Literature and Medicine 2016-7

We have a fantastic lineup this year, our 20th anniversary of the EMMC Literature and Medicine Book Club! EMMC Employees, family and friends can sign up here. 

  1. October 6: The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid.


The narrator of this novel is a young Princeton grad from Pakistan in a post-9/11 world. As the protagonist, Changez, finds moderate business success and romantic love in New York City, his heritage and identity will be lost in a sea of subtle and blatant bigotry as well as international politics.


  1. November 3: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, Elisabeth Tova Bailey.


At age 34, Bailey was stricken with a mysterious virus while on a trip to Europe. After her caregiver brings her a snail and establishes it in a terrarium, Bailey begins to read about snails, learning from scientists, early naturalists, poets, and writers. As she begins to understand a snail’s world, she finds the means to transcend her own circumstances. Bailey will attend the session via teleconference and will show the brief film she has made of the book.

  1. January 5: Plainsong, Kent Haruf.


Holt, Colo., a tiny prairie community near Denver, is both the setting for and the psychological matrix of this beautiful novel. Alternating chapters focus on eight compassionately imagined characters whose lives undergo radical change during the course of one year. In depicting the stalwart courage of decent, troubled people going on with their lives, Haruf’s quietly account illuminates the possibilities of grace.

  1. February 9: Antigone, Sophocles.


The curse placed on Oedipus lingers and haunts a younger generation in Sophocles’ classic drama. The daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, Antigone is an unconventional heroine who pits her beliefs against the King of Thebes, challenging him for the right to bury her own brother. Determined but doomed, Antigone shows her inner strength throughout the play.

  1. March 2: Prayers & Run-On Sentences, Stu Kestenbaum.


Maine’s new Poet Laureate, Kestenbaum will join the group for a discussion of his poems, which are witty and wise and speak to the human experience.


  1. April 6: Bone Games: Extreme Sports, Shamanism, Zen, and the Search for Transcendence, Rob Schultheis.


Climbing in the Colorado Rockies, Schultheis has a fall that triggers an altered state of consciousness, setting him off on a quest to reproduce the experience. He ranges from Shamanism to long-distance running, mountaineering in Nepal, Plains Indian vision quests, and survival at sea. Schultheis could be the poster boy for the Sensation Seeker personality, defined by Wikipedia as a “trait defined by the search for experiences and feelings, that are ‘varied, novel, complex and intense’, and by the readiness to ‘take physical, social, legal, and financial risks for the sake of such experiences.’ Risk is not an essential part of the trait, as many activities associated with it are not risky. However, risk may be ignored, tolerated, or minimized and may even be considered to add to the excitement of the activity.”

EMMC Employees, family and friends can sign up here.








Getting Ready for Huckleberry Finn

We’re discussing Twain’s classic at our May 5, 2016 Literature and Medicine meeting.


Here are a few articles we think will enhance your enjoyment and understanding of the novel:


Huckleberry Finn: An Amazing, Troubling Book is American treasure Toni Morrison’s Introduction to the 1996 Oxford University Press The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In it, Morrison shares the fear she felt reading this novel for the first time, and explores the source of her unease. I can never read the novel as a person of color, but Morrison’s essay gave me some insight into how one black reader who happens to be a literary genius engaged with a racially charged text.

Leslie Fiedler

Come Back to the Raft Ag’in Honey by Leslie Fiedler is an eye-opening piece of criticism in which the great American critic claims that at its core, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (and several other classics) is about the desire for perfect love between a white man and a man of color.

Huck and Jim, Charles Ray, 2014

The Whitney Museum, by refusing to display a commissioned sculpture in its plaza reminds us all of the continuing relevance (and controversy) of Twain’s novel: The Whitney Chickened Out on This Huck Finn Sculpture

Finally, what do you think about a censored version of the novel that changes the n-word to “slave” wherever it appears in the text?  Is mangling Twain’s prose really the right way to address its controversial nature, the unease Morrison describes, in the face of frequent calls for censoring or banning it outright? (Here’s a school removal case in December 2015 in Philly). I vote “nope.”
See you in May!


Short video explains Camus

I really like The School of Life video series (I often use it in class) which explains different philosophies in short, fun videos.

Here’s the video on Camus’s thought, narrated by Alain de Botton. 

And here is a nice NPR profile of Daoud, which explains that

“Algerian writers, whether or not they agreed with Camus, they’ve always loved this novel. And it’s really part of the literary patrimony of Algeria,” says Alice Kaplan, a Camus scholar at Yale.

Brief history of French relations with Algeria, 1830-1962:

Resuming a policy of imperialist expansion after the Napoleonic era, France invaded Algeria in 1830. The French soon controlled the city of Algiers and some coastal areas, but not until 1857 did they subdue the whole region. France sent settlers to colonize the conquered region, but even as late as 1940 the French in Algeria were outnumbered 9 to 1. During World War II the Algerians fought on the side of Germany, which occupied France. However, they were not too keen on resisting the Americans, and when General Eisenhower landed in November of 1942 he met little resistance. That invasion prevented Camus from leaving France and joining his wife in Algeria until the liberation of France in 1944. Throughout the rest of the war, the Algerian independence movement grew due to contact with other Westerners—British and American soldiers.

The independence movement continued to grow after the war but was violently put down by French troops. The struggle escalated when the National Liberation Front (FLN) wrote a new constitution in 1947. Unable to deliver on the promise of the new constitution, the FLN began a war of independence with France in 1954. By 1962, Charles de Gaulle agreed to grant the country independence.


Camus biography:

Albert Camus was born on November 7, 1913, in Mondavi, French Algeria. Camus became known for his political journalism, novels and essays during the 1940s. His best-known works, including The Stranger (1942) and The Plague (1947), are exemplars of absurdism. Camus won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957 and died on January 4, 1960, in Burgundy, France.

See you Thursday!

Getting ready for Camus and Daoud (Post 1)

From Marge Irvine, check out Camus’s preface to the 1955 edition of The Stranger:


Preface to The Stranger

by Albert Camus
January 8, 1955

I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: “In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.” I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game. In this respect, he is foreign to the society in which he lives; he wanders, on the fringe, in the suburbs of private, solitary, sensual life. And this is why some readers have been tempted to look upon him as a piece of social wreckage. A much more accurate idea of the character, or, at least one much closer to the author’s intentions, will emerge if one asks just how Meursault doesn’t play the game. The reply is a simple one; he refuses to lie. To lie is not only to say what isn’t true. It is also and above all, to say more than is true, and, as far as the human heart is concerned, to express more than one feels. This is what we all do, every day, to simplify life. He says what he is, he refuses to hide his feelings, and immediately society feels threatened. He is asked, for example, to say that he regrets his crime, in the approved manner. He replies that what he feels is annoyance rather than real regret. And this shade of meaning condemns him.

For me, therefore, Meursault is not a piece of social wreckage, but a poor and naked man enamored of a sun that leaves no shadows. Far from being bereft of all feeling, he is animated by a passion that is deep because it is stubborn, a passion for the absolute and for truth. This truth is still a negative one, the truth of what we are and what we feel, but without it no conquest of ourselves or of the world will ever be possible.

One would therefore not be much mistaken to read The Stranger as the story of a man who, without any heroics, agrees to die for the truth. I also happen to say, again paradoxically, that I had tried to draw in my character the only Christ we deserve. It will be understood, after my explanations, that I said this with no blasphemous intent, and only with the slightly ironic affection an artist has the right to feel for the characters he has created.





How to Read A Poem: Prepping for Wesley McNair


I’m so excited for our November meeting with Wesley McNair.

I read very little poetry (sadly). Last year The Atlantic published an article, Reading A Poem: 20 Strategies by poet Mark Yakich. I personally don’t think there is one right way to read a poem, but as I have begun exploring McNair’s work, I’ve found some of his suggestions useful.

For example…

17. Reading poetry is not only about reading poetry. Its alleged hermetic stylizations of syntax and diction can enhance your awareness of the world, even those things that don’t deal directly in words. A dress, a building, a night sky—all involve systems of pattern-recognition and extrapolation.

Don’t know what “hermetic stylizations” are? Me neither, but then consider this one:

6. If you don’t know a word, look it up or die.

I liked this one:

4. Whether or not you are conscious of it, you are always looking for an excuse to stop reading a poem and move on to another poem or to do something else entirely. Resist this urge as much as possible. Think of it as a Buddhist regards a pesky mosquito. The mosquito, like the poem, may be irritating, but it’s not going to kill you to brave it for a little while longer.

Although this one made me pause:

20. Reading a good poem doesn’t give you something to talk about. It silences you. Reading a great poem pushes further. It prepares you for the silence that perplexes us all: death.

I’m not sure I agree with that at all, but it sure is an intriguing suggestion.

I like what the American Academy of Poets has to say about poetry:

Literature is, and has always been, the sharing of experience, the pooling of human understanding about living, loving, and dying. Successful poems welcome you in, revealing ideas that may not have been foremost in the writer’s mind in the moment of composition. The best poetry has a magical quality—a sense of being more than the sum of its parts—and even when it’s impossible to articulate this sense, this something more, the power of the poem is left undiminished.

I also find reading a poem out loud really helpful, although I can’t explain why. The Library of Congress actually has tips on how to do this for an audience. This site actually hosts a long list of poems read by famous actors like Anthony Hopkins, James Earl Jones, and … Alyssa Milano?

Here are the 12 poems McNair suggests we prepare for the November meeting:

  • How I Became A Poet
  • The Good-Boy Suit
  • The Boy with the Flag
  • The Rules of the New Car
  • Making Things Clean
  • The Last Time Shorty Towers Fetched the Cows
  • Hymn to the Comb-Over
  • Smoking
  • November 22, 1963
  • The Abandonment
  • Reading Poems In the Grange Meeting in What Must Be Heaven
  • Love Handles

See you in November!