Let me confess: I’m a medical book junkie. That said, Terrence Holt’s Internal Medicine: A Doctor’s Stories is my new favorite, both in terms of literary merit and intriguing medical details and drama.
Three books following unconventional lives make great picks for reading groups this month.
In our media-saturated Age of Celebrity, it can be hard to fathom that there was once a time when people were not famous merely for being famous. While today we think of Oscar Wilde as an eminent playwright and novelist, he was one of the first self-made public figures, who crafted his persona and gained widespread renown long before he had done anything of much note. An early impetus behind his fame was a lecture tour he made to the United States in 1882, when he was only 27 years old and the author of one tepidly reviewed, self-published volume of verse.
At the age of 85, Edward O. Wilson, one of our foremost evolutionary biologists (and a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner), has written a provocative book that is so fascinating it nearly lives up to the stunning ambition of its title.
Michele Raffin was a suburban California mom who’d finally signed up to join a gym when, to her dismay, her personal trainer was extremely late for their session. When he finally arrived, he had a good reason for the delay: He’d come across a wounded bird by the side of the freeway. In what would become a life-changing moment, Raffin met that dove and tried to save it. And though it didn’t survive, she found herself a few days later responding to a newspaper ad seeking someone to rescue another dove. Her course in life was set.
Suki Kim, author of the highly regarded novel The Interpreter, went to North Korea to teach English under doubly false pretenses. Her fellow instructors at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) were evangelical Christians pretending to be nonreligious teachers. (“North Korea was the evangelical Christian Holy Grail, the hardest place to crack in the whole world,” she writes.) To be accepted into the program, Kim pretended to be an evangelical pretending to be a nonreligious teacher. She feared exposure on all sides.
In 1985, Alice Hobson, 77, lived independently, still mowing her own yard, fixing her own plumbing and driving her big Chevrolet Impala, often delivering meals-on-wheels to others. Seven years later, at age 84, Hobson still lived on her own, doing her shopping, going to the gym and taking care of her house. Later that year, though, she fell several times and began to experience mental lapses. Her children then faced an increasingly common dilemma: to move Hobson to a facility that could take care of her physical needs but rob her of her autonomy, or allow her to live on her own, or with them, where she would retain autonomy but face physical challenges.
Norman Lear wants to show you his scrapbook, and—after 92 years—it’s a pretty thick one. Although he established himself as a comedy writer at the dawn of television in 1950, writing for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Lear didn’t really become a public figure until the 1970s. During that golden decade, he revolutionized TV with such socially conscious sitcoms as “All in the Family,” “Sanford and Son,” “Maude,” “Good Times,” “The Jeffersons” and “One Day at a Time.” Unlike the comedies that preceded them, these series explored such touchy subjects as racism, ethnic prejudices, homophobia, women’s rights, abortion, sex education and single parenthood.
Most non-poetry-reading Americans first encountered Richard Blanco in 2013, when he was the presidential inauguration poet. On that occasion, his moving poem “One Today” made passing reference to his Spanish-speaking mother who rang up groceries for 20 years and his father who cut sugarcane so Richard could move ahead in the family’s new country.
Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson is such an iconic military figure that he is legendary to Civil War scholars and schoolchildren alike. So it’s hard to imagine an author breaking new ground with another Jackson biography. But S.C. Gwynne does just that in Rebel Yell, which deserves comparisons to Shelby Foote’s three-volume The Civil War for its depth of knowledge and graceful narrative. Gwynne, a 2011 Pulitzer Prize finalist for Empire of the Summer Moon, casts Jackson as a human being, not as a bronze figure towering over a battlefield. Readers will come away from Rebel Yell with an understanding of the man that goes beyond his military exploits.