Books in General

Why Doctors Need Stories

19 October 2014

From The New York Times:

A FEW weeks ago, I received an email from the Danish psychiatrist Per Bech that had an unexpected attachment: a story about a patient. I have been writing a book about antidepressants — how well they work and how we know. Dr. Bech is an innovator in clinical psychometrics, the science of measuring change in conditions like depression. Generally, he forwards material about statistics.

Now he had shared a recently published case vignette. It concerned a man hospitalized at age 30 in 1954 for what today we call severe panic attacks. The treatment, which included “narcoanalysis” (interviewing aided by a “truth serum”), afforded no relief. On discharge, the man turned to alcohol. Later, when sober again, he endured increasing phobias, depression and social isolation.

Four decades later, in 1995, suicidal thoughts brought this anxious man back into the psychiatric system, at age 70. For the first time, he was put on an antidepressant, Zoloft. Six weeks out, both the panic attacks and the depression were gone. He resumed work, entered into a social life and remained well for the next 19 years — until his death.

If the narrative was striking, so was its inclusion in a medical journal. In the past 20 years, clinical vignettes have lost their standing. For a variety of reasons, including a heightened awareness of medical error and a focus on cost cutting, we have entered an era in which a narrow, demanding version of evidence-based medicine prevails. As a writer who likes to tell stories, I’ve been made painfully aware of the shift. The inclusion of a single anecdote in a research overview can lead to a reprimand, for reliance on storytelling.

My own view is that we need storytelling in medicine, need it for any number of reasons.

Repeatedly, I have been surprised by the impact that even lightly sketched case histories can have on readers.

. . . .

This summer, Oxford University Press began publishing a journal devoted to case reports. And this month, in an unusual move, the New England Journal of Medicine, the field’s bellwether, opened an issue with a case history involving a troubled mother, daughter and grandson. The contributors write: “Data are important, of course, but numbers sometimes imply an order to what is happening that can be misleading. Stories are better at capturing a different type of ‘big picture.’ ”

Stories capture small pictures, too. I’m thinking of the anxious older man given Zoloft. That narrative has power. As Dr. Bech and his co-author, Lone Lindberg, point out, spontaneous recovery from panic and depression late in life is rare. (Even those who put great stock in placebo pills don’t imagine that they do much for conditions that are severe and chronic.) The degree of transformation in the Danish patient is impressive. So is the length of observation. No formal research can offer a 40-year lead-in or a 19-year follow-up. Few studies report on both symptoms and social progress. Research reduces information about many people; vignette retains the texture of life in one of its forms.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

The past week or so has been passing strange

17 October 2014

From author Tom LoCicero:

The past week or so has been passing strange. Every day I’ve driven 15 minutes to the house I lived in for about two decades with the woman I divorced about seven years ago. When I moved out back then, I left behind almost all of my most cherished possessions, my books, stacked in boxes in a basement back room.

Now having decided to return to her New England roots, my ex had sold the house, in one of Detroit’s nicest suburbs, a place I could no longer afford. So the books finally had to be moved, and on each trip I filled my car, a smallish station wagon type, with those boxes and brought them back here to my small apartment to stash them in a garage where I had spent days throwing things out and shifting stuff around to make room.

Through all of this unusual (for me) physical exertion, as I hauled box after heavy box up the basement stairs to shove them in my car, I was teased and bashed by memories filled with hopes, regrets, dreams and disappointments. I must have moved about 60 boxes, but obviously this was not just physical labor.

In that basement I had practically all my books, from the beginning of my college days, first at Notre Dame and then at the University of Michigan.

. . . .

But, in any case, each time I grabbed a box marked “Prentice-Hall,” my publisher back then, I wondered why the hell I was doing this. It seemed almost like blind instinct was driving me. I knew only that I could not possibly leave those books behind to be thrown in a dump.

This was the third time over the past 40 years that I’ve moved them, from basement to basement to garage, and now (unlike those previous moves when I still clung to fanciful hopes) I was quite certain I would never be able to do anything with them that would be right and appropriate for books.

Online I’ve sold only a handful of those hard covers, with their garish purple dust jacket featuring a bullet-split menorah on the front and a photo of my hopelessly naïve 30-year-old self on the back. And there’s no place I can think of to even give them away now. Talk about the baggage of my life.

. . . .

A slim book of poetry by my favorite professor at Notre Dame, a brilliant, no doubt tortured man who had left his wife and children because he finally knew he was gay. My treasured copy of Crime and Punishment with all my scribbles and notes from my Russian Lit class at U. of M.

. . . .

And again they’ll all probably remain in boxes in the garage because I have only a few small bookcases in this crowded little apartment, and I’m very unlikely to live again in a place with enough shelves for my books.

Link to the rest at The Books of T.V. LoCicero

Here’s a link to Tom LoCicero’s books

John Grisham: men who watch child porn are not all paedophiles

17 October 2014

From The Telegraph:

America is wrongly jailing far too many people for viewing child pornography, the best-selling legal novelist John Grisham has told The Telegraph in a wide-ranging attack on the US judicial system and the country’s sky-high prison rates.

Mr Grisham, 59, argued America’s judges had “gone crazy” over the past 30 years, locking up far too many people, from white collar criminals like the businesswoman Martha Stewart, to black teenagers on minor drugs charges and – he added – those who had viewed child porn online.

“We have prisons now filled with guys my age. Sixty-year-old white men in prison who’ve never harmed anybody, would never touch a child,” he said in an exclusive interview to promote his latest novel Gray Mountain which is published next week.

“But they got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons, went too far and got into child porn.”

The author of legal thrillers such as The Firm and A Time to Kill who has sold more than 275m books during his 25-year career, cited the case of a “good buddy from law school” who was caught up in a Canadian child porn sting operation a decade ago as an example of excessive sentencing.

“His drinking was out of control, and he went to a website. It was labelled ‘sixteen year old wannabee hookers or something like that’. And it said ’16-year-old girls’. So he went there. Downloaded some stuff – it was 16 year old girls who looked 30.

“He shouldn’t ’a done it. It was stupid, but it wasn’t 10-year-old boys. He didn’t touch anything. And God, a week later there was a knock on the door: ‘FBI!’ and it was sting set up by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to catch people – sex offenders – and he went to prison for three years.”

“There’s so many of them now. There’s so many ‘sex offenders’ – that’s what they’re called – that they put them in the same prison. Like they’re a bunch of perverts, or something; thousands of ’em. We’ve gone nuts with this incarceration,” he added in his loft-office in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Asked about the argument that viewing child pornography fuelled the industry of abuse needed to create the pictures, Mr Grisham said that current sentencing policies failed to draw a distinction between real-world abusers and those who downloaded content, accidentally or otherwise.

“I have no sympathy for real paedophiles,” he said, “God, please lock those people up. But so many of these guys do not deserve harsh prison sentences, and that’s what they’re getting,” adding sentencing disparities between blacks and whites was likely to be the subject of his next book.

. . . .

However Mr Grisham’s remarks are likely to anger child-rights campaigners that over the past decade have successfully lobbied the US Congress to demand tougher sentences for those who access child pornography online.

Link to the rest at The Telegraph and thanks to M.P. for the tip.

PG says several people at Grisham’s publisher immediately refilled their prescriptions for anti-anxiety medication.


16 October 2014

From The Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Day:

perhorresce, v.

. . . .

To shudder (at)

. . . .

1882 Princeton Rev. Jan. 31 Scarcely a decade ago most of us would have perhorresced the idea that there could be a seven years’ course of Bible study adopted in common by most of the Protestant sects.

Link to the rest at Oxford English Dictionary

Have we fallen out of love with e-readers?

7 October 2014

From Caroline Corcoran at the Independent via The Digital Reader

“Print is where words go to die.” So went the theory in 2007 when Amazon launched the Kindle. . . .

But while it’s true that e-books show no signs of disappearing – the new Kindle Voyage launches next month hot on the heels of the “Kindle Unlimited” subscription service that came to the UK last month – neither does print.

Recently, I realised that I had become so addicted to the speed of new book buying on my Kindle that I had barely bought anything in print in the past year. . . .and I was sad that such great books were missing from my bookshelves. Worse than that, though, was a feeling that plots had started to blur, even with books that I had loved. The only way I could explain it is that they had never had a physicality.

So I decided to go back to books. On my first trip to Waterstones, I left with a hardback of the new Howard Jacobson that there is absolutely no way I can take on the bus. But I don’t care – somehow a story like that should have weight, and it feels so luxurious to get into bed and prop up that beast of a dystopia on my knees.

More at the Independent, including facts and figures about “falling ebook sales.”

Filling-in-for-PG vacation guest post by Bridget McKenna

Sometimes it just feels right-

5 October 2014

A Kickstarter success story – Napa Bookmine.



View the the store here.




That Which Does Not Kill…

1 October 2014

From author Russell Blake:

It’s no surprise to my blog followers that a little weather disturbance threw me for a loop on Sept. 15th.

Specifically, the largest hurricane on record to make landfall in Baja, California, scored a direct hit where I live.

For those that wonder what being in a category 3 or 4 hurricane is like, consider a jet on takeoff in the rain. If you’ve ever flown in a storm, you know how the water appears to be moving sideways at such speed it could strip paint.

That’s what it’s like. Only worse. Because it keeps going for hour after relentless hour.

The real irony is that when the eye of the storm hovers overhead, and you’ve just spent three or four hours of damage control on all the east-facing doors and windows, and for a half hour of exhausted relief you think you’ve made it…then everything reverses, and the winds hit from the opposite direction, adding insult to injury for another three or so hours and bringing the hurt from the other side, so all your damage control does nothing and you have to start all over again.

. . . .

When you live in a home that’s built out of steel and concrete, not much should worry you. Not fire – concrete doesn’t burn. Not rain – it’s not like it melts. Not wind – doesn’t blow away.

That’s how I was thinking. By around ten o’clock, as water poured beneath my front door (and through it, where the wood joints connect) and the windows were flexing in their aluminum frames, I revised my opinion. By eleven, as my hands cramped from wringing towels into a bucket to dump down the shower drain, I revised my thinking again. Even with hurricane protection in place, every window became a river – there’s no way to 100% seal a window under 130-140 mph pressure. I discovered that rolling up garbage bags and stuffing them into the tracks slowed the flow by maybe 50%, so rushing rivers become more manageable streams. But we’re talking every room quickly becoming a lake, no matter what you do.

By the time the storm had blown past, around four a.m., I was beat, and beaten.

The next day was a landscape straight out of hell.

. . . .

An exception was my neighbor, who suffered deep lacerations from broken glass that claimed most of his hand. The doctor was apologetic about lacking any morphine or local anesthetic while she dug shards out before stitching the gashes up – everything had been destroyed by the storm, the hospital flooded, the windows broken, supplies blown to the far horizon. Another victim was brought in by a weeping woman as we left – a pane of glass had sliced his entire left side, from his ribcage, all the way down his back, wide open. He didn’t look like he was going to make it.

. . . .

The looters appeared the night after the storm. I won’t belabor this, but let me say, on the record, that the looting destroyed almost as much of the area as the hurricane. My heart was heavy as I watched the poor, those from the barrios who had just lost their homes, looting every retail store they could get to. Desperation does strange things. 95% of the population behaved honorably. The 5% that didn’t were those in true need…and those who viewed it as a chance to prey on others without consequences.

. . . .

Oh, and before I forget, if you want to do something worthwhile, want to help, go to the website for the Los Cabos Humane Society and donate. The animals got the worst of it. If misery has a face, it’s an animal after a hurricane. They’ll need all the help they can get.

Link to the rest at Russell Blake and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

Here’s a link to Russell Blake’s books

17 Things English Majors Are Tired Of Hearing

28 September 2014

From Buzzfeed:

1. “So are you going to be a teacher?”

. . . .

3. “So do you just read all the time?”

. . . .

10. “Me and Sarah — sorry, Sarah and I… You must be a total grammar Nazi.”

. . . .

13. “So are you applying to law school?”

Link to the rest at Buzzfeed

International Talk Like a Pirate Day

19 September 2014

PG almost missed this.

From The Daily News:

Arrr ye ready for International Talk Like a Pirate Day?

The most swashbuckling holiday of the year will take place on Friday, and there are plenty of ways for privateers to partake in the spirited celebration.

The designated day of pirate vernacular was started by John Baur and Mark Summers (aka Ol’ Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy) in 1995. It has grown from an annual Sept. 19 observance among mateys to a worldwide phenomenon.

“The point is, there is no point,” Ol’ Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy say on their website. “And that’s what’s fun about Talk Like a Pirate Day specifically, and talking like a pirate in general.”

. . . .

Should ye need a little extra practice, you can change your Facebook language to “English (Pirate).”

Searching for some free booty? At least one national chain is getting in the privateer spirit.

Lads and lasses who incorporate pirate slang into their Krispy Kreme order will receive a free glazed doughnut.

Link to the rest at The Daily News

Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Love to Write

19 September 2014

From Arts.mic:

No matter the quality of your prose, the act of writing itself leads to strong physical and mental health benefits, like long-term improvements in mood, stress levels and depressive symptoms. In a 2005 study on the emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing, researchers found that just 15 to 20 minutes of writing three to five times over the course of the four-month study was enough to make a difference.

By writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events, participants were significantly more likely to have fewer illnesses and be less affected by trauma. Participants ultimately spent less time in the hospital, enjoyed lower blood pressure and had better liver functionality than their counterparts.

It turns out writing can make physical wounds heal faster as well. In 2013, New Zealand researchers monitored the recovery of wounds from medically necessary biopsies on 49 healthy adults. The adults wrote about their thoughts and feelings for just 20 minutes, three days in a row, two weeks before the biopsy. Eleven days later, 76% of the group that wrote had fully healed. Fifty-eight percent of the control group had not recovered. The study concluded that writing about distressing events helped participants make sense of the events and reduce distress.

Link to the rest at Arts.mic and thanks to Dave for the tip.

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