October Reading List

Here’s the next edition of my reading list.

It’s a short list of the books I’ve been reading with my first impressions attached to them. I prefer first impressions to reviews because I don’t know how to do reviews without making them sound forced.

If my reading stays regular, it’ll be every two months. I like it.

Here’s the August Reading List.

  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This book is a thriller. 

A “how on earth is she manipulating my feelings like this?” thriller.

The characters were crafted extremely well and their relationships were even better. I could dislike them without disliking the author for making them that way. Which is surprisingly difficult given how many times I’ve stopped reading a book because I didn’t like the main character (It happened with Dark Places by Flynn. I stopped reading that to start Gone Girl). My only wish was that Nick was as nuanced as Amy.

It’s the type of book I’d recommend to someone who wants to pick up the reading habit again but hasn’t found anything engaging to read.

Slightly relevant but mostly irrelevant story: I was in Subway with the book and the woman taking my order started talking to me about it saying it’s the next book on her list. I said it was great, she said it’s great I’m enjoying it. I finished paying. She said “enjoy your food”. I said “you too”.

We’re getting married next summer.

Amazon.

  • Complications by Atul Gawande

It’s remarkably easy to assume that doctors know best and more importantly that they won’t make mistakes. If a mistake is made, it’s a national horror and doctors should shriek at any patient even named Sue.

The veil of perfection is taken down but not in a way that makes me fear going to hospital. If I just looked at the statistics given in the book, I’d assume that medicine is doomed forever because so many mistakes are made. The surrounding discussion about why they happen and how we can work on decreasing their number and importance turns it into a textured exploration of the surgical profession.

Some doctors are bad apples and fully deserving of their malpractice lawsuits but the vast majority aren’t. Many mistakes are a consequence of simply being humans who work under pressure.

The discussions in the book were all very helpful and entertaining (the whole book isn’t about mistakes). The ones I found most useful were about chronic pain (for obvious reasons) and the doctor/patient relationship.

There’s a similar book I’ve read about errors called Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz. It’s more to do with error than Complications but it’s still a very good read.

Amazon.

  • The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

A book literally about checklists.

How does a topic like this end up being so interesting? I don’t know. But it is.

He surveyed the success of checklists over different professions starting with the aviation industry to construction to finance – It’s crammed with examples of their successes. Pilots begin to work as teams rather than depending on one pilot and avert disasters because they don’t need to rely purely on memory in an environment primed for panic. Construction workers solve problems with greater efficiency and success. Finance experts can make better decisions about what to invest in and what to avoid.

A simple checklist clears up cognitive space and catches avoidable mistakes.

Gawande talks about this because he aimed to increase their use within medicine and surgery. We find that, although checklists are simple, creating them can be complicated. They need to be tested frequently and updated. They need to hold vital information yet be easy to read. A lot of work goes into creating an efficient checklist so, for me, there was a lot to learn.

It was an entertaining and helpful read. About bloody checklists!

Amazon.

  • Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

What matters at the end of life?

Often asked in the context of ethical discussions about euthanasia but Gawande’s focus here differs wildly from such discussions.

For the person in the final stages of their life, what matters to them? 

Being Mortal focuses on these final stages of life and explains that we’ve been viewing it as a medical problem for too long. Medicine has progressed to the stage where we can keep people alive for much longer but whether that is needed or even important is rarely asked. It’s generally assumed that, unless one is in extreme pain, people want to live longer so why even discuss any alternatives?

Do we have to trade personal fulfilment for safety? The first answer that comes to your head is probably no. But it happens frequently when we send our parents to nursing homes and assisted living centres. This isn’t an attack on people who send their parents to places like this because assuming large care responsibilities at an age, where many have children themselves, is incredibly difficult. Rather, it brings light on how we can keep people safe without making them feel like slaves who aren’t allowed cookies and effectively ending the control they have over their lives. Health clearly isn’t the most important thing for most people, nor does it need to be.

If people are to keep control of their own lives, their endings matter.

There’s a lot to take from this book and I can’t do justice to it here. If you enjoyed The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, pick up Being Mortal. Dr. Gawande expresses the same care for his patients as Dr. Sacks did.

If you’re to read one book from this list, start with this one.

Amazon.

Honourable mentions:

Armageddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut (Favourites: Vonnegut’s speech, Great Day, Happy Birthday 1951, Just You and Me, Sonny, The Commandant’s Desk)

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

A Final Note: 

Yes, I love Atul Gawande.

Yes, I want to read Better by Atul Gawande.

No, I’m not actually getting married.

If you have any books to recommend, please share your recommendations :)


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