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Call Me by Your Name

Guadagnino, Luca

Last Updated: Sep-23-2020
Annotated by:
Brinker, Dustin

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The story begins “somewhere in Northern Italy” in 1983 chez Perlman, a multicultural and well-educated family. Every summer, the family (Michael Stuhlbarg & Amira Casar) host a classical-arts graduate student for six weeks at their holiday home. Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), the family’s 17-year-old precocious son, is expected to act as host and guide to the selected student, this year a 24-year-old American named Oliver (Armie Hammer). From the beginning, the two have a love-hate relationship; an unspoken emotional tension exists between them. Uncertain of how to handle this tension, Elio begins exploring his sexuality with his female friend, Marzia (Esther Garrel). He eventually, albeit obliquely, admits his feelings for Oliver, and the two begin a brief love affair during which Oliver suggests, in bed, that they call each other by the other’s name. Noticing the closeness of the young men, the Perlman parents suggest that Elio accompany Oliver as he spends a few days in Bergamo prior to leaving for the United States. The sojourn concludes with a bitter goodbye: Oliver departs by train, leaving Elio on the railway platform. Unable to complete his journey home alone, Elio makes a tearful call home for his mother to come pick him up. Back in town, Marzia, seeing a grief-stricken Elio, approaches and forgives him, insinuating that she knows about his recent tryst and that she will always be his loving friend. Months later, the Perlmans return to the town for Hanukkah. While his parents are in the process of picking next summer’s student, Elio gets a bittersweet surprise: Oliver is calling to inform the family that he is engaged, to a woman. The film concludes with Elio, grappling with a tumult of emotions, staring into the dining-room fireplace, the light flickering in his red, tear-sodden eyes.

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The Beauty in Breaking

Harper, Michele

Last Updated: Sep-18-2020
Annotated by:
Glass, Guy

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The Beauty in Breaking is the memoir of an African American physician who, in her own words, has “been broken many times” (p. xiii).  

Despite maintaining a veneer of affluence, the author, her mother and siblings live in constant fear of being battered by her father. Following one particularly vicious attack, she accompanies her injured brother to the local emergency room. That day she serendipitously discovers her calling: “As my brother and I left the ER, I marveled at the place, one of bright lights and dark hallways, a place so quiet and yet so throbbing with life. I marveled at how a little girl could be carried in cut and crying and then skip out laughing” (p. 18).  

Much later, the author (Michele Harper) undergoes a shattering breakup and divorce. She endures disappointments at work, some of which, regrettably, can only be explained by the color of her skin.    

As she picks herself up time and time again, Harper discovers her inner resilience: “The previously broken object is considered more beautiful for its imperfections” (p. xiii). She learns from the experience of her own suffering to develop compassion in her clinical work. The bulk of the Beauty in Breaking is devoted to case studies of the author’s clinical encounters with patients in the emergency room.

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Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

The Talking Cure is Jack Coulehan’s 11th book, seven of which, including this collection, are books of his poetry. This collection begins with selected works from his six previous books of poetry and continues with a selection of poems in the imagined voice of Chekhov. These sections are followed by previously uncollected poems, and the book ends with 25 new poems reflecting the title of this book--“The Talking Cure”. The poems represent multiple viewpoints—patients, caregivers, family members as they struggle to make sense of the vicissitudes—and unexpected joys—in life. The poems have appeared over the past four decades in medical journals (primarily Annals of Internal Medicine and Journal of the American Medical Association) and in many literary journals including Prairie Schooner and Negative Capability Press. 

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Blue Ticket

Mackintosh, Sophie

Last Updated: Sep-07-2020
Annotated by:
Martel, Rachel

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In Blue Ticket, Sophie Mackintosh constructs a dystopian vision of modern life for women. Ambiguously set in space and time (given the technology presented we know it takes place around the present day, and not much else), Mackintosh’s universe is one in which a girl’s destiny is set at the time of her first period, when she receives either a white ticket or a blue ticket from the government. These designations are supposedly based on intense scrutiny from the State, and they determine the path each woman will lead. White ticket women, as they’re called, are destined for motherhood, having been deemed worthy of childrearing. Blue ticket women, implanted with a permanent intrauterine device and forbidden from getting pregnant, are bound for the working world, bound for a "free" life that "could change at any time." Each girl must leave her family to start a new life after her ticket is drawn, and the white tickets and blue tickets immediately diverge. The white ticket girls are ferried safely to their destination cities, while the blue ticket girls must brave the open road on foot and alone, fighting for survival and the privilege of an adult life.            

We meet Calla, the narrator, as she teeters on the brink of menarche. One by one her female classmates have disappeared from around her, and she is one of only three girls left in school when her period finally arrives. She draws a blue ticket, and embarks on a new life as a chemist, initially living the free and unencumbered life that blue ticket women are supposed to lead. Yet desire for a child smolders inside her, a “dark” feeling that crawls under her skin until it is impossible to ignore. Desperate, Calla removes her IUD and finds a man, known only as R, to unwittingly father her child. When R learns what she has done he turns his back on her, disgusted by her aberrant behavior.            

Calla’s illicit pregnancy is communicated to the government by her doctor, known as Doctor A. In this world, citizens are required to meet with their doctor regularly, and the doctors, who act as a hybrid between therapist and primary care provider, report their patients’ thoughts and behaviors to the government. Doctor A offers to terminate the pregnancy with no consequences, but Calla refuses, a decision from which there is no coming back. Calla is provided with a backpack of basic survival tools and a map, and told that she must be prepared to flee to the border at any moment—the government will give her a head start to reward her years of loyal service, but even so, they’re sure to find her before she can cross.                  

The question of what will happen if she is caught haunts Calla as her pregnancy progresses and she awaits the signal to flee. When it finally arrives, in the form of government emissaries on her doorstep, Calla’s final view of her old life as she speeds away is of her neighbors destroying her home. On the road, Calla is once again alone and vulnerable. Strangers, eager to take advantage of a lone woman, pose a more immediate threat than the government. Yet Calla’s outlook takes a turn for the better when she meets Marisol, a self-assured blue ticket woman who is also pregnant and headed for the border. The two protect each other, and as time goes on they are joined by other blue ticket women on the run, and one white ticket woman, who fears returning to her husband after an illegal abortion. Determined to escape the lives chosen for them, their freedom rests not only on their individual tenacity, but also on their ability to help each other. Yet the question of who to trust looms large, and casts a shadow as they flee towards a new life.

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Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

At 23 years of age, Caitlin Doughty went to work for a crematory in Oakland, California, and looked human mortality right in the eye. She reports on her first six years in the funeral industry, learning about it and also resolving to stay in it so that she can improve it. Her eye-witness account provides the basic narrative structure of this book. 

She makes house calls to gather up the dead and drive them to the crematory. She is fascinated by several specific bodies, giving us portraits of them and their past lives. Some of them are our least-well-off citizens, and these occasion touching prose.

Doughty realizes that her fear of death has roots of seeing, at eight years of age, a child dying from a fall in a two-story shopping mall. Her work with bodies helps her heal from her trauma. She imagines that her history may be a parallel for American society as a whole that now hides, covers up, and ignores the realities death and dying. She specifically envisions changes that will result in healthier attitudes and practices in the funeral industry. 

Doughty describes in detail how the dead are embalmed, made up to look “natural,” and presented to relatives at viewings. She criticizes these rituals as demeaning to the dead and causing unnecessary expense to their families. She describes Forest Lawn cemetery as the Disneyland of the Dead, recalling Jessica Mitford’s critical book, The American Way of Death (1963).
             

Having studied medieval history at the University of Chicago as an undergrad, Doughty brings many texts into her discussion, from history, anthropology, literature, philosophy, medico-legal discussions, religion, and social criticism. All societies have customs for dying, death, and burial; many of them, she feels, are healthier and more realistic than those of contemporary America.         

Finishing her time at the crematory, she decides to stay in the industry in order to improve it. She graduates from the Cypress College of Mortuary Science and passes exams to become a licensed funeral director in the state of California. She posts her essays and manifestos on the Internet under the name “The Order of the Good Death.” Many others join her in a movement against American “death dystopia” (p. 234).  

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Annotated by:
DiLeonardo, Olivia

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction — Secondary Category: Literature /

Genre: Graphic Memoir

Summary:

Dr. Weaver-Hightower wrote, illustrated, and published this powerful graphic work in the Journal of Medical Humanities.  The comic itself is presented in a traditional paneled format, with a few exceptions, and rendered in a moody ink wash in black, white, and various shades of darker and lighter greys. The story is told in the authentic, sometimes faltering voice, of the father of Thomas and Ella, a pair of twin infants who died at 22 and 24 weeks into pregnancy. Beginning with their harrowing trip to the hospital, the comic describes the father and mother’s loss of Ella, shortly after she was born prematurely; their subsequent wait for Thomas to reach the “viable” age of 24 weeks; his stillbirth; and the couple’s sudden discharge from the hospital, going home with “empty arms”.  The story then transitions into “The Long After”, including the funeral and the phases of the parents’ grieving process.  The father describes his grief, frustrations, the couple’s differing ways of coping, and his ambivalence and anger toward religion as a source of comfort or deeper understanding.  On the last page, he recounts their hopes and fears as they enter into their second pregnancy, concluding with panels of the father wrestling with how to understand and process this loss.  The final panel is an image of the father in profile, expressionless, saying nothing, a fitting conclusion to a story for which words seem to fail. 

With this piece, the author introduces us to the genre of the “research comic”. The comic is followed by a methodological appendix, which explains the author’s process for choosing, capturing, and relating this history in words and illustrations, as well as his rationale for selecting a comic or graphic memoir format for the piece.  The author also elaborates upon the concept of the comic as a form of “rigorous, informative research” (226).  The appendix is very interesting and will satisfy the curiosity of readers asking the questions, “How did he do this?”, or “Why is this story a comic?”, but the piece stands on its own without the appendix, as well.  

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Beloved

Morrison, Toni

Last Updated: Aug-15-2020
Annotated by:
Brinker, Dustin

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Set in the 19th century United States, Beloved follows a formerly enslaved woman named Sethe and the lives of those closest to her. Sethe lives in a house known only as 124 outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. Not only is the house inhabited by Sethe and her eighteen-year-old daughter Denver, but it is also haunted by a poltergeist. 124 had been a gathering place for the area’s black community, led by the middle-aged Baby Suggs, another formerly enslaved woman. Prior to their move to Ohio, she and Sethe were held captive on the same Kentucky plantation called Sweet Home. Sethe was purchased for this plantation after Baby Suggs had been bought out by her son Halle who outsourced his labor in order to do so. Halle and Sethe were allowed to marry by the owners of the plantation, resulting in the birth of three children—two boys and a girl. In comparison to most other plantations, Sweet Home provided liberties rarely afforded to enslaved people, including choice of marriage, use of guns, lack of physical and humiliating punishment, input into work practices, and the aforementioned buy-out of Baby Suggs.

Conditions change once Sweet Home’s owner dies of a stroke and his widow brings in her brother-in-law and his young nephews to help run Sweet Home; the small liberties granted to the enslaved people are revoked by the new leadership, and cruelties ensue. The enslaved people, including Halle and a man named Paul D, plot to escape north; however, Sethe and her children are the only ones who succeed in doing so, only after she is violated by the nephews and brutally whipped by the brother-in-law for informing him of the assault. These events and Sethe’s flight are complicated by her near-full-term pregnancy. Approaching death from exhaustion and exposure, she is saved by a white girl who helps Sethe give birth. Her daughter is named Denver after the contextually benevolent white girl.

Carrying her newborn, Sethe arrives at 124, greeted by her other three children, into the care of Baby Suggs. The bittersweet happiness of her arrival without Halle is marred one month later by the arrival of a team intending to reclaim Sethe and her kids for Sweet Home. Rather than allow herself and her children to be forced back into slavery, Sethe intends to commit infanticide and suicide, succeeding in the murder of her older daughter. This action effectively prevents them from being taken, and Sethe is exonerated of her charges. Despite this, her act of desperation crushes her family, eventually leading to Baby Suggs’ death and to the flight of her sons from the household. Eighteen years later, Paul D arrives at 124. He begins a relationship with Sethe and manages to evict the poltergeist.

Soon thereafter, a strange woman arrives by the name of Beloved, the word Sethe had engraved on her child’s tombstone. Sethe is initially unaware of the stranger’s origins, and Paul D is effectively forced out by the new arrival. Once Beloved’s identity as the deceased child is understood, she, Sethe, and Denver become wrapped up in each other, blurring the lines of their identity. Sethe loses her job, but Denver manages to extricate herself to find work. Hearing of the family’s plight at the hands of the “unholy” Beloved, thirty black women of the area band together to purge 124 of her presence. Beloved leaves without a trace. Paul D eventually returns to 124, and memories of Beloved slowly fade into oblivion.

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Summary:

Doctor’s Choice is a collection of 16 stories by authors from and well known in the early-to-mid 20th century. I offer four summaries of the stories that I am considering using in teaching.

“Rab and His Friends” by John Brown, MD, was originally published in 1859 and is sometimes referred to as young adult literature. It was one of Brown’s most successful works. The story is told in the voice of a medical student, “John”, and begins with his reminiscence of six years earlier when he first met the old “huge mastiff” Rab, and his “master”, a carrier named James Noble. John, who had befriended Rab during medical school, next sees him ‘one fine October day’ as he was leaving the hospital. Rab was with James who was bringing his wife, Ailie, to see a doctor because “she’s got a trouble in her breest…” (p.37). Examination showed no doubt that the tumor needed to be removed. Having survived the breast amputation (without anesthesia and observed by the narrator and his fellow students), four days later Ailie’s delirium set in. With James by her side, and with tender caring, Ailie died a few days later. Soon after James took to bed “and soon died…The grave was not difficult to reopen. A fresh fall of snow had again made things white and smooth; Rab once more looked on, and slunk home to the stable” (p.46). The next week John sought out the new carrier who took over James’s business to ask about Rab. The new carrier tried to brush him off—but admitted he killed the dog, explaining that the dog was inconsolable and that he had to “brain him wi’ a rack-pin….I could do naething else”(p.46). John thought it a fitting end… “His teeth and his friends gone, why should he keep the peace and be civil?”

“Miracle of the Fifteen Murderers” by Ben Hecht, was originally published in Collier’s Magazine in 1943. The narrator of this story passes along a tale he heard from an elderly friend, a physician who was one of 15 eminent physicians that formed a secret group meeting quarterly to discuss the ‘medical murders’ they had committed. The group had been meeting for the past 20 years, but had disbanded due to the outbreak of WWII—“The world, engaged in re-examining its manners and soul, had closed the door on minor adventure” (p.139). The last meeting of the group is the subject of the tale and it describes how the newest member, a young surgeon, tricked the group into providing the diagnosis for a patient this doctor, Samuel Warner, was struggling to care for. Warner explained that his patient—who he had befriended--, a young Negro boy of “seventeen, was an amazingly talented [poet whose work] “was a cry against injustice. Every kind of injustice. Bitter and burning,” (p.149). After working hard for 2 weeks to save his life, and realizing that his diagnosis of ulcerative colitis was wrong, Warner’s scheme (a feigned medical murder) got the eminent physicians to the diagnosis: a fishbone had caused the perforation that was threatening the poet’s life. Grabbing his hat and coat—and after thanking the doctors for the diagnosis- Warner is off to save his patient’s life. A half-hour later, rising to the call as well, the other 14 doctors joined Warner in the operating room to view the life-saving procedure, allowing one of the eminent physicians to remark with a soft cackle, that “the removal of this small object….will enable the patient to continue writing poetry denouncing the greeds and horrors of our world” (p. 154). 

There was no original publication date for “The White Cottage” by L.A.G. Strong, but it has been anthologized since at least 1940. The narrator tells of a visit by a locum town-based doctor to an island nearby to help a woman give birth at her home. The perilous journey from the town to the island with the expectant father and a neighbor as navigators and rowers ends with all thoroughly drenched from a storm after nearly capsizing. Realizing that the doctor has no dry clothes to change into, the couple offers him the husband’s flannel nightgown and a blanket. The doctor, after checking the wife and estimating a number of hours of labor ahead, goes to the living room by the fire. Fearing he’s still chilled, the couple decides to make room in their bed for him. After hesitating for a moment, he climbs in next to the husband. After some small talk and an ‘order’ for the soon-to-be mother to lay on her side and have her husband rub her back, the doctor begins to assess the situation he finds himself in: “Right living was not obedience to rule: it was a balance, renewed each instant, like a tight-rope walker’s, a tension between opposites. Here, for a moment, in this bed, in this cottage, in this tiny focus of life, beneath storm and towering sky, was wisdom. Men did not possess wisdom. It possessed them. Like a light, it flickered here and there over the vast dark mass of humanity, illuminating briefly every now and then a single understanding. Here, for the moment, it possessed him; and by its light he gave thanks, and loved all men” (p. 249). After a successful delivery (and some celebratory drink and breakfast), the doctor was off to his town with a promise to return for a checkup. His new friend demurred. “No trouble man. It’s a pleasure—besides being my plain duty. Mind you, she’ll be right as rain. But I’ll come” (p.252), responded the doctor. After a silent handshake, and suddenly finding “eyes full of tears … he clambered into the boat” (p. 252).

“Doc Mellhorn and the Pearly Gates” by Stephen Vincent Benet was originally published in 1929. The story begins with an in-depth description of a humble, impish (having mastered many diversionary tricks), and independent small town doctor and the place he practices, but quickly moves to much larger realms through Benet’s use of magical realism. Doc Mellhorn has died but has not fully landed in his final destination, heaven, and decides to spend a bit of time in hell first because of the perceived lack of opportunity to practice medicine in heaven (and an off-putting encounter with an overly officious clerk at the pearly gates). When he gets to hell, he gets to work on setting up a clinic—“mostly sprains, fractures, bruises and dislocations, of course, with occasional burns and scalds… [reminding him] a good deal of his practice in Steeltown, especially when it came to foreign bodies in the eye” (p.23). After a number of months, and a confrontation with another officious bureaucrat, Doc got back on the road to his original destination, giving him some time to think about whether he was deserving of that final abode. “I’m a doctor. I can’t work miracles,” he thought. “Then the black fit came over him and he remembered all the times he’d been wrong and the people he couldn’t do anything for” (p.28).  Landing for a second time at the pearly gates, he finds family waiting for him with assurances that there’s more than just eternal peace in heaven. “They wouldn’t all arrive in first-class shape," (p.31) explains his Uncle Frank, assuring him that there will be lots of work for him to do. Uncle Frank also lets him know that a delegation is coming to meet him since Doc had “broken pretty near every regulation except fire laws, and refused the Gate first crack” (p. 32). Then, out of a phalanx of famous doctors (from a list that Doc began to create during his first, shortened visit), appeared—with “winged staff entwined with two fangless serpents”-- his top choice--- Aesculapius. “The bearded figure stopped in front of Doc Mellhorn. Welcome brother, said Aesculapius. It’s an honor to meet you, Doctor, said Doc Mellhorn. He shook the outstretched hand. Then he took a silver half dollar from the mouth of the left-hand snake” (p.32). ….I laughed out loud—and couldn’t imagine a better ending.




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Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

 Cortney Davis has divided this collection of her poetry into seven major sections which she calls “Voices.” The first and last sections are “Voices of Healing” which frame and wrap around the others: “Home,” “Desire,” “Suffering,” “Faith,” and “Letting Go and Holding On.” The sections include previously published poems as well as new ones.  Davis is known for her ability to see and understand what is going on and to express that in ways that help the reader “get it.”  This collection also shows her ability to hear the unique voices that express suffering, faith, desire—and to convey empathic understanding of the speaker.  Sometimes she gets angry with the speaker. The poems range through time, from her childhood, nursing training, nursing experiences, deaths of her parents, to more current experiences with grandchildren.  Throughout there is a consistent caring and compassion, mixed with many other feelings, many of them contradictory.

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Brave Story

Miyabe, Miyuki

Last Updated: Jul-20-2020
Annotated by:
Brinker, Dustin

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Wataru Mitani is an average fifth-grade student in east Tokyo. Rumors of ghosts in a deserted, semi-built edifice lead this young boy and his friend Katchan to investigate it on their own. The next school day, they learn of a new transfer student named Mitsuru, a mysterious, handsome young boy whose standoffishness and manner of speaking make others think he’s far older than a middle-schooler. He becomes a centerpiece of the ghost rumors when he seems to accidentally take a picture of one while on an art class outing near the building. Meanwhile, Wataru starts hearing a mysterious voice at his home. He convinces himself that it’s a fairy à la his favorite video game, pushing him to follow Mitsuru’s lead and take pictures around his room in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the voice’s owner.  

Trouble begins for Wataru during a visit from his paternal Uncle Lou when the two decide to investigate the abandoned building. After his uncle steps away to take a call, Wataru sees a golden door appear within the building, out from which steps Mitsuru. Both boys are shocked. Mitsuru immediately returns through the door, and Wataru attempts to follow him. Through the door, Wataru finds himself falling a great distance. He lands in a desert and shortly thereafter becomes surrounded by strange wolves with large, corkscrew mouths. He is saved by a wandering humanoid bird who reveals that he is known as a karulahkin and that the world they are in is known as Vision.  

Our protagonist then awakens in the home of the building’s owner with his Uncle Lou at hand. When Lou attempts to take Wataru back to his hotel for the night, the boy forces out the truth: his father had called when they were in the building to inform Lou that he has decided to leave the household, divorce Wataru’s mother, and start a new life with an old lover. The entire family is devastated. Soon thereafter, Mitsuru goes missing, and Wataru overhears his mother gossiping about the murder-suicide of Mitsuru’s family by his father. That night, Wataru is awoken by the appearance of Mitsuru, dressed as a sorcerer, who explains that he has been chosen as a Traveler to journey through Vision in the hopes of meeting the Goddess of Destiny and changing his fate. He gives Wataru a pendant that should allow him to do the same once he travels through the gate in the abandoned building. Mitsuru then disappears, leaving Wataru to begin his adventure to Vision.

Once back in Vision, Wataru again meets the wizard, and he explains that Wataru must collect five gemstones and place them in hilt of this sword to gain access to the Tower of Destiny and meet the Goddess. On the way to the nearest town, he meets the lizardman Kee Keema who transports Wataru to the city, explaining the political situation of Vision along the way. The world is divided between those who believe in the Goddess and those who believe in the Old God, a deity purported to surpass the Goddess in every way. Followers of the latter are mainly ankha, what is known in the real world as  human, and they espouse great intolerance to the world’s humanoid, animal inhabitants, known as beastkin. Kee Keema agrees to accompany Wataru on his journey. Over the course of the next few days, Wataru’s main party and alliances are established: Kee Keema and another beastkin named Meena will accompany him across Vision. As they get into various mishaps, the group encounters Mitsuru, now a powerful sorcerer with no concern for the death and destruction his magic causes. The boys come to learn that Vision is a reflection of their own imagination and understanding of life. It is further revealed that the appearance of two Travelers is an omen of a thousand-year sacrifice demanded by the Goddess: two people, one a citizen of Vision and the other a Traveler, are chosen to give their lives and act as the Barrier of Light to protect Vision and the real world.

A competition arises between the two boys from Japan, each thinking that the sacrifice will be the one who completes the journey last. Wataru is always one step behind Mitsuru in his collection of the gemstones, culminating in a final clash where Mitsuru destroys the entirety of an imperial capital, virtually eradicates all citizens, and unleashes a demon horde that had only been kept at bay by the final gemstone. Escaping the carnage, Wataru manages to gather four gemstones and is transported to the Tower of Destiny, the final trial from which only Wataru emerges alive. At the apex of the tower, he finally meets the Goddess. His wish is spent, not on himself, but on the salvation of Vision from the demon hordes. Returning to the real world, Wataru uses his knowledge and growth from Vision to handle the fallout of his home situation, supporting his mother as they transition into their new lives.  


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