Behind the Scenes at the Museum has nothing to do with museums: it’s a family saga told by a woman born in the middle of the 20th century, starting with her conception and birth — a great, funny start a la The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields, one of my favorite books of all times, that starts with a birth scene. The book alternates between the story of Ruby’s life and that of her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, among a great many war deads and wayward husbands (and at least one wayward wife).
Behind the Scenes at the Museum is not a mystery, unlike Kate Atkinson’s more recent Case Histories and One Good Turn, although there’s a big secret in it, revealed at the very end and foreshadowing her skill as a mystery writer, as well as many less weighty family secrets that are revealed throughout. But the main strength of the book is not the action; it’s the detailed analysis of the many female characters (so many aunts! so many names to remember!) and their attempts to live their lives despite the demands of their parents, husbands, and children. A very satisfying book.
Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance follows Complications by the same author and uses the same format: chapter-length essays on various topics related to the main theme. The author is both a surgeon and a dad of (at least) one kid who had serious medical problems, which gives him an interesting perspective on how the medical system works from both sides of the fence.
Better focuses on how the medical system could be improved so it’s a treat for performance improvement fanatics like me. It starts with the simple act of hand washing, well-documented for centuries as a lifesaving procedure, and yet neglected even (and perhaps especially) by physicians who clearly should know better. The methods that performance monitors use to remind, cajole, and occasionally confront non-compliers reminded me very much of how Tech Support process experts roll out new procedures.
The book exposes how medicine is or should be conducted more systematically to the benefit of patients and often medical staff as well. The author insists that medicine is special and unique but clearly the parallels with other fields (support, naturally, the center of my universe, but also the hospitality industry and even manufacturing) are striking. For instance, I’ve always thought that hospitals need care managers for each patient that would follow the patient throughout the entire process and remove obstacles such as overbooked operating rooms, unnecessary waits, and contradictory prescriptions. After reading this book I’m also convinced that hospitals need business analysts that sift through statistics as well as process improvement specialists.
Very enjoyable book (even the chapters of which I dreaded the theme such as the one about doctors in the death chamber.) Not for you if you can’t handle a little gore, however…