Showing 2541 - 2550 of 2798 Literature annotations

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Doris Grumbach, novelist and critic, experienced the landmark of her seventieth birthday as a traumatic event. She resolved to keep a diary during the months surrounding this time, both to record her "despair" and to seek answers to "what has my life meant?" The result is a relentless reflection on the losses associated with growing old, and on the loss of civility associated with contemporary urban life. Yet there is the liberation which age allows, in setting priorities and discarding the trivial. Ever observant and informed, Grumbach’s commentary on the present and the past is both interesting and moving.

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The Embroidered Towel

Bulgakov, Mikhail

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A young doctor, just graduated, arrives at the country hospital to which he is assigned. He is fraught with anxiety because of his inexperience, especially when he meets the seasoned feldsher and midwives, who sing the praises of his predecessor. During the night his first patient arrives: a girl who was caught in a brake (a machine for threshing flax) and is now mangled and near death. No one expects her to live. The feldsher whispers, “She'll die now.” Yet the doctor feels compelled to try to save her, despite his ignorance. He amputates a leg, he continues treatment, the girl hangs on. Eventually she recovers. The new doctor has established his reputation in the district.

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Arrowsmith

Lewis, Sinclair

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction — Secondary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This novel was inspirational for several generations of pre-medical and medical students. It follows the hero, Martin Arrowsmith, from his days as a medical student through the vicissitudes of his medical/scientific career. There is much agonizing along the way concerning career and life decisions. While detailing Martin’s pursuit of the noble ideals of medical research for the benefit of mankind and of selfless devotion to the care of patients, Lewis throws many less noble temptations and self-deceptions in Martin’s path. The attractions of financial security, recognition, even wealth and power distract Arrowsmith from his original plan to follow in the footsteps of his first mentor, Max Gottlieb, a brilliant but abrasive bacteriologist.

In the course of the novel Lewis describes many aspects of medical training, medical practice, scientific research, scientific fraud, medical ethics, public health, and of personal/professional conflicts that are still relevant today. Professional jealousy, institutional pressures, greed, stupidity, and negligence are all satirically depicted, and Martin himself is exasperatingly self-involved. But there is also tireless dedication, and respect for the scientific method and intellectual honesty.

Martin’s wife, Leora, is the steadying, sensible, self-abnegating anchor of his life. In today’s Western culture it is difficult to imagine such a marital relationship between two professionals (she is a nurse). When Leora dies in the tropics, of the plague that Martin is there to study, he seems to lose all sense of himself and of his principles. The novel comes full circle at the end as Arrowsmith gives up his wealthy second wife and the high-powered, high-paying directorship of a research institute to go back to hands-on laboratory research.

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Called Out

Mojtabai, A. G. (Ann Grace)

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This short novel relates how a catastrophe involving strangers perturbs the lives of people who live in or near the site where the disaster occurs. The event is an airplane crash; the site, the small town of Bounds, Texas. Told as an inner monologue by each person who either witnessed the crash, or became directly involved in its aftermath, the well crafted narrative weaves back and forth among a widowed postmistress into whose field the plane falls; a priest who is questioning his calling and who administers last rites to all of the victims; a skeptical newspaper reporter; a reclusive young man who ghoulishly hunts souvenirs in the wreckage.

The postmistress hovers between dismay at the ruination of her field and curiosity and concern over the far-flung surviving relatives who come to visit the site long afterwards. Her thoughts are filled with memories of her husband and of the evolving relationship with her married son. She ponders that before the crash, ". . . seemed like I'd lived in a fishtank. "Then, "something shattered" and ". . . the whole world poured in."

The priest keeps the church doors open to strangers, including mourners from far away. This runs up the utility bill, drawing criticism from the parish council. So shaken is he by their small-mindedness and by his vocational doubts that he cannot say Mass. The reclusive souvenir hunter, who pocketed a body part, a hand, from the crash site, is haunted by ". . . that hand against my hand . . ." The newspaper reporter feels compelled to re-visit the scene months later.

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A Small, Good Thing

Carver, Raymond

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This story concerns the death of a child and failures of communication. Scotty, an eight year old, is hit by a car on his birthday. His mother had ordered a birthday cake but "there were no pleasantries between" her and the baker. Scotty is hospitalized, unconscious, and the cake is forgotten. Dr. Francis reassures the anxious parents that all will be well when the boy wakes up.

The baker phones the parents’ home in the dead of night (when he does his baking) because the cake hasn’t been picked up, but they can’t figure out who he is or what he wants. At the same time the doctors and staff can’t and won’t answer their questions about why Scotty isn’t waking up. Dr. Francis comes to the hospital to check the child, looking tanned, meticulously dressed, as if he has just been out for the evening- he has a life outside of the hospital, but the parents have none. When they do run home, separately, to take a break, the baker torments them with his mysterious late-night calls. Their confusion and isolation deepen. The child dies-"a one-in-a-million circumstance."

The mother finally realizes that it is the baker who has been calling and tracks him down, enraged. She unleashes all of the anger which she had been unable to express to the doctors. The baker is stunned to learn about the child’s death; he begs forgiveness and offers them warm delicious cinnamon rolls. "Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this" and they are comforted.

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Out of Mind

Bernlef, J.

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is the first person narrative of Maarten, a seventy-one year old man who is experiencing a rapidly progressive loss of intellectual function. It is a harrowing yet poetic account of mental deterioration, revealed in an on-going chronicle of daily life and disjointed memories. The reader experiences what Maarten experiences, not only through descriptions of what life is like, but through the sequencing of thoughts and actions.

At first Maarten is just aware of being uneasy and anxious, "this feeling of being absent while being fully conscious" and he knows, from the comments of his wife, that he must be behaving absent-mindedly. His hold on familiar certainties becomes shaky--he’s not sure of how the rooms in his house are arranged. His wife, Vera, is his anchor and he realizes that his behavior has become deeply disturbing to her, as well as incomprehensible to himself. As Maarten becomes increasingly forgetful and unable to function, Vera is alternately worried, exasperated, and profoundly understanding.

Finally, Maarten is institutionalized--his thoughts disintegrate--yet we know from his observations of "the utterly moronic community" that he still has some awareness of what is happening. Although he no longer recognizes his wife, he listens to "a woman" whisper that "the spring is almost beginning . . . ."

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Cathedral

Carver, Raymond

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This short story opens with an irritated and sometimes hostile narrator whose wife has invited a blind friend to spend the night. The narrator tells us immediately that his visitor's blindness bothers him and that he is not looking forward to having a blind man in his house. The vehemence of his prejudice is surprising. His initial anger and anxiety seem way out of proportion to the situation, as if this blind man were threatening him somehow.

Gradually, as the evening wears on, the narrator begins to relax with the blind man, though he still challenges him in all sorts of ways, such as drinking, smoking cigarettes and dope, and turning on the TV (which, of course, the blind man cannot see). A documentary about cathedrals is showing. The narrator tries to describe a cathedral in words. When that doesn't succeed, the blind man holds the narrator's hand as he draws a cathedral on a paper bag. The experience of this successful communication transforms the narrator.

As the blind man says, "Terrific. You're doing fine. Never thought anything like this could happen in your lifetime?" The narrator closes his eyes and draws blind, saying, "So we kept on with it. His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paper. It was like nothing in my life up to now." The ending leaves us pondering about how much more the narrator is learning about himself and about human communication than the blind man is learning about cathedrals.

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All We Need of Hell

Lesser, Rika

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

In this collection of poems, the author details her descent into the hell of bipolar disorder and the re-integration of her life, thanks to lithium therapy. In "Other Lives" she describes herself as "mother of none, good friend to all, / who for no apparent reason, / tries to kill herself, twice." She writes angrily to the psychiatrist who misdiagnosed her and prescribed the wrong medication: "Your first mistake was to see me at all. / Your second, prescribing the Elavil." (in "Shocking Treatment") While she misses the productivity and "rush" of her hypomanic episodes, she realizes this is the price she has to pay to avoid another "two years of pain or nothing, numbness."

As the author's health improves, she cares for friends who are dying of AIDS and for the dying father of a friend: "I'm learning, as I nurse / my father that the worst / would be protection from / death's reality." (in "For Jean") The collection is interlaced with a series of poems called "Black Stones" in which the author encounters very directly the reality of death. In the last of these, she cries out the words of her friend Matthew who has just died: "Rika, dear friend, live and live and live!"

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

William Osler served as one of Walt Whitman’s physicians from 1884, when he moved to Philadelphia to become Professor of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, until 1889, when he left Philadelphia for Baltimore. Osler was introduced to Whitman by a mutual friend, Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke, Whitman’s avid disciple and biographer. After his stroke of 1873, Whitman suffered from recurrent episodes of illness (perhaps small strokes?). Osler first paid a call to Whitman’s home in Camden at Bucke’s request and subsequently visited him on numerous occasions.

Published in this book for the first time is Osler’s unfinished 1919 manuscript for a lecture recounting his relationship with Whitman. Much of the book is a gloss on this short manuscript. The book actually deals as much (or more) with the remarkable figure of Richard Maurice Bucke, Whitman’s spokesman and the developer of a theory of "cosmic consciousness," as it does with the two title characters. In sum, Whitman respected Osler, but did not particularly like his sunny, optimistic bedside manner. Osler respected Whitman, but for the most part did not like his poetry. (Leon, however, discovered some handwritten notes on Osler’s copy of Leaves of Grass that suggest Osler grew in his later years to appreciate Whitman’s poetry.)

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

For forty years, James Langstaff (1825-1889) practiced medicine in a small town near Toronto. He witnessed the advent of anesthesia, antisepsis, new drug remedies, germ theory, and public health. Chapters are devoted to his management of surgery, obstetrics, and diseases, especially in women and children, his finances, and his role and that of his suffragist wife in the political and social fabric of their community. A reformer and temperance advocate, Langstaff was quick to adopt medical innovations, but slow to abandon familiar practices.

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