What to read in a hospital waiting room

A person going in for one-day hospitalization probably doesn't need to take with any reading material. Not so the relative or close friend accompanying the patient.
So while my husband was packing his assorted test results, doctor's referral and such papers, I packed half a dozen Sudokus, a company profile in need of re-writing, the December issue of The Marker, earphones for my iPod Shuffle & Palm, and a Grisham – just in case.
I even considered bringing along my cute Eee, but decided against it, for reasons of extra weight and the concentration it requires. Must say, though, it would at least have kept my lap warm in that freezing waiting room. (Designed probably to freeze any stray swine-flu bugs in mid-flight.)

Concentration is exactly what one has difficulty with when hanging around a hospital waiting room, even when the surgery is – as was my husband's case – more limb-threatening than life-threatening. The crowd of family & friends tends to cluster around the thin, large monitors displaying the names of the patients and their whereabouts in the system.

Compared to the cramped, dingy, windowless, underground family waiting room at Ichilov hospital, the spanking-new Assuta Ramat HaHayal lounge is a five-star hotel. Airy and spacious, emphatically modern in design, with reasonably comfortable seats, some arranged in rows, others in clusters around low tables. At each end of the rectangular hall is a desk with a few hospital clerks, some more helpful than others. And at one end there are the coffee and soft-drink spouting machines. No snack dispenser, as far as I recall. If it had one, it must have not stocked any of my fave snacks, which is why it did not leave its mark, neither on my memory nor on my waistline.

Though the facility gives the distinct impression of not being completed yet, it does have some basic amenities for visitors called in Hebrew "melavim", i.e. those who come with the patients and then hang anxiously around. There's an Arcafe coffee shop, a Steimatzky book store, and a Metuka confectionary (sorry, they don't have an English site). So if you haven't brought a sandwich from home, you won't starve. Actually, if you just step out onto HaBarzel street, your options are nearly endless. Cafes, restaurants, and quite a few interesting-looking shops. In the days preceding the surgery, I saw myself, in my mind's eye, exploring them all. But I didn't – I stayed with the rest of the pack, close to the monitors.

I somehow managed one Sudoku without making a mess of it. The Marker proved to be too depressing: article after article telling me how the banks and investment houses were taking a huge chunk out of my investments and savings.
The company profile made no sense. (Surprise, surprise.)
That left Grisham.

I think I started reading John Grisham in the mid nineties, with The Firm, The Client, The Rainmaker, and A Time to Kill – each gripping and good in its own way. Then I came across a few that left a bad taste in my mouth, for various reasons. The Partner, for example, contains some distasteful, ugly torture scenes: the protagonist undergoes dreadful torture to protect his ill-gained money. Something about the plot is very dry and technical. Also, the entire story hinges on the absolute, total trust the protagonist has in his lover. I won't go into details to avoid a spoiler.
The Testament left me cold. The description of greedy heirs was as good as the description of greed in most of Grisham's novels. The quest through the wetlands of Brazil was interesting. What is wishy-washy is the Rachel Lane bit – character, motive, behavior… a missionary living with an indigenous tribe and carrying out "God's work." Not that such people don't exist. But it was unconvincing, unsatisfying.

The Brethren were also distasteful; the convoluted plot did not make up for that. And then, in December 2001, I read A Painted House, which is a complete departure from his white-collar crime novels. This Grisham story, with its portrayal of poor farmers in Arkansas, feels like it's trying hard to be Steinbeck, but it ain't. On page 150 the plot finally thickens and the story begins to gather momentum. I think 150 pages of exposition is way, way too much. Think of what other writers (Kazuo Ishiguro and Emile Ajar, to name but two) have accomplished in 150 pages. There's a conflict, a bad guy, a bit of a mystery… but it's neither here nor there. It's not The Grapes of Wrath and it's not a real thriller.
The Summons (read in February 2003) was – guess what - all about greed, and the two protagonists – the brothers – were unappealing, each in his own way, so that I didn’t really care who gets the money. The writing is sloppy and therefore annoying. Grisham doesn’t seem to have a clear idea who his protagonists are. Choice of words and descriptions of actions are often haphazard, no good reason for including or excluding them, they don’t serve any purpose. The dead judge is the strongest character in the book, which may be intentional, or perhaps stems from the fact that he is based on a real person that was very clear to Grisham. Anyway, the book was definitely not one of his best and not very memorable. [The only reason I could write the above paragraph is because I keep a journal of my reading.]

After these disappointments, I took a break from Grisham and skipped a few of his novels. Until I picked up The Broker.
Well, John Grisham redeemed himself!
Folks, it is a really good action-thriller, with not too much violence and dead bodies. If the book had been written by Ludlum, say, by page 30 there would have been a trail of mutilated bodies lying around. Also, if you don't care for the Italian language and descriptions of Italian cities, you may be tempted to skip a bit here & there. But it's good. Mind you, don't take the spy-related stuff too seriously. As Grisham says in the Author's Note at the end of the book, this is not his forte. I'm sure he did some research, but if you've watched enough spy or detective movies or TV series (how can you not?), you can imagine what a surveillance room or van looks like, and you can invent your own. The important thing is the chase, and the way the good guy outsmarts the bad guys; and the fact that the good guy is not as pure as the driven snow; in fact he was a greedy bastard. But he was caught, he does some penance, learns humility, and redeems himself – just like Grisham redeemed himself in my eyes. It was engrossing, and from a certain point downright unputdownable.

So how much of it did I actually read in the six hours of waiting in the hospital? Not a single page. I told you – you can't concentrate there. On anything. I got talking to two lovely women, one waiting for her daughter, the other for her husband. The latter, it turned out, had studied in the same elementary school (Hess) and high school (Eilon) as I did. We had a whale of a time reminiscing about teachers, their nicknames and their quirks. Really helped pass the time. As for the book -- I could read it anytime. Which I obviously did.


N K said...

You're definitely right about all this. No concentration whatsoever. Best thing for those kind of days (may they be few and far between) is a magazine......one of those women's magazines whose pages you can just flip w/o really reading anything.

Refuah Shleimah to your husband.


Nina Rimon Davis said...

1. I used to write for one of those women's magazines... ages ago, in my twenties.
2. Thanks! Cast/plaster removed today. Starting physiotherapy.

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