My thirst for good reads continued in 2015, and among them, two stand out for special praise in providing me with pleasure, insight, and continuing reflection. (I’ve reviewed both more fully elsewhere in Brimmings.)
Fiction: John Williams. Stoner (New York Review of Books Classics)
My choice is probably subliminal and inevitable, as not since David Copperfield have I identified with a fictional character so fully as with Stoner, having like him, been a professor of English for several decades, thus familiar with academic intrigue and its pettiness; even more, having, like Stoner, endured a previous incompatible marriage that served neither of us well. But aside from the personal, Stoner has also been the favorite novel of professors across the years, according to a recent article. And why not, since it excels not only for its verisimilitude, but its superlative craft of nuanced, rhythmic sentences replete with stylistic discipline made potent through understatement; in short, easily one of the best written novels I’ve come upon.
In his forty-third year William Stoner learned what others, much younger, had learned before him: that is the person one loves at first is not the person one loves at last, and that love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another.
Non-Fiction: Oliver Sacks: On the Move: A Life
Sacks, renowned as both a neurologist on the cutting edge and cogent observer of the eccentric manifestations of the brain’s malfunctionings in his many books, wrote this memoir in the final months of his terminal illness from cancer. As such, it startles with its wisdom and bravery; even more, in its honesty about himself in measuring the successes and shortcomings of his life journey, delivered with verbal beauty uncommonly found among scientists.
This gave me a feeling of what seemed wrong with American medicine, that it consisted more and more of specialists. There were fewer and fewer primary care physicians, the base of the pyramid. My father and my two older brothers were all general practitioners, and I found myself feeling not like a super-specialist in migraine but like the general practitioner these patients should have seen to begin with.