Review–Mutter’s Marvels

I just finished this book– Dr. Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine. It’s a non-fiction piece about the dawn of modern medicine in pre-Civil War America, specifically Philadelphia (a hotbed of medical education, I learned).

It’s fascinating and terrifying. First, it confirms my ardent desire to never go a-time travelling. During Mutter’s lifetime (and there’s supposed to be an umlaut over the u, but I don’t know how to do that yet) anesthetics like ether, nitros and chloroform were being tested and developed for surgical use–before that, alcohol was it. Unless, of course, there was some medical reason to not drink, in which case people were operated on with nothing!

Second, there was the attitude of a doctor at the time, Meigs (don’t read this unless you aren’t planning on reading the book as it spoils some dramatic tension), who firmly believed that women were little more than beasts, unable to think or reason. I think there may still be some of those around, but at least they aren’t in the mainstream! He also spoke against any painkillers for labor since it was selfish for women to want to deliver with less pain. He also had the gall to complain that woman didn’t want to seek treatment. It is a puzzle, Dr. Meigs why those silly girls didn’t want to be seen by you.

A third strike against time travel is all the deformities that were possible, with few approaches to solve any of them. Part of what Mutter collected–his marvels of the title–were the casts and preserved materials from “monsters,” many of whom he was responsible for fixing.

This book is well-written and researched, with an engaging style. People who know everything there is to know about the history of medicine might not be as interested as I was, but I would recommend it, even so. The personalities, many larger than life, are fascinating–how they act, interact, and react is wonderful. I will say, though, that if you are squeamish, this is probably not the one to read–the descriptions are detailed!


Mama got run over by a rhino…

Yesterday, my mother and I were at the mall for some sweet post-Christmas sales (and also because she hadn’t actually got me presents as such, but more the promise of presents).

We were walking down the concourse near one of those places that rents out the giant stuffed animals to ride like these. On the way up, I’d asked her if she wanted to ride one (there was a cow!), but she demurred. For some reason.

On the way back, this ten-ish year old little dude was riding a rhino on the other side. I could tell that he was intent on the zen of his ride. As he swung around to our side, I just knew that he wasn’t really paying attention, so I leapt (moved slightly) in front of my mother and stopped the collision! It was very heroic. Very.

So yesterday, I stopped my elderly mother being mowed down by a wild rhino. What did you do?

Great book, but…

I just finished Spelled by Betsy Schow. Great book with an interesting take on the land of fairy tales. It has a really brisk pace and is imaginative and funny–really delightful, clever, and funny! But…

Somehow a few grammar-y things slipped through (yes, I know–grammar is not mechanics, punctuation, or usage, but we’re going with the colloquial usage here). I’m not sure who is responsible for that sort of thing these days–I know that editors are given less time with books. And certainly, the lack of teaching grammar (usage, mechanics, punctuation)  in school has decreased. But I hate when I am reading for pleasure and I get pulled out of the story for errors. (I realize that because I am making a post about grammar (and the rest) that I will make at least one dunderheaded error in this post. So be it.)

The first thing that I noticed was an ever more common hyper-correction–people who seem to believe that the word “me” is a naughty word to be avoided whenever possible. I think it began in elementary school. Susie says “Me and Billy got ice cream.” Teacher corrects “Billy and I got ice cream.” This is all good. Certainly, a person should not say “Me got ice cream” no matter what else is going on (except Tarzan. He’s allowed). There is also the tradition in English that the other person in a sentence is supposed to go first. It’s a bit of chivalry that lingers, and I like it.

Here’s the problem. Because no one explains the rules, people have to guess what standard English is, if something else is spoken at home and/or the person in question doesn’t read enough. So the person hyper-corrects and begins saying things like “People who got ice cream included Billy and I.” Ugh. It’s just ugly, isn’t it? It should read “People who got ice cream included Billy and me.” Because if you can replace the phrase (someone’s name and pronoun) with us, you’d use me. If you can replace it with we, then you’d use I. An even simpler trick is to just (temporarily–I’m not advocating killing people to make sentences easier) get rid of the phrase and keep the pronoun. “People who got ice cream included I”? Nope. Ugly. Makes me shudder (yes, really). “Give the present to I”? No present for you, until you clear your speech of barbarisms.

There were a few instances in the novel of those. And every time, I stopped reading to say “me.”

The other problem might be a little more controversial. I’m pretty sure there were comma splices. Ish. Lemme explain. Here’s an example (not from the book): “I love rabbits, I hate radishes, but I do like them cooked.” To my way of thinking, there should be a semicolon between “rabbits” and “I.” “I love rabbits; I hate radishes, but I do like them cooked.” I’d be interested in seeing how other people interpret it.

In another book I read recently, there were sentences like “I walked down the lane, I stood at the window, and I dodged the crossbow bolt fired from behind me.” I know that that’s a series there, but I don’t like it. Why not three short sentences or one short sentence and a semicolon between the last two independent clauses?

And there was a third thing that for the life of me I can’t remember. I’ll edit this and add it in when it comes back to me (not comes back to I!).

Believe it or not, I don’t want to do this–I want to become immersed in a world and enjoy. But my internal copy editor just won’t let me sometimes. But do read the book–the very few flaws don’t outweigh the loveliness of it all.


Why is it, as a writer, as someone who loves language and words, who makes her living playing, writing, and teaching writing that a blank blog post is so darn intimidating? Truly a question that Shakespeare would have pondered, had he had a blog. And wasn’t busy writing plays to last the centuries. And maybe suffering from syphilis.  (Have you read Orwell’s CoughIt’s quite interesting!)

Okay, that was a misdirection, I admit. But it’s my blog, gosh darn it, and if I want to get distracted by other people’s writing, I shall. However, it’s probably time for what, if I were a business-type person, I’d call a mission statement. But I am not an MBA type–otherwise, I’d be far more likely to trip over a pile of cash, and statistically less likely to trip over a cat.  Or a stack of ungraded papers.

In any case, here’s the plan. I am going to submit writing to various places. As I understand it, this will result in a number of rejections. A huge number of them. Enough to trip over. Well, if I were silly enough to print them out–which I’m not. Paper and ink are expensive!

I will also put some writing up here. Not on any sort of schedule mind, since I firmly believe that there are gremlin-type critters who wait until a person says or writes that he or she is going to do something and brings the forces of entropy upon them. Admit it, that explains a lot about how your life has gone.

In any case, writing and many rejections to follow. Now, I’ve written  like five hundred words on this thing today, and I need to write about that much on the novel-in-progress, so toodles!