|Paul Farmer does most of his reading on planes, taking with him fiction and nonfiction. (Behna Gardner)|
Paul Farmer: medical anthropologist, physician
It’s hard to know where to start with Paul Farmer’s accomplishments. As a founder of Partners in Health, he has led the charge on changing health care for poor people globally. He’s a physician and a professor at Harvard University. He’s a MacArthur genius grant recipient. The list goes on and on. Recently he has been making appearances around the country to discuss his new book “Haiti After the Earthquake.’’
BOOKS: How do you work reading into your incredibly busy schedule?
FARMER: On planes. I just flew from, you ready, Kigali, Rwanda, via Entebbe, Uganda, to Brussels to JFK to Miami to Dallas to Port Au Prince. That is 30 hours in a little tube plummeting through the air. I had plenty of time to read.
BOOKS: When you have that long of a flight does that change what you read?
FARMER: This sounds very shallow, but I go for length on long flights. I bring a mix of fiction and nonfiction.
BOOKS: What did you have on this most recent trip?
FARMER: I had “To End All Wars’’ by Adam Hochschild. I did schlep this giant bestseller by George R.R. Martin, “A Song of Ice and Fire.’’ Those are the doorstops. I like to read Spanish because it’s so beautiful, so I read the second of Stieg Larsson’s books, “The Girl Who Played With Fire,’’ in translation. I wish I could have told you I was reading “One Hundred Years of Solitude’’ in the original. You caught me at a time when I’m reading a lot of junk.
BOOKS: Which did you like the best?
FARMER: For the beauty of the language, the Larsson book, not because of Larsson but because of the translation. I liked “To End All Wars’’ the best in terms of learning things I didn’t know. I’ve read all of Hochschild’s books. I love the way he writes. This huge series the American public is eating up, these Martin books, once you are in, it’s hard to get out. I’m on the third book.
BOOKS: What are some other authors you like?
FARMER: Graham Greene is probably my favorite fiction writer. I’ve read all of his books too. My favorite is “The Honorary Consul.’’ “The Comedians’’ is his Haitian book and it’s very good.
BOOKS: What do you read when you are working?
FARMER: Medical literature or The New Yorker and Harper’s. They’re good for when you’re working and only have 15 minutes to read.
BOOKS: What kind of books do you gravitate toward?
FARMER: I wouldn’t be drawn to something in a setting where I might work. The first thing I would avoid would be anything with a natural disaster, like an earthquake or a flood. But I did read my student’s book, “No One Had a Tongue to Speak’’ by Utpal Sandesara, about the collapse of a dam in India and liked it.
BOOKS: Is there a book that you tell everyone to read?
FARMER: It’s not very creative. I read “The Lord of the Rings’’ in fifth grade. I had friends who owned a bookstore. They were hippie parents of one of my peers. They gave me the book and really opened up fiction to me. I’ve read it probably five times. In the labs we say “TNTC,’’ which stand for too numerous too count. I stopped recommending it because everybody rolls their eyes.
BOOKS: When did you start reading in Spanish?
FARMER: I began working as a doctor in Peru in 1994. I learned Spanish just from seeing patients. By the third year I could ask, “Are you coughing up blood?’’ But I couldn’t ask, “How is your family?’’ One way to learn a language is to take a work you know really well and then force yourself to read it in that language. So I started reading Spanish. Of course I started with “The Lord of the Rings.’’
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