic douloureux," "Hubris," Photopsia," and "Tyrosine kinase."    

    Wed, January 6 UU Hosp Large Conf Rm W1220

    Book:  Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of talk in the Digital Age by Sherry Turkle

    Facilitator: Mark Matheson, D. Phil

    Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age (2015) asks us to evaluate the effects of technology on our fundamental human interactions.   Her thesis is that digital technology is undermining our capacity for conversation, and with it the opportunity for developing our capacities for self-reflection and empathy.   The book takes its place, for our group, in quite a long history of reading about human conversation, including Montaigne’s celebration of the creativity of talk from the 16th century and the recent Difficult Conversations.   We’ve also had many discussions over the years about speaking and listening in the context of health care relationships.  Turkle’s book raises an important cultural question for our time, and I look forward to hearing and discussing our responses.  Clearly the Medicine and Literature Discussion Group is one antidote to the problem diagnosed in Turkle’s work!


    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. 


    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. “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. “Clearances,” pp. 282-290.  A group of short poems that Heaney wrote about his mother after her death in 1984.
    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

    LDSH Pugh

    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.


    Wednesday, December 4 LDSH Amicus Boardroom

    Book: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

    Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

    In many ways Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel, The Marriage Plot, tells an old-fashioned story about the love triangle between three bright, idealistic college grads in the 1980s: Madeleine, Mitchell, and Leonard.  However through its nuanced character development, the novel examines the forces that propel and thwart young people in their journeys to adulthood, the role of free-will, the institution of modern marriage, and the challenges that mental illness, specifically manic depression, bring to romantic relationships.  Some readers will be interested in Leonard’s aspiration to be a geneticist, his work at a lab based on the real one at Cold Spring Harbor, and an eccentric side-character modeled on Nobel Prize winner Barbara McClintock.  Eugenides’ earlier novel, Middlesex, won the Pulitzer Prize. 

    Wednesday, November 6

    LDSH Amicus Boardroom

    Book: God's Hotel A Doctor; a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine by Victoria Sweet

    Facilitator: Susan Sample, MFA

    The subtitle of God’s Hotel aptly reflects the three narratives that make up this captivating book:  it is a memoir by physician Victoria Sweet about how her practice and philosophy of medicine were (re)shaped by an historical hospital, Laguna Honda in San Francisco, in tandem with the writings of a medieval medical practitioner, Hildegard of Bingen.  Sweet agreed initially to a two-month stint at Laguna Honda, one of the last remaining almshouses in the United States dedicated to caring for chronically ill and indigent patients.  It was distinctly “low-tech” medicine.  But the physician found herself energized by the personal attention and time given to patients--which seemed strikingly similar to healing practices advocated by Hildegard, a twelfth-century German abbess whom Sweet was focusing on in her doctoral studies in medical history.  She ended up staying at Laguna Honda for 20 years.  God’s Hotel chronicles the parallel journeys of Sweet who advocates for “slow medicine,” a re-envisioning of modern health care that incorporates humanizing aspects of “premodern” medicine; her patients, many who gain a new sense of life through seemingly inefficient care; and Laguna Honda, a character as much as a hospital that is forced to undergo modernization.  Sweet’s vivid stories are interspersed with historical notes, which make for an informative yet personally inspiring inquiry into “the heart of medicine.”         

    Wednesday, October 2 LDSH Amicus Boardroom

    Book: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

    Facilitator: Rachel Borup, Ph.D

    In her novel, State of Wonder, Ann Patchett takes protagonist Marina Singh from her staid life as a researcher at a large Minnesota pharmaceutical company and plunges her into the jungles of the Amazon where she is sent to investigate the reported death of one of her colleagues and to track down a rogue scientist who has quit playing by the pharmaceutical company’s rules. The brilliant but mercurial Dr. Annick Swenson was given open-ended funding several years ago to pursue a top secret, potentially lucrative female fountain of youth rumored to derive from jungle plants. Finding the secretive Dr. Swenson is only the first problem Marina must face on her journey. Ann Patchett won the Orange Prize for her novel Bel CantoState of Wonder has been likened to a female re-visioning of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

    Wednesday, September 4 LDSH Amicus Boardroom

    Book: Pulse: Voices From the Heart of Medicine by Paul Gross and Dane Guernsey

    Facilitator:  Susan Sample, MFA

    The inclusion of narrative in the practice of medicine has been advocated for the empathy it can engender and the professional isolation it can help ease.  Narrative has proven to be a safe space allowing physicians, nurses, and others to give voice to a sense of vulnerability and conflict often not addressed in medical journals, as physician-editor Paul Gross points out in the introduction to Pulse:  Voices from the Heart of Medicine.  What makes this collection of stories, personal reflections, and poems different from other narrative publications is that it spans genres.  It began in 2008--and continues--as a weekly on-line magazine, but also now includes two printed collections.  

    In her review of Pulse—The First Year in JAMA, physician Perri Klass lauds the honesty and “high quality” of the narratives that “are told with a kind or urgency; these encounters change lives and mark memories.”  They also are short, ranging from one to three pages.  Although arranged chronologically, the entries can be read in any order.  As you read, mark your favorites, as well as those that may not have “worked” for you.  Both categories will provide springboards into a broader inquiry into narrative medicine:  what makes a narrative effective and what value can it bring to clinicians and lay readers alike.  We’ll begin our discussion with the following selections:  “Aunt Helen Sees a Ghost,” “Losing Tyrek,” “Jeannie,” “Antibodies,” “little black boy,” “First Night Call,” and “Chemo?  No Thanks.”

    Wednesday, August 7 LDSH A,B,C classrooms

    Book: The Constant Gardener by John LeCarre

    Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD

    John LeCarre's 2000 novel The Constant Gardener is written as a mass-market thriller, but takes on a deeply serious topic of interest to medical folk: pharmaceutical research conducted among arguably vulnerable populations.  The international intrigue begins as Justin Quayle, a British diplomat posted to Kenya, tries to uncover what happened to his murdered wife, an attorney known to be investigating pharmaceutical companies conducting drug trials in Africa.  The ethical questions begin as soon as the intrigue does: What is consent? Who can consent? Who is vulnerable? What is the role of "the greater good"? Which countries' culture and traditions (let alone laws) are most important in any international research? LeCarre's work is fiction, but the story eerily mimics several real-life drug trials that took place outside of what is considered the "developed" world.  

    Wednesday, July 3 LDSH Amicus Boardroom

    Book:  A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

    Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD

    Ernest Hemingway's classic novel Farewell to Arms plunges us into the human stories of World War I. Injuries sustained in combat--as well as other events, notably childbirth--lead to interactions with nurses, physicians, and other medical personnel.  Hemingway's characters express love and other strong opinions toward those medical providers; this will be the focus of our discussion of a book you might not have read since high school.

    Wednesday, June 5

    LDSH Amicus Boardroom


    Book:  Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis

    Facilitator: Sally Bishop Shigley, PhD

    In his 1925 Pulitzer Prize winning novel Arrowsmith, Sinclair Lewis examines the personal, ethical, and social challenges facing its protagonist, Martin Arrowsmith, as he moves from a youth spent at the feet of an affable, alcoholic country physician through the politics and hierarchies of medical education and finally to a showdown between the exigencies of being a family physician and public health officer and the value of pure scientific exploration.  Inflected with the themes of “pep”
     and self-improvement, the novel puts Martin at the center of key medical dilemmas.  Should he train as  the “medic school” dictates or start with the basics of physical and biological science?  Should he give his country patients what they want or what they need?  Is public health about educating the populace or protecting them from themselves with catchy slogans?  How many lives is it conscionable to lose in the pursuit of truth and the greater good? Written at a time of great reform in medical education, Arrowsmith eschews easy polemics about ethics and the politics of medicine and presents a fallible, familiarly human character faced with choices about life, death, and science. 

    Wednesday, May 1 LDSH Pugh Boardroom

    Book: Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

    Facilitator:  Gretchen Case, PhD

     Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante features an extremely unreliable narrator: Jennifer White, a surgeon forced to retire as she deals with early-onset dementia.  Mysteries slowly unfold and and then twist closed again as Jennifer tells what she knows and the reader is left to fill in the blanks and guess at the veracity of her knowledge. Jennifer is suspected of her best friend's murder, although she remembers nothing.  Jennifer's children are either looking after her welfare or plotting against her.  Everyone and everything in her life is complicated and unstable; time passes in an erratic pattern.  This novel allows the reader to imagine the experience of a brilliant mind slowly fading, but never allows for the easy explanation that Jennifer has lost her mind.  Indeed, she is often painfully aware of her circumstances, her own shortcomings, and the deeply flawed people who surround her.  The tension inherent to any murder mystery allows this story to emphasize the terrifying progression of dementia and the desperation at the loss of professional identity.  

    Wednesday, April 3 LDSH Pugh Boardroom

    Book:Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen

    Facilitator: Susan Sample, MFA

    Since its publication in 1996, Kitchen Table Wisdom has become a classic in the field of mind/body health.  The collection of “stories that heal” is included in introductory courses in clinical medicine at eighteen medical schools.  A reviewer in the Journal of Psychiatry recommends physicians read it to “reclaim their full humanity” by reconnecting to the ideals they entered medical school with:  “hopes for providing healing and comfort for others, establishing a good and satisfying life for ourselves, and making discoveries and breakthroughs to benefit future generations.”  Each of the essays tells a story about health care; the emphasis is always on care, or the lack of, and how that influences the health of patients as well as the professionals caring for them.  All of the stories feature individuals who have changed the way the author practices medicine.  Rachel Naomi Remen trained as a pediatrician, but then transitioned into psychiatry, treating oncology patients.  She is a clinical professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and co-founded of the Commonweal Cancer Help Program.  She also has lived with Crohn’s disease for nearly fifty years, so she knows medicine from both sides of the bed.

    Remen’s stories, all short and masterfully told, are arranged by themes into sections.  I suggest reading the preface to each section, as well as the Introduction, and then choosing stories that are most meaningful to you. For our discussion, we’ll begin with “The Will to Live” and “Silence” in section I; “How It Was” and “The Gift of Healing” in section II; “The Emperor’s New Clothes” in III; “Another Kind of Silence” in IV; “Surprised by Meaning” in V; and “Embracing Life” in section VI.

    Wednesday, March 6 LDSH Pugh Boardroom

    Book: A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

    Facilitator: Mark Matheson, D.Phil

    Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac is one of the classics of the conservation movement. Leopold wrote it just before his death in 1948, and it was first published in 1949. He had a remarkable career, which included working as a National Forest ranger in Arizona and New Mexico from 1909 to 1924. He went on to become the first professor of Wildlife Management at the University of Wisconsin in 1933. Leopold's experience in Western National Forests led him to a new concept of the kind of preservation he believed necessary in our region. His term for this was "wilderness." In 1935 he helped found theWilderness Society, which he described as "one of the focal points of a new attitude"—an "intelligent humility" with respect to the place of human beings in the natural order. He suggested that human society should no longer believe it holds sovereignty over the land with a right to exploit the earth for self-interested ends. Instead human beings need to recognize and achieve a deeper understanding of our relationships in the community of life and the ecosystems we inhabit. Leopold's prose is remarkably fresh and direct, and his writing is informed by his exceptional powers of observation and his profound understanding of natural systems. 

    Wednesday, February 6 LDSH Pugh Boardroom

    Book: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

    Facilitator: Gretchen Case, PhD

    The novel Middlesex is narrated by the fictional Cal, who began life identified as a girl but later identified himself as a man.  Cal was born with ambiguous genitalia, and through his journey to understand the complexities of living in an intersex body, the reader is invited to ponder the meaning of sexuality and gender.  Middlesex addresses biological and cultural contributors to Cal's state of being and shows us how he is treated by his family--recent immigrants from Greece to US--and by physicians eager to normalize his body.  Cal's story is set against a backdrop of changing norms regarding race and class in 1960-70s Detroit and its suburbs.  Jeffrey Eugenides won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2003 for this sharp and poignant story. 

    Wednesday, January 2 LDSH Pugh Boardroom

    Book:  Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

    Facilitator: Rachel Borup, PhD

    Tea Obreht’s novel, The Tiger’s Wife, follows the story of a young doctor, Natalia Stefanovi, who is trying to both care for children orphaned by the recent war in her unnamed Balkan homeland and solve the mystery of her grandfather’s recent death. Along the way, she is forced to reflect on the effects of war and the enchantment offered by her culture’s ancient folklore, most powerfully the tales of “the tiger’s wife” and “the deathless man.”  Obreht was named one of The New Yorker’s prestigious 40-under-20 in 2010.


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