Front Cover Some books enter your life and just kind of take up residence even after you've stopped rereading them.  Brendan Gill's Here at the New Yorker is one for me.  And so is The Blood of Strangers: Stories From Emergency Medicine (1999), by Frank Huyler, an emergency medicine doc in New Mexico, beautifully crafted, mesmerizing stories from his work in hospitals, creative non-fiction of the highest order. (See the below PDF's for an example, three pages of precise brisk prose, with a bacon theme, but not why it's one of my favorites.)

A month ago, I bought this book from Amazon to send to someone and decided to leave a review and also asked the author to write to me if he happened to read the review because I couldn't find contact info. He did, explaining that he was floating around on Amazon because soon he'd have his second novel out, Right of Thirst. I asked to read it. It turned out that we now share the same literary agency and they sent me an uncorrected proof. I've only just now gotten to it, am half through, but want to say that it's a riveting story about a newly widowed doctor who volunteers for relief work in one of the Stans, a cold mountainous otherworld. There's a brilliant passage about an amputation of a young girl's gangrenous leg and an ominous sense that things are about to go very wrong. As with Blood of Strangers the writing is spare and precise, a delight to read. Huyler has a perfect sense of exactly how much information we need and, critically, just how much he can leave out.

But most of all, I want people simply to know about this remarkable writer. I reread Blood of Strangers while I was writing my surgery book, Walk on Water. I used the book to teach non-fiction technique. I read the book to my then ten-year-old daughter who loved it (that's how accessible the writing is). Again, more people ought to know about this excellent physician-writer.

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Ardentspirits.cover Another book that's just out, is Ardent Spirits: Leaving Home, Coming Back, a memoir by Reynolds Price, a protean man of letters, one of the finest American authors working today, and the teacher who gave me the information I'd need to make my living as a writer.  The memoir covers the years Price spent at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and his subsequent return to his North Carolina home to begin his career as a writer and teacher. The book is a delight to read, a must for Anglophiles, an engrossing portrait not only of England in the late 1950s but of an apprentice writer and scholar.

The portrayal of WH Auden is worth the price of admission alone. As is the advice Price got from one of his teachers. When Price asked one of his teachers for advice, the teacher—was it David Cecil?—recalled his own dying mother. Her last words to him were these: "I only regret my economies."  Damn good advice, that.

I would go on to write about my teacher in The New York Times Sunday Magazine (link), not long after he published Kate Vaiden.  While it wasn't a major piece for the Times, it was my first major piece of published writing, and I wouldn't have been able to do it at all, had I not learned from my subject the fundamental skill of sitting down every day and simply getting the work done.

If you love great writing and fine story-telling, Frank Huyler and Reynolds Price are well worth finding.


13 Wonderful responses to “Literary Interlude: Frank Huyler,
Reynolds Price”

  • NWCajun

    Michael, Reynolds Price was recently a guest on The Charlie Rose show. What a fascinating man, Mr Price’s observations are simply wonderful, particularly when delivered with a North Carolina drawl. I would recommend watching the interview if you can get your hands on a copy.

  • Eric Geibel

    Thanks for the recommendations, keep them coming! I am heading back to the states in two weeks and I need to stock up on reading material as books are notoriously expensive here in Oz. Already placed an order for Ratio and Wooden Boats, cannot wait to get my hands on them. I spent my summers in the 1000 Islands and yearly trips to the Antique Boat Museum were a ritual. There is nothing in the world like fishing for Muskie in November out of a Lyman!

  • Natalie Sztern

    I cannot read these books.

    I have many flaws and one of them is that I cannot read books involving health issues and illnesses. Those books cut me to the core so I avoid them; I could not even get past page 2 of your NY Times article…but I know why they printed it and why they continue to print whatever you write…your style has intelligence. With each book I read of yours inevitably there is a word I have to look up in the dictionary and I love that. Not to mention I see pictures when I read your works.

  • Carrie

    I love Reynolds Price. One summer when I was bored I started reading through my small-town library alphabetically, and luckily they had a nice collection of Reynolds Price novels. Nice to see a fellow NC native do well!

    Charles Baxter has to be my current favorite fiction author. Read Feast of Love – it will knock your socks off.

  • Kate in the NW

    I just love that you cook AND read. If you lived closer, I’d invite you and the fam to dinner. Take-out, of course…. 😉

    Thanks for the recommendations. Too bad that if we buy any more books out house will collapse (you think I’m kidding… we sold 3 bags of books today in part because the floors were sagging. And cooking well isn’t helping that…LOL)!

    We’ll send the contractor bill to you!

  • Kate in the NW

    Yeah…soooo…that was meant to be “OUR house”, not “out house”. So much for commenting after a fat glass of good Pinot Noir…

    We DO have indoor plumbing, even out here on the NW frontier…no need for outhouses.

  • Natalie Sztern

    kate isn’t it great when ‘you’ (we,us..) write a comment we consider relative and then post it only to go back and re-read it to find a typing mistake giving a new connotation to our comment.

  • luis

    If you ask me bro…. a book that is the book of the century is David Kesslers book.
    David Kesslers book ” The end of overeating” is the book that can heal America’s weight problem. And America has a problem with their weight.
    I can’t say enough about the great job David Kessler has done AGAIN!!! This is the same guy that took on big tobacco.
    This guy is a regular American hero. But it is all falling through the cracks…Doctors eyes glaze over… when discussed with… and sure there is no money to be made from a healthy population…. Do we really know who our heroes are?

  • Julie

    Curse you Ruhlman…just when I’ve resolved not to buy any more books until I work through my bookcase…

  • Carol

    Thank you for the wonderful recommendations. I’m another of the folks with straining bookshelves and am trying to concentrate on e-books (goodness, I love my Kindle). I’ve just purchased all of the books you mentioned that are available in the Kindle edition. I hope the rest become so soon.

    Please ask your publisher to offer Walk on Water for the Kindle.