CNF in One Sitting

Binge-reading CNF.

I’ve never shied away from long novels and essays. But sometimes I get impatient, and want to read something short and blunt, preferably going from cover to cover in just one sitting. And in between the books I had scheduled for the next review, I impulsively went through two creative nonfiction (CNF) books talking about two very different things.

In the spirit of their conciseness, I’ll make this as short as I can. (Yeah, right.)

At first glance, From the Eyes of a Healer: An Anthology of Medical Anecdotes (edited by Dr. Joey A. Tabula) and Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie look like they have nothing in common. But they do have some commonalities.

They’re quick CNF reads.

Just because they’re CNF books don’t mean they’re automatically novel- or memoir-length. They can both be read in one sitting if you wish. From the Eyes of a Healer clocks in at exactly 100 pages. Dear Ijeawele…, a “mere” 63 pages long, was originally a Facebook letter Adichie wrote for her friend who asked her how to raise her newborn daughter a feminist.

If only my letters to other people are this well-written… 

They’re educational.

With these 16 anecdotes from inside and outside the hospital (mainly the Philippine General Hospital or PGH), From the Eyes of a Healer debunks the notion that doctors and nurses are impersonal, and impervious to their patients’ multiple contexts and situations. They do get it. These doctors and interns see you, empathize with you, and regret not being able to do more for you, thanks to institutional and/or physical limitations. They think about you when they get home, and they’re as angry and frustrated about the state of Philippine healthcare as you are. Think of this anthology as something that gives our medical practitioners the chance to tell their side of the story, from admissions to diagnoses, terminal cases, and end-of-life concerns.

But, yeah… am I GRATEFUL enough???

As for Dear Ijeawele…, it’s the only book I wanted to highlight and annotate in its entirety. Not only does it provide good insight into existing Nigerian culture and traditions, it sheds light on issues that I think people don’t consider until late in life — or don’t always seem like actual, serious issues to other people. It bucks traditional views and excuses based on names, clothing, gender, equality, education, romance and child-rearing (among others). It talks about concepts such as Feminism Lite, male privilege, self-worth, marriage as a so-called “achievement” for most people, and true female ownership. More importantly, it talks about feminism not just as the visible show of support for women, but the implementation of valuable, permanent changes in the littlest of things you unwittingly pass on to your children. Where and when else would you start?

They’re conversational in tone, but complex in content.

Both books take the no-nonsense and insightful approach, which also contributes to their brevity. Reading them kinda feels like you’re just talking to them as they go about their shifts (From the Eyes of a Healer), or over a cup of coffee (Dear Ijeawele…)They don’t order you around or give you only one way out; they lay it out as it is, and let you decide what to think of it.

The effects will vary, though. From the Eyes of a Healer made me calm and contemplative (and maybe kinder next time I’m in a hospital or doctor’s clinic). It made me appreciate everyone involved, from the white-coated folk and the heroes in scrubs to the support staff and the caretakers, donors, financiers, etc. Remember that it’s not just one person who works to take care of you when you’re sick. Sometimes, it literally takes an entire village to save your ass.

Dear Ijeawele…, on the other hand, made me so angry because most, if not all, of the things Adichie wrote about can still be seen today. My rage is a quiet but overpowering one. I now think about how differently I could’ve been brought up and been treated (as the youngest child, as a single woman, as a Filipino, as a person with equal rights and a relevant voice), or how drastically certain instances in my life could’ve been changed or avoided if I knew better then, but I also know I can’t do shit about it now except to do better moving forward.

Moreover, her suggestions are “common sense”, but can sound astounding or even preposterous to people who never saw women as equals or as fellow human beings, or did things just because it’s how it’s always been done and that’s how they’ve been taught. There’s plenty to process in the book, and regarding my feelings about specific parts of it, and I know it’ll take me a while to do so.

They leave you wanting more.

Knowing that the editor of From the Eyes of a Healer doesn’t like long works kind of made me expect the book to be short, and I was right. (Or maybe he just doesn’t like our long stories for our MFA classes. 😉) This succinctness works considering that the contributing writers are medical professionals, people who aren’t known for having a lot of spare time. But maybe for the second volume (which is still accepting submissions, BTW), there could be more medical professionals from other institutions and fields. Also, maybe there could be more department heads and retired doctors who can give a different organizational and generational context, more doctors who have left the hospital for government or NGO posts, or doctors who have also been patients for extended periods.

As for Dear Ijeawele… and Adichie, I only knew her for this 2009 TED Talk:

Yep. I really should read more of her work.

From the Eyes of a Healer: An Anthology of Medical Anecdotes, Joey A. Tabula, M.D. (editor)
Paperback, Alubat Publishing
Buy: Bookbed | Solidaridad Book Shop

Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Hardbound, Alfred A. Knopf
Buy: Fully Booked | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Book Depository