ANEURYSM: DO NO HARM, Chapter 2

It is really interesting reading the Goodreads reviews of Do No Harm, as many of the reviewers seem to either: a) know the author personally, or know someone he has treated, or b) suffer from a malady mentioned in the book.

Self engaged in the discussion yesterday: someone summarized each chapter, thereby indirectly dropping spoilers. So self recommended putting a SPOILER ALERT over her review, as right now she is in the chapter called Aneurysm, and until reading the review she was completely on pins and needles.

And now self needs to add:

SPOILER ALERT

The chapter has the pacing of the very best thrillers. The protagonists are a neurosurgeon (the author) vs. a patient’s brain.

The brain acquiesces quite easily, but the fault lies in the first aneurysm clip (six-millimetre, titanium) which won’t open. The assistant tries first, but fumbles, so after a few seconds the author has to take over. This time, the clip does open, but the applicator can’t seem to release the clip.

Of all the — ! This patient (a 32-year-old wife and mother) has to have the worst luck in the world! The author has to sit there holding the clip and cursing, worried that if he moves his hand, the aneurysm will tear off the cerebral artery and cause a catastrophic hemorrhage in the patient’s brain (It’s at this point where self can’t stop thinking of the Jeremy Renner character in The Hurt Locker, when he finds an IED but discovers to his horror that it’s one of those butterfly ones, six little bombs in a circle, and he’s standing right in the middle)

He realizes he has no choice but to remove the clip he has just so painstakingly positioned, and find a third clip.

As the doctor removes the second clip, “the aneurysm suddenly swells and springs back into life, filling instantly with arterial blood. I feel it is laughing at me . . . ”

The author shouts, “That’s never happened before!” which is a completely futile statement, in self’s humble opinion. Because literally nothing has ever happened before.

So what does the author do? He throws the offending clip, just flings it across the room.

Gawd, if self was the patient, and she was watching this go down (Thank God for anesthesia) she might very well change her mind about the operation and say: Let me out of here!

(And if this were an American hospital, wouldn’t the doctor be afraid of writing about this incident? America being such a litigious society, after all. But this is England, self is reminded. And England is not as litigious.)

Here’s the rub: “The faulty ones, for some strange reason, turned out to have stiff hinges.” (p. 30)

Self has a feeling the story turns out well; it wouldn’t be in the book otherwise. It simply wouldn’t.

Stay tuned.

#amreading: DO NO HARM, by Henry Marsh

Self is behind her Goodreads reading challenge: she set herself a challenge of reading 30 books in 2017. So far, she’s read 22.

Of the books she’s read so far in 2017, her favorites are:

  • Waterloo, the History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles, by Bernard Cornwall (read in August)
  • Barbarian Days, by New Yorker writer and avid ex-surfer William Finnegan (started mid-June, finished mid-July)
  • This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison (read this in the first half of June)
  • The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey, by Rinker Buck (read this in May, in — of all places — Paris)
  • Montcalm and Wolfe: The Decline and Fall of the French Empire in North America, by Francis Parkman (started mid-February, finished a month later)

The book she is currently reading, Do No Harm, by English neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, is pretty fascinating and may well move into her list of favorites by the time she’s finished. It’s her first medical memoir in a long time. She used to read nothing but: Atul Gawande, Jeremy Toobin, Oliver Sacks, Irwin Yalom, Abraham Verghese, Jerome Groopman. Her interest in this field started in 1991, when her only sister passed away suddenly in a New York hospital on the Upper East Side, Lenox Hill.

Marsh is very, very good at describing not just the technical aspects of brain surgery, but the emotional aspects as well:

“Anxiety might be contagious, but confidence is also contagious, and as I walked to the hospital car park I felt buoyed up by my patients’ trust.” — pp. 22 – 23

 

Three to Add to the Reading List

The first book is one which self initially approached with skepticism because the publisher is an academic press (Oxford) and she still remembers how they mangled a biography of Aung San Suu Kyi and doesn’t think she has forgiven them yet.

But anyhoo, there’s a new biography of Angela Carter (and gives cause to the 13 March 2017 New Yorker to share the interesting fact that she has been “pigeonholed as a white witch”) and self wants to give The Invention of Angela Carter, by Edmund Gordon, a go.

The next two books she’s adding to her reading list are from the Briefly Noted section (other books in the Briefly Noted section: The Schooldays of Jesus, by J. M. Coetzee, and A Book of American Martyrs, by Joyce Carol Oates): a biography called, simply, Jonathan Swift, by John Stubbs, and This Close to Happy, Daphne Merkin’s “memoir of struggling with depression.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

2016: Books That Rocked Self’s World

  • March 2016 (read in Mendocino & Fort Bragg): The Forever War, by Dexter Filkins
  • May 2016 (read in London): Watch Me, by Anjelica Huston
  • June 2016 (read in California, various stops on the central coast): The Girl On the Train, by Paula Hawkins
  • August 2016 (read in San Francisco): The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Matsuo Basho
  • December 2016 (read in San Francisco): In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

The Big Picture: Slowly Coming Together

Self has spent the last eight years working intermittently on a World War II novel. She would occasionally make forays into the Hoover Archives and spend the day there, reading memoirs.

Once, she requested an item, some memorabilia an American soldier stationed in the Philippines had taken back to the States with him. She was amazed when a librarian actually came out to talk to her. “We can’t bring the box out here to the reading room. But we can let you take a look at the contents if you follow me.”

So of course she followed the librarian. And he took her a level below. And there were people in an office staring at her. And someone asked, “Is this she?” And the librarian said yes. Then they took out a box and stood back while self looked in it. And, damn. Samurai swords. What?

She was the first person ever to request that particular item, and she’d done it simply on a hunch. Because the man was an American soldier, a survivor of Bataan and Corregidor.

Self never knows where her curiosity will lead her. It sure does lead her to some interesting places.

She knows what happened on Bataan and Corregidor. Of course. She is from the Philippines. She’s been to Corregidor, looked at the American gun emplacements, seen the flag of Japan flying alongside the flag of the Philippines on the quay. She’s walked the maw of Malinta Tunnel, which is said to be haunted.

She read the transcripts of the trial of General Yamashita, responsible for the overall defense of the Philippines, who the Americans convicted of war crimes and hanged in Los Baños (Yamashita’s lawyer was a very young and inexperienced American who knew the only reason he’d been assigned the defense of the general was because he was not expected to win. At the death sentence, the lawyer cried)

But, damn. Hampton Sides. Thank you for laying it all out so vividly. In command of the Japanese Imperial Army was Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma.

Ghost Soldiers, pp. 56 – 57:

There was little point in occupying the Philippines if the Japanese Navy or merchant marine could not freely use the docks and wharves of Manila Bay, the finest natural harbor in Asia. Yet one could not control Manila Bay without controlling Corregidor. Fixed with cannons that could fire twenty miles, honeycombed with deep tunnels and lateral shafts, Corregidor was stuck like a steel bit in the mouth of Manila Bay. The island was shaped like a tadpole, its squirmy tail pointing off toward Manila, its bulbous head aimed at Bataan.

There was only one way for Homma to take Corregidor, and that was for him to move his forces into southern Bataan, array his artillery pieces high along the southern flanks of Mount Mariveles, and rain unmerciful fire down upon the island, softening it up until an amphibious assault could be reasonably undertaken.

It is an axiom of Euclidean geometry that two points cannot occupy the same space, and therein lay Homma’s problem. Before he could move his forces into southern Bataan, the surrendered Americans and Filipinos (80,000 men, approximately) would have to be moved out . . . the Bataan prisoners would have to be hastily cleared away — swept off the stage, in effect, so the next act could begin.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

“Americans Will Talk All Day”

Really?

Pardon, self was not aware.

“Americans will talk all day, but they are terrible listeners . . . ”

— Paul Theroux, Deep South

Finally, 232 Pages Into THE FOREVER WAR

We encounter the first American diplomat who speaks “perfect Arabic.”

This is pretty sad. It’s Robert Ford, the American Embassy’s chief political officer. Self looked him up. The Wikipedia page has rather skimpy information. He was a graduate of Johns Hopkins. That’s where he picked up his “perfect Arabic”? She always knew Johns Hopkins was a great school. She wonders if Stanford University offers Arabic? It has to, now, one would think.

Self is still pondering her previous post, about the Blackwater security people who were killed in Falluja, two of whose charred bodies were strung from a bridge over the Euphrates.

Whoever did it knew they were coming. But there was not the slightest trace of apprehension among the Blackwater people in that destroyed car. Either they were just masking their fear, or they had no choice, or they were really that arrogant.

Filkins describes Falluja as “a bomb factory.”

Come to think of it, self is pretty sure she’s read another book by Filkins. All she can remember is the AC/DC moment, hardly anything else. So, nothing prepared her, really for The Forever War. This is such a good book.

She has read soooo many books about Iraq. But the only other one she can remember with any clarity is Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in The Emerald City — nice euphemism for the Green Zone in Baghdad.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

From Robert Falcon Scott’s Diary of His Journey to the South Pole, 1912

Self loves nonfiction.

She loves memoir, and of all the different types of memoir she loves reading, travel books are her favorite.

A short list of travel writers self has read and admired (by no means definitive):

Sybille Bedford (A Visit to Don Otavio: A Traveler’s Tale From Mexico); Mary Morris (Nothing to Declare); Wilfred Thesiger (Arabian Sands); Redmond O’Hanlon (Into the Heart of Borneo); Eric Newby (A Short Walk In the Hindu Kush); Piers Paul Read (Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors); Edward Abbey (Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness); Rebecca West (Black Lamb and Grey Falcon)

The diary of Robert Falcon Scott is extremely excruciating because it is simply a mundane list of daily chores (including, of course, a record of the freezing temperatures) but one has to remember that the man and everyone mentioned in his diary dies, in a matter of weeks.

So here we are, reading things like:

“Bowers photographing and Wilson sketching.”

“Evans looked a little better after a good sleep . . . ”

“. . . with plenty of horsemeat we have had a fine supper . . . ” (at a place with the dreadful name Shambles Camp)

“. . . lucky to have a fine day for this and our camp work . . . ”

But one can’t help reading the diary for possible clues as to how this expedition could have been saved: if they had not wasted valuable time going back for a teammate who was clearly on the point of death. If they had not been in general so slow. But they were all exhausted and so of course they were slow.

On February 4, they had food for 10 more days and 70 miles to go. It had taken all that they had to go 8 1/2 miles one day, so 70 more miles seems just on the border of possibility.

Ugh.

Closing out this post with another picture of Lake Louise from last Saturday.

May 16, 2015

May 16, 2015

Stay tuned.

Masters of Style: A List

Self is teaching a two-day class on travel writing this weekend.

The great thing about teaching is, it makes you ponder your own predilections.

Because unless you yourself are very clear about the kind of writing you favor, you will never, in self’s humble opinion, be able to communicate anything worthwhile to your students.

These are the writers whose books have stayed longest in self’s head and heart. Some have only written one book. Doesn’t matter. The point is, their names have become part of self’s font of inspiration.

Debra Ginsberg * Kyoko Mori * Chang-rae Lee * Annie Ernaux * Tim Parks * Ron Carlson * Alison Moore * Mo Yan * Thomas Lynch * V. S. Naipaul * Gish Jen * Deborah Digges * Paul Theroux * Kathryn Harrison * Jason Elliott * W. G. Sebald * Nina Berberova * Peter Hessler * Michael Herr * Ruth Reichl * Tony Horwitz * Elmore Leonard * Brian Hall * Nicholson Baker

(Aaargh, list is getting long! Perhaps she’ll do a Part 2 later)

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

NYTBR Holiday Books Issue (2013)

Did self ever mention how humongous her PILE OF STUFF is? LOL. Self has no clue how it got that big.

Nevertheless, she is making inroads.

Today, she finally gets to the huge December 2013 issue of The New York Times Book Review.

It is, naturally, full of reviews of interesting books self wants to add to her reading list. And it has the annual “100 Notable Books List.” A couple of selections from that list:

Fiction

  1. Bleeding Edge, by Thomas Pynchon (Penguin, $28.95)
  2. The Color Master: Stories, by Aimee Bender (Doubleday, $25.95)
  3. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra (Hogarth, $26)
  4. Dirty Love, by Andre Dubus III (Norton, $25.95)
  5. Duplex, by Kathryn Davis (Graywolf, $24)
  6. The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride (Riverhead, $27.95)
  7. The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, by Andrew Sean Greer (Ecco/HarperCollins, $26.99)
  8. The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton (Little, Brown, $27)
  9. A Marker to Measure Drift, by Alexander Maksik (Knopf, $24.95)
  10. Submergence, by J. M. Ledgard (Coffee House, $15.95)
  11. Want Not, by Jonathan Miles (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26)
  12. Woke Up Lonely, by Fiona Maazel (Graywolf, $26)

Nonfiction

  1. The Barbarous Years, The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600 – 1675, by Bernard Bailyn (Knopf, $35)
  2. The Boy Detective: A New York Childhood, by Roger Rosenblatt (Ecco/HarperCollins, $19.99)
  3. The Faraway Nearby, by Rebecca Solnit (Viking, $25.95)
  4. Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, by Sheri Fink (Crown, $27)
  5. A House in the Sky, by Amanda Lindhout (Scribner, $27)
  6. Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death, by Katy Butler (Scribner, $25)
  7. Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery, by Robert Kolker (Harper, $25.99)
  8. Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures, by Mary Ruefle (Wave Books, $25)
  9. Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance, by Carla Kaplan (Harper, $28.99)
  10. Thank You for Your Service, by David Finkel (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26)
  11. This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus Plenty of Valet Parking! — in America’s Gilded Capital, by Mark Leibovich (Blue Rider, $27.95)
  12. Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala (Knopf, $24)

There’s also:

  • The Most of Nora Ephron, a collection of her essays (Knopf, $35)
  • A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London, and New York, by Anjelica Huston (Scribner, $25)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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