Sunday, February 21, 2010

Jerald Winakur

Jerald Winakur is the author of Memory Lessons: A Doctor's Story.

Earlier this month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Well, I'm reading two books at the moment:

--My wife, Lee Robinson, and I teach part-time at our local medical school, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. I am a geriatrician, she a retired attorney and a poet, and we try to nurture these young doctors-to-be in a "Literature and Medicine" elective each year. I am re-reading, The Doctor Stories by Dr. William Carlos Williams, general practitioner, pediatrician, famous Imagist poet and one incredibly insightful human being. His stories of his encounters with patients during the tough years of the 30s in the tenements of Rutherford, New Jersey are gems of observation, nuance and raw emotion. He shows--like no doctor before or since--the complexities of the doctor-patient bond, how difficult it can be, but how rewarding. Of course, every practicing doctor and every doctor-in-training should read this book. And re-read it. But so should any reader interested in seeing the practice of medicine as it once was--and ought to be again. Some of these stories are tough and disturbing, some even more so. But the honesty shines through--here you see "nothing but the thing itself."

--It has been a hard winter in the Great Plains states and in the Hill Country of Texas where I live, many birds that usually winter much farther north are here at my feeders. One is the Harris's Sparrow--our largest North American sparrow with a handsome black cap and bib and a pink bill. I hadn't seen him in years until last week. The Internet is so marvelous--I Google-searched the bird and learned that his breeding ground is in the far northwest territories of Canada. I also came across this book: Return to Warden's Grove: Science, Desire, and the Lives of Sparrows by Christopher Norment who spent three summers on the breeding grounds of this bird as he worked on his PhD thesis in the early nineties. He is now a professor of environmental science and biology at SUNY Brockport and this book is a joy--an adventure story, incredibly lyrical writing about the far North, a commentary on how we live our lives and what most of us must give up in order to live conventionally. It is a dream song, a love poem, a meditation on life--and I feel it ranks among the best nature writing I have ever read--from Thoreau to Muir to Matthiesson. You will be entranced.
Read the introduction to Memory Lessons, and learn more about the author and his work at Jerald Winakur's website.

--Marshal Zeringue