October 28th, 2013

World-Famous Brain Surgeon to Speak at Perryville Branch Library

Becoming Dr. Q BookI grew up smack dab in the middle of the long, fertile central valley of California–the area where many of the nation’s fruits and vegetables are grown. We even had a tiny orchard in our suburban backyard where, as a kid, I often climbed up into our peach tree to read. I especially loved the spring, when my airy arboreal perch was surrounded by colorful blossoms. When the family station wagon traveled down Highway 99 to visit our grandparents, there were agricultural fields as far as the eye could see. The valley summers were hot, hot, hot, and I felt sorry for the many migrant workers who were doing such dusty, back-breaking work in that unrelenting sun.

Years ago, after moving to Maryland, I happened to watch a documentary on phantom limb pain. I can pinpoint that moment as the start of my interest in the human brain.  From that time on, I read books written by brain surgeons and enjoyed stories about people who had overcome learning disabilities or illnesses. Modern medicine has made great strides in understanding the workings of the brain, but there is always more to learn.

Imagine my jealousy earlier this year when a coworker mentioned that she had heard a very inspiring speaker at her daughter’s middle school. The speaker was Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, a world-renowned brain surgeon at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Medical Center. Known as “Dr. Q,” he is a standout in his field—a skilled and passionate surgeon who is dedicated to finding innovative ways to treat and prevent brain tumors. His cutting-edge research in neurosurgery is augmented by international care missions and the mentoring of students.

But what makes Dr. Q’s story even more amazing is the fact that he started out as an undocumented migrant farm worker in California, like the ones I noticed as a kid. He hardly spoke English when he arrived, but in less than 10 years, was at the top of his class at Harvard Medical School.

Due to his own bad judgment, Dr. Q nearly died when he was 22; it was his experiences in the hospital that made him want to be a doctor. In the years that followed, and even today, he has drawn on all the experiences of his life to provide solutions to problems. Dr. Q’s background and the discrimination he sometimes still encounters make him aware that every person, no matter what role they play or what skills they have, can make valuable contributions. He has incorporated multidisciplinary collaboration into his research lab, including input from the patients themselves.

I’m thrilled to share that the Perryville Branch Library will be hosting a special evening with Dr. Q on Tuesday, November 12th at 7pm. This is a free opportunity to listen to and talk with this brilliant and down-to-earth man. And who knows? Maybe this encounter will touch your life in ways you couldn’t have imagined. Click here to sign up or call 410-996-6070 ext. 3

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October 10th, 2013

Interview with Author John Florio

Writer John Florio is the author of “Sugar Pop Moon,” a novel set during the Prohibition era that features a mixed-race albino named Jersey Leo. His adventures take him from the speakeasies of Brooklyn to Philadelphia—which should be of interest to those Philly transplants in our area. The author will be reading from his novel and talking about writing in general on Saturday, Oct. 19 from 2-3 p.m. at the Chesapeake City Branch Library. In preparation for his visit, we asked the author a few questions for the library blog.
John Florio headshot 2013
Why did you choose to make your main character, Jersey Leo, an albino?
The Jersey Leo stories are really about all biases, not just albinism. Had Jersey been a different minority or scarred in some other way, the basic conflicts could have been the same. But there’s a strong, unaddressed bias against those with albinism and it seemed to me that this would be an interesting way to address it.

What interested you about the Prohibition era?
I’ve always been interested in 20th-century American culture, and find those years particularly interesting—not just the bootlegging, but the fashion, the music, the celebrities. Plus, I grew up on Humphrey Bogart movies and hard-boiled detective stories, so I felt at home with the material. I often tell people that I wrote “Sugar Pop Moon” in black-and-white—that is, I pictured many scenes in black-and-white as I was writing them.

What are some of your favorite books and movies set during the time period?SPM cover 96dpi
I really enjoyed Dennis Lehane’s “Live by Night”; and I just began Kevin Baker’s “Big Crowd,” which is excellent. Movies include the Bogart canon, along with Cagney, Garfield, and Howard Hawks (director). Off the top of my head, I’ll throw out “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “Angels with Dirty Faces,” and “Public Enemy.”

There’s a lot of boxing history and lore in “Sugar Pop Moon.” Tell us a little about that.
I’m fascinated by 20th-century American pop culture, and boxing’s heavyweight champions were a large part of it. I just released a non-fiction book, “One Punch from the Promised Land,” about Leon and Michael Spinks, heavyweight champs back in the ’70s and ’80s. You could put that book on the same shelf as “Sugar Pop Moon.”  Not because both include boxing, but because, to me, boxing and noir go hand in hand. In fact, many 20th-century noir writers have been captivated by the world of boxing—not the sport itself, necessarily, but the stories that surround it. The first name that comes to mind is Budd Schulberg, but there are so many others.

Will this be your first trip to Maryland? Have you ever eaten a crab?
I have friends who live in Baltimore, so I’m not a total stranger to the area. When I got married, the gang took my wife and me to a place that served crabs. I think it may have been called Costa’s, although I’m not sure. What I do remember is a hammer, a pile of shells, Old Bay, and a cold beer. Tremendous.

Join us Saturday, October 19 at 2pm at the Chesapeake City Branch to hear more from John Florio about his book and his writing process.  Call 410-996-1134 to sign up or click here.

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