What I am Reading: Part I

Just Kids (Patti Smith). This memoir details the close friendship and rise to fame of the author, singer-songwriter Patti Smith, and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.   The pair met in Brooklyn, New York in the late 1960s.  I have to be honest and admit that I only read half the book.   I loved the beginning — a description of an intense romance and friendship where both partners inspire each other to create and explore their artistic depths in a variety of mediums: drawing, painting, poetry, photography, theater and even jewelry making.   The book is also a beautiful description of “starving artists” trying to make money to survive, while maintaining time to devote to their work.  It was interesting to read about lives that are so different from mine (for example, I have never had the experience of going hungry becauseI needed money to buy art supplies), but that I could still strongly relate to, as both Smith and Mapplethorpe are driven by intense passion and dedication to ones work.  But, when the two start to meet iconic people from the late 60s and  photo-22early 70s, I could not follow, and subsequently lost interest.  While I could catch the names like Andy Warhol, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix, there are dozens of other people they meet at the Hotel Chelsea and elsewhere that I just did not know.  And , sadly, understanding and enjoying the book really hinges on this knowledge.

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness (Kay Redfield Jamison). A memoir of life with manic-depressive illness by an expert on the disorder; Kay Redfield Jamison is currently professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins who specializes in mood disorders. Unlike Just Kids, I devoured this book in less than a week.   Redfield describes the highs and lows of being an academic – intensified by the fact that she has manic-depressive disorder.   She details periods of amazingly productive and passionate manias, followed by periods of struggle, depression, and at one point a suicide attempt.  She also discusses how, even as a trained clinician, she was resistant to treatment with Lithium.  Like many patients, she found the drug to be dulling and did not want to stop having manic phases.   Redfield also discusses the experience of being an objective researcher of an illness she herself has and how difficult it was to publicly disclose her illness for fear of how her colleges would react.   This book is deeply personal, very honest and informative.  It is not just as a description of manic depressive disorder, but also of life as an academic.

Next on my list are Touched by Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament (Kay Redfield Jamison) and Naked to the Bone: Medical Imaging in the Twentieth Century (Bettyann Holtzmann Kevles).  I am especially excited about Naked to the Bone.  This book gives a history of a variety of medical imaging modalities (X-rays, CT, MRI and PET and ultrasound imaging), which should provide some historical context around my current area of research.

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