I write weekly book reviews for The Daily News and am therefore entitled to call myself a literary critic — in the very same way a janitor is entitled to call himself a maintenance engineer.
Partly because of that, and partly because they are just thoughtful people, friends and colleagues sometimes send me books they have written.
No one has ever sent me a fat, expensive medical book; my buddies mostly send me little books they have written, having nothing to do with medicine.
They don’t send them so I will review them, though I don’t think they would object if I did. They send them because they want me to know something about them that I might not have known otherwise. In addition, they are, like every writer, a little bit vain.
A classmate from medical school sent me his privately published book about the ranch he lives on, having retired from the practice of internal medicine.
He tells interesting historical tales about how the ranch changed through the years, how the lakes were formed, how the main house was built, how much fun it is to catch fish. He also spends an unusual amount of time explaining the ecology of the place, but one need not read everything with the same amount of satisfaction.
A former fellow in our department sent me a book of his poems, mostly love poems. Most of them don’t rhyme and aren’t intended to, but all of them are full of passion and feeling and reveal an aspect of the writer’s character and personality I had not previously understood. I would not have guessed that he would have written such moving expressions of affection.
A fellow resident in radiology the year I started (1956) sent me a copy of his book, and I learned for the first time of his adventures as an infantryman in World War II. He told of harrowing incidents, of fellow soldiers lost, people I never knew, people important to my friend. I didn’t know he had been through such travail.
A friend in another department sent me his book on head injuries, and I did review it for the newspaper. It was not a book about treating head injuries but about their importance and the importance of vigorous rehabilitation, unfortunately often not achieved. This was a scholarly work from my erudite friend and magnified the high opinion of him I had always held.
Thomas Mann said “A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
Every one of us tries to write something, but people entitled to be called writers work at it harder and may indeed find it more difficult than the rest of us. I hope that doesn’t discourage anyone from trying.
My life has been enriched by reading the things written by my friends and acquaintances, things often far removed from their everyday experiences. In a way, writing about things other than our daily work liberates us to find the poet and philosopher that may be lurking beneath the surface of the physician, lawyer, scientist. This is a way of acknowledging and repaying my indebtedness to them.