Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why do we read sad stories?

I just finished reading My Own Country, Abraham Verghese's first book. Verghese is best known for his recent New York Times bestseller Cutting for Stone.

It's another exceptional read. Dr. Verghese chronicles his early years practicing medicine in Johnson City, Tennessee. His specialty is infectious diseases and this is 1985, when AIDS was just reaching from big cities to small towns. Verghese, a newly married, Ethiopian-raised Indian doctor, struggles to fit in and the parallel is easily drawn to his patients, who find themselves shunned by other physicians and the community as a whole as they've come home to die. The great empathy he has for his patients, as well as his diagnostic skills and brilliance at putting words on the page, makes this a memoir I didn't want to end.

You'd think that the subject matter would make the book a downer. But, even though we know upfront that all these people will die, Verghese manages to weave a beautiful, poignant story of the people, the culture, the beauty of the region and his quest to save lives and ease pain.

Why do we read books such as these? A Thousand Splendid Sons and The Kite Runner were horrific. Tweak and Beautiful Boy were scary in the "Lord, please don't let my kid ever get near meth sort of way". Unbroken takes gruesome suffering to a new level. It's easily been two decades since I read The Prince of Tides yet one disturbing scene remains with me, still.

Is this akin to watching a train wreck?

1 comment:

That's Moi! said...

OK - you're going to laugh - but you know what I'm reading right now...The Gospel According to Coco Chanel - Life Lessons from the World;s Most Elegant Woman.