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Spring was but a shadowy character this year, but warmer temperatures and rising humidity are sure-fire signs that summer is here in Chicago at last.
For me, summer starts with a trip to the bookstore to pick up some new reads — if not for the beach at least for the back yard. I gravitate toward novels about writers and newspaper characters (no dearth of colorful characters there), and I wondered if dentists might enjoy the same: take a peak at the life and career, the struggles and triumphs of a fictional dentist. Why not?
Turns out, this is a genre in need of some writers.
I had to dig a little, but there are some novels by dentists — or authors writing about dentists — that might be worth a summer read.
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris.
Paul O’Rourke has a wildly successful, though profoundly unsatisfying practice on Park Avenue. Continually dejected by his patients’ indifference to his instructions, Dr. O’Rourke sinks into mid-life and spiritual crisis, but suddenly finds his life upended when his identity is stolen; websites and social media accounts are opened in his name. These sham sites launch a strange “counterhistory” of an Old Testament tribe, of which Dr. O’Rourke is purportedly a descendent, in a clever tale that brings Dr. O’Rourke to examine and make peace with his life’s trajectory.
“It’s a pleasure watching this young writer confidently range from the registers of broad punchline comedy to genuine spiritual depth,” wrote Wall Street Journal reviewer Sam Sacks. “The complementary notes of absurdity, alienation and longing read like Kurt Vonnegut or Joseph Heller customized for the 21st century.”
The Mulligan by Minnesota dentist Nathan Jorgensen.
In his 2007 book, Dr. Jorgensen tells the tale of dentist Joe Mix, who decides at age 50 he has pursued all the wrong paths. In his attempt to right these wrongs, he quits his job, gets a divorce, runs away and “takes a mulligan out of life.”
“Everybody who's my age has had days when they come home and hate their job,” Dr. Jorgensen said in a 2008 newspaper interview. “I just took that and ran with it. It was a fun story to tell. The first third of that book is kind of dark, and the second two-thirds was all fun.”
Deadly Impression by Allentown, PA, dentist Dennis Asen.
Published in 1995, “Deadly Impression” is a whodunit involving dental forensics expert Seymour Pinchus who works against time to find the brutal killer of a college student.
Dr. Asen, who also works in dental forensics, had been turning over the story and plot twists for several years before he sat down to write the book on weekends. It was his father who provided the inspiration for Seymour Pinchus.
“My father, who was also a dentist and head of oral diagnosis at New York University, was called the ‘Silver Fox’ because he was the one they turned to when there were difficult diagnoses to make,” Dr. Asen said in a newspaper interview.
Dr. Asen has gone on to write a second book, Root of Deception, also featuring the crimesolver Seymour Pinchus.
Going way back (1899), McTeague by Frank Norris tells the troubling story of Dr. McTeague, a San Francisco dentist who steals a friend’s girl, marries her and “descends into poverty, violence and murder as a result of jealously and greed.” The story might be heavy, but the book is known as the forerunner of the “naturalist” movement in literature, if that’s appealing.
Similarly troubling but more modern is Alaa al-Aswany’s novel The Yacoubian Building: A Novel. A dentist in Cairo, Eygpt, Dr. Aswany wrote the book as a “scathing” indictment of Egyptian society of the early 1990s. The popular book, which describes the compelling collection of characters who live in the Yacoubian Building in downtown Cairo, was made into a movie in 2006.
It’s a reading list with a little something for every taste. Now if we can all find the time!
A tradition of working for the dental profession. The Chicago Dental Society was organized in 1864 and incorporated in 1878. The objective of the Chicago Dental Society is to encourage the improvement of the health of the public, to promote the art and science of dentistry and to represent the intrest of the members of the profession and the public that it serves.
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