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23 May 2011


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OH yea! Today is Book Menage. (Will have to go update my post for today to point here...)
1. I chose to read the Nuland book because it was shorter. I love nonfiction and was ready to learn more background to Semmelweis before reading the fiction version.
2. I do think knowing more about Semmelweis, his discovery and how he did/didn't 'market' his findings was important to know why he felt as he did in The Birth of Love. I think I would have been a bit more confused in the historical fiction story if I didn't know what all he endured before his being committed.
3. I read a review from a male reader on The Birth of Love that expressed how he didn't think the title was appealing and I, too, might have thought it was a New Age memoir if I hadn't had it presented in the Book Menage intro post.
4. I am more interested in learning more about history of science and medicine than before. And I have placed more books written by Kavenna on my tbr. I thought she executed it well; very creative.
Thanks for asking my question. It's always curious how expectations and prior knowledge can affect the reading experience.

Hooray for Book Menage! Boooo for me being behind on my second book! However, away we go:

1. Which book did you choose to read first, and why?
I read The Doctor's Plague because I knew Semmelweiss was a character in The Birth of Love so I thought background on him would be helpful and interesting.

2. Do you think the order in which you read the books affected your experience of them?* I'm sure it will, you know, once I've finished The Birth Of Love. Knowing the truth about someone's life will certainly make reading a fictionalized account of it more interesting. Compare and contrast and whatnot.

3. How do you think men and women would react differently to these books? Do you think men would read them, based on their subject matter? I think any man interested in science would read The Doctor's Plague. Jury's still out on The Birth Of Love.

4. Were you more interested in this subject after you read these books, or was that "more than quite enough, thank you"?
Oh definitely already more interested. I'm always more interested in topics if I've read about them and the writing was well done and put out there in an interesting way. I think it's fascinating.

Will be reading The Birth of Love at lunch and tonight when I get home. Perhaps we can discuss The Doctor's Plague first this week? ;)

Yay, Care and Beth, thanks so much for starting things off!

Care, I got a charge out of the "shorter" comment. Given the choice, I always read shorter books.
I thought your answer about the male reviewer for TBOL was interesting on many levels--first, because you went to read reviews of these books (I confess I didn't) and also because of his reaction. I wonder if any men have read this novel (or anything by Kavenna) and why. And I'm so glad you found both of these books interesting enough to further pursue the subjects/authors.

I'm on my second read for TBOL, but I confess I'm not all the way through it again yet either. We'll start with the Nuland tomorrow. I also liked your comments about knowing someone's life always enriching/informing the stories: on the surface, I think that's true, but I really enjoyed TBOL without having read TDP for a long time (although I was familiar with the basic life story of Semmelweis). I think sometimes I like to go to biographical fiction "fresh," without knowing so much of the life story.

Thanks CR for making the Ménage possible!

1. I read “The Doctor’s Plague” first, only because it was made available to me first. If both books had been available at the same time, I probably would have read “The Birth of Love” first, since it is fiction.

2. Yes, certainly reading “The Doctor’s Plague” first gave me insight to “the Moon” segments of “The Birth of Love” that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

3. Tough call. Possibly women readers would be more outraged at the arrogance of the 19th century doctors chronicled in “The Doctor’s Plague”, since it is very easy to place yourself in the shoes of those women who suffered and died. You know, “there but for the grace of god…”.

Honestly, the Kavenna title put me off! And even just reading the back cover summary, I would never have read it were it not for the Ménage.

4. That was just enough, thanks. Some of “The Doctor’s Plague” definitely grossed me out and I not much of a science reader. I didn’t “love” either book. However, like Care, I would be interested in possibly reading more of Kavenna’s books.

"I wonder if any men have read this novel (or anything by Kavenna) and why."

For a very positive review by a man of "The Birth of Love" go to http://savidgereads.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/the-birth-of-love-%e2%80%93-joanna-kavenna/. Savidgereads liked the book a lot more than I did, although he too said that the title put him off a bit as well.

Great comments so far! I'm excited about this book menage.

I read "The Birth of Love" first, because I didn't think I would enjoy it as much as "The Doctor's Plague," and I was right.

I was so captivated by the first chapter of the historical part of "The Birth of Love," that I wanted to know more about this man which segued well into the second book! I also thought the historical fiction was the best part of the book.

I don't think I could talk my husband into reading "The Birth of Love" especially since the hardcover has a photograph of a very pregnant woman. I'm not sure he could relate to it as much as a woman could, and to tell you the truth, since I don't have children, there were parts of it that I kind of went through quickly.

I went through the Nuland's bibliography and will take a look at the "popular" books he noted. I'll have to read about Kavenna's other books before I request them.

Yes, that's how I read most of my books too: whatever order in which they arrive.
Your answer to #3, about women's righteous indignation, is an interesting point. I wondered if women wouldn't like TDP because it is just too close a story to birth issues that many women have to (still) deal with. I'm particularly thinking here of arrogant doctors who treat you like a piece of meat. I've had good doctors, really, but I always feel like I'm just a body part on a slab to them. (I'd hate to see how I'd feel if I'd had really bad doctors.) I thought perhaps TBOL, as FICTION, might be an easier read for women than for me, although it could be argued that Brigid's birth pains might put off women readers too.
And thanks for the link to the review! Fascinating.

I imagine any man who has undergone a prostrate exam or colonoscopy could sympathize somewhat. Not exactly the same, but still.

And we're excited to have you! Yay, book menage.
I wondered how you, and other women who have not had children, would react to both of these books. I read the Nuland NF long before I had children or was thinking of it, and just remember being wowed by the story, as I am wowed by any good readable science. (Although, perhaps, as I have always disliked most doctors, that accounted for some of my interest.) I read the Kavenna when I was expecting and I must say I think I got more out of it than someone who didn't have the subject so immediately on the mind.
TDP by Nuland was part of the "Great Discoveries" series--was this a science/history title you enjoyed? Would you get more from the GD series based on this one? I'd also be interested to hear what you think of Kavenna's novel "Inglorious," and later, when we discuss TBOL, I'll have some questions about it and the genre heading "women's fiction." (BTW, Kavenna is also the author of a NF title, The Ice Museum.)
Thanks for the comment!

This may be TMI, and I may sound like a scary militant feminist, but until men's exams regularly involve stirrups I don't think they'll ever be able to truly sympathize, even if they want to. But maybe that's just me. :)
That said, I don't want a colonoscopy anytime soon either.

At least they knock you out (sort of) for a colonoscopy.

I'm excited to take part in this book menage! Thanks for making it happen!

1. I read The Birth of Love first, because I got a hold of it before The Doctor's Plague arrived. Totally random.

2. I do think the order in which I read the books made a difference in my experience of them. The fiction book was read as fiction because I didn't know much, if anything, about the non-fiction part, except that Semmelweis was an actual person. That segment of TBOL was my favorite anyway. When I finally did get to TDP, I actually enjoyed that "story" more because it included all the missing details.

3. I cannot imagine any man (that I know of) bothering to pick up TBOL unless it came highly recommended (or was part of a menage he wanted to participate in). Even then, I don't think it is a subject of fiction that would be of interest to many of them. I do think TDP would be interesting for a man to read especially since it was written by a man about a man, although it might make him feel uncomfortable due to the nature of the subject. But since that's how I feel personally about both these books, my opinion might be a bit skewed.

4. I had never heard anything about this subject until I decided to join in the menage and was fascinated to learn about it. I am a decidedly non-fiction enthusiast and found the amount of information and the story of Semmelweis to be just right. I wasn't particularly impressed with Kavenna's novel and doubt I'd read another one.

Well, there is that to look forward to.

Thanks for commenting; we're glad to have you!
Great to hear your reading went the other way--with TBOL first. Without knowing more about Semmelweiss/childbed fever, did you still understand those parts of TBOL? (Was it written in such a way, do you feel, that it was understandable without any complementary NF reading?)
I'm with you on imagining no man would ever pick up TBOL without a certain reason (the review Ruthiella linked to above is very interesting; but he was sent the book from the publisher). And yet I wouldn't term TBOL "women's fiction" in any way. Turning it around, can you think of any "literary" books the majority of women wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole?
I'm glad you liked TDP, and always glad to find another NF enthusiast!

"Turning it around, can you think of any "literary" books the majority of women wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole?"

Philip Roth, Saul Bellow and Norman Mailer. I am just putting them out there based on heresay, really. I have only read one novel from each. But I have read various writings and reviews of their works which accuse them of misogyny.

Well, yes, most likely (although I've always wanted to read Norman Mailer, and for the life of me I can't figure out who is reading and liking Philip Roth). But interesting you should list those authors--and misogyny. That's different from avoiding a subject, really. There's nothing man-hating about Kavenna's book. And it's not really sappy like I consider much of "women's fiction" to be (which is probably wrong of me, but there you have it). Maybe literary fiction having to do largely with men's friendships wouldn't be of much interest to women. But the more I thought of it the more interesting it became to me that TBOL is quite a bit about men--Semmelweis and the writer, not to mention Brigid's son and husband--and men are involved with how children get here too...yet I still don't picture many men reading or enjoying TBOL.

I should answer my own questions!
1. Which book did you choose to read first, and why?
I read TDP a million years ago and loved it; then read TBOL last year, which made me want to re-read TDP.

2. Do you think the order in which you read the books affected your experience of them?*
I read them so far aprt that no, not really. I think I would have been very confused by the "Herr S" subplot in Kavenna's if I hadn't known about Semmelweis.

3. How do you think men and women would react differently to these books? Do you think men would read them, based on their subject matter?
I've answered this throughout. I do think men would be more likely to read and enjoy TDP. I did wonder if both books wouldn't be "too much" for some readers, male or female.

4. Were you more interested in this subject after you read these books, or was that "more than quite enough, thank you"?
I'd read more about Semmelweis, maybe a different bio, and I would read more like Kavenna's book too. Most "women's fiction" that has to do with childbirth/women's health/etc. is too sentimental for me, and I wouldn't be interested in the majority of those types of books.

Hi CR! I've been intermittently lurking, but you have lured me into the open with a menage. Sorry to be so late in posting, but I'm on the West Coast and waited to get home from work.

1. I read TDP first, because it was available first.
2. I actually would have prefered to have read the fiction first, without knowing about Semmelweis. Sometimes reality can interfere with what the author is trying to protray.
3. I think both men and women would read TDP. The Kavenna book, as others have noted, is not really geared to men. I don't think too many would pick it up without someone telling them to.
4. I work in healthcare and read a lot of healthcare non-fiction (Atul Gawande, Oliver Sacks, etc) and I would be interested in a different book about Semmelweis or that period in medicine. I don't quite know how to classify the Kavenna book, so don't know if I would read anything else like it again.

I'm looking forward to tomorrows questions! Maybe I'll even be able to reply before your bedtime.

The internet seems to have eaten my first comment. If this shows up twice, go ahead and delete this one, CR.

1. Which book did you choose to read first, and why?
TBOL, probably because it arrived on hold first, but also because I was in a fiction-y mood and thought I'd like it better. I was wrong.

2. Do you think the order in which you read the books affected your experience of them?
Yes. I learned about Semmelweis in high school, but I didn't know that his theory wasn't widely accepted during his lifetime or that he died in a mental hospital. Consequently, I was "sure" that his story in TBOL was wholly a product of the author's imagination. I'd have viewed it very differently if I'd read TDP first, and probably had more insight into TBOL.

3. How do you think men and women would react differently to these books? Do you think men would read them, based on their subject matter?
It's hard to imagine most men getting past the title and cover of TBOL. I think the Semmelweis story and the part set in the future might very well appeal to some men, and that's two-thirds of the book, give or take.

I expected TBOL to resonate more with me as a mother, but it just didn't. Maybe my childbirth experiences are too far in the past?

I don't think TDP is more a "women's" book than a men's book; anyone who likes medical or science writing would enjoy it. I don't think the story would be any less interesting if the disease were something else not so specific to women, although it wouldn't have the interesting undertones of gender and power that went along with the medical/male takeover of childbirth.

4. Were you more interested in this subject after you read these books, or was that "more than quite enough, thank you"?
Well, I've had quite enough of "lethal bags of purulent and repulsive fluid," and I think I know Herr Semmelweis as well as I need to. I'm interested in reading more about the history and politics of medicine, and medical non-fiction almost always ends up on my TBR list.

I wish you a happy happy every day too! :-)

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming...

I think the Semmelweis portion of TBOL was a bit of a mystery due to my lack of knowledge. But it was good that way. I think it would have irritated me had I known more about the real story and tried to swallow what little of that she eluciated through the narrative.

No, I wouldn't classify TBOL as women's fiction either, but it appears they were packaging it that way what with the title and cover of the book. As for literary fiction that most women wouldn't touch, how about anything by Thomas Pynchon? Or maybe Umberto Eco? There's always James Joyce. It seems many men give Ulysses five stars but I don't know a single woman who read it and even remotely liked it although I'm sure there are a few outliers out there somewhere...

Glad to see you. Always glad to have lurkers but the more in the discussion, the merrier.
I too wondered how I would have liked TBOL if I'd read it first. I rather suspect I would have been confused and/or interested in Semmelweis, but probably wouldn't have taken the time to follow up the story.
I love Atul Gawande too. As a healthcare professional, are there other medicine/science authors you can suggest for us?

i'm so sorry the Internet ate your first comment. That makes me nuts. Thanks for persevering and posting again.
I wish I'd gone to your high school, we didn't learn anything remotely interesting like the Semmelweis story. Actually, it was really interesting for me to re-read TBOL with the Nuland info fresh in my mind--I had forgotten about the theory about his beating in the institution, etc. Truth did turn out to be stranger than fiction in this case, didn't it?
I'm not surprised TBOL didn't "resonate"--I really see it as less of a "mothering" book than a birthing--or even a "bucking the establishment"--type of book. For that reason I feel rather bad, frankly, that more men will probably not find it. I also agree that at least two-thirds of it isn't about the woman feeling labor pains. I wonder if they'd titled or positioned it slightly differently, it would have been almost a completely different read.
Tee hee on "enough with the pus." Amen to that, sister. Thanks for commenting!

and a happy happy every day right back at you! :)
You're probably right on Thomas Pynchon and James Joyce--I know I've tried to read both and failed, and I've known men in particular who liked Pynchon. I wonder why Pynchon in particular skews more "male"--he doesn't really tackle sex-specific subjects either. I find gender differences in what we read just fascinating, if you can't tell.

So excited I remebered to read the books this time around.

1. & 2. Which book did you choose to read first, and why?

I read the NF first because I got it from the library first. I probably would have read the fiction first otherwise, but am glad I had the background going into Birth of Love. I definitly think it affected the way I viewed the historical aspect of the story and it made me appreciate the trials of the modern woman giving birth at home and the future woman giving birth with no medical assitance (AHHH)

3. How do you think men and women would react differently to these books? Do you think men would read them, based on their subject matter?

I do think that few men would pick up Birth of Love and I agree that it is probably due in large part to the cover and possibly to the title. CR - I do really think men just have no way to empathize at all with most of the female reproductive experience.

4. Were you more interested in this subject after you read these books, or was that "more than quite enough, thank you"?

I don't know if I'm more interested. I don't have children and am still bouncing around the idea of having them in the next oh 5-10 years. My husband is all for it, but then again he's not the one who will have to go through the ordeal. I was especially struck by the Briget in the 2009 storyline in Birth of Love and how isolated she felt in her pain. I'm sure I will keep reading on the subject because reading is how I make all of my major life decisions....

"I do really think men just have no way to empathize at all with most of the female reproductive experience."
Amen sister. Must be a genetically linked trait that goes along with their seeming inability (at least in most men I've known) to find things in the refrigerator.
Do keep on reading, and read nonfiction too. I promise you if you have kids you'll want to have read some of this stuff BEFORE you get pregnant--it's nice to have the background to try and understand what's happening to you, and when the kid is on the way you'll find all you can think is "you want me to push WHAT out my WHERE now?" and you'll be less in the mood to read about it. (At least in my experience.) The best of luck either way.

I also thought of Philip Roth when you asked about male books women wouldn't read. I DID read Everyman but thought the main character was awful and don't think I will ever try anymore Roth. blech

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