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The Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic Hardcover – May 21, 2013


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Life-changing moments take place on seemingly ordinary days when we least expect it. That is one of the many lessons writer Gallagher (Practicing Resurrection, 2003) shares in this compelling memoir of the time she spent in what she calls the Land of Oz. Not the fantastical place that sprung from the imagination of L. Frank Baum but rather the place where the sick reside. When her doctor finds something amiss during a routine eye examination, she begins a long journey on a difficult yellow-brick road. Gallagher’s memoir is about many things: illness, mortality, faith and doubt, work, busyness, navigating through the crazy quilt that is the American health-care system, and, ultimately, about regaining one’s health and one’s place in the universe. Most of all, it is the memoir of a writer’s life (“Books were to my family’s house like beds and stoves, the most basic items, necessary for survival”) and the fear of losing one of the most precious tools of not only of the literary realm but of life itself: the gift of sight. --June Sawyers

Review

“A fabulous book—brilliant, tender soulful. Nora Gallagher is everything I love—smart, searching, vulnerable, faithful, doubting, deeply real, and a beautiful writer.” —Anne Lamott

“Phenomenal. . . . May be the best book about real faith that I will ever read.” —Sue Halpern, author of A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home

“Part medical mystery, part critique of the American health-care system, and part commentary on modern faith.” —The Washington Post 

 “Gallagher’s memoir is about many things: illness, mortality, faith and doubt, work, busyness, navigating through the crazy quilt that is the American health-care system, and, ultimately, about regaining one’s health and one’s place in the universe.” —Booklist

“A poetic tale of a personal medical crisis. . . . The author navigates the complex American health care system, the fear and mystery surrounding her search for medical answers and healing, and her renewed appreciation for the necessity of vision: to read, to write, and to view the world. . . . A deeply introspective journey.” —Kirkus Reviews 

"Poignant. . . . Gallagher does not dole out easy answers in this somber, reflective work. But she finds the humble, bracing imperative to live in the present.” —Publishers Weekly 

 “[Gallagher] learned how illness can strip away not only the illusion of control, but also one’s faith, hope, and very identity. . . . She radically redefines what faith means to her.” —The Christian Century --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (May 21, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307592987
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307592989
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,170,640 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author



Nora Gallagher is an American writer of memoir, fiction and essays whose work, as one reviewer put it," is renewing the language of ultimate concerns." Her most recent book, Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic, is a memoir that explores her experience with a baffling affliction poised to take her sight. A map of illness, uncertainty, and faith that is both meditative and highly relatable for anyone who has experienced life-threatening illness or supported a loved one who has, Moonlight Sonata was published by Alfred A. Knopf on May 21, 2013.

Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic is part three of a quartet on modern faith as it is lived out. The quartet begins with Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith published by Knopf in 1998. Followed by Practicing Resurrection: A Memoir of Work, Doubt, Discernment, and Moments of Grace. Things Seen and Unseen was a bestseller and a finalist in the Spiritual category of the 1998 Books for a Better Life Awards. An excerpt was a finalist for Best Spiritual Essays.

Gallagher's novel Changing Light was well-reviewed in the New York Times and other publications. It was chosen by the Times as an Editor's Choice.

Gallagher learned writing on the ground in San Francisco as a stringer for TIME Magazine where she covered the Patricia Hearst trial, the Moscone and Milk assassinations, the Dan White trial and subsequent riots and the AIDs crisis. Later, she worked for Life Magazine and free-lanced, traveling to countries where she was interested in how people were living in the shadow of large events. She reported on families in Prague, just after the Velvet Revolution and the strange case of Jan Kavan, a dissident accused of collaboration. In Nicaragua during the Sandinista regime, she wrote about daily life, including a production of "Waiting for Lefty" at the National Theater.

Her essays, book reviews and journalism have appeared in many publications including The New York Times Magazine, DoubleTake, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Utne Reader, The Village Voice, Mother Jones, The Los Angeles Times and the Psychotherapy Networker.

Gallagher is a popular speaker having given talks at Yale University, UC-Berkeley, Stanford University, and Washington's National Cathedral.

Gallagher was invited to enter seminary to become an Episcopal priest but finally decided to remain a layperson. She is preacher-in-residence at Trinity Episcopal Church, Santa Barbara and has given sermons in faith communities nationwide, including St. Mark's Cathedral, Seattle, St. Paul's Cathedral San Diego and Stanford University's Memorial Church. She has lectured on writing and taught writing workshops at Yale Divinity School and the Festival of Homiletics as well as at other institutions with grants from the Louisville Institute.

Nora Gallagher has given readings at bookstores across the country including: Elliott Bay Books, Seattle; Bainbridge Island's Eagle Harbor and Book Passage, Corte Madera and appeared on panels at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

She was born in New Mexico, the daughter of Julie Walcott Gallagher, who taught herself architecture, and David Gallagher, who learned the law at Yale Law School and in practice. She was educated at St. John's College, where she studied the Great Books of the Western World.

She is the editor of the award-winning Notes from the Field, published by Chronicle Books, 1999. A sermon is collected in Sermons that Work and a poem in the anthology, September 11, 2001: American Writers Respond. Among her honors are a Penny-Missouri journalism award and fellowships at both the MacDowell Colony and Blue Mountain Center.

Her interests include the quest for meaning in our lives, how vulnerability connects us, the rights of patients, and breaking out of one's religious tradition while maintaining integrity.

She sits on the advisory board of the Yale Divinity School. She is represented by Philippa Brophy, president of Sterling Lord Literistic, New York.

She lives with her husband, the writer Vincent Stanley, in Santa Barbara, California.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 27 customer reviews
For anyone who has faced a medical crisis this book is a must read!
Joyce Macias
Nora Gallagher's latest book is a heartfelt quest to come to terms with illness, or living in the land of Oz as she calls it.
A. L. Glover
We walk out of those doctors' offices feeling loved, or dismissed, or....more often, confused as to what just happened.
William R. Thomas

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Philip Koplin on May 22, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Nora Gallagher went in search of a diagnosis for a collection of disturbing and mysterious symptoms related to her sight. What she found was in indeed a type of gnosis, a knowledge that comes to those who pass through a series of harrowing, transformative trials to emerge with a new vision of the world in both its mundane and, for lack of a better word, spiritual aspects and their place in it.

It was a journey she didn't enter willingly. A blurriness in her sight signaled the beginning of her metamorphosis into a "patient," one of those spectral inhabitants of a world the rest of us (who one might as well call "healthies") barely register as we go about our lives blessed with the illusion that our destiny is controllable and controlled by our will, at least until a calamity forces us to acknowledge our desperate vulnerability.

Gallagher was forced to rely on medical "specialists" and the supposedly powerful machinery of modern medicine, which often causes more confusion than it allays. As she shuttles among guides who turn out to be reliable and unreliable by turns, her anxieties and fears test and break open her understanding of the stories we tell ourselves and jointly construct about faith, god, and our communities of belief. It's a testimony to the grace and tact with which she ultimately re-imagines those stories that her conclusions, won at so difficult a price, feel genuine and convincing, albeit fittingly tentative.

This is not a book of easy consolations, of tips on finding sure and easy answers to the hardest of life's hard problems - how to deal with its unbearable trials and uncertainties and its one final certainty, mortality. It clearly took an uncommon honesty to write it. The reader with the courage to bring a similar honesty to it will see a world fraught yet potentially a place of resolution. Nora Gallagher is a deeply humane guide to the dark woods through which we all must some day pass.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By William R. Thomas on June 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover
If you have ever been to a doctor, or know anyone who has been to a doctor, this is a MUST READ. Nora Gallagher takes us through the mysterious maze of medical diagnostics by sharing her own journey as she struggles to get back into good health. In reading her book, not only did I feel her raw, roller coaster emotional states of being as she was diagnosed with one thing, then another, then another...but I also felt her grapple with her faith as it took twists and turns; continually searching for clarity.

The crisp, concise descriptions posed by Nora regarding ALL her doctors was honestly refreshing. It is so easy to relate to her descriptions. We have all been to those doctors; we have encountered their nurses, their reception areas, their varied personalities. We walk out of those doctors' offices feeling loved, or dismissed, or....more often, confused as to what just happened. Nora describes them all in this book: the good, the bad, the confusing. She made me feel that I was right there with her, on every step of the journey.

And intertwined throughout the book is the spiritual component that is so often ignored when writing about health and experiences in dealing with the medical aspects of one's life: the role of faith, of friends, of strangers, of kindnesses received and given, and the clarity that comes in a moment of grace. Nora caused me to rethink my own journey in ways I might not have done, had I not read this book. I am grateful for the experiences given to me in reading this book. I could not easily put it down. And when it was over, I wanted more.
--Diana Thomas
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By SingingOwl on August 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This book chronicles Nora Gallager's journey to what she calls, "Oz." Oz is its own reality, the world one enters upon being seriously ill.

I was struck by the title because I am about to drive to Rochester, Minnesota's famed Mayo Clinic for the third time in as many months. My husband is in his own "Oz" --a a place I, by necessity, must visit. I have been there myself, and like Nora Gallager, my own Oz was about possible blindness. But my husband has been suffering for nearly a year with a strange set of still-undiagnosed symptoms. Our journey has been wrenching.

I, like Gallager, spent time in the sunshine-drenched atrium of Mayo's "Gonda Building" listening to beautifully-played music by someone dressed in green scrubs sitting at a grand piano. I described Mayo recently, before reading the book, as the most pristine place I have ever been, an "almost holy place" and "much like Disneyland." Thus, I laughed out loud to read the author's description of Mayo as a cross between Magic Mountain (a California amusement park) and Lourdes.

I bought this book to help the two of us cope with the emotional whirlpool we have been and are experiencing. We were immediately immersed into Gallager's eerily familiar world, a world of frustration and fear, of medical practicioners who are sometimes amazing and sometimes just amazingly wrong.

Gallager captures the sense most of us have experienced after a life-changing event, that surreal awareness that we were living in a world of make-believe where we tell ourselves that we, and those we love, will always be with us, unchanged. When everything shifts, in ways we never imagined, we are in another world altogether. Giving this alternate, but perhaps ultimately more real, place a name was a stroke of genius.
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