Books for Christmas

On the first day of Christmas my bookshop sent to me 12 books to help maintain the art of medicine

  1. Cutting for Stone Abraham Verghese 2010 Published by Vintage 

Several friends recommended this book. Set in Ethiopia, the story follows the lives of the doctors and staff at ‘Missing’, a mission hospital. The book’s main focus is on the complexities of family, but there is a fascinating medical theme that runs throughout the book. It entertains and educates. It would make a great Christmas present for any practicing or prospective doctor.

  1. 21 Lessons for the 21stCentury Yuval Noah Harari 2019 Published by Vintage

If you have not read the first two books in this series, ‘Sapiens, a brief history of humankind’ and ‘Homo Deus, a brief history of tomorrow’, then you will have a long reading list. The author’s books are eloquent and informative. He is one of the great thinkers of our time. His narrative make complex issues interesting and thought provoking. All three books have the potential to  improve our understanding about what it is to be human. The lessons in this book include the subjects of work, community, truth and education.

  1. Grief is the thing with feathers Max Porter 2015 Published by Faber and Faber 2015

Until I read this book, I did not appreciate that a crow features in the mythology of many cultures and is often used as a metaphor to signify dying.

This book is not an easy read, both with regard to its style and its content. Some of the poems in the story make you catch your breath. The way in which the author tells the story of death and loss is both powerful and beautiful.

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee First published 1960

I first read this at school. Analysing the sentence structure, characters and themes destroyed the beauty and important messages in this book. I read it again this year. It’s amazing how much you can learn about racism and ethics from a short story told through the eyes of a child.

  1. The Optician of Lampedusa Emma Jane Kirby 2016 Published by Allen Lane

No one expects to suddenly find themselves in the midst of an international disaster, and to be forced to take heroic action to save lives. This book is written by a BBC Journalist who tells the story of an optician and his friends who unintentionally sail into the path of a sinking migrant ship heading from North Africa to Lampedusa. The book is important as it tells a very personal story from the perspective of the rescuers, who become secondary victims in this tragic event.

  1. Also Human, The Inner Lives of Doctors Caroline Elton. 2018 Published by William Heinemann

This book is so important that I am going to keep recommending it until everyone I know has read it!

Dr Caroline Elton is a psychologist, who for over 20 years has listened to doctors talk about the impact their work has had on their lives. She uses her knowledge to examine the experience of working as a doctor in 21stcentury medicine.

It’s not often I quote the Daily Mail but it reviewed Elton’s book and said, ‘Doctors are people, too. They possess the same virtues, faults, fears and desires of the rest of us but it’s easy for patients to forget this obvious truth. Caroline Elton’s revelatory book is a welcome reminder of this’. Elton, like most doctors I know might not be able to suggest quick fixes to reduce the workload of doctors, but her book should prompt all doctors and staff to show kindness, support and understanding to colleagues.

  1. The Uncommon Reader Alan Bennett 2017 Published by Faber and Faber

A great stocking filler. This is a delightful short story about our Queen and her discovery of the mobile library that visits Buckingham Palace. Alan Bennett is his usual masterful self as he captures our Queen’s intimate thoughts and feelings. The Queen’s life is transformed by her newfound passion for reading. It’s such a fun read and reminded me that the Queen is also human.

When Chris Smith was culture secretary, he made several speeches about the importance of libraries. He said, “Libraries are the cornerstone of cultural life, but they are so much more than bricks and mortar. They are the bridge to another world, the platform for art accessible to all, they provide a platform for self-development, a gateway to knowledge and a catalyst for the imagination.”

Why not pop into your local library, meet the staff, and borrow this book for Christmas?

  1. Fly in the Ointment Ann Fine 2008

This fell off the shelf in Oxfam into my hands. Anne Fine was always one of my children’s favourite authors, with titles like ‘Bill’s new frock’ they were entertaining. This story is a short and easy read, but the subject matter is anything but light. The book’s story focuses on the impact of parental drug and alcohol addiction on a child and his grandmother. It made me more aware of the impact of adverse childhood events on a child’s future wellbeing.

  1. No One is Too Small to Make a Difference Greta Thunberg 2019 Published by Penguin

I bought this at Gatwick airport and read it on my flight to a family holiday. In this context it was not a comfortable read. Greta makes her concerns about climate change clear and loud with great impact.

  1. Rest – Why you get more done when you work less Alex Soojung-Kim Pang 2017 Published by Penguin Life

Another non-fiction book, but a perfectly read for Christmas. A book that reminds you of the importance of doing activities that detach you completely from work. The author highlights the key new research that explains why we should value rest and sleep.

There are two quotes in the book that captured my imagination.

“It is neither wealth nor splendour, but tranquillity and occupation, which gives happiness.”

“If sleep does not form some vital function it is the biggest mistake evolution ever made”

  1. Half of a Yellow Sun Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie  2007 Published by Harper

I read this book and watched the film in an effort to understand the cultural background of the many Nigerian doctors who have chosen to enter specialist training in the UK. Growing up in the 70s, I remember the famine in Ethiopia and heard about Biafra. I would be really interested to hear from our Nigerian trainees if they feel this book is an accurate representation of their country and culture. If not, what would paint a more accurate picture?

  1. Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialised World David Epstein 2019 Published by Pan Macmillan

And finally, this book is on my Christmas list. It was recommended by Dr David Ross who delivered the Calman Lecture at the ‘Developing Excellence in Medical Education Conference’ earlier this month.

Sounds like a perfect book for a GP, to celebrate their broad interests and skills.

Happy reading!