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Thoughts on Reading for Pleasure

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”

-Groucho Marx

A good book takes us to other worlds and allows us to walk in the shoes of people who are very different from ourselves. We read in order that in one lifetime we may understand the many experiences and possibilities of humanity. A book can open our minds to new ideas, liberates us from conventional wisdom, relieve daily tedium or transport us to new worlds. For those with children, reading aloud, reading together creates enduring memories of voice and togetherness.

This year for the Department of Medicine’s Annual Report meetings with faculty I thought I would continue a tradition of giving away books to physicians, a tradition dating back to when I was Chief of Cardiology at the University of Alberta. In Edmonton I periodically asked medical trainees what book they were reading. All to often the answer was, the New England Journal of Medicine. When I clarified that I was enquiring about reading literature of a nonscientific nature for pleasure they usually replied, “I’m too busy!” A pity, I would say, for life is too short to understand humanity or explore the world solely through one’s own experience. In addition to entertainment and feeding the intellect reading for pleasure can help a physician better understand patients, with their diverse stories, origins, cultures and beliefs. Literature allows a middle-age Canadian male to glimpse the life of a Geisha, a healthy young woman to understand what it is like to be mortal and a liberal to consider the consequences of unrestrained socialism (and vice versa). Plus, one has to be an avid reader to understand culture touchstones. When people say, “It’s a Brave New World, it helps to know it’s an allusion to a dystopian society where the people subdue themselves by taking a drug called soma (“All the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects”). If you spend time with Huxley you are rewarded with an insider’s understanding of the allusion.

So in Edmonton I launched an annual book give away with the residents. True, physicians can certainly afford to buy a book. Nonetheless, to my pleasant surprise I found that when I laid an armful of books on the table before a group of residents each tome, from Brave New World, Atlas Shrugged, to The Joy of Cooking, quickly flew into young hands.

So in early 2016 we began our book club, in part to say thank you and in part as a pleasant antidote to the stress provoked by annual report meetings. These meetings are the formal annual evaluations in which a faculty member sits with their Department Head to discuss milestones achieved, challenges ahead and to reflect on the trajectory of their career and make course corrections. Although these meetings are usually low-key (from the perspective of the Department Head) they can be anxiety provoking. I thought a book might have some anti-adrenergic impact. Real books, with their smell of paper, glue and ink and their varied textures, smooth and rough, are a wonderful medium upon which to write thank you notes, acknowledging hard work and successes.

This led to the question, which books to offer? For this I turned to my office team and a local book club, in which my wife, Kathie Doliszny, participates. Each faculty member had the chance to select a book for themselves or their children from a small library we created in the office. The choice made, I then inscribed the frontispiece with a personalized note of thanks.

In the spirit of sharing, here are some of the selections members of the Department of Medicine are reading. I hope you take time to have the pleasure of reading one or two of these worthy books.

Title: The Day the Crayons Came Home

Who would like this book: Parents, grandparents, people who like children, people who went to see the recent Pixar film Zootopia with their adult daughters!

Recommended by: Jill McCreary

crayons

Title: The Illegal

Who would like this book: Winner of Canada Reads 2016 and written by author of The Book of Negros this book would appeal to those interested in the plight of refugees (or those who love competitive running).

Recommended by: CBC, Canada Reads®

illegal

Title: Fifteen Dogs

Who would like this book: This books asks the question, “If animals had human intelligence would they be as verklempt as we are?” This book would appeal to this who like to ponder the human condition, including loneliness and self doubt. It’s a great commentary on the price of self-awareness. Also of interest to those interested in mischievous Greek Gods Warning-dog lovers: not as sad as Old Yeller (but you may not like how intellect affects our canine cousins).

Recommended by Stephen Archer

dogs

Title: Being Mortal

Who would like this book: Anyone interested in human illness or the humanistic side of Medicine

Recommended by: Dr Elizabeth Eisenhauer

mortal

Title: The Orenda

Who would like this book: People who love beautiful prose about topics that are important (but hard to countenance). This is a story of attempted assimilation of First Nations people. Beautifully written hard to read:

Recommended by: Anita Ng

orenda

Title: The Boys in the Boat

Who would like this book: People interested in the Olympics, Weimar Germany or those wondering whether there is an “I” in team.

Recommended by: Kathie Doliszny (and book club buddies)

boys

Title: All the Light We Cannot See

Who would like this book: People interested in WWII, lovers of Paris (or those who are fascinated by the extended spectrum of light and the limits of our senses to take it all in).

Recommended by: Emily Briffett

light

Title: The Discovery of Insulin

Who would like this book: People interested a true story of medical drama or Canadians looking for fuel to kindle the fires of national pride. Learn how Canadian scientists found, lost and rediscovered the recipe for insulin and created one of Medicine’s most important life-saving drugs.

Recommended by: Stephen Archer (the book is written by a friend, Dr. Michael Bliss, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto).

insulin

Title: The Martian

Who would like this book: People interested in human ingenuity and our ability to solve problems. Also of interest to Sci-Fi fans and lovers of outer-space (or those who self-publish and are looking for vindication for the practice). I guess it may also be a useful handbook for those preparing to be stranded on another planet.

Recommended by: Dr. Mala Joneja

martian

Title: The Heart Goes Last

Who would like this book: Can Lit Aficionados. Several readers commented “less post apocalyptic than the usual Atwood book”.

Recommended by: No one had to recommend this-it’s written by Margaret Atwood; this is Canada-READ IT!

heart

There were other worthy books we gave away, including Circus Mirandus, Paper Towns and The Reason You Walk…but I don’t want to distract you from reading with more blog!

If you have a favourite book (whether it’s a guilty pleasure or something more profound) please, let me know by posting the title and a sentence or two explaining why it is special in the response section of this blog.

Until Annual Report 2017-wishing you happy reading!

9 Responses to Thoughts on Reading for Pleasure

  1. Michael Beyak says:

    Can vouch for the Illegal (acquired at my ann report meeting!) as well as 15 dogs, both read last month (15 dogs is a quick read for us “too busy” types). The orenda is an incredible novel, may be one of my favourites ever, but agree not for the faint of heart.
    Also recently read Boyden’s 3 day road. Residential schools, WW1 and opiate addiction all combine for a really compelling story (and a bit of a history lesson).

    • Stephen Archer says:

      Thanks Mike-I am working up my strength for the Orenda-but its been the subject of a lot of positive critique. A lighter first nations read is Coppermine-a great northern murder mystery by Keith Ross Beckie. The teaser from amazon is “Part epic adventure, part romance, and part true-crime thriller, Coppermine is a dramatic, compelling, character-driven story set in 1917 in the extremes of Canada’s far north and the boom town of Edmonton.
      The story begins when two missionaries disappear in the remote Arctic region known as the Coppermine. North West Mounted Police officer Jack Creed and Angituk, a young Copper Inuit interpreter, are sent on a year-long odyssey to investigate the fate of the lost priests. “

  2. Chris Frank says:

    I read 15 Dogs standing up in a ferry that almost capsized in the middle of the Pacific so can vouch that it is very engaging!

    • Stephen Archer says:

      Dear Chris: If I were a better author I would love to write the story of the Geriatrician who survived a near miss ferry sinking in the Pacific- working title The Unsinkable Captain Chris? Thanks for the suggestion re the Little Free Lending Library-will pass it on.

  3. Chris Frank says:

    PS maybe we could put up a Little Free Lending Library at KGH https://littlefreelibrary.org/

  4. Kimberly Dunham-Snary says:

    Happy to have some more books to add to “The List” (which is never-ending). I’d recommend Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore to anyone (theist or not) with a healthy sense of humour. Chris Hadfield’s Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth (scoring more Canadian lit points) is also a fantastic non-fiction read.

    • Stephen Archer says:

      Thanks Kim-glad that all the parsing on the mitochondrial electron transport chain you are doing in your post doc fellowship has not squashed the reading gene!

  5. Leslie Flynn says:

    Thank you for the shout-out to our book club. It has been an instrumental contribution to my sense of well-being over the years. I completely agree with you that reading enhances our understanding of the human experience. This is personally edifying and of considerable value to us in our practice. Kathie has been an incredible addition to Book Club. She has brought her talents, her sense of humour and her deep wisdom. (Thank you for coming to Kingston, Stephen!) We have read so many good books, it is difficult to recommend one. For physicians, Brain on Fire by S. Calahan is a wonderful non-fiction book that invites us to consider the patient and family experience as they face an acute medical crisis.

    • Stephen Archer says:

      Thanks Leslie-Its hard to believe it will be 4 years this November. You and Stephen have made us feel at home here in Kingston and the book club is a very nice environment for a newcomer to enter. I still think your group needs a name or at least a tag line…How about, “Tome Readers”

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Dr. Archer, Dept. Head
Dr. Archer, Dept. Head