Showing 121 - 130 of 208 annotations in the genre "Memoir"

Oaxaca Journal

Sacks, Oliver

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This is the journal that Oliver Sacks kept during a "fern foray" in Oaxaca, Mexico. Sacks is a fern lover, even though he admits to an even greater passion for club mosses and horsetails. In 1993 John Mickel of the New York Botanical Gardens introduced Sacks to the New York chapter of the American Fern Society (AFS). Consisting mostly of amateur naturalists, AFS meetings were both congenial and passionate, unlike the cold competitiveness of professional meetings in neurology and neuroscience. The New York AFS folks arrange periodic trips to hot spots in the fern world to indulge their passion. In 1999 Oliver Sacks accompanied them on a trip to Oaxaca, which is a veritable paradise of ferns.

Though the trip is only 10 days long, Sacks packs a month’s worth of sights and sounds and meditations into his journal. We learn a lot about the hundreds of species of ferns that range from southern Mexico’s rain forests to the nooks and crannies of its arid central plateau. But the author’s curiosity roams freely and absorbs his new environment. We learn about the origin of chocolate, the history of tobacco, and the archeology of Monte Alban. We learn about the process of distilling mescal in one’s backyard. Most of all, we are introduced to nearly a dozen vivid characters, united in their enthusiasm for fieldwork and ferns.

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Gray's Anatomy

Gray, Spalding

Last Updated: Nov-28-2006
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The author, a renowned monologist, gives a hilarious account of his adventures as he attempts to cure a disturbing change in vision, diagnosed as macula pucker. His encounter with conventional medicine, including a physician who coldly recommends "a little macula scraping" leads the author on a worldwide search for the perfect, alternative cure.

He winds up naked and panting in a "Native American sweat lodge," following a rigid raw vegetable diet, trying the Christian Science prayers of his youth, and participating in a wild and gory psychic healing session in the Philippines with the "Elvis Presley of psychic surgeons." He finally controls his multiple anxieties about entering middle age, listens to his sensible fiancee, and undergoes conventional surgery.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This haunting memoir by a South African surgeon who has witnessed tremendous suffering across the globe is best read as his story, and not a war chronicle as the subtitle would suggest, since large chunks of the book are not about war in the dressing station sense of the term. That said, however, the war that rages inside the author continues throughout the book and gives the reader glimpses of wisdom gained during Kaplan's remarkable journey of life amidst death. The book is culled from journals of writing and sketches that he kept throughout his travels.

Kaplan's first crisis occurs when he joins fellow medical students in an anti-apartheid demonstration in Cape Town and, following the lead of a more senior student, Stefan, tends to the wounded and frightened after riot police attacked the demonstrators. Kaplan then gets the call of not only medicine as service, but surgery as service, when, as a neophyte doctor, he saves the life of a youth shot in the liver by the police.

This feat should not be underestimated, though the author writes with humility. Indeed, in recounting later incidents in which patients die, the odds tremendously stacked against the patients surviving anyway (a woman with disseminated intravascular coagulopathy and multiple organ failure, or the Kurdish boy in a refugee camp with a great hemorrhaging, septic wound), the author's self-chastisement is a painful reminder of how the physician suffers with each loss.

After a beautifully written prologue which begins, "I am a surgeon, some of the time" (p. 1), the book proceeds chronologically, each chapter named for the location of the action. Kaplan leaves South Africa to avoid military service and the fate that befell Stefan, who becomes an opioid addict after euthanizing a torture victim in a horrible scene of police brutality and violence. Kaplan's post-graduate training in England and BTA (Been to America) research stint heighten his sense of cynicism about hierarchy in English society and capitalistic forces in American medical research.

Ever the outsider, Kaplan first returns to Africa (treating victims of poverty, deprivation and violence), then sets off to war zones in Kurdistan, Mozambique, Burma (Myanmar), and Eritrea. In between, he works not only as a surgeon, but also a documentary filmmaker and a cruise ship and flight doctor. He avoids the more established medical humanitarian relief efforts, such as Médecins Sans Frontières, and instead prefers to work where no other ex-pat physician will go--enemy territory, front lines, and poorly equipped dressing stations.

Along the way he decides the number of people he has helped as a surgeon, particularly in Kurdistan, has been small compared to the potential to intervene in broader public health measures (he meets a Swiss water treatment engineer) and occupational health exposés to help abused victims (e.g., of mercury poisoning in South Africa and Brazil). The book ends with Kaplan studying to become an expert in occupational medicine, though, incongruously, in the heart of London's financial district where he treats stress-related illness.

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Having remarried after a long and partly happy life with a woman who bore him three sons, novelist Campbell Armstrong lives in rural Ireland with his second wife. He learns that his first wife, who works in Phoenix, has advanced lung cancer and, with his second wife’s blessing, goes to spend time with her and their grown sons. In the course of that trip, he reflects on their life together, their romance, his alcoholism and its effect on their family, their move to the U.S., their losses, and the remarkably enduring affection between them and, surprisingly, between the first wife and the second.

Completely surprising all of them, a daughter his first wife gave up for adoption, who has searched for years for her birth mother, shows up in the months before Eileen’s death and makes the trip to Phoenix to meet her birth mother. Her appearance turns out to be a gift to the whole family. She assuages decades of sorrow and longing in both her and her mother’s hearts. She herself has cancer, not as advanced as her mothers. Both she and her mother work in health care professions. Much psychological and spiritual healing is accomplished between them in the short time they have before Eileen’s death several months later.

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Baptism by Fire

Davis, Heather

Last Updated: Oct-16-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

At seven months, Remy, daughter and second child of Heather and Lon Davis, is hospitalized with a seizure that, after several days of agonizing uncertainty, is traced to a brain tumor. This narrative of her diagnosis and treatment, told by her mother and very much from her mother’s perspective, is not only a chronicle of a medical event, but, perhaps more centrally, of a spiritual awakening in the mother’s life. From a person uncertain about and largely indifferent to prayer, faith, and spirituality, Ms. Davis becomes, over the course of her daughter’s treatment, convinced of the presence of God, the power of prayer, and the availability of grace in precisely those circumstances that threaten life and lifestyle and bring individuals face to face with their deepest fears and deepest needs.

A series of “coincidences” makes her more and more aware of how little she controls in the grueling process, and how much of comfort, relief, and unexpected aid comes as unsolicited gift from un expected places. The child recovers, unlike several others the mother encounters during her weeks of witnessing hospital life. The mother emerges profoundly different for the experience, and clearer in her purposes as a writer and, eventually, a teacher.

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Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Dr. Slocum leads his readers through some of the high (and low) points of his 34 years of general medical practice in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. The work opens as he and his wife and nurse of as many years close the office they have shared for the last time. Then moving backward for a few chapters, the author discusses briefly his training, including a critical four-month period in Vienna in the year 1932. Slocum was awaiting the results of his Medical board examination and while doing some advance study, experienced first hand the early stages of Nazi activity against Jews in Austria.

After their return to the states and the doctor’s completion of his internship, the young couple located office and home in Manhattan. The remainder of the book is devoted to descriptions of critical events and important professional encounters in more than three decades, organized by chapter, most of which encapsulate a patient and, when present, his or her family.

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Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This posthumously published short (132 pp) collection is by a former New York Times book reviewer and essayist who was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer in 1989 and who died the following year. Broyard responded to his illness by writing about the experience. The book is comprised of six parts:

Part 1: Intoxicated by My Illness

Part 2: Toward a Literature of Illness

Part 3: The Patient Examines the Doctor

Part 4: A Style for Death: Journal Notes, May-September,1990

Part 5: The Literature of Death

Part 6: What the Cystoscope Said

Parts 1, 2 and 5 appeared in slightly different form in the New York Times between 1981 and 1990.

Parts 2 and 3 are in part from a talk Mr. Broyard gave at the Univ. of Chicago Medical School in April 1990. Part 6 is a short story written by Broyard in 1954 about his father’s death.

Mr. Broyard had long been fascinated with death and dying, before his prostatic cancer, publishing "What the Cystoscope Said" in 1954, some 35 years before his own diagnosis. It is as though he had been preparing for what he knew would be his finest work. Always an engaging essayist and reviewer, Mr. Broyard here offers what he did best--a discursive (in the best sense) soliloquy on disease, suffering, the majesty of the educated, reflective person with illness--all amplified with widely ranging withdrawals from the broad literary bank account one would expect of a professional reader and reviewer: one reads about personal fate vis-à-vis D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love; one reads, as one can read nowhere else, about illness, dying and sexuality and its relevance to Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.

Part 1, Intoxicated By My Illness, is a personal statement about the effect of this illness on Broyard’s attitude and is rich with his own and others’ literary sense of how he should and did react to it. Part 2, written later than Part 5, deals with literature and illness as opposed to the emphasis on death in Part 5. Within Part 2 are references to Susan Sontag, Norman Cousins and Siegel, among other students of this subject. It is interesting to compare the more powerful and personal and moving appeal of the later writings on illness (Part 2) to the more abstract, critical ruminations on death (Part 5) at a time when, in fact, Part 5 was a literary exercise. Part 2 is written with the pen of the heart.

Part 3 is a wonderful account of Broyard’s first meeting with his personal physician. While Broyard analyzes this man, he reflects on what he would like in his ideal doctor. Part 4 is a brief (7 pages) collection of short diary entries reminiscent of Dag Hammarskjöld’s Markings. Part 5 includes essays on death and dying in literature and what these books, e.g., Robert Kastenbaum’s Between Life and Death and David Hendin’s Death as a Fact of Life and Ernest Becker’s Denial of Death, have to offer us.

Part 6 is a short story about his father’s death, the son’s sexual escapades and the relationship between the two. Clearly sex, death and their nexus have long been on Broyard’s mind. This is a welcome reflection and is of interest more as it compares to Broyard’s later writings on the subject, especially in Part 2, than for its intrinsic worth as a short story.

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Summary:

The book is based on a series of conversations between Edith Heal and William Carlos Williams that took place over a five-month period in the mid 1950s. Williams had published more than 40 books (some of them mere pamphlets) between 1909 and 1957, the span of time covered in these conversations. The interviewer asked him to make biographical comments related to each book--what he was doing at the time, how the book came about, and how this particular work related to his development as a writer.

Thus, after Williams makes some introductory comments about becoming a poet, the book is arranged chronologically, with one to several pages devoted to each book from the privately printed "Poems" in 1909 to "The Lost Poems of William Carlos Williams" (New Directions) and "The Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams" (McDowell, Obolensky, Inc.), both published in 1957.

In many cases, especially for some of the early pamphlets and, later, the "selected" and "collected" volumes, Williams’s comments are short and avuncular. However, his reminiscences about the major books are interesting and insightful, although, of course, they put us in touch with the persona that their author wished to reveal, and not necessarily with the "real" William Carlos Williams.

Typical comments include this, about "Spring and All" (1923), in which so many of Williams’s most famous poems were originally collected: "Nobody ever saw it--it had no circulation at all--but I had a lot of fun with it." (p. 36) Regarding The Knife of the Times and Other Stories (1932), he comments: "This is the first book of short stories . . . I felt furious at the country for its lack of progressive ideas . . . These people didn’t know anything about poetry, about literature. They were not interested in me as a writer, but as a man and a physician." (pp. 49-50)

Williams’s first Collected Poems appeared in 1934, "Needless to say, it didn’t sell at all." (Only 500 copies were made.) Williams finally broke into the world of commercial publishing with New Directions and his 1937 novel, White Mule (see annotation in this database). [At the time he was 54 years old!] New Directions subsequently published two other novels in The White Mule trilogy, along with short stories (Life Along the Passaic River) and his later volumes of poems.

Williams has a lot to say about his massive poetic project, Patterson, which was very well received in its first installment (1946), but became progressively less entrancing to the critics in Books 2 through 5. In Book 2 of Patterson (1948) he mentions first using his famous triadic variable foot, which he later developed fully in The Desert Music and Other Poems (1954) and Pictures from Brueghel (1962): "From the time I hit on this I knew what I was going to have to do . . . My two leading forces were trying to know life and trying to find a technique of verse. Now I had it--a sea change." (pp. 82-83)

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In the Shadow of Memory

Skloot, Floyd

Last Updated: Aug-29-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

I used to be able to think. My brain’s circuits were all connected . . . I had a memory and an intuition that I could trust. So begins Floyd Skloot’s memoir of living his life with "a scatter of white spots like bubbles" in his brain, as a result of a viral illness in 1988 that led to chronic fatigue syndrome and persistent brain damage. The first section ("Gray Area") consists of essays that re-create a texture of mistaken words and memory lapses, as well as the author’s creativity in discovering ways to minimize or bypass disability in his daily life. The temporal vector of this section begins with the onset of illness; continues through his marriage to Beverly and their settling on a hilltop in Oregon; and ends with an idyllic stay on Achill Island off the western coast of Ireland.

The second section draws us back in time to "The Family Story," a series of stories about childhood. In "Kismet," which begins section 3, the author returns to a description of his post-illness experience, in this case to his fateful final visit with an older brother, who is dying of diabetes and kidney failure. Later, in "A Measure of Acceptance," he tells of his encounter with a Social Security psychiatrist, whose task is to determine whether Floyd Skloot is "really" sick. The Social Security Administration provides one measure of acceptance; but the author creates a more important measure of acceptance for himself: "I can say that I’ve become adept at being brain damaged. It’s not that my symptoms have gone away: I still try to dice a stalk of celery with a carrot instead of a knife . . . Along the way, though, I’ve learned to manage my encounters with the world." (p. 196)

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

An imaginative recreation of profound personal loss, the resulting changes wrought by unexpected responsibility as well as opportunity, all occurring during the progression from late adolescence into young adulthood, this work is centered on the death and its aftermath of the author’s parents 32 days apart, when the author was 21 years old (in 1991). With two siblings embarked on their own careers, it was Dave who took on "parenthood" of their eight-year old brother, "Toph."

The book details first, the mother’s death, then, the life that Eggers and Toph negotiate for themselves and with each other after they move from suburban Chicago to Berkeley, California, and, finally, Dave’s return visit to his hometown, wherein he seeks to exorcise some ghosts. In between these landmarks are reflections on family relationships, including that with a shadowy, alcoholic father; the launch of a satiric magazine, "Might" (a title meant to signify both power and possibility); concern for wounded friends; attempts to lead a "normal" life.

While the bare facts of Eggers’s story are unusual enough, the writing is arrestingly original--performative, conversational, brash, yet self-deprecating, funny, and often moving. It is not inaccurate, and will give a flavor of the writing style, to describe the book’s "themes" in the author’s own words (from the 21-page Acknowledgments), for example: "The Unspoken Magic Of Parental Disappearance"--the admission that this traumatic experience of loss "is accompanied by an undeniable but then of course guilt-inducing sense of mobility, of infinite possibility, having suddenly found oneself in a world with neither floor nor ceiling" (xxv); "The Brotherly Love/Weird Symbiosis Factor"; "The Knowingness About The Book’s Self-Conscious Aspect"--an acknowledgment that self-reference is "simply a device, a defense, to obscure the black, blinding, murderous rage and sorrow at the core of this whole story" (xxvii); "The Telling The World Of Suffering As Means Of Flushing Or At Least Diluting Of Pain Aspect"; "The Putting This All Down As Tool For Stopping Time Given The Overlap With Fear Of Death Aspect."

Dave Eggers is on his way to New York with Toph as the book ends. They currently live in Brooklyn, where Eggers produces a quarterly literary journal (Timothy Mcsweeney’s Quarterly Concern, A Journal Created By Nervous People In Relative Obscurity) and a related Web site.

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