Sunday, 8 February 2015


Full moon, February 2015
And observing

I remember that during the time that I spent in Hungary, 1989-1993, one of my regular activities on my trips to England (usually just once a year) was to make a special trip to Norwich city-centre to spend an hour, or maybe two, in a bookshop.

I would make a beeline to one particular section of the three-storey shop where I would select a pile of books about two feet high. I would pile them up on a table and then sit in the armchair provided to peruse them in a bit more detail before eventually dividing them into three piles. One a pile of certainties, another pile of next-time-I-am-home purchases, and the last one a discarded pile.

Over the years I have become quite proficient and fast at choosing what I want to read and what I need for my work. I have developed my book-buying technique so that it now also includes diligently reading all the book reviews in my weekly English newspaper and making notes to buy those I pick out at a later date or even order them online.

There was no internet book-buying in the late 1980s. I had no access to a computer in Hungary, in fact I had not seen one until I visited Germany for the first time in the winter of 1992/93. There was no world-wide-web, no googling to discover just the book that I needed for my dissertation, but despite that my library steadily grew.

In those early days books came into my hands through the bookshop purchases described above, via visitors who, if asked in advance, would bring requested titles, via my sister if we dared to risk the Hungarian postal service, and of course through my favourite place in Budapest – Litea, a book and tea-shop combined which invariably had an extensive selection of English titles, many of which were translations from Hungarian classics which I  read and widened my knowledge of the Hungarian culture.

For over twenty-five years I have not had ready access to an English bookshop apart from on trips home. I cannot go for a wander at the weekend and pick up a few books as I would if I lived in England.

Of course there are the usual English language novels at the local railway station, and at the airport there are the latest fashionable reads, but I rarely buy novels, I sometimes receive them as presents which I greatly appreciate.

So I still bulk buy when I am at home!

I think it shocked my sister yet again when I used her Christmas gift voucher, and more, to buy my latest pile of books. One of them weighed one and a half kilos and it brought my luggage right up to its allowed limit!

Amongst the books I bought this time was Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole by Allan Ropper and B. D. Burrell. This book has recently been a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week, but somehow I missed it, so I am even more glad that it jumped out at me on the shelf as I was perusing.

This is another book in the style used in many of my favourite books, i.e. using the technique of story-telling to explain medical matters through experiences with patients and colleagues.

Operative observation is what AP and Co. would have called it.

The chance to make detailed observations of my clients is so important to me in my work and so necessary to decision making and planning. This is why I believe that the bits-in-between are often the most important parts of my practice especially in the “getting to know you” stages.

Whether these in-between-times are play-times, trips to the garden, chats with husbands, wives and carers, the moments when mums or dads arrive to collect children, lunchtimes, or taking off, and putting on, jackets and boots times, all the observations and conversations that take place play an important role in the decisions made while planning conductive sessions, just as the observations that the neurologists in the books I read make while they are chatting with their patients have a huge influence on the diagnosis that they make.


Recently I have also read Two Roads by Wendy Cope, who I can thank for inspiring me to start to write again and The Lady with the Little Dog and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov who I suppose I can say the same for, as despite there being some depressing stories in this book his descriptive narratives are something worth aspiring to.


Reaching down the Rabbit Hole by Allan Ropper and B. D. Burrell - Atlantic Books, ISBN 978 1 782 39547 8

Two Roads by Wendy Cope - Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, ISBN 978 1444 7953 6 3

The Lady and the Dog and other Stories 1896-1904 by Anton Chekhov


Andrew Sutton said...

Interesting that the apparently medical books that you like (whether consciously on the authors' part or not) are firmly in the tradition of what A.R. Luriya called 'romantic science'.

An important lesson there for what is called Conductive Education.

Your mention of A.P. Chekhov I found most instructive. This particular AP was also a doctor, yet one never hears of him refereed to as 'Dr Chekhov', or 'Anton Chekkov MD', even though he worked as a doctor for most of his adult life.

So why not? He seems to have been a hard-working and dedicated physician but it is not his achievements in his day job that are celebrated down across the generations as outstanding. It was the fruits his other job that has resounded down from the late-nineteenth century, across the twentieth and into the twenty-first century.

Around the world and in many languages readers, actors, directors and audiences have revered him, and still do, because of this other career, for the stories and his plays that he wrote. Serious students of his work will know that there is often a doctor amongst his characters, and there are critical essays can be written on such minor themes*, but that's about it. For most people it is what A. P. Chekkhov created that is the most important reason by far for knowing about him and what he says of the human condition.

There is a strand in Conductive Education that that tries to present András Pető as a medical person, a doctor, a neurologist, a scientist even, and a professor to boot. I do not why people do this. Perhaps it is thought that this somehow confers status which, apart from shows a frightening lack of understanding of the nature of education and what it holds dear, also reveals a sad for what appears to have been a central theme of András Pető's later career, to extract motor disorders from the hands of the doctors.
*Don't I know it! I studied Russian Laaguage and Literature for four years at university

Gillian Maguire said...

What a lovely posting, Susie. You have inspired me to be a little more selective with my own reading and also made me realise it is quite a whil since I sent time in a bookshop. This will be remedied immediately!

Susie Mallett said...

Thank you Andrew and Gill for your comments.

Both of you might enjoy another one of my recent reads - The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer, Penguin.

This is what google Books says about it - "Paris, 1937. Andras Lévi, a Hungarian-Jewish architecture student, arrives from Budapest with a scholarship, a single suitcase, and a mysterious letter he promised to deliver. But when he falls into a complicated relationship with the letter's recipient, he becomes privy to a secret that will alter the course of his—and his family's—history. From the small Hungarian town of Konyár to the grand opera houses of Budapest and Paris, from the despair of Carpathian winter to an unimaginable life in labor camps, The Invisible Bridge tells the story of a family shattered and remade in history's darkest hour."