Showing 591 - 600 of 674 Nonfiction annotations

Summary:

The thirty-four autobiographical essays were written while Klass was a medical student in the Harvard class of 1986. Many of her short chapters were previously published as columns in magazines, journals and newspapers. The insightful but often funny stories cover a variety of scientific and clinical subjects, lifestyle, eating habits, and relationships with other professionals, including nurses.

Pregnancy and the birth of her son half-way though training makes her experience somewhat unusual. In several other essays, including "Macho" and "Learning the Language," Klass reveals her particular sensitivity to language and the advantages and disadvantages of professional discourse.

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Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

For Booth all encounters between a storyteller (author) and listener (reader) are ethical in that they bring together the character (ethos) of each. These good and bad qualities of character describe both the author and the reader who "keeps company" with the author. Narratives, in addition to whatever aesthetic pleasure they may give us, always interpret life; they tell us about our lives and other possible lives. We are changed by our reading; the quality of life in the moment of our listening is not what it would be if we had not listened.

While we may disagree about what is great literature within and between cultures, Booth asks if we can hope to find a criticism that will respect variety and yet offer knowledge about why some fictions are worth more than others. His answer is "yes," and he devotes several hundred pages of careful argument and plentiful examples to support his claim.

Fictions are the most powerful of all the architects of our souls and societies. The ethics of criticism is a universal concern; no one can escape the effect of stories because everyone tells them and listens to them; therefore everyone consciously or not asks and answers these questions: Should I believe this narrator and thus join him? Am I willing to be the kind of person this story-teller is asking me to be? What kind of company am I keeping?

Ethics of narrative is a reflexive study, because it starts with one of its conclusions: that some experiences with narrative are beneficial and some are harmful. The minds we use in judging stories have been in part constituted by the stories we judge; there is no control group of untouched souls who have lived without narrative. We absorb the values of what we read; we have been that kind of person for at least as long as we remain in the presence of the work. The ethics of narrative is reciprocal; it affects teller as well as listener. Ethical debate about narrative values can lead to ultimate questions about the quality of life as it is lived.

Booth says every use of language carries freight of cultural values and norms. Ethical criticism cannot divorce itself from social and political contexts. Therefore, he says we come to our sense of value in narratives by experiencing them in context of others that are like and unlike them. We rely on past experiences to make judgments; validity is checked and corrected in conversation (a process he calls coduction). Coduction incorporates what we have experienced of other poems and poets; it judges by comparison and conversation (like a case-based approach). Whenever a narrative really works for us, we are sure to feel that the author's choices and ours are alike in kind, that he or she is our kind of person, practicing skills, virtues, moral powers that we admire.

In reader-response theory, regardless of what the author has tried to give, we can judge only what we manage to take. The reader-response denial that literary works have any intrinsic power or value comes in 2 forms: (1) all aesthetic values are subjective, belonging to each individual; (2) evaluations are corrected and improved in a given community; the community confers value. (Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class? Harvard Univ. Press, 1980) Booth says that the question of whether the value is in the poem or in the reader is radically ambiguous. On the one hand, value is not there actually until it is actualized by the reader; on the other hand, it could not be actualized if it were not there in potential in the poem.

When we read a story we find ourselves in a world different from our own; we are exposed to the "Other" and to other value systems, which we "try on" and evaluate in comparison to the ones we know. We can surrender uncritically to whatever appeals to us, or we can stay aloof so we don't have to really examine these other values, or we can correct and refine our own experience once we have really understood the other value system (coduction).

According to Booth, serious ethical disasters produced by narratives can occur when people sink themselves into an "unrelieved hot bath" of one kind of narrative, such as one of racial superiority. He also notes that writers who come from ideological positions, such as Walker Percy and Flannery O'Connor, often hold those positions against the mistaken views held by their characters, so if the reader cannot distinguish the author's position from his characters' the reader is likely to misinterpret the message. He comments on that problem in Twain's Huck Finn, Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. He refers to Chekhov's story, Home (annotated in this database), and many of Dostoevsky's works.

Booth says that we conduct our lives with and in metaphor, and he warns us not to think we have a literal picture when we're really dealing with metaphor. Some think ordinary language is unfigured and refers literally to a real world behind their language. They don't recognize their own metaphoric world. (See also Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, annotated in this database.)

In a discussion pertinent to medicine as a "battle against disease," Booth points out that the war metaphor implies a world where winning or losing is primary. While that cultural value may dominate western culture, it does not accurately describe the value systems of many people. Even the simplest narratives imply whole worlds according to which the narrative makes sense; all narrative is metaphoric.

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Healing Lessons

Winawer, Sidney

Last Updated: Sep-30-1998
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Sidney Winawer is a New York physician specializing in gastrointestinal cancers. When his wife, Andrea, is diagnosed with stomach cancer, he is made to see his own work from a new perspective, that of the patient and her family. The experience gives him new insights into aspects of health care he had not considered before, such as the alienating effects of some hospital routines on patient and family, the patient's need to find hope from any source, regardless of its intellectual provenance, and, encouragingly, the life-enhancing effects on his family as they join Andrea in her determined struggle to prolong and enrich whatever time remains for her.

For the first time, Winawer explores alternative and complementary approaches to cancer treatment, including meditation, antioxidant therapies, hyperthermia, and other attempts to stimulate the immune system. At first resistant, he comes to recognize the need for the terminally ill and their families to have access to as many resources as possible, and eventually it becomes his "mission" to emphasize the need for practitioners of conventional medicine to learn as much as possible about integrative medicine.

An interesting subplot is the story of Dr. Casper Schmidt, Andrea's psychiatrist, whose remarkable knowledge of new treatments for terminal illness is explained when he dies of AIDS. As another physician led by personal experience of disease to explore beyond the boundaries of conventional therapies, Schmidt forms an illuminating counterpoint to Winawer himself.

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Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In 1996, George Delury was sentenced to four months in jail for assisting in the suicide of his wife, Myrna Lebov. In this book, Delury tells the story of his marriage, his wife's struggle with multiple sclerosis, her decision to end her life, his own role in helping her achieve this, and the subsequent legal and media ramifications that culminated in his indictment.

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All the Days of His Dying

Frick, Marlena

Last Updated: Aug-17-1998
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The author narrates this account of the death of her husband, Miecu, a Polish physician, from cancer of the esophagus. The couple meet in 1954, marry in 1962, and in 1966 Miecu is found to have "heart trouble" and some "gastric problems." A gastrectomy is performed, but the cancer has metastasized and, after more surgery, his wife takes him home, and cares for him until he dies.

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Outside Passage

Scully, Julia

Last Updated: Aug-17-1998
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Subtitled, A Memoir of an Alaskan Childhood, this spare, compelling work recalls young Julia's difficult and unusual life in a splintered family living "at the edge of the world." When Julia was born in 1929 the family had just moved to Seattle and entered an economic crisis--"somehow, my father had been bilked out of their money." (17) The marriage went downhill as poverty and the father's serious illness compounded an underlying conjugal incompatibility.

Julia was only seven years old when she and her older sister Lillian found their father dead--a suicide. "Nothing is said about how my father died, or even, in fact, that he is dead." (8) Not long thereafter Julia's mother, Rose, without any explanation or advance warning, left the girls at the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum; there they remained for two years. Rose went to Nome, Alaska to try to find work. "Meanwhile, I strive to be a model orphan. I do all my chores . . . I'm quiet, do well in school, am extremely polite. And most of the time, I'm afraid." (33)

There follows another stay in a different orphanage. Here "I never hear my name . . . No one ever touches me. And, in my memory of that time, that place, I am always alone." (72) Finally, they join their mother again in a remote mining outpost of Alaska where Rose operates a roadhouse. Moving with the seasons back and forth between the outpost and the city of Nome, Julia's life takes on a semblance of normalcy. The environment is strange but interesting, the men who frequent the roadhouse are rough but friendly--there is a sense of camaraderie.

As Julia reaches puberty she becomes subliminally aware of a relationship between her mother and the owner of the Nome liquor store, Cappy. Cappy is married--his family is back in Seattle. There is never any open display of affection between Cappy and Rose, but he eats his meals with them and is almost a surrogate father to Julia and her sister. Suddenly Rose decides to move the family to Fairbanks. Here there is a "secret scenario" that Julia only pieces together many years later. As the events unfold in Fairbanks, Julia knows only that her mother is "distracted, not there." And that a man "carrying a small black satchel" comes to the house and leaves her mother moaning in bed.

Once more, Rose leaves her now teenaged children behind as she returns to Nome. It is wartime and Lillian and Julia find jobs at the military base in Fairbanks. As suddenly as they came to Fairbanks, they are summoned back to Nome--no questions asked, no explanations given. Cappy's son is missing in action. Once again, Julia cannot understand the silence, the absence of grief displayed--"Isn't anybody sad? Isn't anybody upset?" (181) Rose's relationship with Cappy quietly ends.

As Julia finishes high school she fantasizes about leaving Nome, going to college, becoming a journalist--fantasies inspired by Rosalind Russell's role in the film, His Girl Friday, and by Sinclair Lewis's critique of small town life in the novel, Main Street. "I begin to discern, vaguely, tentatively, that somewhere there exists a world where the accepted language is the one that Sinclair Lewis speaks--a language of ideas and, even, of feelings." (212) Indeed, as the book jacket notes, the author graduated from Stanford and became a magazine editor; she lives in Manhattan.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Case Study

Summary:

During the Battle of Smolensk in the Second Word War, a soldier named Zazetsky sustained a severe head wound, causing "massive damage to the left occipito-parietal region of his brain." This injury shattered his whole perceptual world. His memory, his visual fields, his bodily perception, even his knowledge of bodily functioning--all break into fragments, causing him to experience the world (and himself) as constantly shifting and unstable.

Zazetsky coped with this fragmentation by writing a journal of his thoughts and memories as they occurred, day after day, for 20 years. He then arranged and ordered these entries, in an attempt to reconstruct his lost "self." From over 3000 pages of this journal material, the neurologist A. R. Luria has constructed this extended case history from which emerges a remarkable portrait of Zazetsky as a determined and courageous human being. Zazetsky's first-person account is interspersed with comments and descriptions by Luria himself, explaining the relevant structure and function of the brain.

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Anton Chekhov. A Life

Rayfield, Donald

Last Updated: Jul-16-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

This is the most detailed and comprehensive biography of Anton P. Chekhov written to date. Rayfield is a Chekhov scholar who published an earlier biography of the writer in 1975. There are numerous biographies of Chekhov available. In the Preface to this book, Rayfield explains why he wrote it. Chekhov's life is documented by a vast amount of archival material, much of which was unavailable to Western scholars in the past. Russian scholars have studied these sources extensively, but the studies they have published use only a small part of the material. Rayfield's own study convinced him that by drawing liberally from these archives he could write a new biography that would increase our understanding of Chekhov's life and character.

Rayfield's approach is strictly chronological. The book consists of 84 short chapters, each one named and subtitled with the period covered (e.g. July - August 1894). Rayfield sticks closely to the texts, developing a rather staccato style that is heavy on factual statements and light on his own interpretations. He also chooses not to discuss Chekhov's writings as such, except to present brief summaries of the plays and some of the more important stories, and to indicate relationships between Chekhov's life and his art.

The new material gives us a much better view of the day-to-day texture of Chekhov's life, his interactions with family and friends, and his interesting and enigmatic relationships with women. The book also includes a helpful diagram of the Chekhov family tree, two maps of Chekhov's country, and many photographs.

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AIDS and Its Metaphors

Sontag, Susan

Last Updated: Jul-03-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This essay was written ten years after the author's Illness as Metaphor (see this database). Sontag begins by explaining the stimulus for her earlier essay: her own experience as a cancer patient. During that time, she discovered that cultural myths about cancer tended to isolate and estrange cancer patients. They suffered needlessly because of "meaning" attributed to their illness by society. A decade later, Sontag observes that attitudes about cancer have become more open and truthful. However, a new illness (AIDS) has arisen to carry forward the metaphorical banner.

AIDS brings together two powerful metaphors about illness. First, AIDS develops further the theme (seen earlier in cancer) of disease as invader: the enemy invades and destroys you from within. Thus, AIDS strengthens the use of military metaphors in medicine. The war against cancer is reincarnated as a war against AIDS. Secondly, because AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease, it also evokes the theme of plague-as-punishment.

Sontag's project in this essay is more focused than in the earlier book. She acknowledges that the medical and public health response to AIDS explicitly counters these myths. She concludes that "not all metaphors applied to illnesses and their treatment are equally unsavory and distorting" (p. 94). The metaphor she is most anxious to see eliminated is the military metaphor, both on an illness level (illness invades the person) and a societal level (social problems invade society).

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The Poetry of Healing

Campo, Rafael

Last Updated: Jul-03-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

In this remarkable book of essays, Rafael Campo explores his coming-of-age as a gay Cuban-American physician. He presents us with a series of stories illuminating his childhood and college experience, skillfully interweaving them with narratives from his life as a young physician, especially his interactions with patients dying of AIDS. We follow the author from Amherst College, through Harvard Medical School, to his medical residency in San Francisco. At each step Campo is a close observer of human character and motivation--his own and others. At each step he asks, "Who am I? Who am I becoming?"

He discovers his identity as a gay man, an Hispanic man, a poet, and, finally, as a healer--not four identities, but one. He discovers, too, the healing power of connecting with patients, the "poetry of healing," something far different from the orthodox image of the physician-as-detached-or-distanced from his patients. Though Campo rejects the concept that physicians are agents for social change ("naive," he calls it), he brings sensitivity and poetry to bear on his continued search for "some way to give."

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