Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance

Atul Gawande’s second book Better is a collection of his experiences as a surgeon. (If you’ve not heard about Gawande, Elizabeth Gudrais’ article (An unlikely writer) for Harvard magazine is a must read.)

Gawande divided the book into three sections based on what he thinks a surgeon should be and in each section he draws from his experiences as a surgeon and an observer to produce some compelling writing. There’s stuff in there about hand washing in hospitals, polio vaccinations in India, the absolute miracle that is the birth of a child, and other wonderful stories.

Gawande’s strength is that he writes simply and he explains stuff clearly, which as any writer will tell you are the hardest things to do. Did I mention that the man’s a surgeon too — some people get second helpings on the talent buffet before they are born. (If after reading the book you want to jump off the nearest cliff because your writing isn’t anywhere as good as Gawande’s, you’re not alone.)

You can find a listing of Gawande’s articles via his web page. Now, if you’ll excuse me there’s a cliff I must get to.

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Missing DFW a year later

Yesterday, September 12, was the 1-year-anniversary of David Foster Wallace’s death. Reading Infinite Jest this summer has only made the loss feel deeper. It’s strange to say this about someone you’ve never met or had any contact with, but it’s a feeling that most DFW fans will share – an overwhelming sense of loss.

DFW, you are still missed.

A fascinating interview with a “crafty” writer

I recently read an interview of writer Gay Talese in the Paris Review (via kottke.org). I had heard of Talese but I’d never read any of his work. After reading the interview, I want to.

Even if you have no interest in writing, read the interview because it’s absorbing,

In The Art of Nonfiction (No. 2), Talese is interviewed by Katie Roiphe. Excerpt:

My first job was on the sports desk, but I didn’t want to write about sporting events. I wanted to write about people. I wrote about a losing boxer, a horse trainer, and the guy in the boxing ring who rang the bell between rounds…

The good nonfiction writers were writing about famous people, or topical people, or public people. No one was writing about unknown people. I knew I did not want to be on the front page. On the front page you’re stuck with the news. The news dominates you. I wanted to dominate the story. I wanted to pick subjects that were not the ordinary assignment editor’s idea of a story.

… Once, at an NYU baseball game, I overheard a conversation between a young couple who were having a lovers’ quarrel. I wrote the dialogue and I told the story of the game through what they were watching and what they were saying. At the St. Patrick’s Day parade, I wrote about the last person in the procession, a little guy who was carrying a tuba, and behind him came the sanitation trucks. I followed the parade from the vantage point of this tuba player.

Here’s the link again: The Art of Nonfiction

Michael Crichton passes away

Michael Crichton passed away last night apparently after a battle with cancer. He was 66. My introduction to Crichton came via his dinosaur novel Jurassic Park, which you may have heard of, one of many books that I read. He was also the creator of one of my favourite television shows, E.R.

I enjoyed Crichton’s early work which includes The Great Train Robbery, Eaters of the Dead, The Terminal Man, Andromeda Strain, as well as the later ones like Congo, Disclosure, and Rising Sun. Crichton knew how to tell a story and he told it well and in a way that was enjoyable to the reader.

My favourite book of Crichton’s though is not a fiction book but a non-fiction one called Travels, which has interesting anecdotes about his travels across the world. Maybe it’s time for a re-read.

May he rest in peace.