Reading Essays: An Invitation

By G. Douglas Atkins | Go to book overview

A Site to Behold
Richard Selzer’s “A Worm from My Notebook”

To me, calling it an essay means that it’s not just a story but reflection
on that story, which is also a way of making it less personal or not
only personal.

—Anne Carson, interview in Poets & Writers

THESE “THOUGHTS WERE BRED/BY READING,” of course (I quote John Dryden’s Religio Laici or A Laymans Faith 226–27). First of all, surgeon-teacher-writer Richard Selzer’s essay “A Worm from My Notebook.” But also, frankly, Lydia Fakundiny’s comments on an earlier version of the present essay, on which I feed heartily, parasitical. She, however, incurs no responsibility for whatever “crude”-ness (Dryden’s selfcharacterization) I have shown in moving with her observations. She says, rightly, that I did Selzer’s deceptively complex essay a considerable disservice in “under-reading” it. A lesson attends, I reckon—for all of us.

“A Worm from My Notebook” may or may not be Selzer’s best essay. More representative of his artistry as a wordsmith is “An Absence of Windows,” with its description of the stethoscope as “the ever-asking Y.” That essay succeeds, too, because of its layers of meaning and significance and its dramatic self-criticism of the medical profession and of Selzer himself as surgeon. His generosity of spirit and capacity for human sympathy endear— and never fail to send my students in search of more of his essays.

-159-

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