The Doctor Is In ... the Fiction Room!
I’ve just finished reading the lush, lyrical Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, MD, which seamlessly weaves together the experience of being a physician with a compelling family story. Besides laying out fascinating details of illness and surgical procedures (at times more than I could stomach), the book got me to wondering how many other authors are trained as physicians, and why they choose to depart from their professional training to write books.
As it turns out, there is a long literary tradition of doctors writing fiction. A few of the classics are Anton Chekhov, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mikhail Bulgakov, John Keats, and W. Somerset Maugham. (Who knew?) There is also a long and growing list of modern examples. Tess Gerritsen, author of the Rizzoli & Isles suspense series (now also a hit show on TNT), was a successful internist before she became a novelist. Along with fellow doctor-turned-author Michael Palmer, Gerritsen has led workshops for doctors who want to become writers. She states in her blog that often doctors have a hard time accepting that writing is hard work, and it doesn’t always come naturally “for people who’ve been educated in the hard facts of science. They wanted formulas. They expected algorithms. They don’t like this “you’ll know it when you feel it” stuff.”
So why do doctors become authors? Some, like Gerritsen, wanted to write before they became authors. “I was a writer long before I became a doctor,” she says. Others, like Ethan Canin, author of America America, believe that there is a strong connection between the two professions; one inspires the other. Doctors are exposed to extraordinary, life-changing events in their medical work, which becomes great fodder for good stories. They see the human experience in ways that are not often revealed to the rest of us, and books are a great way for them to share what they know.
Whatever their motivation, doctor-authors present us with challenging, emotionally charged tales, whether or not they actually involve medicine. Like many of our library patrons, I was moved and challenged by Cutting for Stone, and I’m eager to read more of what these writers have to offer. Here are some contemporary doctor-authors and books I’d like to try. If you read any of these, let me know what you think!
Chris Adrian, The Children’s Hospital
Ethan Canin, America America
Michael Crichton, Pirate Latitudes
Tess Gerritsen, Harvest
Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
Vincent Lam, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures
Daniel Mason, The Piano Tuner
Michael Palmer, The Sisterhood