INTERSPERSED with all the academic reading are novels, films, and TV series that have kept me sane and wonderfully entertained. I do not agree with people who burn themselves out studying—unless, of course, they want to top the exams, an ambition I do not share at all. Burning the midnight candles isn't just a fire hazard; it induces too much stress. And we know where stress leads to: premature aging and death and irritability. Why inflict that on yourself and the entire humanity? Besides, I tell myself, after five years of sleepless nights (no kidding), I should feel a sense of entitlement to undisturbed moments of sleep. This moment is short-lived. When I begin residency training, Lord-willing, it will be back to the same old 24-hour shift grind. The fact that I can sleep anytime and anywhere (but why prefer other places other than the bedroom?) is something I praise and thank God for.
I treat myself to a few hours of downtime—sleep, movie night-outs with friends, or long reads of books from and in my brother's library—after rigorous note-taking or memorizing. It's a hitting-two-birds-with-a-single-igneous-rock thing: first, I get to relax, thereby allowing newly processed information to sink into my brain; second, I appreciate the films and books better, knowing they're a reward for my unfailing (haha) devotion to pursue knowledge.
If you've been burned out, let me share with you some of the things that have relaxed me.
- The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I can't help but harp about this. It may well be one of the best books I've read thus far, mainly because the character, Theodore Decker, was someone to root for. I also loved Hobie, the art restorer, who adopted Theo when he became homeless. Theo always referred to his mother as “my mother,” never “mom”—a minute detail that made me love the book even more. The novel combines things I enjoy reading about: New York, art theft, terrorism, mothers and sons, drugs, Russian friends. Don't let the fact of its being a doorstopper—some 800 pages long, give or take—prevent you from tackling it. The novelist Stephen King wrote that Tartt “has delivered an extraordinary work of fiction.” It's also a good place to learn about the effects of drugs—hallucinations, euphoria. You're not only relaxing, you're also reviewing Pharmacology.
- About A Boy by Nick Hornby. A boy too smart for his own age confronts a man who lives like a perennial teenager: no job, living off his songwriter-father's royalties. It reads like a movie script but an easy read, nonetheless. It may well be a British commentary on the tambay lifestyle.
- The Snowpiercer (2013), a South Korean sci-fi film based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette, starring American actors. Talk about international corroboration. It's the end of the world. All of humanity is inside the train, with an engine that lives on forever. Outside are layers upon layers of snow. No living thing is able to survive the cold. At the far end of the train are the poor and powerless. At the head of the train are the people who protect the engine. An uprising breaks out because the maligned want equality. It's not the most relaxing film, but Chris Evans really delivers. And Tilda Swinton, too, in her most obnoxious role—she never disappoints.
- Arrested Development. I've finished Season One. On to Season Two. I laugh like crazy when I watch it when everyone's already asleep. The actors and writers are terrific.
Now, back to my books.