Last week I read several titles that I want to share without necessarily writing full reviews for, since they’re on the shorter side. They are…
- This is Going to Hurt: The Secret Diary of a Junior Doctor, Adam Kay
- Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals about Death, Caitlin Doughty
- American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793, Jim Murphy
When blogs first became a thing, I loved finding people who blogged about their workaday lives — especially cops — and I often read these occupational accounts in book form when I can find them. I’ve read a few ER ebooks, but never one by a doctor, and figured a global pandemic would make for an ideal time to try a medical diary. It’s literally presented as a diary, with varied highlights — moments that are particularly funny, harrowing, challenging, etc — over the course of a decade or so. The book begins with Kay as a trainee, and by the time it ends, he’s several tiers up in the medical hierarchy, having specialized in obstetrics and gynecology. Although the book matches sorrow with humor most of the time, the incident that ends his medical career also ends the book with such a saddening blow that all of the laughs from before are overshadowed. The biggest takeaway is how insanely busy and stressful life as an operating physician in the UK can be — and it’s apparently not well compensated, either, as Kay references sharing a small flat with his partner, named only “H”.
American Plague takes readers back to 1793 Philadelhpa, in the grips of a mood quite like our own, with closed shops and a persistent mood of gloom, fear, and uncertainty. While I had heard about this outbreak before, I’d never considered it in full. Murphy is very effective at painting a picture of foul, fetid, fuming, foggy, filthy Philadelphia(somebody oughta oooooopen up a window!) and dropping readers in among the cesspits and darkened streets. The outbreak utterly paralyzed government at all levels, as clerks and senior officials (the president included, since D.C. was still being planned) fled for the country. Some individuals displayed outstanding courage, if not wisdom (founding father Benjamin Rush was sickened twice while serving the afflicted; his cure involved copious bleeding and probably hurt more than it helped), as did some groups. The Free African Society, a philanthropic group that served the needs of Philadelphia’s blacks, did outstanding work marshaling its members to serve as nurses and assistants to the afflicted citizen as a whole — work that went largely unappreciated once the crisis was over. Although this is intended for high school readers, I found it very informative.
Last, but easily my favorite, Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs features questions lobbed at youtube’s favorite mortician, Caitlin Doughty, from young students. Doughty, known to her fans as the Death Mother, answers them with her usual combination of compassion and wit. The questions are all over the place, with kids asking about why we turn different colors after death, if swallowed popcorn pops during a cremation, if there are coffins for tall people, etc. Although sourced from kiddie questions, Doughty’s writing style hasn’t been altered here for the kids: her voice sounded exactly as it did when she wrote about her research into death customs around the world, or recounted her journey as a death-phobe turned mortician*. I enjoyed it thoroughly, more so than From Here to Eternity, her global-death-customs book. And will your cat eat your eyeballs? …well, maybe eventually, but they prefer more exposed bits like lips. Dogs, however, will dig in like they’re at the buffet.
Next up….RoE will kick off with a review on Wednesday, and before then I should have this book on the many violent ways to die as a migrant in Mexico finished. I had to pause because the constant misery was a little much.
*There’s a word for this, thanatophobe, but who would recognize it?