Non-prescribed reading: A (not textbook) book list

Words and images by Lauren Squires 

Here’s a range of book suggestions for when you want to read something medical-adjacent. They’ll reinvigorate you, make you think, and probably make you a better human and doctor!

My Sister's Keeper / Jodi Picoult: A good option for casual readers. It’s a fast-paced, quick read in which protagonist Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for her ill sister. A provocative exploration of medical ethics and family ties.

The Cider House Rules / John Irving: A thoughtful look at the ethics of abortion. This richly-written piece of literature follows Dr Larch, an obstetrician, orphanage founder and illegal abortionist and one of his beloved orphans, Homer. 

House of God / Samuel Shem: The quintessential medical satire, this book pretty much paved the way for TV shows like Scrubs. Good for bonding with all your middle-aged consultants who probably read this when it was first published during the late 70s. Maybe save it for second year and beyond, when a large dose of career-related cynicism is less likely to make you question your life choices.

Working Stiff / Judy Melinek and T.J Mitchell: The autobiography of a forensic pathologist. A gripping, complex read which includes first-hand accounts of responding to the September 11 attacks.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North / Richard Flanagan: Part nod to the famous Australian surgeon Weary Dunlop, part sprawling historical fiction. This Booker Prize winner and study of human relationships, follows a flawed protagonist from his Australian home to the horrors of the Burmese jungle in WW2.

Never Let Me Go / Kazuo Ishiguro: A deceptively simple story that explores the lives of a group of ex-boarding school students. Essentially a dystopic sci-fi novel to go along with 1984 and Brave New World, Never Let Me Go arguably hits closer to home and asks just what we’re willing to give in the pursuit to save others.

Adventures in Human Being / Gavin Francis: A series of essays on different body systems by surgeon, ED physician and GP Gavin Francis. A great book to dip in and out of when you need a study break and can’t commit to a novel!

The Handmaid’s Tale / Margaret Atwood: Another dystopic future tale where the effects of human sub-fertility play out in terrifying ways. Read the book before binging on the new TV series!

Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance / Atul Gawande: Fascinating and varied stories from an American surgeon on how we, and medicine can do better. Part public health, part personal memoir, part medical history book but all brilliant.

Middlesex / Jeffrey Eugenides: Meet Calliope, a girl with a family that has a secret. Callie isn’t quite like other girls, and the reason why lies back with her grandparents. This Pulitzer Prize winning novel is an insight into how we are who we are, and how we can become who we were supposed to be.  

April Fool’s Day / Bryce Courtenay: A heartbreaking tale of family and love, it is the story of Courtenay’s son, Damon, who was born with haemophilia. Damon needed blood transfusions in the 1980s during the first days of HIV, before the screening of blood products was introduced.

Two Brisbane-specific suggestions on my ‘to-read’ list are My Life by Lady Phyllis Cilento and How to do a Liver Transplant by Kellee Slater. Two autobiographies by amazing Brisbane medicos!

For more reading suggestions and to meet other well-read medlings, head to Facebook and join the UQ Mind Book Club, Read Between the Minds! They read about five books a year, with titles voted by their readers. Past picks have included medicine and self-help books, along with classic literature. 

Last updated:
16 December 2021