Category Archives: Book Report

The Heart Speaks

It’s another book report. This week I report on “The Heart Speaks”, by a cardiologist named Mimi Guarneri.

It’s rare that I read a book by an M.D. that talks about health outside of the very siloed constructs of conventional medicine. Honestly, I find most conventional practitioners have an excellent handle on what could be wrong with you, and many answers about what drugs might “solve” your problem, but very little to say about how you got there in the first place. Their understanding of “bad diet” versus “good diet” is almost laughable to me because half of them are eating processed foods and acting in ways that they themselves are likely to be pretty ill in the foreseeable future. It’s hard to take advice from someone who doesn’t really seem to have a clue.

Reading this very personal and beautifully honest account by Dr. Guarneri was such a breath of fresh air. I have no doubt that she has a more than proficient handle on all of the miracles of modern medicine, but she hasn’t traded one type of knowledge for another, and she still values the ability of a physician to heal through the act of listening.

She tells the story of her professional path, called to serve others but sidetracked by the system, one which likes “17.9 minute visits”. I myself had a 17 minute visit the other day, which didn’t really fix much, except to give me a physical therapy recommendation. The physical therapy helped some, but in the end it was the orthopedic massage therapist that my neighbor recommended who made me functional again. I paid $300 for tests that didn’t solve anything, which I would have gladly given to Steve Cunningham instead.

Guarneri explains how her patients, after heart attacks and bypass surgeries, were seeking out alternative modes of healing. She came to the realization that her approach might be lacking something. “… later that day, as I stood at my local car dealership, I watched a technician bent over the hood of a patron’s car, explaining his transmission problem and the various options he could try. And it dawned on me that he was spending more time with this guy’s car than I had spent with my stent patient’s heart.”

I think any good book affirms what you know to be true in your being and then goes the next step of calling you out on your shit. Given that I chose to name my blog “Genghis Mom”, you can imagine that the “Echoes of Anger” chapter was not going to tell me I was doing a good job in this department. “There are recent studies suggesting that hostility, in particular, may be more predictive of coronary diseas than more traditional factors such as smoking and high cholesterol.” Damn it!

The book is an artfully crafted anthology of patient cases that call us all to do what I often call for regarding our food; to clean it up. Our emotional diets could use a rehaul as well. My emotional drink of choice is rabid anger of the Melissa McCarthy variety in The Heat. When laced with humor, it’s a steam valve. When not, it’s toxic.

I read the entire book in less than three days. It’s a quick read, and it’s moving. The last chapter is entitled Compassionate Medicine. I can definitely toast to that.

The Road to Character by David Brooks

It’s kind of a strange first book to take on, but it’s the one I finished on Sunday, so here goes.

Here are my general impressions:

He starts with a great introduction about why he wrote this book. A while ago, he had this experience with a strange juxtaposition of the modern day “Wow I rock!” mentality compared to an old broadcast from the end of World War II which exhibited an example of humility extraordinary to us in that it was the social norm.

This led him to the decision that he would write a series of biographical essays. He chose some incredible people to profile: Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, George Marshall, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, George Eliot, Augustine, and Samuel Johnson. Heavy hitters.

Each essay is one person after another struggling with his or her own internal demons. And after each example he seems to keep asking the reader, “This is a good person. He feels tortured. Why don’t you feel tortured? If you were a good person, you would feel more tortured. Crawl over the fucking shards of broken glass, dammit!”

Brooks refers to anything developing or aggrandizing the outer self as “Adam I” and anything related to inner development is categorized in “Adam II”. It’s all very biblical. In fact, that shows up over and over again in the book, almost like he’s selling the whole Christianity bit a little too hard. Considering that he’s a Jewish guy who started out working for William F. Buckley, that’s not all that surprising. He probably spent so long earning his stripes punching that Christianity card it’s become habit to wrap everything up in a big ol’ Jesus bow.

He’s obviously a talented writer. Some of the passages are breathtaking in their combination of truthfulness, eloquence and nuance. And for these passages, the book is worthwhile. For example: “The parental relationship is supposed to be built upon unconditional love – gifts that cannot be bought and cannot be earned. It sits outside the logic of meritocracy and is the closest humans come to grace. ” When I read this I thought, “Wow. Square on the head.”

He loses me in the very next sentence with this: “But in these cases the pressure to succeed in the Adam I world has infected a relationship that should be operating by different logic, the moral logic of Adam II.” I agree that the relationship has been infected. People have become focused largely on doing, as opposed to suffusing their lives with the act of being. But if your guide to being is framed by morality instead of spirituality, it’s like a fallen souffle. The ingredients are there, but there’s no air. Sometimes the nothingness is the very thing that holds it together. You need both spirituality and morality. If his point is that we have decided it’s only about spirituality at the cost of not teaching morality, he might have one. But if his point is that we used to have souffles all the time because people knew a lot more about the ingredients, I don’t think that’s tenable. I mean, people sucked just as much then, arguably more so.

I think the intention of the book is beautiful and it was a worthy cause. Still, it left me wanting. I found the interpretations in his biographical essays too simplistic, not reflective enough of the complexity in these people’s lives, not to mention societal compounding factors.

In my opinion, my friend Melissa has it better summarized (she is not a published author, nor has she ever been on the New York Times Bestseller list): “Everyone’s a dummy sometimes. And sometimes that dummy is you.” She alternates this with “I hate people.”

I think she might be right. Perhaps all that’s required is the awareness that at any moment, you could be the dummy. That should be enough to keep anyone in line, spiritually and morally.

Announcing…The Book Report

One of my best friends and I have a running joke. She is responsible for informing me on the most notable news stories of the day and I am responsible for abstracting the book I most recently read that is pertinent to our conversation. In that spirit, I decided I would start blogging on the books I am reading, which for the most part are centered around food and diet, but I also, when I am feeling industrious, will read books that are reminiscent of something that would be assigned reading as part of a good liberal arts education. This allows me to feel like I am doing my part to be smart, without making a formal commitment to being smart.

This is not a regular book review, because:

  1. I don’t take myself too seriously, as I do not have a degree in literature and so have no structure with which to make judgments about whether someone’s style is reminiscent of Chaucer. If you are looking for a real review of a piece of literature, this is not it. If you are trying to figure out if you might enjoy something after putting your kids to bed and feeling virtuous that day, this might or might not help you.
  2. I will curse when I damn well feel like it.
  3. Instead of limiting myself to the standard 1000 words that is required from a fourth grade book report, I will write about the book until I am done. And often that’s not 1000 words. Because that’s a lot of words.
  4. I am eliciting feedback – if you have read the book and agree or disagree with me – speak up in the comments section!