Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Catch-up: Three Titles

Sorry for the lack of posting, but the paid work does come first . . . and the reading itself which I'm unwilling to give up in order to be able to write about what I've already read. . .

Just popped in quickly to mention a few titles in the interest of at least recording what I've read since back in August:
Siddartha Mukherjee's The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer is a marvelously humane and erudite record of humanity's awareness of, and engagement with, this illness that parodies healthy growth.  I find any cultural history fascinating, and this one traces a long narrative of metaphysical and medical thinking, especially as those two are entwined with the politics of whatever day. The description of the 20th-century's empire-building and fund-raising, especially as the research bodies faced off against the tobacco industry, is a gripping tale and Mukherjee, himself a research and clinical oncologist, tells it effectively, often poetically. A big book, a tough subject, but well worth finding time for.

Also read my colleague Marilyn Bowering's To All Appearances a Lady, a historical novel set on my coast, telling the story of Vancouver Island's colonization against the backdrop of a very recent World War II. Ghosts, lepers, opium, stormy seas . . . much drama here and some illuminating correctives to history as it's been (un)told. I'm hoping to write a research paper on this, but that will mean clearing a patch on my desktop . . .
Alex MacLeod's collection of short stories, Light Lifting, is wonderful, every story a gem, a masterpiece of observation, hauntingly precise. Urban stories, generally of youth, my impression weeks and weeks after reading these is of weight, of hope worn down, but the startling insight -- into, for example, the thought process of a middle distance runner, the discipline and focus and sacrifice, measured in seconds, fractions of; or the constant dull labour of carrying bricks in heat. There's an image of a late-night dive, resigned, on a dare, the swimmer swirled beyond sight into the dark current . . . .

As always, I end by apologizing. These all deserve so much more than my simple litany of names, a few details, impressions. And as always, I invite your feedback should you read them.


  1. I too enjoyed Emperor of All Maladies - a fascinating journey through the treatment of cancer. I was a little disturbed at how he gave more credit than might be due to some hospitals and doctors and skipped over major contributions by others - sometimes major new treatment avenues seemingly appeared out of nowhere and were deemed important only when used in Boston - but all in all I found it a very interesting read.

  2. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment, MJ. I have no previous knowledge of the history of medicine regarding cancer, so I'm interested in recognizing that, like any narrative, there might be serious quibbles about what got in, what left out.