Tag Archives: oscar wilde

An Irish Country Doctor

Irish Country Doctor Cover

Book type: FIction

Summary: Dr. Barry Laverty, fresh out of medical school, finds himself in the countryside of Northern Ireland as an apprentice to Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly, General Practitioner to the villagers of fictional Ballybucklebo. And as it generally goes in life, what he learned in school isn’t quite how the real world works. He’s frequently disappointed or upset by the methods used by Dr. O’Reilly, but he also learns a lot in his first few months as the senior doctor’s sidekick. He even comes to appreciate the small world of Ballybucklebo, with its eccentric residents–both humans and animals, like O’Reilly’s dog that humps his leg every time he ventures into the backyard. Life in provincial Ulster has its lessons for Barry and has some for us too.

Lessons:

  1. Don’t worry about the consideration of others. Early on in Barry’s introduction to Ballybucklebo, he discovers the dynamic between the country doctor and country villagers isn’t what he expected. One of the first lessons O’Reilly gives him is to never let the patients get the upper hand. At first this seems antithetical to the point of practicing medicine in Barry’s mind, however O’Reilly then tells him that if he didn’t operate the way he does, they would walk all over him, saying: “‘Didn’t take me long to find out that consideration for other people can be one of the lesser attributes of some members of the species Homo sapiens‘” (80). This lesson has an actual application that hits close to home for me, or at least for my brother. Recently my brother told me a story of how our grandmother, when she was still living, had given him some sound advice. He was concerned about how other people would think of him for something seemingly trivial. She stopped him and said, “If you knew how little other people think of you it would hurt your feelings.” Zinger! But really, stop being worried about whether other people consider you or whether they’re considerate to you. As the popular wisdom goes: go ‘head girl, you do you. That’s an Emerson quote, if I’m not mistaken.
    Emerson Quote - Be Yourself
  2. Sometimes life makes you shovel shit. Barry has a friend in the novel, Jack, who is a surgeon at the nearest hospital and he sometimes meets him for dinner or drinks. During one such visit they reminisce about life during medical school and how boring so many things were that they had to do as students, and how boring things continued even after they finished school. Jack reminds Barry of the words of an English registrar from their time there (after he complained to her about his boredom): “‘Old boy, in this life there will always be a certain amount of shit to be shovelled. I really would urge you to buy a long-handled spade and simply get on with it'” (99). This is a valuable lesson for all of us. Some people hate household chores, others hate workplace politics, still others hate family or social obligations. The fact is that either you can refuse to participate in any of those things and have a) no clean underwear, b) no possibility of being promoted, and c) no family/friends, or you can man/woman up and start shoveling that shit.
    Dog Lesson - Kick Grass Shit
  3. Advice doesn’t always have to be true to be helpful. Not long after Barry starts his work with Dr. O’Reilly, he has a day off and takes the train into Belfast and happens to meet a woman named Patricia who utterly captivates him. Unfortunately, she’s also a very serious student of engineering and doesn’t think she has the time or energy to spend cultivating a relationship with Barry, so their courtship ends. Barry, being the hopeless romantic that he is–and I do mean hopeless–is having a hard time getting over the loss of his soulmate. Compounding his sorrow is the fact that he made a misdiagnosis of a local resident, Major Fotheringham’s symptoms, resulting in his hospitalization and a difficult recovery. O’Reilly gives him some advice: “‘So finish your whiskey. […] Forget about Fotheringham. Forget about your heart. Girls are like buses. There’s always another one along soon.'” Barry then asks O’Reilly if he really believes what he’s just said: “‘No,’ said O’Reilly, ‘but there’s no reason you shouldn’t'” (238). Even though O’Reilly doesn’t believe it and even though it may be trite, his advice isn’t necessarily unsound. There’s a reason clichés become just that: sometimes the advice is good, but it’s cited so frequently that it loses its power. Sometimes those sentiments just need to be rephrased to be useful (i.e. instead of “plenty of fish in the sea,” comparing love interests to buses) and sometimes advice doesn’t have to hold true to help someone through a difficult moment.

A final review/recommendation:

Taylor, an established doctor himself, does a great job of creating a backdrop for the education of Barry Laverty. In some ways An Irish Country Doctor is almost a Bildungsroman, except instead of being the coming of age of an adolescent boy, it’s of a nascent doctor. The book is very simple, much like many of Ballybucklebo’s residents, but like them it’s simple in the best of ways: unpretentious, relatable, and entertaining. The first book in a series of many, An Irish Country Doctor is a quick read and makes for great spring reading, so next time March comes around and you’re considering an Irish book for St. Paddy’s day, pick up Taylor’s novel and be entertained by witticisms like this one about a “change of heart” that’s happened to a character named Councillor Bishop: “‘Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. That bugger Bertie Bishop? That man has a heart that would make Pharaoh’s hard one look like a marshmallow, so he has'” (302). And if you’re a reader you’ll appreciate the two doctors’ constant quoting of literature. And if you’re like me, you’ll smile ear to ear for the fact that Dr. O’Reilly is named after the fabulous and somewhat supercilious Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde–the greatest of the great.

Photo credits:

Book cover: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-P-4GrrorB-4/Uxe1N1vaEAI/AAAAAAAAS5A/MRaOfdl-rUo/s1600/IrishCtryDr.jpg
Sassy Emerson: http://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0273/4903/products/ralph-waldo-emerson-fridge-magnet-1_large.jpg?v=1380467104
Kick That Shit: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/474x/a3/26/91/a326913fd2e35c68d5d8b9016acafe95.jpg

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Annie’s Ghosts

Annie's Ghosts Cover

Book type: Memoir

Summary: I went to an event sponsored by my local public library featuring the author, Steve Luxenberg, who discussed Annie’s Ghosts with a room of mostly old people and students from a local community college English course. I had the interesting fortune to sit next to the author’s cousin, David, who is featured in the book and his friend from the Detroit area. I hadn’t read the book yet (I was one of few who hadn’t), but I got the sense that this book had something to offer for many readers, and across many demographics. Annie’s Ghosts is a true story of how the author and his siblings discovered that their mother Beth had concealed the existence of her sister Annie for decades, taking her secret to her grave. Except it didn’t quite work out that way. The secret came out while she was still living, however it wasn’t researched until after she died some years later. But Annie’s Ghosts isn’t only about the secret of Annie, it’s about family secrets in general and the impact our secrets have on us and our loved ones.

Lessons:

  1. “Secrets…have a way of working themselves free of their keepers” (1). This is one of the opening lines of the book, and of Luxenberg’s author talk as well. In his mother’s case, she happened to mention having had a sister to a hospital psychologist; a family friend at the hospital then saw the case file and casually asked his sister about their mother’s sister, and thus the secret started working itself free. And while secrets can sometimes protect our loved ones, often they have the opposite effect: they can create a separation between us and those we care about. In the Q & A after Luxenberg’s discussion of the book, several people asked him (in only slightly different ways) whether he was angry or upset with, or disappointed in his mother for having kept her mentally challenged (and possibly mentally ill) sister a secret from him and his siblings. He answered no, that he was not bitter toward his mother for her secret because it didn’t directly affect him, but he did add that he thought it being out in the open could have taken a great weight off of her and he was sad for her that she lived with it for so long. He notes in the book that not every secret must be shared; but some secrets are big enough that it might be best to address them while you can, before they work themselves free of you and you’re no longer able to be part of the discussion.

    Families need not live their lives as open books, for anyone to read. Just as a cure can be worse than the disease, revelation can be more devastating than reticence. That’s the fear that seems to drive many of us to embrace silence or deception. But too often, we’re just telling one more lie, this one to ourselves (48).

    If your secret is significant, share it with the people whom it might greatly affect. If they judge you for an act in your past, just remember the Oscar Wilde quote below.
    Oscar Wilde - Every Saint, Sinner

  2. It’s time to stop thinking feminism is a bad word. At one point in the book, Luxenberg discusses his mother’s religiosity, explaining that she wasn’t a very strict, practicing Jew. He notes her “indignation” about going to synagogue, where men and women were not treated equally, but then goes on to say, “(I wouldn’t call her a feminist, exactly–more of a firm believer in equality and opportunity)” (148). A couple months ago, comedian Aziz Ansari was on the Late Show with David Letterman and began talking about feminism. Some have pointed out that his comments weren’t inclusive of all types of feminists and were not anywhere near exhaustive of gender issues that many in our contemporary society face, but for being a two and a half-minute bit, he hit one of the main points on the head:
    Aziz Ansari Feminism1Maybe there’s a word that could better serve to explain what the general goal of feminism is, namely to get society to a point where men and women (and others) are treated with equal respect and acknowledgment of their worth. Until that word comes along, you’re just going to have to be whatever type of feminist is a good fit for you. We don’t all have to be the same.
  3. Give people some slack. This goes along with the Oscar Wilde quote above about saints and sinners. Each person’s life is singular in its own way. We find ourselves in similar situations to one another frequently, but not for everything in life. Forgive people for their pasts and strive to help them on their journey to becoming better individuals. If someone is willing to share their secret with you, it means they’re trusting you with it. Don’t judge them, try to understand them. In the case of Luxenberg’s mother Beth, she entered into a hospital’s psych ward toward the end of her life while doctors tested her medication and she was terrified and pleaded with her son to take her home. Not knowing anything of her secret, he told her it would be fine and moved along. He says that she “had to trust the system, trust that she wasn’t being railroaded into a long-term stay, and trust that her family was looking out for her in case things went wrong. But it’s hard to have trust when you’re afraid. Fear destroys trust” (my emphasis, 271). Help those you love to overcome the fear they might have about sharing their secrets with you by loving them without judgment and giving them some slack.

A final review/recommendation:

It was an interesting experience to listen to an author discuss a book that I hadn’t yet read, but most everyone in the room had. I was concerned that, having heard the book’s general outline, it wouldn’t be as fulfilling when I bought it and decided to read it, much like watching a movie version of a book can sometimes spoil the actual printed word when you read it after. This wasn’t the case. Luxenberg’s book is full of insights into the mental health system in the United States from the 1800s through the 1970s and into American law regarding accessibility to relatives’ medical records. Beyond that, he discusses the fate of his Jewish ancestors who remained in Eastern Europe during the rise of Nazism, and also the effect that his mother’s secret had on her relationships with family and friends. If you enjoy Detroit-area history, memoirs, or family stories and secrets, Annie’s Ghosts is a satisfying read.

Photo Credits:
Book cover: http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1403794107l/4994121.jpg
Saints & Sinners: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BuhxKt6CAAAi_uu.jpg:large
Aziz Ansari & Feminism: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/B6yc0huCMAAx4GI.jpg

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The Botticelli Secret

 

Book type: Fiction/Historical Fiction

Summary: The Botticelli Secret is a novel about Luciana Vetra, a Florentine whore, who teams up with a Franciscan monk named Guido della Torre after she poses for and then steals a copy of Botticelli’s famous painting La Primavera and all of the people she knows start getting killed one by one. In order to escape being murdered themselves, they must find out what Botticelli’s secret is and untangle the web of noble treachery and then put and end to it. Along their journey they realize that the sinister plot is significantly more involved than they originally thought and they must fight against the oncoming spring (or, primavera in Italian) in order to save themselves and thousands of others.

 

Lessons:

  1. Don’t judge a book by its cover. I’m both laughing and cringing at the fact that I just used this cliché, but it so aptly describes this book for me. When I first picked up The Botticelli Secret from a movable cart in the vestibule of my local Barnes & Noble and decided to buy it (for $5, I might add!) I thought ‘how awesome, a mystery that involves classical art and is set in Florence and other Italian cities!’ I also expected therefore, perhaps naively, that the book would be, shall we say, refined? I judged too soon. Not only does Luciana use the most abrasive language one can imagine (which was jarring at first, but I can handle just fine), she also frequently gives way more insight into her work and personal hygiene than I would ever want to be privy to. Here’s a gem from pretty early on in the book: “Now for the body. I was caked in mud and sweat and smelled like a week-old haddock. One sniff of my own crotch almost made me faint” (87). TMI LUCIANA, TMI.
  2. Don’t be so quick to assume that how we understand things now is how they’ve always been understood. Last weekend, in the midst of reading this book, I went with my aunt and cousin to see Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, which is currently playing at a local university theatre. At one point in the play there’s an interlude with a discussion of how our understanding of “homosexuality” has changed just within the last hundred years or so. During the time of Oscar Wilde, homosexuality generally referred to acts and not identities, so when we say that Oscar Wilde was “gay,” we’re using our own social context to categorize him, and not necessarily one that he himself would have used. I was surprised then to read the following day in Marina Fiorato’s book the following statement from Brother Guido to Luciana, after she sees his cousin Niccolò with a young black slave: “Really, Luciana. You, in your former circles, must have divined that a preference for…the company of boys does not preclude a man from a tolerably happy marriage” (174). Now, this double standard for men in a marriage versus women may not be fair, but it doesn’t mean it’s not true just because in our current culture we like to brand people under the axiom of “so you do, so you are.”
  3. Humans are humans, no matter what their religion may be. At one point in the novel, Brother Guido’s faith is shattered because he discovers corruption in the church he holds so dearly to his heart. One of his Franciscan elders counsels him saying, “Brother, you are young in the world, and innocent–you have no notion of what a man may do, be he ever so holy” (265). His point is that expecting that all people within the church (or any religion) will behave a certain way, is naive if not foolish. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t expect people who spout scripture or wear their religion on their sleeves to behave themselves according to their faith, that is an expectation we should hold them to. However, if they either fail in meeting our expectations or prove to be the opposite of what we expect, we shouldn’t lose faith in the religion or in all of its people. Some religious people may “fail” more than others and some people may be completely unreligious and just use the religion to meet their own corrupt ends. That doesn’t mean we should judge each person against the example set by some. Perhaps Brother Nicodemus says it better than I can:

    You must learn to differentiate between man and God. Man is fallible, the church corrupt. But God is true and he will never betray you. You must find your way back to faith, as a conversation between yourself and God. Popes and prelates come and go, but God is eternal (265).

  4. Choose wisely. I’m a fan of the Freakonomics podcast by the same authors as the book (which was also made into the documentary), and one of their discussions that has stuck with me since I heard it six months ago or more, is the notion of the “sunk-cost factor.” This is the idea that we get involved in things like new projects or hobbies, relationships, jobs, etc. and even after they cease being useful or making us happy, we continue to push on with them because of how much time/money/energy we’ve sunk into them. In turn, we end up sinking even more of our resources into sticking with them, and continue to be less and less fulfilled, when we could have cut our losses long ago and moved on. We are all faced with these kinds of decisions and they’re rarely easy to handle; if they were easy, economists wouldn’t study them the way they have. The lesson here, as Luciana also realizes toward the end of the book, is that we need to be aware that we often have a choice, even when we’ve told ourselves it’s out of our control. In her case, she had to make the choice after a personal tragedy to “stay and drown or rise and live” (494). (For those of you who watch Downton Abbey like I do, you’ll remember a similar scenario with Lady Mary this season.) The ultimate lesson here is to a) try to be aware of when you have a choice, even if you think you don’t, and b) choose wisely (as much as possible) so that you don’t wake up weeks, months, or years later and wonder why you’ve sunk so much of yourself into an enterprise that’s given little back.

 

A final review/recommendation:

I’m going to be brutally honest this time. I borderline hated this book. Reading most of it wasn’t actually that bad, but the inconsistencies in the book drove me bonkers and in the end I found it fairly unfulfilling. (I know you’re thinking ‘if it wasn’t worth it, Miss “Sunk-Cost-Factor” then why’d you read the whole thing?’ and the answer is both that I needed a book to write about, and also I wanted to make sure I wasn’t judging prematurely.) I found it mind-boggling that there were so many errors within the book or things that just make no sense. For example, at one point Brother Guido tells Luciana that her name, Luciana Vetra, means “the light in the glass” and she’s amazed. Except she’s not English, Chinese, Samoan, or Sri Lankan. She speaks the language he just translated for her! (She also has to have him translate later what centifolia means–“a hundred leaves;” why?) These are minor irritations and many people might not think twice about them, but they bothered me, though not as much as one gaping hole–figuratively and literally–regarding the murderer of her friends. Read my review on goodreads.com to find out more about that one. Overall this book was a disappointment for me, but maybe you’ll like it. It has a 3.8/5 rating on goodreads and 4/5 from Barnes & Noble, so maybe I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed every single day I read this book. Read it and tell me if I’m wrong.

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