Books for the Incurably Curious – a display on life, art and medicine in the Kimberlin Library

In my first professional post as a librarian at the Charles Frears School of Nursing, one of my duties was cataloguing new books. These were mostly textbooks but one day something different arrived on our shelves. It was a memoir by a then little known writer who had worked as a midwife in the East End of London just after World War Two.  While cataloguing this book I was drawn in by the stories of hardship and human warmth and it took rather longer to arrive on the shelves than usual! Little did I know that this was the start of a global phenomenon: it was, of course, Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth.

Our ‘Books for the Incurably Curious’ display

In the years since Call the Midwife came out, there has been a flurry of first person accounts by health professionals – such as This is Going to Hurt by junior doctor Adam Kay and The Language of Kindness by nurse Christie Watson – reaching the best-seller lists. Writer and nurse, Molly Case has an explanation for the recent rise of the medical memoir: “Modern life is so frantic and everybody is so busy clicking things online and rushing around that there’s this collective need for introspection. People want to look inward at their bodies and minds. They want to unpick how society works and find out what makes the people looking after them tick” (O’Kelly, 2019). It may also be that at a time when the NHS is perceived by some to be under threat that the public is seeking to better understand and to celebrate one of the UK’s leading institutions.

Me and Kusama’s ‘Life is the Heart of a Rainbow’

A new display in the Kimberlin Library seeks to explore some of these intersections between health, medicine, literature and the arts. Based around the six books on the shortlist for the 2019 Wellcome Book Prize, all of which are available to borrow, we have extended the theme to include books from our collection and objects from DMU Special Collections. My personal favourite is Life is the Heart of a Rainbow which features the works of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Kusama has a mental health disorder and has suffered from hallucinations since childhood but has used these visual disturbances as an inspiration for mesmerising artworks – many of which famously feature polka dots – over a long and critically acclaimed career.


You will find the display in the Learning Zone on the ground floor of the Library, next to the Leisure Reading collection.


O’KELLY, L. (2019) Molly Case, the NHS nurse who finds poetry on the wards. Observer, 7th April. Available from [Accessed 12/04/19].