Saturday, July 20, 2024
HomeHealth & FitnessBook Review: ‘A Body Made of Glass,’ by Caroline Crampton

Book Review: ‘A Body Made of Glass,’ by Caroline Crampton

But is such knowledge powerful or paralyzing? “If we can see that all is well, or if we can pinpoint the exact nature of what is wrong, perhaps our bigger fears will disappear,” Crampton writes. “And yet, with this transparency comes an awareness of the million minute things that need to function well for us to be healthy and the ease with which any of them could fail.”

Crampton, who podcasts about detective fiction and whose previous book was a deep dive into the Thames, has collected hypochondriacs from across centuries and disciplines. You can imagine them sitting down to dinner together in one of those huge paintings that hang at the Met, fretting that the soup course might make them bilious.

Suspected of exaggerating his asthma, Proust stopped going outside. John Donne, who suffered terrible loss of family to illness, wrote in “An Anatomy of the World”:

There is no health; physicians say that we
At best enjoy but a neutrality.
And can there be worse sickness than to know
That we are never well, nor can be so.

Let’s seat him next to George Costanza, who thinks he’s having a heart attack after eating a salad.

To learn about the specific hypochondria of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Tennessee Williams, Howard Hughes and Glenn Gould, you’ll have to go a-Googling; Crampton merely mentions them.

Better that, maybe, than Googling your symptoms — bane for the physicians who once considered themselves authority figures and now have to reassure patients who’ve Done Their Own Research; bottomless pit of worry for many citizens, some of whom become downright “cyberchondriacs,” finding the worst interpretation of every twinge. “I whisper my problem into it,” Crampton writes of the internet, “and it is returned to me as an all-consuming shout.”

“A Body Made of Glass” oscillates between lengthy paragraphs of scholarship and periods of self-scrutiny, including therapy. One can be technically “free” of cancer, Crampton underscores, yet perpetually haunted; eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (E.M.D.R.) offers a way to exorcise the emotions suppressed when she got the bad news.

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