Residential Space A creative outlet during residency, turned ongoing virtual soap box

Book #3 for 2009: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly  0

Posted on March 17th, 2009. About Books.

This is a short composition by Jean-Dominique Bauby (although I’m sure writing it was intensive) from his rehabilitation hospital in France after he became locked-in from a pontine stroke. Bauby gives a remarkable account of how active the mind remains after the body stops working. He “dictated” the work to his assistant through eye blinking, letter by letter, until he had nearly 140 pages relaying the details of his daily life as one unable to “speak” or move. A beautiful work, and a must-read for all neurologists and stroke victims.

Book #2 for 2009 – Sometimes Madness is Wisdom: Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald – A Marriage  0

Posted on February 28th, 2009. About Books.

This biography by Kendall Taylor marks my second book read of 2009, and it was a very fascinating and entertaining adventure. The book is well-researched, and I came away from it feeling like I understood so much more about why these two people basically self-destructed. Both intelligent, beautiful, with the world at their feet, they blew opportunity after opportunity, making their lives quite tragic.

My experiences in studying F. Scott Fitzgerald taught me that he was this brilliant author who drank too much, and that his wife, who was crazy and reckless, really dampened many of his chances at further success. This biography argues (effectively, I think) that Scott would not have been the writer he was had he not known Zelda, as he used many of her journals to create the heroines that made him famous. I do think Zelda inspired his writing in his early career (even later, when he wrote about mental illness).

Overall, a great read – highly recommended!

Book #1 for 2009 – Tender is the Night  0

Posted on January 29th, 2009. About Books.

Last week, I finished reading Tender is the Night by: F. Scott Fitzgerald. I was supposed to have read it during my Fitzgerald and Hemingway seminar as an undergraduate, but I confess, I did not finish it at that time. After my professor from that course, Dr. Matthew Bruccoli, passed away last year, I vowed to revisit the book soon to pay proper respect both to Dr. Bruccoli and to Fitzgerald.

It is the story of Dick Diver, a physician (psychiatrist) with a bright future who falls in love with a beautiful, mentally ill, wealthy young woman. The book recounts ten years of marriage. I will not elaborate too much for fear of spoiling the story for those intending to read the book, but I came away from this one with mixed opinions. It is interesting how autobiographical Fitzgerald’s novels are, and based on when they are written, they each account for a specific period in his life. By the time Tender is the Night was being composed, his wife, Zelda, had declared herself as mentally ill, and thus this is a strong theme in the book. When he wrote The Beautiful and Damned in the early 1920’s, his main characters were non-stop partier/flapper types, as that is what he as experiencing at the time. The book was a worthwhile read to better understand Fitzgerald’s emotions and perspective about his own life.

However, the story itself began slowly, and really did not pick up speed until the second half to last one-third. There were so many friendships and outings with these friends enjoyed by the Divers, but in the end they seemed a bit irrelevant. Too many players were incorporated without having a specific function. Additionally, Dr. Diver’s alcoholism seemed to stem heavily from the burden of being married to a rich girl and from bearing the stress of her mental illness. It was as if Fitzgerald was attributing his own failures to his having married Zelda. While Zelda was a wild and difficult person with whom to share a life, Fitzgerald was a heavy drinker from very early in his life. Blame only goes so far.

I have heard some Fitzgerald scholars (including Dr. Bruccoli) mention that Tender is the Night was Fitzgerald’s true masterpiece, unrecognized as such by most and overshadowed by the popularity of The Great Gatsby. This is the third of the five Fitzgerald novels I have read (the others being Gatsby and The Love of the Last Tycoon: A Western), and I do still believe The Great Gatsby is his masterpiece. It captures the essence of an era, the characters are all memorable and present with a purpose, and it begins and ends concisely, but not abruptly. While it defines the roaring 1920’s, it is also timeless.

Long time, no blog  2

Posted on July 27th, 2008. About Baby Dodds, Books, News and Politics, Ramblings.

My last substantive blog post was published on June 6th. I’ve fallen behind after two demanding months (albeit, intriguing and important months, but demanding). There are many topics about which I would like to write, so I will try to hit on highlights:

  • Gabriel turned one year old in mid-July! People always manage to sound a bit cheesy when they use that hackneyed expression: “It seems like only yesterday that…” It is so appropriate when thinking about how quickly time is passing in your child’s life, though – or rather, your time with your child. I honestly have a tough time believing the labor, the delivery, the first days home from the hospital – that all of that was now over a year ago. Gabriel has grown from a helpless (adorable!) neonate to a crawling, climbing, laughing, mischievous (yes, he’s already figuring some things out), and loving little boy. It’s been a terrific year.
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  • My two chief resident months at Harborview in May and June brought me back into the acute neurological care setting, and reminded me of how exciting and rewarding it can be. I had the chance to be a part of early intervention in several potentially very bad stroke cases with very happy endings, and these persuaded me to apply for a fellowship in vascular neurology (ie, stroke). I was accepted for it several weeks ago – so I will be the stroke fellow at Harborview for 2009-2010. I look forward to my career as a stroke neurologist.
  • I’m trying to keep a long-term perspective about the economy. Surely it will improve, right? It has not been that bad for that long. Still, I know there is a problem when my best-performing investment is my money market savings account. Hopefully it’s all about dollar-cost averaging.
  • I will blog more about this soon (it warrants its own post), but I’m reading a book right now entitled The Smartest Guys in the Room. It’s about the rise and fall of Enron, and how Enron was able to become as large as it became while operating with fake numbers. I find the California energy “crisis” part of the Enron tale the most intriguing. Remember those rolling blackouts in California years ago? Enron apparently had power grids brought down to create a sense of panic about a presumed electricity shortage, thus driving up the prices. George Bush and others in Washington, D.C. publicly commented that California got itself into this mess, so it has to work it out for itself. Yet, California didn’t get itself into this mess – Enron was manipulating the price. Which brings me to our current oil situation. I’m not a big fan of oil for environmental reasons – but come on. I don’t care how quickly China and India are growing; I just refuse to believe that they have grown so fast in three or four years that the price of a barrel of oil suddenly needs to be greater than $140/barrel. I smell Enron. Oil companies have been posting record profits. After learning about the ins and outs of Enron, I’m thinking, “This game has been played before.” There is potentially an artificial shortage being created to cause a panic, thus pushing people to pay $4.50/gallon of gasoline and persuading people to allow off-shore drilling. What has George Bush pushed for his entire time as president? Drilling in Anwar. This seems awfully suspicious. But more of this later, once I’ve finished reading the book. Disclaimer: I’m not an economist. Just a citizen.
  • Learning French, while very difficult as an adult, must be so much easier now than it was even ten years ago. Evan gave me a Zune last December, and it has changed my life. Now, thanks to Coffee Break French and Learn French By Podcast, while my French is still very poor (I never took a class in it in high school or college), it is leaps and bounds ahead of where I was before I got my Zune. It’s fascinating. Because it’s so portable, I can learn on the bus, at lunch in the cafeteria, or on an airplane (although not recently because I always seem to be at the mercy of a certain little boy traveling with me). Anyway – it’s worth pointing out that with the Zune, unlike the iPod, I can listen to NPR while walking from my car into work if I don’t want to leave a segment unfinished. It’s a delightful little device!

I’ll stop here for now, but these are some of my recent activities/contemplations/celebrations/concerns! A la prochaine.

Farewell, Dr. Bruccoli  1

Posted on June 6th, 2008. About Books, News and Politics, Ramblings.

During my junior year in college during the fall of 2000, I enrolled in a class at the University of South Carolina called “Fitzgerald and Hemingway.” The course was taught by Matthew Bruccoli, widely recognized as the leading F. Scott Fitzgerald scholar and the creator of the largest collection of Fitzgerald memorabilia known. In short, it was an unforgettable experience.

Dr. Bruccoli passed away this week, as I learned from this article, sent to me by a friend in Charleston. I stared at the computer screen, stunned. Then the tears came. The world feels a little emptier with him gone.

His class that semester consisted of about 20 students (of whom about 15 showed up for each session – I never missed it), meeting with Dr. Bruccoli in the rare book room at the Thomas Cooper Library. We started each session by passing around a piece from the collection. The first time, it was a first edition of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises with the following inscription on the title page: “To Scott, with great esteem and affection. Ernest” Wow – Fitzgerald’s copy of Hemingway’s book, inscribed by Hemingway to Fitzgerald. Truly unique. The following session, we examined an old slide projector with glass slides featuring images of war. Dr. Bruccoli explained that Fitzgerald owned these, as did many in the 1910’s, and used this to emphasize Fitzgerald’s remorse over never having the chance to fight in World War I. One day it would be Fitzgerald’s whisky flask. The next it may be his notebook he carried around Hollywood in the 1930’s as he jotted down ideas for his final (unfinished) novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon: A Western. It was such an awesome way to begin discussing Fitzgerald’s writing.

We had guest lecturers too. I’ll never forget famed writer and critic George Plimpton’s visit to our class. We sat at the large conference table, Plimpton and Dr. Bruccoli with us, and laughed at their stories of their various encounters with Hemingway, his family, and friends. That night, we were Dr. Bruccoli’s guests at a performance of a dialogue Plimpton had written after compiling letters between the two men. I was one of three students from our class that attended (and I brought my mother, a bibliophile). Where was everyone? Did they not realize the experience they could have? As Plimpton closed our class, I handed him my photocopy of his script that had been distributed at the start of class and asked if he would mind autographing it. When he died in 2003, the script, which had sat on my bookshelf, was moved to a special box for preservation.

When I started medical school, I would go through flurries of short story writing, and once was even brave enough to send one to Dr. Bruccoli for an opinion. He sent feedback several days later, which to my relief was positive. I have the envelope with the manuscript and Dr. Bruccoli’s letter in storage, but the word I remember from the letter is “publishable.” He went on to explain that he almost became a doctor, but didn’t want to be surrounded by people who were ignorant. Instead, he continued, he went on to become an English professor, and was surrounded by people who were even more ignorant. I submitted it to a literary magazine, and it was rejected. He also enclosed one of his books with a witty inscription. After graduating from medical school, I went back to USC to visit Dr. Bruccoli before I moved to Seattle. He encouraged me to continue collecting rare books, and to enjoy medicine but to remember my passion for literature and writing.

He was gruff, and he was remarkable. I don’t know if I will ever meet another person like him. He is still very much alive in my mind, slamming his hand on the table and growling, “Hemingway was a MEAN son-of-a-bitch!” I can see the curious look on his face as we opened boxes of Hemingway galleys and manuscripts recently purchased by USC. I remember only being able to enter the University Club in St. Paul, MN, where Fitzgerald used to have drinks when he was a young man, because I was able to describe to the door attendant, thanks to Dr. Bruccoli, in detail what the bar looked like, despite not having ever seen it in person.

In the midst of my sadness while at work today, one of my friends was kind enough to listen to me ramble on about how remarkable Dr. Bruccoli was. He reminded me that I was lucky to have known someone like that. Lucky indeed. I am lucky, but unfortunately it just doesn’t seem like there was enough time. There never is with someone like him.

A book review  0

Posted on May 25th, 2008. About Books.

Seriously – I had time to start, enjoy, and finish reading a book recently. Wonders never cease. It was The Clown by: Heinrich Böll. During my freshman year in college I participated in my school’s quiz bowl team and tasked myself with learning the names and some of the better known (which in some cases means not well known at all in the United States) works by each Nobel Prize winning author. Böll won the Prize in 1972; his best-known novel is probably Billiards at Half-Past Nine. However, I have had a copy of The Clown sitting on my bookshelf for the past eight years after purchasing it second-hand (or, more likely, fifth-hand) for a dollar at a used bookstore in Montana, so I decided to give it a go, not knowing much about Böll other than his status as a Prize winner.

The story of Hans Schnier involves his reminiscing during a three hour period after a particularly bad performance as a pantomime/clown in post-war Germany. Most of the novel is a flashback, during which he smokes, drinks, bathes, and intermittently calls “friends” (they are more like acquaintances) to fill the time. His companion of the past ten years, Marie, has left him, he has no money, no motivation, and no hope for the future. He recalls events from his youth during World War II, being forced into the Hitler Youth Movement by his “don’t rock the boat” parents. He struggles with their hypocrisy as they construct ties to race reconciliation groups when joining these organizations became en vogue after the liberation. I felt like I was reading the German version of Sartre’s Nausea, of course with a different specific topic, but the same theme of an existentialism, with little hope for the future.

While the book was well-written and does allow a glipse into an unique historical setting, I had difficulty empathizing with Schnier’s character. He does not seem to recognize that he has driven Marie away with his on-the-road lifestyle, his lack of long-term perspective, and his never-ending poverty he brings on himself by continuing theatrics while failing to acknowledge Marie’s desire for stability. When his life falls apart, his father offers to send him back to school, but instead Schnier chooses to paint his face white while sitting in Bonn’s rail station busking, hoping for donations from passersby so that he can purchase cigarettes and cognac. I get that this is a demonstration of his suffering, but he is so self-destructive. He blames the Catholic church for all of his problems rather than taking responsibility for his own life.

Anyway, I imagine I will read more novels by Böll in the future, because it was a very interesting read. When I was younger I found the struggling, suffering, artist-type person intriguing and almost desirable, but time has convinced me that enlightenment can come with stability, having a family, being well-nourished, and sleeping in a warm bed at night too.

I finally finish The Thorn Birds  0

Posted on December 29th, 2007. About Books.

About a month ago, I reorganized my bookcases and came to the startling realization that there are many books sitting on the shelves that are about 1/4 to 1/3-read by me. For whatever reason – I get bored, or life gets in the way – I have this nasty habit of reading the first part of a book, putting it down, and never returning to it. I have two New Year’s resolutions this year – the first, to start running again (a pretty common one), and the second, to finish the partially-finished books on my shelves. I resolved to progress towards the second, er, resolution, a little earlier than the start of 2008, and began by returning to The Thorn Birds by: Colleen McCullough.

I remember my mother, and every other adult woman I knew in the 1980s, glued to the tv during the airing of the mini-series. Then, during the summer of 2000, my roommate in Montana, Nicole, bought the book at a second-hand bookshop, Quarter Moon Books. For several days, Nicole remained in the apartment each afternoon and evening after work, reading The Thorn Birds. As fewer pages remained at the book’s end, the intensity of Nicole’s attention grew. By the final day, every time I saw her reading the book, tears were streaming down her face, and she appeared emotionally wrenched over this story. When she finished, she needed to be alone for a brief time. She then gave me the book to read “when [I] feel like reading it.” A year ago, the time arrived, and I was instantly captivated by the story of Meggie Cleary, her journey from New Zealand to Australia, the harsh unfairness of her childhood, and her growing love for the man she can never have. Then, I quit reading it. When I picked it back up this month, I was even more intrigued by the tale. When taking the shuttle from UW Medical Center to Harborview one afternoon, I was crying as I read when the bus arrived, and I had to spend minutes composing myself before returning to work.

Today, I finally finished to book. I was a little disappointed by the ending, to be honest. I had higher expectations, and felt the story should have concluded several years earlier than it did. However, this aside, it was a very satisfying novel, and I am sad (but relieved) to have finished it. It’s one of those experiences that had me online last week, reserving the mini-series (all 400-plus minutes) through the library. Imagine my delight when my mother gave me the mini-series on DVD for Christmas this year! Now that I have a baby, I will not be able to watch it straight through while sobbing in front of the tv, but my grief and catharsis can extend over weeks, if necessary. After all, it took a year to finish the book.

William Styron passes away  0

Posted on November 2nd, 2006. About Books, News and Politics.

Evan brought it to my attention this morning that American writer William Styron has passed away. He was 81 years old, and an important figure to me as I had the privilege of meeting him when I was in college. Some of his better known novels are Sophie’s Choice and The Confessions of Nat Turner. He signed not only my copy of Sophie’s Choice (which I gave to my high school journalism teacher, Dianna Parham), but my copy of Set This House on Fire, which was felt by one of my English professors to be his greatest, albeit not well known, book.

When I met him, Styron had recently overcome a severe depressive episode, and much of his talk described his struggle with the disease, but how grateful he was to have triumphed. Without elaborating too much, I will make the claim that meeting him was one of my more memorable college experiences (and there were many) – one of the benefits of attending a large state university.

Books  0

Posted on September 27th, 2006. About Books.

I’ve been away from consistent blogging recently – while I know you have heard this excuse from me, I have gone into survival mode during the month of September in order to survive stretches of on-call nights and long days at work. My October vacation is rapidly approaching, though!

I have also neglected to post several books I have read lately. While I’ll finish nowhere near 50 before the conclusion of 2006, it is still fun to catalogue leisurely reading.

Book #8: Rental Houses for the Successful Small Investor by: Suzanne P. Thomas; pages: 256.

Book #9: Pride and Prejudice by: Jane Austen; pages: 292.

Book #10: Who Moved My Cheese? by: Spencer Johnson, MD; pages: 94.

Evan and I are in the process of entering the real estate market as investors, so we have been reading up a bit on the topic. Rental Houses for the Successful Small Investor provided me with a decent overview of the day-to-day issues of having tenants, rental contracts, and cash flow goals. I do worry a bit about the author, however, as she seems to be operating as either a sole proprietor or a general partner, depending on the particular house she owns. I’m a little too squeamish about personal liability not to shelter my assets in a corporation, LLC, or LP.

I absolutely adored Pride and Prejudice, and chided myself when I finished it for not having read it years ago. Not only is it one of the most romantic (but not sappy) stories I’ve had the pleasure of reading, but the splendor of Austen’s writing in capturing the time period is astonishing. My friend, Beth, has been an Austen fan for years, and showed me the latest film adaptation of the novel just prior to my having finished the book. A gorgeous movie! I’ve probably watched it three times in the past three months. 🙂 Perfectly casted with beautiful landscapes, a soundtrack that evokes emotion, and an excellent presentation of the story – true to the text while improving on it at times (I love that the initial proposal scene between Elizabeth and Darcy occurs outdoors in the rain in the film as opposed to indoors in the book). The reading experience was one that left me feeling quite melancholy once it had ended – I wanted there to be more, but sadly the story concluded.

Who Moved My Cheese? is cheating – counting as a book completed although it took me an hour total to complete it. Some of the pages only have three or four lines on them. The story is simple – a metaphor for success, and how those who cling to the past and remain complacent miss great opportunities while those who venture into the maze and take risk are likely to gain. I was told to read it as a comfort for feeling rather depressed lately about my job, but instead, what I took away was that I needed to be even more aggressive about taking calculated risks and entering the business world if I ever wanted to change my situation.

I’m currently in the midst of three different books – two non-fiction (one about nutrition, the other about establishing corporations), and yesterday I began studying T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, a piece of poetry I have wanted to experience ever since studying his Four Quartets in 1998. Burnt Norton remains my favorite poetic work. However, when I read anything by Eliot, I grow angry and frustrated that I cannot possess the literarybrilliance that he did. What a writer!

Stats:

  • 270/365 – 74.0% of 2006 complete
  • Books Read – 10/50 – 20.0%
  • Pages Read – 1985/15000 – 13.23%

More Books Read  3

Posted on May 23rd, 2006. About Books.

I have fallen horribly behind on my reading – it looks unlikely that I will read 50 books before the year’s end; however, I will strive to read as much as I can between hospital shifts and training runs.

Book #5: Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide by: Hal Higdon; pages: 256.

Book #6: Freakonomics by: Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner; pages: 242.

Book #7: Devil in the White City by: Erik Larson; pages: 447.

I had read Higdon’s Marathon two years ago while considering training for the London Marathon of 2005. I revisited the book a few weeks into training for the Portland Marathon (I’ve been blogging about my progress with this on my running blog). Much of the focus is on injury prevention, which I can appreciate.

Freakonomics is a fascinating book that demonstrates, with raw data, some startling findings, such as a correlation with the drop in violent crime and the implementation of legalized abortions following Roe v. Wade; numbers demonstrating that realtors get more money for their own homes than for those of their clients; and evidence that children may not benefit from being read to by their parents.

Devil in the White City was one of the most interesting books I’ve encountered in quite some time. The author very effectively juxtaposes the construction of the Chicago World’s Fair (Columbian Exposition) of 1893 with the violence created by H.H. Holmes, America’s first known serial killer. I’m highly recommending this one. 

Stats:

  • 143/365 – 39.17% of 2006 complete
  • Books Read – 7/50 – 14.0%
  • Pages Read – 1343/15000 – 8.95%
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