Book Club: Chronicling “Rough Sleepers” is the mission of a selfless doctor

Good morning, and welcome to the Los Angeles Times Book Club newsletter.

doctor hero Tracy Kidder “rough sleepers,” Jim O’ConnellHe tended the bar after college before applying to medical school at age 30. He kept that job to pay the bills while attending Harvard—though it was the bar, not the classroom, where he learned some of his best lessons about being a doctor.

There he learned patience. And learn to listen. They proved invaluable skills to O’Connell’s unexpected career path as he created one of the nation’s most coordinated and comprehensive health care systems for the homeless.

For three decades “Dr. Jim, as he is known on the streets, has been making house calls to the chronically homeless who huddle in the dark under tents and tarps in doorways and alleys and on slopes and park benches.

“The Night Tour was a glimpse into a world hidden in plain sight,” Kidder said He says of his first ride in Boston in O’Connell’s truck. “Memories of vivid faces and voices, and a general impression of a rough life, fermented by the affection between the doctor and his patients, left me. Afterwards I wondered if I had misunderstood or misremembered what I had seen.”

Pulitzer Prize winning author He rejoined O’Connell and his team on the streets on and off for five years, chronicling the experiences and faces behind the nation’s growing homeless crisis. on January 26th Kidder joins the Los Angeles Times Book Club to discuss “Rough Sleepers” with a Times columnist Steve Lopez.

Kidder is perhaps best known for his 2003 book Mountains Beyond Mountains Paul Farmera renowned infectious disease specialist who has spent his life on a selfless mission to bring modern medicine to the world’s poorest countries starting with Haiti.

Sometimes, Kidder tells the columnist Erica D. SmithHe felt like he was back in Haiti while riding with O’Connell.

Those neglected and forgotten bottom sleepers whom Dr. Jim used to have in Boston—in contrast to those shunned and forgotten bottom sleepers in Los Angeles—suffered from ailments that should not exist in a country with as much money and modern medicine as the United States.

“He poses some of the same problems to a writer like Paul Farmer for me, what my beloved editor once called the ‘goodness problem,’” Kidder says. “How do you convince a cynical age that people like that really exist?”

Join Kidder and Lopez On this virtual book club night in 6 p.m. PST on me Jan 26th. Sign up for Eventbrite. Share your questions in advance in an email to

Question and Answer

A master of nonfiction, Kidder has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Robert F. His previous books include The Strength in What Remains, Home, Old Friends, Among Schoolchildren, Home, and The Soul of a New Machine.

Before book club night in JanuaryKidder shared some of his favorite readings and other diversions:

The last book that kept you up at night: may have been [Ernest] Shackleton’s “South” or Grant’s American Memoirs (Edmund Wilson wrote that the book kept one on the edge of one’s seat wondering how the Civil War would end). Or it may have been a novel by John le Carré, that is, one of several.

The book that most influenced you: George Orwell, John McPhee, Ernest Hemingway, James Baldwin, Stuart Dibeck.

Favorite book as a kid: “The Wind in the Willows,” probably because my mom read it to me.

A book you are proud to write: “Mountains after mountains,” or perhaps “sleep rough.”

Favorite place to escape: My home is in western Massachusetts.

Favorite music now: I like a lot of different things, classical music, opera, some country music, and most music from the 60’s and 70’s. But I can’t name a favorite.

Must watch TV: BBC News

The craziest thing I’ve ever done to get a story: Maybe on a trip with Paul Farmer on a trek through the mountains of Haiti to see a patient. But this seemed crazy only later, when I fancied I should die of thirst—a crazy idea, given that I was with Paul Farmer, who would never have afforded such a thing. I’m not sure this counts as crazy, but many years ago, in the late 70’s, I wandered into an industrial basement where a new “microcomputer” was being designed and built. It was probably crazy, because I couldn’t explain to anyone what a computer was for the longest time.

Something that might surprise readers about you: I don’t know. I had a lot of energy and a bad mood. Both faded away, I think.

What motivated you during the pandemic: I was in the thick of writing “Rough Sleepers,” which kept me busy most days. Next, my wife and I hiked through the beautiful woods of western Massachusetts. Helping her with cooking, or more precisely, holding her back.

Prince Harry tells us all

“Paps were like ants. There wasn’t just one.” Tuesday Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, has released his long-awaited movie “Spare” to tell the story of his childhood, family and royal life that has been hounded by paparazzi and British tabloids. Those who have already read the book (written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning ghost JR Moringerwho once wrote for The Times) will find more grief and personal conflict than excitement,” says the columnist Mary McNamara.

Tudger, Tiggy, Peru, Spike. Here is a glossary of British Harry terms for “backup” readers.

Be prepared to wait for the library. This week’s Spear broke sales records (“The only books that sold faster in one day were about the other Harry, Harry Potter”)) And librarians across California struggled to meet demand for the 400-page royal family drama. Waiting for digital copies in the Los Angeles County Library system takes about six months. “Public interest in his story was built from birth, and then you take into account the events of his life (loss of his mother, his military service, prominent marriage, etc.) — it was just a matter of how strong that request was,” he says. Wendy Croucher, head of system groups. “And all this press… doesn’t seem to have caused Prince Harry to wear out the audience — people still want to read the book.”

What else do you read in Los Angeles? The two best-accepted adult books of 2022 were “The Lincoln Highway” by Amour Towls and “The Dark Hours” by Michael Connelly. With the kids, Dog Man and the Wimpy Kids rule at the Los Angeles Public Library.

New releases. This week also from “everybody knows” by Jordan Harper (“The next great LA noir. Just don’t call it a #MeToo story”) and “The Half Known Life: In Search of Paradise” by travel author and former book club guest Pico Ayer A retrospective look at his travels, readings and meetings.

copy from

Copies of Prince Harry’s “Spare” went on display in a London bookstore this week.

(Ken Cheung / Associated Press)

What’s Next

author Brendan Slocumbe Join the book club readers Feb 23 to discuss his best-selling mystery, The Violin Plot, with the Times Classical Music Critic Mark Sweden.

Slocumb’s first novel takes readers into a rarefied world Ray McMillianStradivarius, a black classical musician, has his family stolen the priceless Stradivarius on the eve of the world’s most prestigious classical music competition. Reviewer Paula L. Woods in The Times says the story is “about Slocumb’s soaring prose”.

“Even for readers unfamiliar with the clearly described music,” Wood wrote, “the outcome of the contest, the fate of Ray’s violin, and the plot behind its theft will provide more than top-shelf entertainment.”

Born in Yuba City, California, he graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a degree in Music Education. For more than 20 years he has been a public and private school music educator, and has performed with orchestras throughout Northern Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. The Violin Conspiracy was released in paperback in December. Slocum will publish his second novel, A Symphony of Secrets, in April.

This free virtual event will air at 6pm on February 23rd. Register in advance on Eventbrite.

In the meantime, Enjoy this classical music playlist inspired by “The Violin Conspiracy”.

The last word

“You can feel, I am sure of my sympathy and my dislike,” said the novelist. Russell Banks, who passed away last week at the age of 82. “It’s traditional sympathy for the underdog. Hell, what writer is worth his salt or salt who doesn’t sympathize with the underdog?”

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