The Soul of Medicine

If you find yourself having more dealings with your insurance company than your doctor, you may grow wistful reading Sherwin Nuland's latest. In The Soul of Medicine, the How We Die author, a practicing surgeon for more than 30 years, collects stories from colleagues describing their most memorable patients. He alters identifying details and presents them in the style of The Canterbury Tales ("The Gastroenterologist's Tale," "The Nephrologist's Tale"), following many with his own commentary. Most of the episodes occurred decades ago, giving the book a distinctly nostalgic tone. Nuland recognizes this, writing of today's practitioners, "Though some appear to ignore or be unaware of it, all physicians have a pastoral role in the care of each patient entrusted to them. They should be guides, wise counselors, and medical advocates." Still, the book makes for fascinating reading: from the dramatic (the surgical resident who discovers a patient's chest is filled with fecal matter, the result of a perforated colon) to the mundane (the dermatologist who painstakingly determines that a patient's shampoo is the cause of an unsightly rash), each chapter illuminates the intricacies of diagnosis and treatment. And Nuland's writing, as ever, is thoughtful and elegant, as in his description of the work of geriatricians, who "treat their patient like a fine old engraving, a line of which may have significance that would be overlooked were it not observed so carefully." Newbies in the field would do well to read this book, full of the moments of grace that such scrupulous observation can yield.

April 17: "In less than three years, both GM and Chrysler would be bankrupt, and a resurgent Ford would wow Wall Street..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.