Showing 421 - 430 of 742 Nonfiction annotations

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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A Leg to Stand On

Sacks, Oliver

Last Updated: Aug-30-2006
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

This is a story of injury in the midst of exuberant good health, followed by a progressively darkening journey. The writer experiences a period of isolation from normal life by his hospitalization, isolation from a part of his body by neurosensory damage to the injured leg, isolation from the security of medical colleagues by their insensitivity to his anguish. Sacks reaches a psychological nadir before beginning his return. He chronicles, retrospectively, the stages of this trip. As in the classical journey myths, the traveler returns with new insight and an altered vision of the meaning of disease.

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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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Illness as Metaphor

Sontag, Susan

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

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Sontag argues against the use of illness as metaphor. She states her main point on the first page of this long essay : "The most truthful way of regarding illness--and the healthiest way of being ill--is one most purified of, most resistant to, metaphoric thinking."

Tuberculosis and cancer serve as her two central examples of the human tendency to use metaphoric thinking about illness. In the 19th century, tuberculosis was considered a disease of passion, of "inward burning," of the "consumption" of life force. Sufferers were thought to have superior sensibility; the illness purified them of the dross of everyday life. The romantic image of the TB sufferer became "the first widespread example of that distinctively modern activity, promoting the self as an image" (p. 29). Metaphoric thinking about TB declined in the early part of the 20th century as the disease succumbed to science and public health measures.

Cancer has now become the predominant disease metaphor in our culture. Cancer is considered a disease of repression, or inhibited passion. The cancer sufferer characteristically suppresses emotion, which after many years emerges from the unconscious self as malignant growth. As in Auden’s poem, Miss Gee, reproduced on page 49, (see annotation in this database): "Childless women get it, / And men when they retire . . . . " Sontag uses the 19th century view of insanity as another example of malignant metaphoric thinking, while metaphor related to syphilis was somewhat more benign. She concludes the essay with an eloquent prediction that, as we learn more about the etiology and treatment of cancer, its metaphorical system will die on the vine. (I wonder if Sontag would consider my "die on the vine" an appropriate metaphor here?)

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Horizontal Woman

Berger, Suzanne

Last Updated: Aug-29-2006
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

This book is an autobiographical account of an abrupt and painful injury that completely transforms the author’s life. Berger in 1985 was a healthy woman who enjoyed ice skating and canoeing, a published poet, wife, and mother of a toddler. She bent over one day to pick up her daughter and felt a tearing "within the thickness of flesh, moving in seconds across the base of the spine." No longer able to run, walk, or even sit, she is forced into a life spent lying down.

Hers is now a world of boundaries and barriers--physical, psychological, and societal. The book chronicles her struggle to parent her child (they make gingerbread creatures lying down on the kitchen floor), to relate to her husband (she has to deal with the constant feeling of being the recipient of his care), to live with pain, and to regain her mobility.

Because hers is not a visible injury and because she must frequently lie down in public places or use her carry-along lawn chair, she suffers the stares and scrutiny of people who cannot pigeon-hole her into a tidy handicapped-wheelchair category. After seven years of physical therapy (she calls her therapists "angels of attempted repair ") she is able to walk and drive, though she is still limited in activity and lives in fear of re-injury.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

This work is an adaptation and abridgment of a classic work of Chekhov scholarship by Vladimir Kataev published in Russia in 1979 and presented here in English for the first time. Professor Kataev is concerned primarily with Chekhov’s perspective and methodology, the manner in which Chekhov looks at the world and, hence, the kinds of stories he tells and the methods by which he tells them.

The characteristic Chekhovian perspective first appears in recognizable form in stories that Chekhov wrote in his breakthrough years of the mid-1880s, yet it continued to develop and deepen throughout his writing career. Thus, If Only We Could Know is arranged chronologically. In each chapter the author discusses one or more stories or plays, using them as grist for his topical mill, beginning with "Kashanka" (1887) and ending with The Bishop (1902) and The Cherry Orchard(1903).

According to Kataev, the key to understanding Chekhov is to understand his epistemology or philosophy of knowledge. Basically, in Chekhov’s world the characters do not have access to a privileged perspective or to ultimate truth. "The relative, conditional nature of ideas and opinions, and of stereotyped ways of thinking and behaving; the refusal to regard an individual solution as absolute; and the baselessness of various claims to possession of ’real truth’: these are constants in Chekhov’s world." (p. 164) Thus, the characters communicate poorly and often end up inadvertently causing pain, or sabotaging their own life projects.

Nonetheless, Chekhov’s vision is not pessimistic. Chapter 16, "Chekhov’s General Conclusions," summarizes Kataev’s analysis of the author’s overall approach. Chekhov’s conclusions "may be negative {no one knows the real truth), or affirmative (seeking the truth is an inalienable part of human nature), or they may take the form of indicating the criteria and conditions necessary for establishing real truth." (p. 168) Thus, Kataev expresses here, as well as in his analyses of individual works, the dialectical (my term--JC) relationship between the facts of Chekhov’s stories (i.e. failed beliefs, failed communication, missed opportunities) and his compassion for human nature that searches endlessly for love and meaning in life.

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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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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

It is difficult to characterize this book, which consists of a series of roughly chronological chapters, each of which deals with a person or an event important in shaping (or representative of) "the American grain." Williams begins with Red Eric (Eric the Red), whose son Leif Ericsson "discovered" the North American continent, and continues with chapters on Columbus, Cortez, Ponce de Leon, De Soto, Walter Raleigh, the Pilgrims, Champlain, Cotton Mather, Daniel Boone, George Washington, and so forth.

In each case the focus is on character and impact--not so much "impact" on the historical panorama, but "impact" on the emerging and evolving American character (or grain). In that sense the book might be considered an impressionistic biography of the childhood and adolescence of the American spirit.

About halfway through the book in a chapter entitled "Père Sebastian Rasles" (p. 105), Williams steps into the narrative as a first person narrator describing events that occurred during "my six weeks in Paris." Here he connects the development of American literature, as exemplified by Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, H. D. and other expatriates, to American cultural history, in this case the evolving conflict between the New England puritan culture and a Catholic influence that filtered down from Quebec (personalized in the form of the Jesuit priest for whom the chapter is named).

The clearest statement of the American grain occurs in a chapter called "Jacataqua." Consider this: "The United States without self-seeking has given more of material help to Europe and to the world . . . than have all other nations of the world put together in the entire history of mankind." (p. 175) "It is this which makes us the flaming terror of the world . . . with hatred barking at us from every sea." (p. 176) "America adores violence, yes. It thrills at big fires and explosions." (p. 177) And so forth. Williams’s observations remain pretty much on target in 2003, nearly 80 years after he wrote them.

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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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