Showing 31 - 40 of 206 annotations tagged with the keyword "Nature"

The Tennis Partner

Verghese, Abraham

Last Updated: Jan-20-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

A Doctor's Story of Friendship and Loss, this book is, in a sense, a sequel to Verghese's earlier memoir, My Own Country: A Doctor's Story of a Town and Its People in the Age of AIDS (see this database). The Tennis Partner tells the parallel stories of Verghese's disintegrating marriage as he establishes new roots in El Paso, Texas and of his new deep friendship with a (male) medical student who shares his passion for tennis. Both men are struggling to re-establish order in their personal lives: Verghese, in easing himself out of a dying marriage while trying to maintain a close relationship with his two sons; David (the tennis partner), in remaining drug-free and successfully completing medical training, which had been interrupted by his addiction.

Verghese, an experienced physician trained in infectious disease and an expert on AIDS treatment, relishes his role as David's mentor; David, a former tennis "pro," enjoys teaching Verghese how to play better. Playing tennis together for the sheer joy of it, each finds release. Tennis becomes the route through which each can unburden himself to the other, seeking solace in a difficult time. Through it "we found a third arena outside of the defined boundaries of hospital and tennis court . . . at a time in both our lives when friendship was an important way to reclaim that which had been lost." (339)

While the reader suspects that David must have a drug problem because the Prologue to the book, narrated in the third person, describes a "young doctor from El Paso" in drug treatment, Verghese the biographer has no inkling of the problem until one-third into his first person narrative. He is shocked, but in some ways the bonds of their friendship are strengthened. Each has only the other as a confidant.

David, however, has another addiction: women. The friendship becomes increasingly complicated as Verghese tries to remain both supportive and objective. Eventually David resumes "using" and Verghese must decide how to respond, both professionally and on a personal level. The turmoil in both lives ends tragically for David and causes profound grief in Verghese.

View full annotation

The Country Doctor

Balzac, Honore de

Last Updated: Dec-29-2009
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The country doctor, Monsieur Benassis, practices in a village called Voreppe at the base of the Grande Chartreuse Mountains. He is a seedy and unkempt, but very kind-hearted, bachelor of 50 who lives with his authoritarian housekeeper. Benassis was brought up in the country, but had lived for many years in Paris where he enjoyed a dissipated life and loved two women. He left the first, only to learn later that she bore him a son and died of heart disease. Later his illegitimate son died.

His second love, Evelina, broke off their engagement when her parents objected to the suitor’s sordid past. Benassis became very depressed and considered suicide. After visiting a monastery in the Grand Chartreuse region, he decided to move to Voreppe and devote his life to serving the poor rural people. He not only practices medicine, but over the years has also initiated a number of economic and community development projects in the area.

Above the village is a hamlet that contains a dozen cretins among the thirty families who live there. Cretinism is common in the region. Dr. Benassis decides that it would be good for the public health to have all the cretins sent to an asylum in Aiguebelle, some distance away. When Benassis becomes mayor, he arranges to have the cretins transported to Aiguebelle, despite opposition from the local people. One cretin remains "to be fed and cared for as the adopted child of the commune."

Benassis later moves the other inhabitants of the hamlet to a new, more fertile, site in the valley and installs an irrigation system for them. At the end of the novel, Benassis has a stroke and dies. He is the first to be buried in the new cemetery.

View full annotation

Ceremony

Silko, Leslie Marmon

Last Updated: Dec-10-2009
Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Returned from combat, Tayo, a mixed-blood Laguna, struggles to regain his health and mental equilibrium. Suffering from what his physicians term "battle fatigue" and the lingering effects of malaria, Tayo had become dysfunctional when he was ordered to shoot several of the enemy and sees in them the faces of his own ancestors.

Later, at the VA hospital, Tayo is told by white doctors to avoid "Indian medicine" and to remove himself as far as possible from his community and heritage. He is heavily sedated and experiences himself as "white smoke."

After he leaves the hospital and returns to his aunt and her family, Tayo's illness worsens (including chronic nausea and vomiting, hallucinations, and weeping). Finally his grandmother calls in a traditional healer who starts Tayo on an intense journey of inner healing (and encounters with other Native American healers) and reconnection with his painful but rich past.

View full annotation

The Long Death

Piercy, Marge

Last Updated: Nov-22-2009
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Piercy writes painfully and poignantly about the silent and slow death(s) from radiation exposure. In this nine stanza catalogue, she parades the incidents known or suspected to be the source of clusters of disease, disability and demise related to ignorant or irresponsible exposure of humans to nuclear testing and nuclear installations. She juxtaposes the beauties of nature, "The soft spring rain . . . " and the secret poisons with which man has contaminated her, ". . . blowing from the irradiated cloud." And, finally, she muses on the fact that we simply accept our symptoms instead of confronting our murderers.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Triggered in part by a trip to the Galápagos Islands, the author interweaves two parallel narratives: Darwin's "journey toward evolution" along with the related work of Alfred Russel Wallace; and the author's own journey through life, partially disabled and dependent on the specially fitted shoes that help him to walk.  Together these two narratives develop "all I have come to understand about chance and change, fear and transformation, variation and cultural context, ideas about the body that question the definition and existence of difference in all of our lives" (xvii).

Born with an unnamed congenital condition in which his fibulae are absent along with other lower limb "abnormalities," Fries underwent five major reconstructive surgeries as a child, but after those, what helped him most were special shoes that were fitted to his special body, assisting him to walk.  As an adult, however, he begins to experience back pain and knee problems.  The memoir relates, both in flashback, and in the present day, Fries's quest for a proper pair of shoes that will help him avoid yet another surgery -- the shoes he has been wearing are 20 years old and no longer do the job.  We meet Dr. Mendotti, who treated him like a peculiar specimen and offered a pharmacologic way out of his pain; shoemaker Eneslow, in a dingy Union Square office, whose shoes not only fit Fries well, but were festive in appearance -- "I felt both normal and special" (17); other practitioners of orthotics who try but fail to construct shoes that relieve Fries's pain, and finally, the gifted, patient orthoticist, Tom Coburn, who persists until he is able to provide shoes that work.  The shoes have been adapted for Fries's body, just as man has constructed adaptations that allow him to live in a variety of climates and circumstances.  Conversely, Fries, convinced he "can adapt to the circumstances in which my body places me (169)," draws from Darwin, whom he quotes: "individual differences are highly important for us, as they afford materials for natural selection to accumulate" (169).
 
Darwinian connections are invoked throughout the narrative.  The peculiar configuration of Fries's feet and shoes help him to ascend a series of mountain ladders while his partner, Ian -- who usually has to assist Fries with such physical maneuvers -- suddenly becomes fearful of the height and exposure;  back problems might have developed even without his congenital abnormalities because evolution of the capacity to walk upright included the tendency toward back pain; the role of chance in natural selection and the role of chance in the physical fact of congenital conditions; the positive role that his partner Ian's attention deficit disorder (ADD) could have played in the days of hunter-gatherers and the cultural context in which ADD is now considered to be "abnormal."
 
Fries discusses his fears -- both rational and irrational -- as well as his awareness of stigma, difference, and sameness.  The context of these discussions is usually a reminiscence about vacations in far-flung countries (Thailand, the Galápagos, Bali, Alaska, the Canadian Rockies) and physically challenging domestic locales (a Colorado River raft trip, the Beehive Mountain in Acadia National Park).  He  occasionally brings into the discussion his homosexuality, especially as his physical deformity affected sexual encounters.  The relationship between Fries and Ian is woven throughout the memoir as one of understanding, mutual need and benefit.  As the memoir ends, Fries worries about the likelihood he will need a wheelchair, but is at the same time gathering confidence in his ability to ride the Easy Flyer bicycle that Ian has discovered at the local bike shop.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Mathiasen, Helle

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

At the request of a German editor, Charles Darwin (1809-1882) began his autobiography at the age of 67. His granddaughter and editor, Nora Barlow, tells us that he revised it over several years.

Darwin remembers little about his mother who died when he was 8, but talks at length about his forceful physician father, who measured 6 foot 2 inches, and weighed over 336 pounds. His father's success guaranteed that Charles would never have to work for a living. Darwin was a naughty boy schooled in humaneness and manners by his loving sisters. Early on, he showed a passion for collecting, mostly beetles, but also coins, shells, and minerals. He hated boarding school; he enjoyed running in the open air and shooting snipes with his dogs. He quotes his father's characterization of him as a young boy: "You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family" (28).

As a medical student at Edinburgh University, he witnessed operations without anesthesia which caused him to revolt against his father's wish that he become a doctor; he couldn't take the sight of blood.  At Cambridge, he found most of his classes and professors dull, except for his botany professor, John Stevens Henslow, his mentor and hiking companion. The paternal plan for him to become a clergyman foundered at Cambridge, as Darwin questioned the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England.

From 1831, he sailed with Capt. Fitz-Roy on board  The Beagle for 5 years and 3 days (again, against his father's wishes). He quarrelled with  Fitz-Roy whose mood swings required Darwin's tact. They disagreed about slavery, FitzRoy defending it, and Darwin abominating it. He carried Lyell's Principles of Geology with him, read Milton, and collected numerous specimens which he sent back to Britain.

28 months after his return, Darwin married his cousin, Emma Wedgwood. The marriage was happy and produced 10 children.

In the chapter on his religious beliefs, Darwin gives 4 reasons for believing the Old Testament to be false; as he has studied the laws of nature, he has ceased to believe in miracles. He rejects Bishop Paley's argument for intelligent design: "Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws" (87). The Christian god is cruel, as he causes innocent animals to suffer and condemns non-believers to hell. Darwin confesses he does not understand "the mystery of the beginning of all things" (94), calling himself an agnostic. He outlines the great Victorian men he has known, though his ill health has long  prevented him from traveling or seeing friends. He discusses his publications, including Origin of Species, stating he did not care whether he or Wallace got the credit for the theory of evolution. He attributes his success to his moderate abilities. He has been methodical, industrious, and commonsensical.

The appendix includes Darwin's list of pro and con arguments about marriage, Mrs. Darwin's papers on religion, and a short chapter on his illnesses.

View full annotation

Machine

Adolphsen, Peter

Last Updated: Apr-09-2009
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novella

Summary:

In the early Eocene period, a small horse (Eohippus) accidentally dies in the depths of a lake. Over time, the body of the mare decays. Heat and pressure convert the remains of the animal into oil. Thousands of feet beneath the surface of Utah and millions of years later, that oil is tapped. As it travels through a pipeline, a nearby worker is injured. As a result of the accident, the man loses part of his arm.

The worker, Djamolidine Hasanov, was born in Azerbaijan. Before coming to the United States, he changed his name to Jimmy Nash. As a boy, he loved to bicycle. As an adult in America, his pastimes include drinking beer and writing haiku. After he is injured at work, Jimmy becomes a drifter and lives off his disability benefits.

The oil derived from the matter of the prehistoric horse continues its journey through time and space. It is refined into gasoline and transported to a gas station in Austin, Texas. On June 23, 1975, some of that gasoline is pumped into the tank of a Ford Pinto. One drop of the fuel comes from the once-pumping heart of the ancient equine.

The car is driven by Clarissa Sanders, a college student who is enthralled by biology and genetics. Later that day, she picks up a hitchhiker on a highway leading to San Antonio. The man has an accent and is missing his lower right arm. Jimmy Nash shares some LSD with Clarissa. He even drives her automobile. On the same day, Clarissa inhales some soot particles emitted in the car's exhaust fumes. They contain a carcinogen - benzapyrene. Thirty years later, she is diagnosed with metastatic adenocarcinoma of the lung. Three months after receiving the diagnosis, Clarissa dies.

View full annotation

The Book of Job

Author 2, Unknown

Last Updated: Nov-25-2008
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poems (Sequence)

Summary:

Job, a prosperous but god-fearing man, is stricken with a series of misfortunes, losing his goods, his sons, and his health all as a result of a wager between God and Satan about whether or not a "perfect and upright" man will remain thus under relentless misfortune (1:1). As he sits in ashes, covered with boils, a group of friends come to mourn with and comfort him, sitting beside him for seven days and nights in complete silence "for they saw that his grief was great" (3:13).

Job proves a good bet by never following his wife's advice to "curse God and die," but he does deliver a series of lamentations and questions about his condition, countering his friends' theories about the possible causes (unacknowledged sin, primarily) for his troubles and finally asserting his desire to speak directly to God and ask Him the reason that a good man has been burdened with a host of sorrows (2:9). Job's friends, including a fourth speaker, Elihu, who was probably added into the text by a later writer, reprove him angrily.

God appears suddenly and speaks to Job from within a whirlwind, ending Job's complaints with his chastening response. Rather than offering a rationale for Job's suffering, God reminds him of the limitations of a human perspective. Ultimately God rewards Job and reprimands Job's friends.

View full annotation

A Step From Death

Woiwode, Larry

Last Updated: Apr-25-2008
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In A Step from Death a profusion of memories radiate from a near-fatal accident on Larry Woiwoide's farm in western North Dakota. Woiwode, a novelist and poet of America's heartland, had just finished baling hay when his denim jacket got caught in the tractor's power take-off, "a geared stub at the rear of the tractor that spins at 500 rpm." (p. 9) Caught in the powerful machine with no one around to hear his cries for help, Woiwode could easily have died, but survived by using his pocket knife to free himself from the jacket.

In a sense A Step from Death takes up where the author's previous memoir, What I Think I Did, leaves off. The earlier book focuses on surviving North Dakota's outrageously bitter winter of 1996-97. The current memoir ranges far and wide over nearly 40 years of Woiwode's life as a writer who chooses a difficult but fulfilling life for himself and his family on the land. The memoir is addressed to Woiwode's only son Joseph (the second of four children), with whom he shares his fatherly failures, as well as the strengths of their relationship. The reader soon learns that accidents were no strangers to their life on the northern plains. Woiwode and his wife and older daughter had survived a serious car accident on an icy road in one of their early Dakota winters. Joseph, too, sustained severe injuries as a child when he fell off a horse and again later in a tractor accident. On another occasion, Joseph and his sisters are responsible for accidentally causing a fire that burned down the family barn.

Now, however, Joseph is a married man, a helicopter pilot, with two children of his own. The recollections and wisdom that his father shares with him (and us) flow freely, creating a free associational, rather than linear, narrative. Woiwode explores the deep network of connections that bind him to the land and his family, as well as to the community of creative writers and especially William Maxwell, his long-time editor at The New Yorker, mentor, and father figure. Woiwode explores as well the strong pull of loss in his life-his parents' deaths and eventually that of Maxwell-but A Step from Death is ultimately a celebration of survival.

View full annotation

Summary:

This book chronicles four meals, tracked from the production of the food through to the preparation and consumption of the meals themselves. The first is a fast food meal eaten in the car, the quintessential American meal consisting entirely of industrially farmed produce. Pollan then goes on to have an industrial-organic meal, an organic pasture-grown meal, and finally a meal containing only products that he foraged, hunted, and cultivated himself. Throughout, he looks closely at how economic and commercial values have supplanted ecological ones in the cultivation and production of the food we ingest. In addition to attending to the social and political dimensions of the American diet, Pollan also notes the effects of this diet on public health, from rising levels of obesity through to the antibiotic resistances developing in herds of cattle living in pens in their own manure.

View full annotation