So it's official. My New Year's resolution is to read one book a week. The start of the year will be easy because I have a stack of books I've made headway on but haven't finished yet. I've already completed weeks 1 & 2 so here, for your thrill-a-minute reading pleasure, are my first two book reviews.
Week 1: Modern Man In Search of a Soul by Carl Jung, a series of lectures, elaborated into essays and translated from German, on the overall shape of his ideas--particularly as they relate to the intersection of spiritual or religious matters and psychiatry--for the general reader.
Jung's opinion that spiritual and psychiatric matters are deeply related was at odds with the dominant Freudian and Adlerian schools of his time. It's still a minority opinion outside of religious circles. This was one of my dad's books, so I got to see what he underlined in relation to his ministerial vocation.
He spends some time articulating his differences with Freud in particular. Even "light" Jung can be pretty heavy going... I wonder if some of his thought was lost in the translation. Still, certain sentences leapt out at me with a kind of ringing depth that one only gets in the presence of genius. He makes some observations on the creative life that I find salient, about the things one must give up in order to cultivate one's openness to unfettered inspiration.
If I was a real intellectual I would probably re-read this. I'm pretty nerdy for a drummer, but I'm not exactly writing columns for the London Review of Books.
Week 2: The Incurable Wound and further Narratives of Medical Detectionby Berton Roueché , which I found engaging and readable.
This book, written in the 1950s, is separated into chapters, each one dealing with a particular malady, looking at its diagnosis, history, and etiology through the lens of a particular case. He goes into some interesting history on the development of drugs and ideas in medicine, but my favorite parts were the ornate narratives of the patients' experiences when they didn't know what was wrong with them.
One chapter has an interesting history of the identification and treatment of rabies, going all the way back to Democritus (teacher of Hippocrates, he of the Hippocratic Oath) and Galen. Spoiler alert: St. Augustine's influence on the medical profession was a disaster. "All diseases of Christians are to be ascribed to demons." This quote also appears in the beginning of Joyce Carol Oates' The Accursed, my beautiful hardback copy of which I believe I left on an airplane last month, damn it. I love it when a book I'm reading cross-references something I found interesting in another book. The chapter on aspirin in the Roueche book also mentions cinchona bark, which contains quinine, which is used to treat malaria, which, I learned from James Clavell's Tai-Pan, was instrumental in the colonization of Hong Kong. I tend to like books written by doctors. (One of my favorite little curiosities is a book called Ship's Doctor.) Doctors tend to write with appealing specificity. Their opposite would be diplomats, whose writing I generally find frustratingly slippery and insubstantial. I'm thinking the profession one chooses has a profound effect on one's habits of thought
The descriptions of mental conditions are especially intriguing. There's a fellow who goes into an amnesiac fugue state and another who has a manic psychosis because of an excessive prescription of cortisone. Fascinating to me. Both cases involved married men and portrayed their distressing behavior both from their perspectives and those of their families. Fans of Oliver Sachs might like this one.