January 24th, 2013
The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory
Genre: General Historical Fiction
tl;dnr Book Stats
Themes: 16th century England, religion (Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism), gender issues, treason/heresy/deceit
Recommended Reads: Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl
Why I chose to read this…: After reading some heavy themes in nonfiction books and facing the semester (my last one of college!) ahead, I needed some light, “guilty pleasure” reading.
_____________________________________________________________________________________
I’m sure most of you have heard of Bloody Mary…whether in the form of beddy-bye horror urban myth or alcoholic drink or the historical figure who ordered the torture and burning of hundreds of English heretics during her rule. However, under Philippa Gregory’s treatment, Bloody Mary becomes a true woman rather than an infamous caricature.
In fact, Gregory definitely has a talent for honing and developing her characters that adds to the familiar English history without necessarily rewriting it. For instance, beloved and cultured virgin Queen Elizabeth is the stubborn and sultry Princess Elizabeth who constantly and underhandedly competes against her older sister, Mary.
The plot of The Queen’s Fool is actually carried by plucky and gifted Hannah Green, who has the Sight and the privilege of serving multiple lords and ladies and being privy to all the secrets and pains of each royal court. While Hannah serves royalty as an innocent Holy Fool, she also struggles with her betrothal to a young Jewish man with traditional views of gender. Hannah’s adventures and her own coming-of-age make for a solid and strong main narrative with which Gregory embroiders the rest of the threads involving Lord Robert Dudley, Queen Mary, and Princess Elizabeth together.
Rating: A Bloody Good Read

The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory

Genre: General Historical Fiction

tl;dnr Book Stats

Themes: 16th century England, religion (Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism), gender issues, treason/heresy/deceit

Recommended Reads: Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl

Why I chose to read this…: After reading some heavy themes in nonfiction books and facing the semester (my last one of college!) ahead, I needed some light, “guilty pleasure” reading.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

I’m sure most of you have heard of Bloody Mary…whether in the form of beddy-bye horror urban myth or alcoholic drink or the historical figure who ordered the torture and burning of hundreds of English heretics during her rule. However, under Philippa Gregory’s treatment, Bloody Mary becomes a true woman rather than an infamous caricature.

In fact, Gregory definitely has a talent for honing and developing her characters that adds to the familiar English history without necessarily rewriting it. For instance, beloved and cultured virgin Queen Elizabeth is the stubborn and sultry Princess Elizabeth who constantly and underhandedly competes against her older sister, Mary.

The plot of The Queen’s Fool is actually carried by plucky and gifted Hannah Green, who has the Sight and the privilege of serving multiple lords and ladies and being privy to all the secrets and pains of each royal court. While Hannah serves royalty as an innocent Holy Fool, she also struggles with her betrothal to a young Jewish man with traditional views of gender. Hannah’s adventures and her own coming-of-age make for a solid and strong main narrative with which Gregory embroiders the rest of the threads involving Lord Robert Dudley, Queen Mary, and Princess Elizabeth together.

Rating: A Bloody Good Read

January 20th, 2013
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Genre: General Educational Nonfiction/Journalism
tl;dnr Book Stats
Themes: women’s issues, social justice, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism, global health/economics/social issues, writing with an agenda
Recommended Reads: Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains about Dr. Paul Farmer’s work
Why I chose to read this: Nicholas Kristof was invited to speak at my college last semester, and I didn’t get the chance to see him.
___________________________________________________________________________________
Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn bring their keen talents for gritty journalism and their patience and commitment to collecting global stories and championing for those in greatest need. Half the Sky is a galvanizing book that highlights the plights of some of the world’s most invisible—the women facing grievous human rights violations such as sex trafficking, genital mutilation, honor killings and gang rapes.
One of the strongest and most effective aspects of this book is the narratives Kristof and WuDunn manage to amass and express. At a certain point, statistics do nothing more than numb readers. Therefore, they use carefully-wrought stories to carry their points for women rights. Half the Sky introduces plenty of heroines who happen to be entrepreneurs, principals, surgeons, or grassroots activists sharing the common qualities of strength, hope, and conviction. Their passion is contagious for readers, and the accounts about what these women went through and then accomplished are truly stirring and inspiring.
At times, the prose does get preachy and a bit too direct. Kristof and WuDunn break the rhythm of the narratives to urge readers to contribute to certain charities or to support certain foundations. I don’t feel that it is necessary for a work like Half the Sky. The incredible research the two journalists have done to unearth and present these marginalized women’s struggles does more than enough for the book’s agenda of calling for attention to women’s right and of rallying for change. Personally, I have decided to take a global health rotation during medical school and use some of my elective time to volunteer on site in a medical clinic or hospital overseas, where women need services ranging from post-maternity care to fistula surgery to mental health counseling for rape. And, even if I couldn’t do anything active or involved to help, at the very least I was educated and learned a lot about an immensely important global social issue through this book.
Rating: Leaves a Lasting Impression

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Genre: General Educational Nonfiction/Journalism

tl;dnr Book Stats

Themes: women’s issues, social justice, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism, global health/economics/social issues, writing with an agenda

Recommended Reads: Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains about Dr. Paul Farmer’s work

Why I chose to read this: Nicholas Kristof was invited to speak at my college last semester, and I didn’t get the chance to see him.

___________________________________________________________________________________

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn bring their keen talents for gritty journalism and their patience and commitment to collecting global stories and championing for those in greatest need. Half the Sky is a galvanizing book that highlights the plights of some of the world’s most invisible—the women facing grievous human rights violations such as sex trafficking, genital mutilation, honor killings and gang rapes.

One of the strongest and most effective aspects of this book is the narratives Kristof and WuDunn manage to amass and express. At a certain point, statistics do nothing more than numb readers. Therefore, they use carefully-wrought stories to carry their points for women rights. Half the Sky introduces plenty of heroines who happen to be entrepreneurs, principals, surgeons, or grassroots activists sharing the common qualities of strength, hope, and conviction. Their passion is contagious for readers, and the accounts about what these women went through and then accomplished are truly stirring and inspiring.

At times, the prose does get preachy and a bit too direct. Kristof and WuDunn break the rhythm of the narratives to urge readers to contribute to certain charities or to support certain foundations. I don’t feel that it is necessary for a work like Half the Sky. The incredible research the two journalists have done to unearth and present these marginalized women’s struggles does more than enough for the book’s agenda of calling for attention to women’s right and of rallying for change. Personally, I have decided to take a global health rotation during medical school and use some of my elective time to volunteer on site in a medical clinic or hospital overseas, where women need services ranging from post-maternity care to fistula surgery to mental health counseling for rape. And, even if I couldn’t do anything active or involved to help, at the very least I was educated and learned a lot about an immensely important global social issue through this book.

Rating: Leaves a Lasting Impression

January 17th, 2013
Oh, intriguing~
It’s going to be difficult for me to choose a book if I were to write an essay about one. I don’t have a favorite book…maybe because I have never loved one enough or maybe because I love too many!
lastbookiloved:

What Was the Last Book You Loved? We Want Your Essays!
We’re excited to announce a Tumblr Storyboard + The Rumpus partnership to highlight Tumblr writers and the books they love — an extension of The Rumpus’s ongoing “Last Book I Loved” series. Here’s how it works: Got a book you can’t stop thinking about? Send us a writeup – a little bit book review and a lot about why you loved it – along with a short bio. Beginning next month, we’ll publish our favorites every Friday, both on Storyboard and TheRumpus.net. Visit our SUBMIT PAGE for more information — and get reading!
(Card catalogue scan from the Palatina Library at the Biblioteca Nazionale in Florence.)

Oh, intriguing~

It’s going to be difficult for me to choose a book if I were to write an essay about one. I don’t have a favorite book…maybe because I have never loved one enough or maybe because I love too many!

lastbookiloved:

What Was the Last Book You Loved? We Want Your Essays!

We’re excited to announce a Tumblr Storyboard + The Rumpus partnership to highlight Tumblr writers and the books they love — an extension of The Rumpus’s ongoing “Last Book I Loved” series. Here’s how it works: Got a book you can’t stop thinking about? Send us a writeup – a little bit book review and a lot about why you loved it – along with a short bio. Beginning next month, we’ll publish our favorites every Friday, both on Storyboard and TheRumpus.net. Visit our SUBMIT PAGE for more information — and get reading!

(Card catalogue scan from the Palatina Library at the Biblioteca Nazionale in Florence.)

(Source: )

January 16th, 2013
Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You and How Transparency can Revolutionize Healthcare by Marty Makary
Genre: General Educational Nonfiction

tl;dnr Book Stats
Themes: healthcare in America, transparency and accountability policies, public health research studies, the role of physicians and patients, writing with an agenda
Recommended Reads…: T.R. Reid’s The Healing of America is a good and simplistic crash course in healthcare systems comparison. Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto is itself about Dr. Makary’s surgical checklist idea to reduce operation complications.
Why I chose to read this…: In researching what to expect prior to my visit to the medical school at Johns Hopkins, I ran across a forum member mentioning this book by a Hopkins surgeon. I eventually picked it up to read because I thought it would be best to be prepared and informed as possible about the current American medical landscape.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________
Just this week, I ran into and chatted with a physician-scientist with whom I had worked three years ago. Chitchat aside, I was struck by his honesty regarding his career as a hospital-research institution-employed academic MD/PhD and what he saw America’s healthcare and medical system becoming. It was a dismal outlook, a dire situation. In his words, America is “creaking and hobbling around and totally blind to how crippled its healthcare is.” He’s not being pessimistic. I completed reading Makary’s Unaccountable shortly after speaking with my mentor, and the stories and statistics about hospital administration Makary lays out are reflective of his as well as many healthcare professionals’ complaints and concerns.
Makary presents readers with a wealth of eye-opening information, but sometimes it can be repetitive. I will list some bits that I thought were most shocking and/or most valuable for current and future physicians and policy-makers to tackle.
- Hospitals are businesses (okay, this isn’t that shocking…). Doctors, especially surgeons and those who perform procedures, are usually paid on a per-operation “eat what you kill (or cut open)” basis. Therefore, patients are more likely to be pushed to accept more and drastic procedures that prolong their hospital stays.
- Some doctors don’t care. They don’t care about the patients’ best interests or issues raised by those underneath them, such as nurses, residents, trainees. Interns who whistle-blow or try to rock the boat see their careers derailed. 
- It will do well for patients to always ask for second opinions and do some research prior to consultations. Google is your best friend.
- Makary’s main underlying point of his book is advocating for increased transparency in the healthcare sector…well, namely in hospitals where the bulk of complications arise. Information is one of the field’s most precious commodities, and patients and other healthcare professionals should have access as much as physicians and healthcare administrators (who, according to my mentor, are mostly MBA holders rather than a physician of any kind) do.
All in all, Unaccountable was a honest horror story that might just be worse than Stephen King’s fare. I mean, this stuff is happening right now in this country, and, as a result, money and health are both slipping through the cracks. I’d recommend this book to anyone entering medicine to get a picture of the dark sides of American healthcare.
Rating: Leaves a Lasting Impression

Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You and How Transparency can Revolutionize Healthcare by Marty Makary

Genre: General Educational Nonfiction

tl;dnr Book Stats

Themes: healthcare in America, transparency and accountability policies, public health research studies, the role of physicians and patients, writing with an agenda

Recommended Reads…: T.R. Reid’s The Healing of America is a good and simplistic crash course in healthcare systems comparison. Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto is itself about Dr. Makary’s surgical checklist idea to reduce operation complications.

Why I chose to read this…: In researching what to expect prior to my visit to the medical school at Johns Hopkins, I ran across a forum member mentioning this book by a Hopkins surgeon. I eventually picked it up to read because I thought it would be best to be prepared and informed as possible about the current American medical landscape.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Just this week, I ran into and chatted with a physician-scientist with whom I had worked three years ago. Chitchat aside, I was struck by his honesty regarding his career as a hospital-research institution-employed academic MD/PhD and what he saw America’s healthcare and medical system becoming. It was a dismal outlook, a dire situation. In his words, America is “creaking and hobbling around and totally blind to how crippled its healthcare is.” He’s not being pessimistic. I completed reading Makary’s Unaccountable shortly after speaking with my mentor, and the stories and statistics about hospital administration Makary lays out are reflective of his as well as many healthcare professionals’ complaints and concerns.

Makary presents readers with a wealth of eye-opening information, but sometimes it can be repetitive. I will list some bits that I thought were most shocking and/or most valuable for current and future physicians and policy-makers to tackle.

- Hospitals are businesses (okay, this isn’t that shocking…). Doctors, especially surgeons and those who perform procedures, are usually paid on a per-operation “eat what you kill (or cut open)” basis. Therefore, patients are more likely to be pushed to accept more and drastic procedures that prolong their hospital stays.

- Some doctors don’t care. They don’t care about the patients’ best interests or issues raised by those underneath them, such as nurses, residents, trainees. Interns who whistle-blow or try to rock the boat see their careers derailed.

- It will do well for patients to always ask for second opinions and do some research prior to consultations. Google is your best friend.

- Makary’s main underlying point of his book is advocating for increased transparency in the healthcare sector…well, namely in hospitals where the bulk of complications arise. Information is one of the field’s most precious commodities, and patients and other healthcare professionals should have access as much as physicians and healthcare administrators (who, according to my mentor, are mostly MBA holders rather than a physician of any kind) do.

All in all, Unaccountable was a honest horror story that might just be worse than Stephen King’s fare. I mean, this stuff is happening right now in this country, and, as a result, money and health are both slipping through the cracks. I’d recommend this book to anyone entering medicine to get a picture of the dark sides of American healthcare.

Rating: Leaves a Lasting Impression

January 14th, 2013
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Genre: Graphic Novel
tl;dnr Book Stats
Themes: illustrated novel, Asian-American issues, adolescence, social issues (fitting in, bullying, finding identity)
Recommended Reads: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan is well-known for highlighting inter-generational issues between Asian immigrants and their ABC children (American Born Chinese). Other than the characters’ similar ABC background, that book and Yang’s graphic novel ultimately focus on different themes.
Why I chose to read this…: I was browsing for graphic novels to read and found this listed on Goodreads.
________________________________________________________________________________________
Story
American Born Chinese follows three different characters’ journeys to understanding themselves. Jin Wang is an American Born Chinese boy in love with an American Born American girl. In pursuing his schoolboy infatuation, he must decide what to do with the school bullies, his “fobby” Taiwanese friend, Wei Chen, and his own self-identity. Danny is an all-American teen who is good-looking, sporty, popular and appears to have everything going for him…except for the two weeks out of the year when his foreign cousin Chin-kee visits and ruins the whole year. The Monkey King is a popular figure in Chinese folklore and children’s tales. In this graphic novel, the Monkey King learns about his true self after five hundred years of imprisonment beneath a mountain. 
On the surface, it seems like these three characters have very little in common other than the shared struggle to make sense of their selves. However, Yang makes an extremely clever move (one that you will have to read for yourself to appreciate) to link them together. In the same way that the characters’ substance and development carry more weight than they do at initial impression, the storyline appears to be plain but packs a lot of significant themes and “life lessons” for adolescents (of any ethnic background) who are learning to navigate the shark tank that is middle and high school. The main fault I could find with American Born Chinese was its abrupt ending, however, but readers may have different opinions about the conclusion’s effectiveness.
Art
American Born Chinese is jammed full of colorful comic panels that feature charming caricatures. At the beginning, I was reminded of the art for the Powerpuff Girls television show because of the Monkey King (who has an underbite like Mojo-Jojo) and the fact that Jin Wang’s parents’ faces aren’t seen for the majority of the book (like the Mayor of Townsville’s faceless secretary).
Yang is great at drawing unique faces that are full of personality (except his male characters are better drawn and more differentiable than his female characters who all look like they just swapped one another’s hairstyle in different scenes). The best art, in my opinion, appear in the Monkey King sections; these illustrations are full of life and display Yang’s humor and artistic storytelling ability the most.

Rating: A Good and Fun Read

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Genre: Graphic Novel

tl;dnr Book Stats

Themes: illustrated novel, Asian-American issues, adolescence, social issues (fitting in, bullying, finding identity)

Recommended Reads: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan is well-known for highlighting inter-generational issues between Asian immigrants and their ABC children (American Born Chinese). Other than the characters’ similar ABC background, that book and Yang’s graphic novel ultimately focus on different themes.

Why I chose to read this…: I was browsing for graphic novels to read and found this listed on Goodreads.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Story

American Born Chinese follows three different characters’ journeys to understanding themselves. Jin Wang is an American Born Chinese boy in love with an American Born American girl. In pursuing his schoolboy infatuation, he must decide what to do with the school bullies, his “fobby” Taiwanese friend, Wei Chen, and his own self-identity. Danny is an all-American teen who is good-looking, sporty, popular and appears to have everything going for him…except for the two weeks out of the year when his foreign cousin Chin-kee visits and ruins the whole year. The Monkey King is a popular figure in Chinese folklore and children’s tales. In this graphic novel, the Monkey King learns about his true self after five hundred years of imprisonment beneath a mountain. 

On the surface, it seems like these three characters have very little in common other than the shared struggle to make sense of their selves. However, Yang makes an extremely clever move (one that you will have to read for yourself to appreciate) to link them together. In the same way that the characters’ substance and development carry more weight than they do at initial impression, the storyline appears to be plain but packs a lot of significant themes and “life lessons” for adolescents (of any ethnic background) who are learning to navigate the shark tank that is middle and high school. The main fault I could find with American Born Chinese was its abrupt ending, however, but readers may have different opinions about the conclusion’s effectiveness.

Art

American Born Chinese is jammed full of colorful comic panels that feature charming caricatures. At the beginning, I was reminded of the art for the Powerpuff Girls television show because of the Monkey King (who has an underbite like Mojo-Jojo) and the fact that Jin Wang’s parents’ faces aren’t seen for the majority of the book (like the Mayor of Townsville’s faceless secretary).

Yang is great at drawing unique faces that are full of personality (except his male characters are better drawn and more differentiable than his female characters who all look like they just swapped one another’s hairstyle in different scenes). The best art, in my opinion, appear in the Monkey King sections; these illustrations are full of life and display Yang’s humor and artistic storytelling ability the most.

Rating: A Good and Fun Read

January 7th, 2013
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
Genre: General Memoir

tl;dnr Book Stats
Themes: illness narrative, medicine, brain health, memoir
Recommended Reads: William Styron’s Darkness Visible (his brief memoir on depression), Jill Taylor’s Stroke of Insight (on her stroke and the lessons she learned from it), Lisa Genova’s Still Alice (a fictional account of a woman with Alzheimer’s Disease)
Why I chose to read this…: I first saw Brain on Fire featured on Goodreads’ December Movers & Shakers. I then found the book on my local library’s New Books shelf.
_______________________________________________________________________________________
Illness can separate life into “before” and “after” sections. Before her mysterious and alarming illness changed her brain and her very sense of self, Susannah Cahalan was an up-and-coming journalist working for the New York Post. She lived in an independent studio loft, started a new and exciting relationship with Stephen, kept in touch with her divorced mother (and not so much with her father). She was a twenty-four-year-old young woman who had a job she enjoyed and a smooth life and future to look forward to.
Then, small things began to go awry. Susannah acted weird, forgetting things and slurring her words. Never the paranoid or insecure type, she started rifling through her boyfriend’s belongings and imagining that her mother’s boyfriend called her a slut. Susannah was finally sent to the NYU Langone Medical Center following severe cognitive decline and two disturbing seizures (one where she was sitting rigid and rolling her eyes like some girl in an exorcism horror movie).
The majority of the memoir recollects Susannah’s harrowing experience in the hospital as doctors struggle to figure out what exactly is wrong (all sorts of maladies are suggested: alcoholism, physical overexertion, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder…). The unveiling of her actual disease is the major revelation within the book and doesn’t deserve to be spoiled in a review here.
Cahalan’s remarkable story is told though a journalist’s clear and detail-oriented eye as well as from a very personal perspective. Her illness affected her mind, body, and even identity, and Cahalan recounts her lost month of madness in a logical and evocative manner for the reader. The especially strong parts of her novel, other than the strong science writing and honest memoir writing, deal with her insights into the medical system and the doctors who helped her most. The physicians whom she acknowledged at the end of her book were the ones who saw her as a person, as someone beyond the medical mystery and the disease.
Rating: Leaves a Lasting Impression; Can’t Get it Out of my Head

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

Genre: General Memoir


tl;dnr Book Stats

Themes: illness narrative, medicine, brain health, memoir

Recommended Reads: William Styron’s Darkness Visible (his brief memoir on depression), Jill Taylor’s Stroke of Insight (on her stroke and the lessons she learned from it), Lisa Genova’s Still Alice (a fictional account of a woman with Alzheimer’s Disease)

Why I chose to read this…: I first saw Brain on Fire featured on Goodreads’ December Movers & Shakers. I then found the book on my local library’s New Books shelf.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Illness can separate life into “before” and “after” sections. Before her mysterious and alarming illness changed her brain and her very sense of self, Susannah Cahalan was an up-and-coming journalist working for the New York Post. She lived in an independent studio loft, started a new and exciting relationship with Stephen, kept in touch with her divorced mother (and not so much with her father). She was a twenty-four-year-old young woman who had a job she enjoyed and a smooth life and future to look forward to.

Then, small things began to go awry. Susannah acted weird, forgetting things and slurring her words. Never the paranoid or insecure type, she started rifling through her boyfriend’s belongings and imagining that her mother’s boyfriend called her a slut. Susannah was finally sent to the NYU Langone Medical Center following severe cognitive decline and two disturbing seizures (one where she was sitting rigid and rolling her eyes like some girl in an exorcism horror movie).

The majority of the memoir recollects Susannah’s harrowing experience in the hospital as doctors struggle to figure out what exactly is wrong (all sorts of maladies are suggested: alcoholism, physical overexertion, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder…). The unveiling of her actual disease is the major revelation within the book and doesn’t deserve to be spoiled in a review here.

Cahalan’s remarkable story is told though a journalist’s clear and detail-oriented eye as well as from a very personal perspective. Her illness affected her mind, body, and even identity, and Cahalan recounts her lost month of madness in a logical and evocative manner for the reader. The especially strong parts of her novel, other than the strong science writing and honest memoir writing, deal with her insights into the medical system and the doctors who helped her most. The physicians whom she acknowledged at the end of her book were the ones who saw her as a person, as someone beyond the medical mystery and the disease.

Rating: Leaves a Lasting Impression; Can’t Get it Out of my Head

January 4th, 2013
Scales to Scalpels: Doctors who Practice the Healing Arts of Music and Medicine by Lisa Wong
Genre: General Science Nonfiction

tl;dnr Book Stats
Themes: medicine, music, Longwood Symphony Orchestra/its philanthropic model, doctor profiles, a little bit of neuroscience and science behind music therapy
Recommended Reading: Oliver Sacks’s Musicophilia
Why I chose to read this…: I saw this on the New Books (medicine/health section) shelf at my local library. I’ve played piano for over ten years and am pursuing a career in medicine, so I was interested in hopefully learning more about the intersection of the two fields from this book. As I found after finishing the book, my hopes were to be dashed.
_______________________________________________________________________________________

The first thing you may notice when you read Scales to Scalpels is how cheery and chipper the author Lisa Wong is. She is the reader’s enthusiastic safari tour guide through her paradise of music, medicine, science, healthcare philanthropy, and community arts outreach.
Just to get this out of the way and off my chest…this book is not well-organized and could have certainly benefited from a more conscientious editor and several dozens more drafts. First of all, the title of the book is misleading (in fact, a later edition includes an additional, more informative subtitle—The Story of the Longwood Symphony Orchestra). I opened the volume expecting to learn a history of music in medicine or learn about several notable musician-physicians. Instead, Scales to Scalpels is more concerned with its own Longwood Symphony Orchestra—a unique and remarkable orchestra made up of volunteer physicians and healthcare professionals in Boston. The brief portions where Wong decides to digress into cursory overviews of the invention of the stethoscope and the debatable effects of Baby Mozart on infants, for instance, are hasty and not well-supported with evidence or revelatory conclusions.
I paid more attention when Wong actually writes about what she loves most—the Longwood Symphony Orchestra (LSO), of which she had been president for two decades. Then does her passion truly shine through the page. I really enjoyed reading about the great and inspirational work the LSO does for its community. Every concert the orchestra plays serves as a benefit for a local charity, which ranges from the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship to the March of Dimes.
Rating: Sour Notes for a Noteworthy Cause

Scales to Scalpels: Doctors who Practice the Healing Arts of Music and Medicine by Lisa Wong

Genre: General Science Nonfiction

tl;dnr Book Stats

Themes: medicine, music, Longwood Symphony Orchestra/its philanthropic model, doctor profiles, a little bit of neuroscience and science behind music therapy

Recommended Reading: Oliver Sacks’s Musicophilia

Why I chose to read this…: I saw this on the New Books (medicine/health section) shelf at my local library. I’ve played piano for over ten years and am pursuing a career in medicine, so I was interested in hopefully learning more about the intersection of the two fields from this book. As I found after finishing the book, my hopes were to be dashed.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

The first thing you may notice when you read Scales to Scalpels is how cheery and chipper the author Lisa Wong is. She is the reader’s enthusiastic safari tour guide through her paradise of music, medicine, science, healthcare philanthropy, and community arts outreach.

Just to get this out of the way and off my chest…this book is not well-organized and could have certainly benefited from a more conscientious editor and several dozens more drafts. First of all, the title of the book is misleading (in fact, a later edition includes an additional, more informative subtitle—The Story of the Longwood Symphony Orchestra). I opened the volume expecting to learn a history of music in medicine or learn about several notable musician-physicians. Instead, Scales to Scalpels is more concerned with its own Longwood Symphony Orchestra—a unique and remarkable orchestra made up of volunteer physicians and healthcare professionals in Boston. The brief portions where Wong decides to digress into cursory overviews of the invention of the stethoscope and the debatable effects of Baby Mozart on infants, for instance, are hasty and not well-supported with evidence or revelatory conclusions.

I paid more attention when Wong actually writes about what she loves most—the Longwood Symphony Orchestra (LSO), of which she had been president for two decades. Then does her passion truly shine through the page. I really enjoyed reading about the great and inspirational work the LSO does for its community. Every concert the orchestra plays serves as a benefit for a local charity, which ranges from the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship to the March of Dimes.

Rating: Sour Notes for a Noteworthy Cause

January 1st, 2013
The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam
Genre: General Historical Fiction




tl;dnr Book Stats
Themes: Vietnam history in the 1960s, wartime occupation, relationships, gambling (the stakes being anything from money to prostitutes to the protagonist’s own life)
 Reads like…: I haven’t read historical fiction in a while, so I can only think of Lisa See’s books at the moment.
Why I chose to read this…: Vincent Lam visited my school and gave a lecture about the use of narrative in medical practice. His first work—Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures—is more based on his career and background as a physician-writer.
_____________________________________________________________________________________

To be honest, I was wary to pick up this novel. There are plenty of physician-writers or people who like to call themselves as such. I’ve found that most lean towards the doctor side in that they’re often much better at doing medicine than doing writing, which is much more than just stringing words together. Those who do write evocatively then mostly stick to topics in the realm of health and medicine. So, it is rare to discover someone like ER physician Vincent Lam, who writes of history and of human despair—both sweeping subjects— with a style that is clean, intricate, and incredibly emotive.
The Headmaster’s Wager starts off a little slow with a scene of Percival Chen, the headmaster, and his teenage son, Dai Jai. But, as Lam layers on the intrigue and the dangers of wartime Vietnam into his novel, the narrative quickly becomes a powerful vision of what happens to the hapless Chen family, Chinese expatriates caught in the middle of political and military chaos.
This novel could appeal to many, with its elements of suspense (after all, many crucial moments in the narrative hinges on Percival’s wagers and gambling with fate) and its fantastic portrayal of several characters, not limited to Percival Chen himself and including his French-Vietnamese mistress Jacqueline and his clever best friend and co-teacher Mak.
Rating: Leaves a Lasting Impression; A Sure Winning Bet

The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam

Genre: General Historical Fiction

The Headmaster's Wager

tl;dnr Book Stats

Themes: Vietnam history in the 1960s, wartime occupation, relationships, gambling (the stakes being anything from money to prostitutes to the protagonist’s own life)

Reads like…: I haven’t read historical fiction in a while, so I can only think of Lisa See’s books at the moment.

Why I chose to read this…: Vincent Lam visited my school and gave a lecture about the use of narrative in medical practice. His first work—Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures—is more based on his career and background as a physician-writer.

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To be honest, I was wary to pick up this novel. There are plenty of physician-writers or people who like to call themselves as such. I’ve found that most lean towards the doctor side in that they’re often much better at doing medicine than doing writing, which is much more than just stringing words together. Those who do write evocatively then mostly stick to topics in the realm of health and medicine. So, it is rare to discover someone like ER physician Vincent Lam, who writes of history and of human despair—both sweeping subjects— with a style that is clean, intricate, and incredibly emotive.

The Headmaster’s Wager starts off a little slow with a scene of Percival Chen, the headmaster, and his teenage son, Dai Jai. But, as Lam layers on the intrigue and the dangers of wartime Vietnam into his novel, the narrative quickly becomes a powerful vision of what happens to the hapless Chen family, Chinese expatriates caught in the middle of political and military chaos.

This novel could appeal to many, with its elements of suspense (after all, many crucial moments in the narrative hinges on Percival’s wagers and gambling with fate) and its fantastic portrayal of several characters, not limited to Percival Chen himself and including his French-Vietnamese mistress Jacqueline and his clever best friend and co-teacher Mak.

Rating: Leaves a Lasting Impression; A Sure Winning Bet

December 29th, 2012
The Hours by Michael Cunningham
Genre: General Fiction



tl;dnr Book Stats
Themes: relationships, women, the confluence of fiction and reality, death and suicide, slice of life
Reads like…: Mrs. Dalloway is required background reading, for obvious reasons. I’m struggling right now to think of another book that uses a classic novel as inspiration (I’m sure there must be at least one out there…)
Why I chose to read this…: Several people in my senior seminar on Virginia Woolf mentioned this book as the reason that they began reading Woolf. Having read almost all of Woolf’s novels this past semester, I thought this book would be interesting.
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It’s inevitable for Cunningham’s writing to be compared to Woolf’s. He’s simply asking for it, basing his novel on the iconic work, Mrs. Dalloway. The Hours imagines a day in the life of Virginia Woolf herself, Laura Brown— a discontent American housewife, and Clarissa Vaughan—the book’s real-life Mrs. Dalloway. The lives of these three women are inextricably tied through the classic work of fiction itself as well as pervasive themes of relationship and self-awareness.
Their intertwining stories are told through alternating omniscient narrator/third-person chapters that offer a detached but intimate look into each character’s development. If you’ve read Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway before, you know that Richard is another important figure in the narrative and that suicide is at the forefront. While the prose within The Hours isn’t incredibly memorable, the plot is well-done (save for a couple moments of coincidence that rang hollow…how convenient in the realm of fiction it is to make a key character the son of another central character), poignant in its simplicity.
Rating: A Good Read

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Genre: General Fiction

The Hours

tl;dnr Book Stats


Themes: relationships, women, the confluence of fiction and reality, death and suicide, slice of life

Reads like…: Mrs. Dalloway is required background reading, for obvious reasons. I’m struggling right now to think of another book that uses a classic novel as inspiration (I’m sure there must be at least one out there…)

Why I chose to read this…: Several people in my senior seminar on Virginia Woolf mentioned this book as the reason that they began reading Woolf. Having read almost all of Woolf’s novels this past semester, I thought this book would be interesting.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

It’s inevitable for Cunningham’s writing to be compared to Woolf’s. He’s simply asking for it, basing his novel on the iconic work, Mrs. Dalloway. The Hours imagines a day in the life of Virginia Woolf herself, Laura Brown— a discontent American housewife, and Clarissa Vaughan—the book’s real-life Mrs. Dalloway. The lives of these three women are inextricably tied through the classic work of fiction itself as well as pervasive themes of relationship and self-awareness.

Their intertwining stories are told through alternating omniscient narrator/third-person chapters that offer a detached but intimate look into each character’s development. If you’ve read Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway before, you know that Richard is another important figure in the narrative and that suicide is at the forefront. While the prose within The Hours isn’t incredibly memorable, the plot is well-done (save for a couple moments of coincidence that rang hollow…how convenient in the realm of fiction it is to make a key character the son of another central character), poignant in its simplicity.

Rating: A Good Read

December 25th, 2012
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
Genre: General Nonfiction




tl;dnr Book Stats
Themes: science, history of medicine, bizarre trivia
Reads like…: Sam Kean also writes science books that present random information in digestible portions for the layperson.
Why I chose to read this…: This has been on my to-read list for a while now.
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The title of this book speaks for itself. If you’re going to crack open a book about cadavers and corpses, you’d best be prepared for an assortment of grisly and gruesome nuggets about cremation, cannibalism, crash-test dummies, and crucifixion tests on cadavers.
Mary Roach has attempted to take science writing to new heights. Stiff packages a highly unusual subject (dead people) with absurdity and a healthy helping of deadpan humor. As much as Roach is the “objective reporter and observer” on the strange world of funeral homes, medical school anatomy labs, and ballistics safety laboratories, she also establishes a strong presence, inserting herself neatly within her book’s cast of comical real-life characters.
I certainly learned a lot of new things from Stiff (although, for a more moving recollection and perspective on cadavers used in medical training, turn to Pauline Chen’s essay Resurrectionist). However, at points, the information was presented in a muddled, disorganized manner, especially when I consider the succession of chapters. Roach states that her goal in writing this book was to change the public’s perception of cadavers; instead of regarding these bodies as gross objects, she tries to portray cadavers as valuable, even heroic, parts of scientific progress. The middle chapters of Stiff are therefore all about cadavers’ contributions to society. Then, she segues into various other aspects of cadaver-culture, like the history of head transplants and the definition of brain-dead. It is all very interesting (my favorite chapter has to be “How to Know if You’re Dead”), but some portions could benefit from a little more re-organization and some condensing.
Rating: A Good Read

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Genre: General Nonfiction

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

tl;dnr Book Stats

Themes: science, history of medicine, bizarre trivia

Reads like…: Sam Kean also writes science books that present random information in digestible portions for the layperson.

Why I chose to read this…: This has been on my to-read list for a while now.

____________________________________________________________________________

The title of this book speaks for itself. If you’re going to crack open a book about cadavers and corpses, you’d best be prepared for an assortment of grisly and gruesome nuggets about cremation, cannibalism, crash-test dummies, and crucifixion tests on cadavers.

Mary Roach has attempted to take science writing to new heights. Stiff packages a highly unusual subject (dead people) with absurdity and a healthy helping of deadpan humor. As much as Roach is the “objective reporter and observer” on the strange world of funeral homes, medical school anatomy labs, and ballistics safety laboratories, she also establishes a strong presence, inserting herself neatly within her book’s cast of comical real-life characters.

I certainly learned a lot of new things from Stiff (although, for a more moving recollection and perspective on cadavers used in medical training, turn to Pauline Chen’s essay Resurrectionist). However, at points, the information was presented in a muddled, disorganized manner, especially when I consider the succession of chapters. Roach states that her goal in writing this book was to change the public’s perception of cadavers; instead of regarding these bodies as gross objects, she tries to portray cadavers as valuable, even heroic, parts of scientific progress. The middle chapters of Stiff are therefore all about cadavers’ contributions to society. Then, she segues into various other aspects of cadaver-culture, like the history of head transplants and the definition of brain-dead. It is all very interesting (my favorite chapter has to be “How to Know if You’re Dead”), but some portions could benefit from a little more re-organization and some condensing.

Rating: A Good Read