Friday, August 6, 2010

Book Review: The Call of Stories

This is a book from the late 80s/early 90s about a psychiatrist who uses novels and short stories to teach medical students, and argues that ethics are best taught this way. True to its central argument, much of the book relates other people's stories, whether pages of block quotes from students or long plot summaries from Flannery O'Connor or Walker Percy or John Cheever. On one level, it's a very simple book, and any professor could do this for any well-taught class. I can see how the author, Robert Coles, can write so many books if this is what he does! But there is value to taking what is normal in a discussion of 10-20 students and putting it into book form so anyone can read it anytime. It's worth a diversion, and it's a rather fast read. I got some ideas for teaching from it, although not quite so many as I expected. The unexpected part was around the middle-end, when Coles presses home his point about the moral aspect of stories, and touches on the subject of pride and doctor-worship and the fact that many of those who teach morals aren't all that moral. It was a well-timed read for me at least, because I was going from one conference to another, and it's so easy to put on airs with people you only meet for a few minutes and want to impress. Coles punctured that at least a bit, and for that I'm grateful. A good reminder that we are all only human, after all.

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