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Volume 2, Issue 2
Summer 2006:

From an Ample Nation

Robert A. Norman

Cell 2 Soul. 2006 Summer; 2(2):a14

  1. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
  2. Kundera dives deep into the personal ambitions of a doctor and explores the boundaries and restrictions of the medical life in turbulent political times.

  3. The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
  4. How we can let hubris and mistakes take over and ruin our lives.

  5. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
  6. Patience.

  7. The Body Silent: The Different World of the Disabled by Robert F. Murphy
  8. Simply the most incredible personal medical memoir I've read. He was 48 years old, a professor of anthropology at Columbia University, and he developed a spinal cord tumor that eventually resulted in quadriplegia.

  9. The Practice // Autobiography by William Carlos Williams (or any of his work)
  10. The day-to-day world and life of a physician-writer that many of us strive to emulate. I always think of him typing his poems and stories after a day making house calls and seeing patients.

  11. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  12. Good vs. evil, inside each of us and out in the world where we journey.

  13. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  14. I love this book mostly because it awoke my desire to read at a young age. Although we read his work in school, I remember reading Dickens in books borrowed from the bookmobile, the mobile library that stopped each week a couple blocks away from my house during the summer. If not for that vehicle with a belly of books, I would have had far fewer adventures rolling around in my mind over the long, hot summers.

  15. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  16. My parents met at nine years old in a Jewish orphan home in Cleveland, Ohio. I never had much of an extended family and built up an interior world early on. The Holocaust always brings me to tears, and I think about how many people we would have known and how different the world would be right now if not for this horror. I love reading diaries of all kinds, but her precocious sensitivity and tragic end is the ultimate cautionary tale on man's inhumanity against man.

  17. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
  18. The eccentricity of the characters. I think of them all the time when spending moments with my patients. I wonder how some of the patients fit in the local community or how they live on the edges of society.

  19. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  20. The ultimate struggle of ego and the battles of the self.


  • The Dictionary
  • The Bible
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Birthmark
  • Billy Collins: Sailing Alone Around the Room (poetry)
  • Charles Simic: The World Doesn't End (poetry)

I love the dictionary and can spend time just paging through it and drinking in the words. The Bible, although confusing with all the characters, is the springboard for so many other stories. I love almost all of Hawthorne, but in particular The Birthmark because it focuses in on our persistent and often frivolous quest for perfection. Poetry has always captured my soul. I enjoy the humor of Collins and the prose magic of Simic.

In late 2005, the editors of Cell 2 Soul and Dermanities launched a new section, "Why Read? — Personal Canons," which is a forum to catalog those works of art which instruct and enrich us as care givers and individuals. We invited some friends, colleagues and teachers to share those they deem canonical — books, poems, the occasional movie to which they keep returning.

The background for these selections is found in a recent editorial entitled: Why Read? An Emerging Canon.

We welcome your Personal Canon. Please click on Canon Guidelines. Kindly follow the format you see here.

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