If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. --Stephen King
Each year, I choose a theme for my reading. In 2022, my theme was medicine, fitting for my job as a freelance medical writer and editor. I read 15 books, both fiction and nonfiction, with a medical theme. Here are my top 5.
My 2 favorites in the nonfiction genre were The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson and The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee. These 2 nonfiction titles make a great pairing. The Gene is a history of the unit of hereditary we call a gene, and the story begins before anything called a gene has been identified. As more and more is learned about the basis of inheritance, more and more ethical issues arise, and the book is as much about these ethical questions as it is about the science of discovery.
As The Gene ends, Crispr is just being discovered, making The Code Breaker a logical next read (although in truth, I read these in the reverse order). The Code Breaker also begins with the discovery of DNA and how Rosalind Franklin influenced Jennifer Doudna. It is a more personal story.
I ended up with a subtheme within my theme: the history of genetics. Her Hidden Genius by Marie Benedict is historical fiction about Rosalind Franklin. The best historical fiction brings a time period and a person to life, and Marie Benedict has created a niche of shining a light on overlooked women in history. Today Rosalind Franklin is recognized for her primary role in determining the helical structure of DNA, but in her lifetime, Watson and Crick got all the credit. Her Hidden Genius may be my favorite of Marie Benedict’s novels.
One of the stories that stayed with me all year is The Nurse’s Secret by Amanda Skenandore. This story, set in New York in the 1880s, is about Una, a pickpocket who, wanted by the police for a murder she didn’t commit, hides out by signing up for America’s first nursing school at Bellevue Hospital. I had not previously read any stories about early nursing schools, and I've gone on to recommend this one often.
If you can read a pandemic story, Kimmery Martin wrote Doctors and Friends before COVID-19, although it was released in 2021. The story follows three medical school friends, one an ob-gyn, one an ER physician, and one an infectious disease doctor, who reunite for a vacation in Spain. This was a fast-paced story about a virus that felt even scarier because of the reality of SARS-CoV-2. Kimmery Martin is an ER physician, and I love the medical details in her fiction.
Choosing a theme for your reading is a great way to read more, and it’s a fun way to find backlist titles you may have missed or to finally read those books you’ve been meaning to read forever. These reads and more are collected on my Medical-Fiction-and-Nonfiction bookshelf in Goodreads.
What have I missed?
Jennifer Holmes Medical Editing Services, LLC
Communicating science well—for healthy people and a healthy planet