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.

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Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.

Pastoral

When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).