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Favorite #5

Updated: Feb 19, 2021

When I read the bio of Abraham Verghese at the beginning of his fine novel, Cutting for Stone, I will admit had a moment of self-comparison. Here was Verghese, a surgeon, a professor at Stanford, Iowa Writer's Workshop graduate (to name just a few of his accomplishments), yet still humble enough to not use his title on the book cover. A writer and a surgeon? Who has the kind of time to develop two such different and difficult-to-acquire skill sets?

If there's anything I have learned on this journey towards publication, it is that you absolutely cannot dwell on those kinds of comparisons. We all write what we know. Just as I had to cut out many of the technical descriptions of lighting and running a stage crew from Where Are We Tomorrow?, so, I'm sure, did Verghese have to scale back and make his prose comprehensible to the layman. Even though he does this brilliantly with crisp, clear language, some of his descriptions of surgery may make some a bit queasy. Just skip those sections and the story will be equally as strong.



Cutting for Stone is one of my favorite books partially because we get a fascinating glimpse of Ethiopia, a country I knew very little about. His descriptions of Addis Ababa are akin to how Naguib Mafouz grabs the reader and drags them around the unnamed Egyptian city in The Harafish (another book I would highly recommend). This feeling of immersion is the beauty of the novel. How a reader can travel (especially now) without leaving home. How we feel we know a place without ever physically going there. In the past, books have inspired me to travel. For now, they may have to suffice on their own.


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taviblack
Feb 02, 2021

Yes! Mary Jane, When Breath Becomes Air was such a beautiful book. It was one of the first audiobooks I ever listened to. I have found that's my preferred way to "read" nonfiction/memoir now. I loved listening to Abraham Verghese's intro to the book. You have such connections to the books I'm writing about. Fascinating.

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mccullszoo
Feb 02, 2021

Of course, this is one of my favorites, too. Before reading it, I probably had not given one thought to Ethiopia either. Another non-fiction book that I love was also written by a doctor, Paul Kalanithi, and is called When Breath Becomes Air. You might have read this one too. The author wrote so eloquently about his own death. I got to meet his oncologist once at Stanford when I was helping a friend arrange hospice for her end of life care. This doctor was so obviously a caring human being, it made a task that was very difficult a little easier to navigate.


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