Tag Archives: wit

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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Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls

 

Book type: Humor / Essays / Memoir

Summary: David Sedaris is one of the premier American humorists of our time and Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls is the most recent publication in a series of standout works, one of which I reviewed last year. (Read lessons from Barrel Fever here.) In this set of “Essays, Etc.” he recounts stories from his life in the U.S. and abroad–about his French dentist, the differences between traveling in Japan, Germany, China, and Australia, having his passport stolen, etc.–and also interjects periodically with hilarious monologues “that young people might deliver before a panel of judges” (ix). For as silly as many of the pieces are, they provide some excellent nuggets of advice, so let’s jump right in.

 

Lessons:

  1. Take stock of how you respond in conversation. In one story Sedaris describes competing on a swim team when he was a boy and how his father always raved about another boy’s amazing talent. Then one day young David actually beat this Greg kid and when he went to his father for approval, the response he got was, “‘Maybe you did, but it was only by a hair'” (38). Similarly, haven’t we all known someone who, nearly every time you say something, he or she has to contradict you or top what you’ve just said with his or her own experience? How quickly that becomes tiring. Pay attention for a day or two to the conversations you have with friends, family, and colleagues, and if you notice yourself saying “Oh yeah? Well, you know, I…” and turning the conversation back to you, maybe step back for a second and just listen.
  2. Be honest about what you have. Continuing in the vein of annoying personal traits, people who are dishonest about their resources are some of the most frustrating douchenozzles one may come across. In Sedaris’ case, he was one of these people in his twenties:

    The people I hung out with in my early twenties were middle-class and, at least to our minds, artistic. We’d all turned our backs on privilege, but comfortably, the way you can when you still have access to it. No one wanted to call home asking for money, but we all knew that in a pinch our parents would come through for us.” (54)

    But the sword cuts both ways. It’s confusing and annoying to your friends if you say you don’t have money to go out with them but then lavishly spend money on non-essentials, and it’s annoying if you don’t have money, but tell people you do. This isn’t to say that you have to talk about your finances with the barista at your local coffee shop, but if the barista is your friend and you say you can’t pitch in three bucks for a mutual friend’s birthday card while you’re buying a seven-dollar drink, then lesson 2 applies to you.

  3. It won’t kill you to forgo pajama pants at the airport. Sedaris writes at length about his travels, and specifically about what he sees and hears so often at airports. He touches on one of my biggest pet peeves related to air travel: Americans who, you would think must be on their way to bed or the gym, but in fact are about to depart for another country. In the following passage Sedaris comments on how every time a flight is delayed people behave like it’s a “national tragedy,” which then leads to a national tragedy of another kind:

    Because I’m in the air so often, I hear this sort of thing a lot. In line for coffee. In line for a newspaper or a gunpowder test on the handle of my public radio tote bag: everywhere I go someone in an eight-dollar T-shirt  is whipping out a cell phone and delivering the fine print of his or her delay. One can’t help but listen in, but then my focus shifts and I find myself staring. I should be used to the way Americans dress when traveling, yet it still manages to amaze me. It’s as if the person next to you had been washing shoe polish off a pig, then suddenly threw down his sponge saying, ‘Fuck this. I’m going to Los Angeles!'” (158)

    I’m not advocating that we all return to the dress code of suits and dresses for air travel, but for my fellow Americans out there, please put on some real pants!

    I've been saving this photo for the last year waiting for the perfect moment to share it. This lady threw me for a loop: Louis Vuitton purse, yoga capri pants, sequined shirt (not visible here), track jacket, french manicure, sandals, un-pedicured feet, and floral hair decoration. My need for order and consistency nearly resulted in an airport freak out.

    I’ve been saving this photo for the last year waiting for the perfect moment to share it. This lady, sitting across from me waiting for a flight to Atlanta, threw me for a loop: Louis Vuitton purse, yoga capri pants, sequined shirt (not visible here), track jacket, french manicure, sandals, un-pedicured feet, and floral hair decoration. My need for order and consistency nearly resulted in an airport freak out.

    And, for the love of all that is holy, please wear real shoes. The rest of the world is judging all of us by your choice in footwear, so if you’re trying to decide between your boat shoes and your beat-up white Nikes, go for the boat shoes. And if you’re trying to decide between your beat-up white Nikes and the image below, do your country as proud as you can, and go with the tennis shoes.

    Because these are never acceptable, no matter how comfortable they are. Our veterans fought for freedom, but even the pursuit of happiness should have some limits. In my professional opinion, that line must be drawn between Skechers and Crocs.

     

  4. Next time you go out, leave your phone in your pocket/purse. Many of us are obsessed with technology and compulsively feel the need to document our lives. We tell anyone who may happen upon our online profiles what we’re doing at any given moment, and we take pictures like Guy Pearce in Memento. But we’re not amnesiacs, at least most of us, David Sedaris included:

    It’s not lost on me that I’m so busy recording life, I don’t have time to really live it. I’ve become like one of those people I hate, the sort who go to the museum and, instead of looking at the magnificent Brueghel, take a picture of it, reducing it from art to proof. It’s not ‘Look what Brueghel did, painted this masterpiece,’ but ‘Look what I did, went to Rotterdam and stood in front of a Brueghel painting!'” (233)

    Every action does not have to be documented, and sometimes a picture isn’t worth a thousand words, not if you can’t remember what happened at the event because you weren’t paying attention when it was going on anyway.

 

A final review/recommendation:

I have to be honest and disclose that I’m a huge David Sedaris fan and would probably read his description of his morning bowl of cereal and find it hilarious. That being said, if you like sarcastic humor, or laughing and then feeling like you’re a terrible person for doing so, you’ll probably like this book. If you’re a social conservative, however, be forewarned. You probably won’t like this book, and possibly any of his other works either. Just a heads up.

 

Photo Credits:
Book Cover: http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1359704028l/15790837.jpg
National Tragedy: photo mine
Next Extinction Please: http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/00781/crocs-460_781633c.jpg

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