:::this is the way the world ends:::

Mountains Beyond Mountains

I just finished a book called Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. It was one of the best books I have read, mostly because of its amazing subject, Dr. Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health.

Sometimes I feel that comments and recommendations on what I’ve read are of little consequence, but I have to say that the book and the life it is a testament to are some of the most challenging affronts I have faced recently. I am tempted to quote some passages that I feel might be challenging, but I resist that urge due to how I feel quotes have been misinterpretted in the past, which I supposed is an inevitable problem with taking something out of context.

I imagine some of you have heard of Paul Farmer, but for those of you who have not, he is a leading expert of infectious diseases (particularly AIDS, TB, and Malaria), has written extensively on the relation of epidemics and pandemics to social and economical conditions in countries with extreme poverty. He has started and still maintains a clinic in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The book is inspiring and flabbergasting at the same time.

I also read the Language of God, by Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project. I am still awaitng an ordering mess-up with the Moral Animal; so I think I am moving on to The Brief History of the Dead.


  1. Shotts

    Thanks, Ned. I think your comments here about what your reading are quite valuable, so no need to question that.

    Thanks for the report on Mountains beyond Mountains. I have heard it is terrific. I haven’t read any of Kidder’s books, and would like to, so I’m glad to have this recommendation from you.

    I’m glad to hear you’re moving on to The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier. It is an excellent extended metaphor on memory, in intriguing and surprising ways. It’s a novel that made me think about all the people I come into contact with, and how we all shape our lives. It also, perhaps most of all, made me wonder about why we often tend to remember most vividly the terrible moments in our lives–the embarrassments and conflict–more than the triumphs. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

    I just finished Michael Ondaatje’s new novel, titled Divisadero. It is elliptical, and it’s a novel that you have to read slowly to take in the gorgeous language but also the very subtle connections and reverberations among the characters and different historical circumstances of its characters. I’ve read pretty much everything Ondaatje has written, prose and poetry, and while this new one probably didn’t quite fully hit me the way that The English Patient and In the Skin of a Lion did, it is still one of the best reads I’ve had for a while. I highly recommend it.

    OK, I admit, I’m really waffling about what to pick up next–I have lots of options on my bookshelf. But I admit I’m tempted to pick up the first Harry Potter book, just to finally put it all to rest. We’ll see what wins out.

  2. Pete

    I was struck by your observation that we tend to “tend to remember most vividly the terrible moments in our lives–the embarrassments and conflict–more than the triumphs.” I don’t believe that this has to be the case. I think we dwell on those things perhaps when we don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to do something different with them. EMDR, for example, a therapy I am qualified to practice, would suggest that memories are stored in certain ways, in neural networks until your brain has an opportunity to process them. Sometimes, we get stuck in the processing. My own experience with this supports that negative and embarrassing experiences can be diminished. I can elaborate in conversation if you are interested. Google EMDR and do some research. This is the preferred treatment and empirically supported treatment for Post-traumatic stress disorder. http://www.andrewleeds.net has a pretty good layman’s explanation of the process last time I checked. Another therapy model I work from is Narrative therapy which comes out of Michael White’s work in Australia. Truly here, this is a re-storying of lives. http://www.dulwichcentre.com.au would be a good resource for those interested in some of the techniques there. I think you can train yourself to understand your reality versus that of the dominant discourse and can seek “islands of competence”. Embarrassment has power if we choose to empower it. Narrative practice would also place some emphasis on finding people to surround ourselves with who are supportive of us and to some degree getting our sense of identity and self from this. very cool stuff.

  3. Shotts

    Most of us remember our embarrassments and certainly negative moments in our lives. This is certainly true for one of the characters in THE BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DEAD, which is the novel Ned is reading and which I was talking about. And in the context of the novel, imagine if you’re dead and remembering these negative things. There’s a sub-theme in the novel around this, and the idea that we ultimately become the memories that others have of us–at least temporarily. I think the book is an extraordinary extended metaphor for how our memories influence who we are and how memory keeps the dead alive.

    I guess I was writing more about the novel, since Ned is reading it now, so I would recommend it to you, Peters. I agree that it doesn’t have to be the case that we most vividly remember negative experiences, but unfortunately, I think that is mostly true for many of us. One of the less central characters has, indeed, empowered these negative experiences, and by remembering them, keeps those people who hurt him “alive” in some sense.

    Thanks for your information about the therapy techniques, however.

  4. Ned

    Here’s the Partners in Health website. http://www.pih.org

  5. Tobias

    I’m looking forward to reading The Brief History of the Dead also, I promptly checked it out from our local library after returning from Minnesota. I haven’t gotten very far into it, but it’s well worth it so far. Also, when I got the book from the library, I remembered seeing the cover before and being really interested in it. Thanks for pulling me back to it, Shotts.

  6. Shotts

    I hope you enjoy it, Tob. Great that you and Ned are both reading it. It does have a compelling cover and design.

  7. Pete

    I like the concept of being the person others remember us as. I would suspect we remember our departed in a favorible way.

  8. Ned

    I visited the websites you posted above. I realize that I am probably not the person you hoped to interest the most from our group, but I have a question about EMDR that the website doesn’t have specifics on.

    When it says it uses dual images or concurrent sounds, what does this mean? Are they concrete visuals, or does image refer to more of an experience? If they are concrete images, how are the dual images presented. It compared this process to REM sleep. I inferred from the site that it is understood that we work out psychic problems in our dreams. How common a held belief is this?

  9. Ned

    Here’s a powerful article by Paul Farmer. Kidder’s book continues to unsettle me and remain in the forefront of my mind.


  10. Pete

    Ned- glad to hear that you followed up with the sites I posted. Another you might look at for EMDR information is http://www.EMDR.com. Truth is, that as convenient an explanation that the REM theory is, it is just that, a theory. There is no real solid explanation about what is going on at a neuro-biological level. Of course, the same is true for most therapies in general. We can support through empirical testing that they are effective, though we just don’t understand all of the mechanisms at play. Same was true for penicillan(sp?) for a number of years. We are getting closer to understanding it though. The research does support the use of bi-lateral stimilation, but I am not convinced that this does not necessarily act as a “disrupter” as one focuses on an image or thought, or body sensation. That as it is difficult to focus on the calming and distracting movements it reforms the memory one has. It is pretty strange stuff, though, often memories are stored as body sensations for example. One of my colleagues had a client who re-experienced the physical sensations of a sexual abuse when this was done a couple of weeks ago. You also never know what distant or forgotten memories might be connected in some way to the current distressing image. My own experience with EMDR being done was strange and fulfilling to say the least. I think we are at an infancy with understanding brain development and the resulting effects of it all. I am fascinated by Bruce Perry’s work on Neuro-sequential development. Basically, and I think this supports what we do believe we know about disruptions in child development contributing to long-term problems such as reactive attachment disorder or oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder; but what his research is showing is that the brain develops sequentually. When needs are not met via certain types of interactions, certain brain developments do not occur. Some of what he is suggesting is that before psychotherapy is of use, one may have to go back to the missing components and engage for a period of time in activities that would develop those components, actually altering brain structures or rewiring its current functioning. I think the lines between what is medical and what is mental are clearly blurring more and more and it is of some use to think of them as intertwined. Anyway, thanks for the interest, I hope this steers you where you are looking to go. If you have more questions, let me know. Also, thanks for reading the NVC book. I wasn’t sure initially how to take your initial response. It is hard to guage a genuine nature in words. so, i owe you a “well-played” also. Thanks again, I hope your summer break has been restful and your book is coming along well. Cheers.

  11. Ned

    Louis MacNeice has this great poem called “Soap Suds” in which an unexpected encounter with a particular soap scent that he remembers from his grandmother’s house triggers a whole series of thoughts and emotions. I suppose this is very much what you’re referencing when you said people store memories in sensations. You should read it. I like a lot of MacNeice’s work and this is an especially famous poem.

  12. Pete

    Of the senses, smell is one that is often described as highly linked to memory. I appreciate your recommendation. I will put it on the list. jp

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