While you may disagree with some of the choices, these are some of the books that have resonated with me the most over the years. Below each section, I’ve included a little synopsis to give you some insight and I’ve attached a link to the stores where you can pick up the books at the best price.
ILLNESS AS METAPHOR by Susan Sontag
When I first read this book Susan Sontag was still alive and living in New York. Time has passed and now she’s buried somewhere in France. I re-read this book every few years. Her writing is a reminder of the power of language and the sway that doctors have over how their patients view disease.
Publisher’s Description: In 1978 Susan Sontag wrote Illness as Metaphor, a classic work described by Newsweek as “one of the most liberating books of its time.” A cancer patient herself when she was writing the book, Sontag shows how the metaphors and myths surrounding certain illnesses, especially cancer, add greatly to the suffering of patients and often inhibit them from seeking proper treatment. By demystifying the fantasies surrounding cancer, Sontag shows cancer for what it is – just a disease. Cancer, she argues, is not a curse, not a punishment, certainly not an embarrassment and, it is highly curable, if good treatment is followed.
You can pick up a copy of Illness is a Metaphor here.
ON BEAUTY by Elaine Scarry
I discovered this tiny volume by accident one day while scanning titles in the literary criticism section of Chapters. Maybe it was misplaced. I’ve since read it numerous times. Now I understood what makes people stare, take photographs, and paint the same haystack over and over. An all-time favorite gift.
Publisher’s Description: Having hit bestseller lists from the New York Times to the San Francisco Chronicle, this wise, hilarious novel reminds us why Zadie Smith has rocketed to literary stardom. On Beauty is the story of an interracial family living in the university town of Wellington, Massachusetts, whose misadventures in the culture wars-on both sides of the Atlantic-serve to skewer everything from family life to political correctness to the combustive collision between the personal and the political. Full of dead-on wit and relentlessly funny, this tour de force confirms Zadie Smith’s reputation as a major literary talent.
You can pick up a copy of On Beauty here.
IMMORTALITY by Milan Kundera
You had me at the title. Something we all secretly long for, but with minds sharp and bodies still twenty. Written by a deep-thinking Czech, for a long time I liked to say he was my favorite author mostly because his name, when repeated, rolled off my tongue like a mantra. Translated from the French, it is a simply written and beautifully rendered account of longing and acceptance.
Publisher’s Description: Milan Kundera’s sixth novel springs from a casual gesture of a woman to her swimming instructor, a gesture that creates a character in the mind of a writer named Kundera. Like Flaubert’s Emma or Tolstoy’s Anna, Kundera’s Agnès becomes an object of fascination, of indefinable longing. From that character springs a novel, a gesture of the imagination that both embodies and articulates Milan Kundera’s supreme mastery of the novel and its purpose: to explore thoroughly the great themes of existence.
You can pick up a copy of Immortality here.
THE LIVES OF A CELL by Lewis Thomas
This book is a scientific meditation on the design of living creatures. In my haphazard foray into popular biology literature I’d often seen it referenced, but I didn’t read it until later in life. By that time I had already arrived at an understanding of our planet as a self-contained creature composed of interacting geological and biological systems. Lewis Thomas’ writing solidified and enhanced some ideas for me and ultimately led me to a profoundly personal Aha moment.
Publisher’s Description: Elegant, suggestive, and clarifying, Lewis Thomas’s profoundly humane vision explores the world around us and examines the complex interdependence of all things. Extending beyond the usual limitations of biological science and into a vast and wondrous world of hidden relationships, this provocative book explores in personal, poetic essays to topics such as computers, germs, language, music, death, insects, and medicine. Lewis Thomas writes, “Once you have become permanently startled, as I am, by the realization that we are a social species, you tend to keep an eye out for the pieces of evidence that this is, by and large, good for us.”
You can pick up a copy of The Lives of a Cell here.
ON CALL – PRINCIPLES AND PROTOCOLS by Shane Marshall & John Ruedy
Yep, you knew it was coming. A shameless plug. But I truly recommend it as a gift to any aspiring doctors, medical students, residents or young doctors who wish to refine their skills.
Publisher’s Description: Ideal for any on-call professional, resident, or medical student, this best-selling reference covers the common problems you’ll encounter while on call in the hospital. On Call – Principles and Protocols, 6th Edition, by Drs. Shane A. Marshall and John Ruedy, fits perfectly in your pocket, ready to provide key information in time-sensitive, challenging situations. You’ll gain speed, skill, and knowledge with every call – from diagnosing a difficult or life-threatening situation to prescribing the right medication.
You can pick up a copy of On Call – Principles and Protocols here.
ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE by Gabriel Garcia Maquez
I first read this as an intern at the insistence of a chance room-mate who I suspected was dealing drugs. This was my first foray into the non-pharmacological world of magical realism in which one never quite knows which side of the line one is stepping. If you ever found yourself appealing to a deceased parent for advice, or inexplicably face to face with an ancestor in the mirror, you’ll find a friend in this borderland.
Publisher’s Description: One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the rise and fall, birth and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendia family. Inventive, amusing, magnetic, sad, and alive with unforgettable men and women—brimming with truth, compassion, and a lyrical magic that strikes the soul—this novel is a masterpiece in the art of fiction.
You can pick up a copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude here.
FAITH AND THE LIFE OF THE INTELLECT by Curtis Hancock & Brendan Sweetman
For anyone who was raised to believe something, then later realized that his convictions had more to do with geography and who his parents were than with absolute truth – this book is a valiant effort to reconcile science with other belief systems and show us how the human brain, more capacious than any of us know, can find room for both.
Publisher’s Description: This book is the first to introduce the long and rich Catholic tradition and perspective into the broader debate concerning faith and the life of the intellect. The contributors–younger scholars and older scholars, liberals and conservatives, priests, consecrated religious, and lay people, men and women–offer personal reflections on the way in which faith and philosophy are integrated in their own lives. Many of the authors discuss those events and experiences that helped shape their responses to the general issue of faith seeking understanding.
You can pick up a copy of Faith and the Life of the Intellect here.
THE BOOK OF IMAGINARY BEINGS by Jorge Luis Borges
This compendium is a favorite to stroll through because along the way we meet all sorts of creatures which are products of the human imagination. It is a great “what if” book for thinking outside the box. Mandatory reading for dreamers.
Publisher’s Description: In a perfect pairing of talent, this volume blends twenty illustrations by Peter Sís with Jorge Luis Borges’s 1957 compilation of 116 “strange creatures conceived through time and space by the human imagination,” from dragons and centaurs to Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat and the Morlocks of H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine. A lavish feast of exotica brought vividly to life with art commissioned specifically for this volume, The Book of Imaginary Beings will delight readers of classic fantasy as well as Borges’s many admirers.
You can pick up a copy of The Book of Imaginary Beings here.
Currently Reading: HEAT by Bill Buford
My mother rescued this 2006 edition from a free book exchange at the local pharmacy, then passed it to my wife who thought I should read it. My interest in the food industry began one summer in Vancouver after I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and The 100 Mile Diet by Smith and MacKinnon in rapid succession. It’s so important to understand where your food comes from. Heat chronicles one man’s experience in trying to understand food by following in the footsteps of Mario Batali. I’m a third through it. So far, I’m not feeling the love, at least not in the back kitchen. But stay tuned … I’m sure there are some good recipes to follow …
Get ready for my upcoming book, Indispensable Heart. To get updates on everything book-related, follow me on Twitter.
If you’ve read any books that you would like me to review for our readers, let me know. You can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.