This remarkable book, A Dog Walks Into a Nursing Home: Life Lessons From an Unlikely Teacher (Riverhead, $26.95), by Sue Halpern, writer and editor at The New York Review of Books, tells the story of how Halpern and her six-year-old dog, Pransky, become a therapy team at a county-run facility for the elderly near their home in Vermont. The writer, whose previous books have explored the brain’s connections to aging and memory, among other topics, frames this story through her experiences of the seven life virtues while she and Pransky form extraordinary relationships with residents at the home. Pransky is the star of this deeply touching and humane book, and it is through the dog that the author offers a provocative and brilliant examination of what really matters in life and how we might find grace, happiness, and humor while dealing with the real challenges of growing older.
Following on Musicophilia, with its accounts of patients whose brain injuries caused various sorts of phantom musical experiences, the literary neurologist Oliver Sacks here tells tales of his own youthful Hallucinations (Random House, $26.95). They started when he was a medical resident, and, “seeking a holiday from inner and outer restrictions,” he experimented with a smorgasbord of drugs, including LSD, cannabis, opium, and amphetamines. The resulting head trips were so memorable that he can still describe them in detail. Later, while working in a migraine clinic, Sacks used amphetamines to stimulate his intellectual curiosity. During the last of these trips, he received the revelation that would become his now classic study of migraines—but he had to quit the drugs in order to realize his vision.
In God’s Hotel (Riverhead, $27.95), her evocative, unvarnished, and brilliant writing debut, doctor and medical historian Victoria Sweet traces her evolution as a medical practitioner caring for society’s poorest and most downtrodden. Her experiences as a physician at one of America’s last almshouses, along with her studies of pre-modern medicine, challenge us to consider more honestly how the essence of diagnosing, treating, and caring for patients is too often devalued by modern medicine. Told through the stories of her patients, God’s Hotel is at once deeply personal, highly entertaining, and above all, important.