Read and left unread
A tall stack of books on the floor in my bedroom greets me each morning. The pile, which constitutes a fraction of the titles I can’t seem to find time to read, messes with me. Its very presence creates an exhausting mental condition familiar to most avid readers: guilt. Even the slightest glance at a stack of unread books can dissolve happiness in the life of a usually enthusiastic reader. “Don’t forget how much more you have to read,” a voice whispers from within my stack.
Last month I attacked the bedroom pile. I sat down and plowed through three books in a matter of days. One of them, Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery, by British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, was especially fascinating. With chapter titles like “Haemangioblastoma,” “Neurotmesis,” and “Oligodendroglioma,” who would set the book down? Actually, I happen to have deep appreciation for the neurosurgeons who operated on my wife’s brain after an aneurysm, and for the surgeon in my congregation who once operated on my neck.
Marsh’s account of his profession is intimate, spellbinding, and frightening. He walks the reader through the compassionate attachment he has to patients, and the critical detachment from patients that he believes good surgeons need in order to operate confidently. The book is a confession of sorts, written with what he calls “reckless honesty.” Marsh is wary of his own talent at times and guilt-ridden by his surgical mistakes at other times. “It’s not the successes I remember,” he notes, “but the failures.”