Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

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What We’re Reading

Welcome to what we hope will be a new (semi-regular!) feature, in which the Millions fam opens up about the books on our nightstands (and desks, and floors – seriously these things are like kudzu). As you might expect, it's an eclectic mix about which we have ~strong feelings~. From haikus to a macroeconomic treatise on American industrialism – with lots of novels and story collections in between, of course – here's what we're reading: Jacob Lambert: I just finished Subtle Bodies by Norman Rush, and hated it with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. What a pretentious disaster. Up next is Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson, which hopefully won't make me want to stick my head in the oven. Tess Malone: I haven't read one book by a straight white man this year, but I'm breaking the streak for Rob Delaney's memoir, Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage. Edan Lepucki: I recently finished The Barbarous Coast by pulp L.A. Noir writer Ross MacDonald and I am #blessed to be an early reader of Susan Straight's new novel (!!!)...editors can email me if they want deets on that masterpiece. Sonya Chung: A little past halfway through Jung Yun's Shelter [Ed. note: which was selected by our own Edan Lepucki as one of her most anticipated books of this year], I had to put to down.  It's an important book, and I'm sad that it had to be written, and Yun writes skillfully and unflinchingly.  All that. But, it's a hard story, and I needed a break.  Will return to it surely. I am on to Mat Johnson's Pym and Sue Miller's The Senator's Wife for the long weekend.  Yes, I started two novels simultaneously. Both take place in academic communities but could not be more different from each other; so somehow, it works to alternate between them. I also always have a book of essays going on the side. Currently, John Berger's The Shape of a Pocket.  (Film Forum has a documentary about Berger playing now; don't miss it, New Yorkers!  The final scene is priceless.) On deck:  Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan and Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. Bill Morris: At the moment I’m reading two books that could not be more unalike, but which are fabulous in their own ways: James McBride’s exploration of James Brown’s life and its meaning, Kill 'Em and Leave; and Robert J. Gordon’s work of macroeconomics, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, which examines the astonishing burst of changes in everyday life from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries. Janet Potter: I'm about to start To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey, having recently given up on Here I Am after 200 pages. Anne Yoder: Unbeknownst to me 'til now, my to-read pile is afflicted by planetary influence. I’m currently reading Kyle Coma-Thompson’s Night in the Sun – its story "27-B" contains an appallingly beautiful description of death at 30,000 feet,  the stewardess holding the body back upon landing and yet: “The head moving in the most grotesque way, a sodden sunflower crown wagging on its rigid tough stem.” Next in orbit: Julie Reverb’s No Moon and Black Sun Lit’s latest issue of its journal Vestiges, "Ennui." Nick Moran: I was in Florida this weekend, so I've been revisiting Jai Alai Books's essential poetry collections, Eight Miami Poets and Suicide by Jaguar. Amidst Miami's Zika outbreak, I've developed a fresh appreciation for Dave Landsberger's South Beach Haiku #3: "My legs fit perfectly in my pants. / My leg bones fit perfectly in my legs— / shorts are for tourists." Claire Cameron: I recently burned through Dear Mr. M, the new book by Herman Koch, who also wrote the international bestselling The Dinner. Dear Mr. M has an elegant structure that weaves together many strands, but one is about man named Herman who moves into the apartment below and stalks a famous writer, Mr. M. After spying, opening his mail, talking to his wife and kid, Herman finally approaches Mr. M under the guise of being a journalist wanting an interview. I just interviewed Koch. In my emails, I addressed Koch as "Dear Mr. K" and signed off as "Herman." I don't know if he finds it funny or creepy, but no cease and desist order yet. Hannah Gersen: the book on my nightstand that I have slowly been working through is Consolations by David Whyte, which is a beautiful book that gives definitions for everyday words, elaborating on their spiritual and philosophical meanings. It starts with the word "alone" and ends with "work." It's a quiet, thoughtful book, a really good way to start or end the day. Kirstin Butler: I've been on both an essay- and thriller-reading tear lately, probably because those are the two things i'm working on myself ! In the former category I've gone for contemporary classics – John Jeremiah Sullivan's Pulphead and Eula Biss's Notes from No Man's Land  – with one old standby mixed in, John McPhee's Annals of the Former World. I will read anything McPhee you put in front of me. As for the latter genre, I've discovered I'm a pretty tough customer; I was excited to read The Hand That Feeds You by A.J. Rich (nom de plume for the writing team of Amy Hempel and Jill Ciment), but after one too many times of yelling 'oh my god don't fall for it' at the heroine, had to give it up. If any readers have good thriller recs please get @ me on Twitter! Nicholas Ripatrazone: I'm currently reading Ghostland by Colin Dickey, due out 10/4. It's a creepy, smart trek through America's haunted sites. He investigates how "ghost stories reveal the contours of our anxieties, the nature of our collective fears and desires, the things we can't talk about in any other way." Oh and by the way: What you're reading right now looks pretty awesome too. (Image via Alie Edwards)

A Year in Reading: Caitlin Doughty

I started the year with Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. I live in Los Angeles, which is Scientology ground zero. For years I had heard stories, seen the Tom Cruise freakout video, watched the guys with the E-meters on Hollywood Blvd. But I didn’t know much about the history of Scientology other than, “L. Ron Hubbard thinks aliens detonated hydrogen bombs in volcanoes.” Damn. It’s more insane than you can possibly imagine. And the best part is that this isn’t a hatchet job by Wright, he tries so hard to be fair to Scientologists, meticulously researching everything and presenting it in an unbiased way. It’s just that the each story is more bonkers than the next. Wright is also a brilliant narrative nonfiction writer, so it’s a pleasure to read. During the American Librarians Association Conference, I was able to get an advanced reading copy of Edward O. Wilson’s The Meaning of Human Existence. His last book, The Social Conquest of Earth, was mind blowing. He’s the world’s leading scientist on ants, who just happens to, late in his career, be writing these treatises on why humans are the way they are. He’s tackling BIG PICTURE questions that hardly anyone else is. I have so many scribbles in the margins of this book that it’s practically defacement. The two best books in my genre (that is to say, DEATH) this year are Being Mortal by Atul Gawnade and Working Stiff by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell. Being Mortal is a great introduction to the problems with how we care for the elderly and dying in the U.S. We’re in such denial about the state of eldercare that we are wildly unprepared for the baby boomers to start dying, and there is going to be untold suffering because of it. Having someone as prominent as Gawande writing about it is a good start. I’m not generally a fan of crime-forensics (shows like CSI, Bones, etc). But Dr. Judy Melinek is a stone cold professional. Working Stiff is the opposite of sensational, it’s a look into the world of the people in the trenches of the medical examiner’s office. It’s not a glamorous world, you have to care about your work, you have to know what you’re doing, and you have to be comfortable with death, or it will chew you up and spit you out. More from A Year in Reading 2014 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.
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