Archives for posts with tag: books

I come to this book as an outsider. I am a white guy, a Jew, reviewing a volume of African American poetry for black people in Baltimore. I do this because I live in Baltimore, I feel a kinship with African Americans due to our shared history; and I want to know how poetry of different communities works.

This is all the more true because Tariq Touré’s poetry, in this black-and-white volume called “Black Seeds,” is aimed at his community. These are short poems about the state of black Baltimore, about life and death and striving, murder and failure and desperation. Each poem is accompanied on the facing page by an image, often a photo of an African American looking into the camera. The portraits are unadorned, beautiful.

This is 31rwu9z9dl-_sx322_bo1204203200_more than a community – it is an audience before whom the poet is performing. This is a multimedia presentation. It is based on the slam esthetic: each poem ends with a boldfaced title, the performer naming what he has just delivered with a flourish.

There are calls to nationalism:

“I see empires in your furrowed eyebrows” — Nubia

… and prayerful meditations on the self:

“Man is given seconds, yet begs for minutes”–The curious attention span

This is hip-hop on the page, and as such strikes a balance. On the one hand there is rhyme aplenty and anaphora, familiar in any oral tradition; on the other these are verses with plenty of space, cascading down the page, and capital letters to give emphasis. There is a poem Balance about this tension between the weight of history (and literacy) and the present-day of orality (and popular culture):

I have friends
Who sit and Pontificate
Musing over Plans
To leave
More than
A biological imprint
7 generations
Down the stream
Apple headed children
Trip over
Their forefathers & foremothers
On the way to school


I have friends
That have only
For Saturday night

The entire slim volume is balanced on the razor’s edge of this conflict: duties to the self versus duties to one’s people; honoring past martyrs and building bridges to the future impervious to flame.

Indeed, this book is surrounded by flame, fire out of the gunbarrels of police and the torches of protest in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death. One would expect there to be more hate. I don’t read that here, though there is sorrow and rage:

Jim crow’s skeleton
fell out of
a police van
crashed onto the ashen pavement
paraded down Pennsylvania avenue
brutalized the metal cavalry
of pigs
announcing a 100% off sale
the city glowed
as Watts glowed
as Harlem glowed
as Ferguson glowed
for Freddie

Baltimore Power Keg

“Glowing” as candles glow, not burning or flaming as an explosion. The skeleton, zombified, brings multiple sites of tragedy and brutality into redemptive communion.

In the wake of my move to Baltiimore seven years ago, and even more so in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death, I have read more and more (though still not enough) contemporary poetry by African Americans. These poets inhabit a diverse space. Toure’s is not the academic poetry of Terrence Hayes or the pop-culture fueled confessional wit of Saeed Jones. His gifts are in the shared world of oral and written, of street, school, protest, home, and quiet self. I look forward to reading more of him, as he sheds his glow.

Please come and hear me read from Making Sense of Medicine on Tuesday, August 2, at 7pm, at Baltimore’s Ivy Bookshop.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Making Sense of Medicine by Zackary Berger

Making Sense of Medicine

by Zackary Berger

Giveaway ends July 27, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Quinlan blurb 13320987_10154278145634711_5657150635582954309_o Brown blurb DeBronkart blurb Lehmann blurb

1. Catch me at noon at NYU talking ab13315479_10154279615769711_1999091312233455447_nout uncertainty and shared decision making.






2. At 6:30pm 13320987_10154278145634711_5657150635582954309_oat the Sidewalk Bar and Restaurant at 6th and A in Manhattan I’ll be reading from my new book, Making Sense of Medicine. This is part of the Prose Pros reading series.


Uncertainty is a common experience in health care. For an upcoming book and ongoing research project, I want to be in contact with patients, families, and caregivers to learn their strategies for approaching, dealing with, and understanding such uncertainty.L0074969 All in search of health should wear Harness'

For example, Ms. A. has back pain unaccompanied by underlying serious disease. She has no way of knowing whether it will go away in weeks, months, or not at all. She wants an MRI, which accepted evidence indicates will neither aid in treating her pain nor reassure her.

On the one hand, both she and the healthcare provider would like to do “something” as a sign of care; on the other hand, we want to harm neither Ms. A (with tests/procedures that won’t work), nor society (afflicted by a health care system which costs too much, delivers poor care in comparison to other systems, and treats people unequally).

There are many scenarios in which treatment is pursued despite evidence showing it does not work more than placebo. For example, hormone treatment in the patient with local (not metastatic) prostate cancer; repeated CT scans for thyroid nodules without symptoms; treatment of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), mammograms in a patient without significant family history more often than every two years.

How do you as a patient, family member, or caregiver seek the best care in such a situation, where things are uncertain and more tests/procedures might not work? What strategies do you use? What should healthcare providers do? Please be in touch with me to help guide this work. zberger1 at jhmi dot edu

See the presentation below for another depiction of the problem.

How Do You Deal With Uncertainty In Healthcare? from Zackary Berger


I am doing some research for a book I am writing – more details anon, at least if it gets written, finds favor in the eyes of my agent, and turns into a bound-and-published butterfly. Some of the resources I needed were only available in the stacks of the Johns Hopkins medical library. To their credit, rather than turning the huge, high-ceilinged bibliotemple into yet another office complex, or tearing it down for laboratory space, the librarians – sorry, informationists – asked the users what they wanted. “Let’s keep the library,” said the users, “but renovate it.”

I use the library an awful lot, mostly as a route to borrow resources from other libraries (often on medical themes but just as often on Jewish topics, which probably confuses somebody). Usually, the library brings books directly to my office, which for me is the equivalent of lying on a couch in my toga being fed peeled grapes. The delivery guy is as reliable as the mythical appointed couriers of the Post Office, making it to my office with snow-covered boots and a plastic bag full of library holdings.

Last week, I got an email that a book I had requested was already available, so I would not get it delivered. “See Notes,” said the email, and then, on the line below: “See stacks.”

Stacks! I had never ventured into the Welch Library stacks. In previous stages of my career and years of school, I had always spent time among the books when I least needed to. I found it a refuge. When everything is supposedly available at your fingertips, sometimes you need to be lured into a space where you find by serendipity, not by search. But here, I have not made the time, or, more likely, not allowed myself the luxury of wasted time.

A friendly staff person showed me the way: “Go down that hallway. Take the elevator.” Then she flitted away as if she had divulged a secret to me and was worried she might be found out. The elevator was a rickety thing, a banged-up box set on a shaft: “Be kind to the next user and close the gate AND the door!” The inspection certificate, defying my expectations, was up to date.

I found the book I wanted, but the quiet was an added gift: a surround sound version of that stillness found in a conservatory, a botanic garden, a chapel. I browsed a set of an Italian biology journal: glossy pages, full-color illustrations, the work of generations of scientists I would never know and never read.

The variety was luxuriant, rich, and ignored, a buried garden inside the very walls of biomedicine’s fortress. When would the voice of the granting authority find me and cast me out? Where was the flaming sword to guard against intruders?

The security guard smiled on my way out. “Did you find what you needed?”

I nodded, showing her what I could from my brief voyage: a bound book.

My new book, Talking to Your Doctor: A Patient’s Guide to Communication in the Exam Room and Beyond, will be out in July. You can pre-order it now; see the publisher’s page for the table of contents. And if you know any bookstores with good taste in books about health, medicine, and communication, please let me know or send them my way.

TALKING TO YOUR DOCTOR presents the new science of communication to help improve not just your time in the doctor’s office and your own health, but promote the health of your community, guiding our entire health care system toward a humane medicine based on relationships.

The author, Zackary Berger, M.D., Ph.D., is a practicing primary care/internal medicine doctor and an Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where he teaches medical students and residents. He researches doctor-patient communication in the clinic and in the hospital to understand how our health care system can be made more responsive to ordinary people. This book is based on his expertise and the experience of his patients.

The last time you went to your doctor, you might have emerged feeling dissatisfied and disoriented. What did you talk about together, after all? You didn’t ask all the questions you wanted answers to, and you don’t remember everything the doctor told you. What is the plan? How do we get there? Nothing was clear after you left the office, and you don’t know whether it’s your fault or the doctor’s.

Maybe it’s your fault, or the doctor’s fault, or the blame can be laid at the feet of the entire health care system. But that’s beside the point: the important thing is to identify the problem at the root of this experience and take steps to change it. That’s what this book does.

In “Talking to your Doctor,” you’ll:

• Learn how to talk to your doctor – and get your doctor to talk to you
• Discover the science of doctor-patient communication to the lay public
• Remake the relationship with your doctor, and our health care system, on the basis of good communication
• Make sure your visit with the doctor is productive and meets your needs
• Help yourself and others avoid over-testing and over-treatment

The Baltimore Bibliophile, otherwise known as @baltimorebooks or Celeste Sollod (my wife), is starting up a book group which I highly recommend, and I would attend myself if I weren’t with our kids then. She is also heading up a panel at the Baltimore Book Festival, which ditto. Read more about both here

I’m in love with a book – the 1987 Standard Industrial Classification Manual. Let me tell you why.

The SIC is a taxonomy of industries. The current edition, dated 1987, will be the last of a noble line which began in 1941: the publisher, that bestseller factory doing business as the Office of Management and Budget, has replaced this classification with a new system which is now just beginning to sweep aside the old. So it is time to appreciate the Manual while it’s still here.

The names in the SIC are accompanied by the sights and sounds of a world that has only just disappeared over the horizon, a world in which the expansive category of Eating Places (Industry No. 5812) still includes such now-extinct fauna as Automats, Beaneries, Box lunch stands, Frozen custard stands, and Tea rooms – not to mention the still-widespread foursome of Lunch bars, Lunch counters, Luncheonettes, and Lunchrooms (only their dearest friends can tell them apart) and the well-loved twins Pizza parlors and Pizzerias.

Read more of this essay of mine in things 19/20, available for purchase.