The Human Condition Curated

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New Blog post on the NYU LitMed Blog

Richard Selzer and Ten Terrific Tales by Tony Miksanek, MD

Audrey Shafer on The Wound Dresser by Jack Coulehan

"This collection of poems by physician Jack Coulehan provides a wide range of themes, forms, times, locations and sensibilities. It is the work of a master of the art – this is his sixth poetry volume –  whose career in medicine, writing, health humanities and medical education surfaces in many of the poems.”

Russell Teagarden on The Father by Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller

“The Father is the story of an older man with Alzheimer’s disease (André) and his progression through first living on his own, then living with his daughter (Anne), and finally living in a nursing home. Or, is it? It’s hard to tell, and that is the intention of the playwright...”

Marilyn McEntyre on Snowball in a Blizzard: A Physician's Notes on Uncertainty in Medicine by Steven Hatch

"The aim of these reflections on uncertainty in medicine is not to discredit evidence-based medicine or to incite suspicion of the careful and caring processes by which most clinicians arrive at the advice they give.  Rather it is to change conversations among practitioners and between them and their patients in such a way as to raise everyone’s tolerance for the inevitable ambiguities and uncertainties we live with.“

Gretl Lam on Little Angel by Matt Sesow

“The artist, Matt Sesow, suffered a horrific trauma at the age of 8, when an airplane propeller sliced off his left arm. Although doctors tried to reattach the limb, his left hand could not be saved. Sesow has learned to channel the anger, grief, and intensity from this physical and emotional trauma into his paintings, which are raw and dark and vivid.”
Painting credit: Matt Sesow

Russell Teagarden on We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

"While epic in nature, the novel offers two particular insights on the dementia experience. One centers on all the minute-by-minute struggles Alzheimer’s can thrust upon its sufferers and their caregivers. The other concerns the many forms denial can take and how they can manifest at different times during the course of an illness."  

Richard M. Ratzan on The Lady and Her Monsters by Roseanne Montillo

"The Lady and Her Monsters is a companion monograph of literary, cultural and scientific history to Frankenstein, the masterpiece written by a 20 year old Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. “

Gretl Lam on S.O.S. Starification Object Series by Hannah Wilke

Image Credit
Hannah Wilke S.O.S. Starification Object Series, 1978-82 (detail)
10 b & white silver gelatin prints with 15 chewing gum sculptures mounted on board
40 x  58 1/2 x 2 1/4  inches, framed Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York
© Marsie, Emanuelle, Damon, and Andrew Scharlatt, Hannah Wilke Collection & Archive, Los Angeles/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY


Howard Carter on At the Heart of the Universe by Samuel Shem

"The book provides important insights into the adoption of a foreign child, the birth mother, and the adopting parents, as well as adventure, entertainment, and a panoramic view of rural China in the last third of the 20th century..."

Guy Glass on A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

"A Streetcar Named Desire is one of the greatest and most influential literary works of the 20th century...we have in the character of Blanche Dubois a fully realized, perfectly convincing case study in psychopathology."

J. Russell Teagarden on A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

"After first meeting as college roommates, Jude, Willem, JB, and Malcolm make their way through college and then onto New York City to pursue career interests...What starts as a cluster of four eventually separates into an orbit of Willem, JB, and Malcolm around Jude at the center…Through a fractured narrative sprinkled with artfully-constructed subliminal hints, Yanagihara reveals Jude’s life before he arrived at college. "

Richard M. Ratzan on Let Me Heal: The Opportunity to Preserve Excellence in American Medicine by Kenneth Ludmerer

"This book will long be a unique resource for students of the history of postgraduate medical education in the U.S. It will assist all of its readers to understand better how we got to where we are today."

Gretl Lam on Cauda Equina by Riva Lehrer

"The artist, Riva Lehrer, was born with spina bifida...she paints portraits that focus on identity and disability." Also annotated is Sheri / Dragon

Howard Carter on The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal

"We go behind the scenes to consider the complexities of transplantation, to explore some kind of peace with death, and to admire many ways in which humans can find deep values in their lives but also deal with the stresses of human love and modern life."

Richard M. Ratzan on The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke

"Brooke demonstrated great versatility in his short career as a poet. There are striking poems on that intense moment of reflection when we see a scene as a stopped-moment, a transient still life distillation of the entire scene cum meditations on it "

Russell Teagarden on My Father's Brain by Jonathan Franzen

"Jonathan Franzen tells the story of his father’s slow and inexorable decline from Alzheimer’s disease. His story is a familiar one, and one that millions of people can now tell: at first the initial odd behaviors and memory failures attributed to various causes other than dementia, then the diagnosis and medical interventions to stem the inevitable, and finally the inevitable."

Marilyn McEntyre on Attending Others by Brian Volck

"This memoir of a life in medicine takes the writer from St. Louis to a Navajo reservation to Central America to the east coast and from urban hospitals to ill-equipped rural clinics. It offers a wide range of reflections on encounters with patients that widen and deepen his sense of calling and  understanding of what it means to do healing work."

Guy Glass on Performance and the Medical Body by Alex Mermikides and Gianna Bouchard

"This is a collection of essays by (mostly British) artists, performers, and academics on the intersection between medicine and theater...the 'medical body' of the title refers to one that is ’acted upon’ by illness or disability and/or by the diagnostic and therapeutic activities of the medical profession..."

Russell Teagarden on Walter Mosley's The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey

"Mosley gives us views of the dementia experience that should expand our empathy for people suffering from it. He also challenges us to think about how dementia should be treated and about processes for access to experimental drugs without regulatory oversight..."

Audrey Shafer on Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air

"What makes this memoir so much more than an exercise in memory and a tribute to the herculean effort to write while sapped by cancer and its treatment, are the philosophical turns, the clear love of words and literature, and the poignancy of the writing..."

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Total Database Contents

  • 170 Visual Art Annotations
  • 2672 Literature Annotations
  • 253 Performing Art Annotations
  • 94 Artists
  • 1709 Authors
  • 140 Keywords