Wendy’s Word

Not your mama’s blog….

Summer Reading September 11, 2010

Filed under: Books — wendy @ 8:57 pm

I know it’s cheating to put several book reviews together in one posting, but I am so behind on blog entries that I decided to be expedient.  Here’s a brief update on what I’ve been reading this summer.  In case you don’t read to the end, books are Tree of Smoke, Mountains Beyond Mountains, The Art of Racing in the Rain, Almost French, and Run.

Tree of Smoke, by Denis Johnson. Excellent book, beautiful prose.  It’s an espionage novel that takes place in Vietnam during the war, but the book is more literary than your everyday espionage novel.  Since this isn’t my regular genre, I kept getting confused about who all the Vietnamese characters were, but that’s probably just me.  The novel is nuanced, without clear cut good guys and bad guys.  Now I’m trying to convince my husband to read it, because I think he’ll really like it but mostly so I can ask him questions about the plot!

Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder. This book made me exhausted and not a little guilty.  It’s about Paul Farmer, a doctor who started a clinic in a poor village in Haiti while simultaneously attending medical school at Harvard, publishing papers in medical journals, lecturing all over the world, and becoming one of the foremost experts on multidrug resistant tuberculosis.  He ultimately founded Partners in Health, which provides medical treatment all over the world.  Actually Partners in Health does more than just provide medical treatment – they get involved in the community and work on social issues that have a major impact on health such as poverty and education.  And with regard to medical care, Partners in Health goes all the way – treating each individual patient as if they were a family member, pulling out all the stops to the extent of pressuring drug companies for lower cost pharmaceuticals for AIDS drugs, for example.

The guilt part came in when I found myself sympathizing with the small-minded people that Paul Farmer fought against, who looked at limited budgets and tried to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number, even if it meant undertreating the severest cases.  My public health training has me looking at populations, not individual patients, whereas Farmer looks at both.  I found myself questioning the wisdom of airlifting a severely ill child to be treated in the U.S., only to die shortly after arriving.  But to Farmer and his colleagues, that’s what they would do for their own family member.

I also felt guilty because I only have a tiny fraction of Farmer’s energy!  He is tireless, and survives with few to no creature comforts.  Guilt aside, I highly recommend Mountains Beyond Mountains, even if you’re not a public health nerd like me.

The Art of Racing In the Rain, by Garth Stein. The story of a race car driver and his family drama, told from the dog’s point of view.  It sounds like a gimmick, but the book is so sweet it made me cry.  It’s funny and sad and poignant.  And it’s a super fast read.

Almost French, by Sarah Turnbull. Sarah Turnbull is an Australian journalist who moves to Paris to be with her French boyfriend.  Almost French is her memoir of adapting to French culture.  I’ve read similar books, namely French Toast and French Fried by Harriet Welty Rochefort (reviewed on this blog – see Book Index), and Almost French confirms what I read in Rochefort’s books and others.  As much as I romanticize France, it would be a difficult place to move to!  You’d have to develop a thick skin.  But the book also shows us the beauty of the city and the magic of living there.

Run, by Ann Patchett. I loved Bel Canto, another Patchett novel, so I thought I’d give Run a try.  Run is about the former mayor of Boston (fictional) who adopted two black sons, and how their family intersects with a low income black family after a car accident affects both families.  The characters were all well-drawn and sympathetic, even the ne’er-do-well brother who’s home for an extended visit.   The title refers both to politics – former mayor Doyle would like nothing more than his sons to become president of the United States, as well as to the sport, at which the boys and especially Kenya, the daughter of the other family who the Doyles take in, excel.

Currently reading: Cheerful Money, by Tad Friend.  Friend’s memoir about being a Wasp.

Next on my list: Juliet, Naked, by Nick Hornsby.  Got it out of the library for myself, but then daughter started reading it before I got a chance.  She liked it.

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