Kim’s Reading for Medicinal Purposes

Kim from Sophisticated Dorkiness was a guest blogger here last summer, and I’m very happy she was willing to make a return visit to The 3 R’s! You may recall that her blog specializes in nonfiction. Since her last appearance, Sophisticated Dorkiness was chosen “Best Nonfiction Review Blog” in the 2010 BBAW Awards, and Kim chaired the Nonfiction judging panel for the first Indie Lit Awards.


I do a semi-regular feature on my blog called Narrative Nonfiction 5, where I put together lists of nonfiction books on a particular topic. So far I’ve ranged from politics to football to ocean creatures — there’s almost no topic I wouldn’t love to write a list on.

Since Florinda is taking this time off because she had surgery, I thought it would be fun to do a special Narrative Nonfiction 5 on books related to medicine. There’s a wealth of nonfiction and memoir about surgery, disease, and health care, so narrowing it down to just five was a challenge.

1. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

This book is, hands down, one of my favorite nonfiction reads of all time. At the center of the story is a three-year-old Hmong girl named Lia who suffers from debilitating seizures. Despite both well-intentioned and talented people around her, Lia’s condition worsens because of the way cultural differences prevent communication between her family and her doctors. This is not an easy book to read, but one that I think fairly and honestly looks at the way medicine is practiced and what we could do differently.

I recently convinced both Care (Care’s Online Book Club) and Jeanne (Necromancy Never Pays) to read this book, and I think they were both glad they did.

2. Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Dr. Atul Gawande

I got a copy of this book for Christmas from my parents because they know how much I love memoirs by people who do things I will never get to experience. In this book, Gawande writes about the ups and downs of being a doctor, of dealing with patients and with learning from mistakes. He also includes ways to improve medicine and change the status quo, something I am interested in reading. A number of bloggers I enjoy and respect have said great things about this book, including Eva (A Striped Armchair), Raych (books i done read), and Lisa (Books Lists Life). The book is quickly moving up my TBR pile.

3. Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir by Sonya Huber

This is another book I haven’t read yet, even though it’s been sitting on my shelf to read since October. That doesn’t say anything bad about the book, just the sheer number of books on that shelf that I don’t have time to read! The book is Huber’s story of going from a person who viewed health care as an inconvenience, or simply didn’t think about it, to someone learning to navigate the complex world of our national health care system. As someone just getting of my parents insurance and having to deal with the system on my own, I’m curious to read about her experience and see what I can learn from it.

4. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This book has gotten a lot of buzz in the last year or so, which makes it feel like cheating to put it on this list. But I’m going to because it’s a very, very good book. The Immortal Life of Heniretta Lacks is story of the first line of human stem cells that can live on their own. The original cells are cervical cancer cells from a woman named Henrietta Lacks, and were taken from her without permission. The book is a look a the thorny issue of race in medicine, medical ethics, and what it means to think a person can never die because their cells continue to live on.

Many many bloggers who don’t normally read nonfiction have had wonderful things to say about this book, and for good reason. The paperback version is coming out in March, so grab a copy then if your library hold list is too long now.

5. The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

It’s possible that this book is a bit of a stretch for the list, but I’m so looking forward to reading it that I wanted it here anyway. The subtitle of the book sort of explains it all: “The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World.” I’m a bit of a sucker for history books about medicine and public health measures, and this book covers both topics. I’ve read one of Johnson’s other books, Everything Bad is Good for You, and find his style engaging and thought provoking. I’m optimistic this book will be similar. 

I’ve read one of the books on this list and will be adding a couple of the others to my wish list soon! What about you? 

Also: while Kim’s here today, I’m over at Anna Lefler’s place, Life Just Keeps Getting Weirder, participating in today’s Chicken Link Showcase!

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