I can’t remember exactly when I bought Adam McKay’s first book This is Going to Hurt but I do know that it’s been sat on my TBR pile for a pretty long time. I always meant to read it but, if you’ve paid any attention to my Sunday Rundowns over the last few months/years, then you’ll know I have a book buying problem. At least I’ve become slightly better at reading this year so there’s hope that the pile will decrease but that all hinges on me being not quite so spend happy in 2020. We’ll see how long that lasts for. The fact that his first book has remained unopened meant that I had every intention to ignore Adam McKay’s Christmas themed book. However, on a Christmas Eve shopping trip during my lunch break, I found a copy of it for a fiver and thought I’d get it. If nothing else it would be another quick read to get in before the end of the year and it might encourage me to read its predecessor. So, when I found myself ill and inexplicably awake at 5am on December 26th, I decided to go for it. A couple of hours later, I was still ill, still awake, but I was one more book ahead of my 2019 reading goal. Something that currently stands at 57/50 thanks to my festive flu.
I knew that Adam McKay’s short, festive follow-up to This is Going to Hurt wasn’t going to be incredibly deep or detailed. It was intended to be a short stocking-filler kind of book and, considering it took an hour or so to finish, I’d say it works perfectly. The book details the 7 Christmases that McKay spent in the medical profession and, through its diary entries, includes details of notable incidents that took place. I’ve not read McKay’s first book so I can’t really say how they compare. However, I did enjoy the book for the most part. It was a quick read that didn’t really require much effort on my part. The format is simple: we are taken through each festive period and offered up a few tidbits for each year. They involve McKay’s family and friends, his patients, and his co-workers. We get a small glimpse into what life is like for people forced to work in a hospital at this time of year.
Whilst I wouldn’t say that not reading the first book diminished my enjoyment of this one, I don’t think ‘Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas really gives a good idea of what its predecessor is like. Or at least I hope not. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy McKay’s writing. He presents these moments from his medical career in a natural and very readable way. He brings enough humour to it without seeming heartless. There is humanity and emotion in there, which is necessary when talking about certain procedures. I just didn’t think it went far enough. Most of the diary entries are so inconsequential and off-hand that the bigger ones just feel out-of-place or uncomfortable in the setting.
There was one anecdote in particular that I felt didn’t suit the format. It was one in which McKay describes a young woman getting an abortion. He was the one performing the surgery so describes it in detail. It’s a very personal and impactful surgery that I felt didn’t sit well amongst the others. I don’t object to him retelling the story itself but it came in the middle of a lot of superficial points. I just felt it was the wrong way to go about presenting it. It ended up giving the whole entry a very anti-abortion feel which, considering the woman in question had wrestled with the decision to terminate her pregnancy or risk her own life, felt unnecessary. I’m not saying McKay meant it to come across like that but the dramatic change in tone for this and other entries ended up having a negative impact on his message.
Having read this will make me go on to read the first book because there were enjoyable moments. It’s just it felt kind of superficial to me. Like a movie sequel that nobody needed except the people wanting to squeeze more money out of something successful. I guess my expectations were so high because of everything I’ve heard about the first book. I was expecting it to do more with its Christmas theme. Maybe make more of a point about people in medicine having to work over Christmas or the patients who end up alone on the 25th. But it’s mostly just a lot of kind of funny stories about Christmas jumpers and people sticking things up their arses. Not a bad thing but not really something the world needed. In the end, this book feels like a shameless attempt to get a chunk of the stocking filler market, which is what it is. It didn’t need to exist as a separate entity because it never feels as though there is enough material for each anecdote. Or at least the majority of them. There is an obvious difference in quality that comes from taking the most mediocre incidents so there are 25 in total. It doesn’t make it a bad read, per se, but it doesn’t make it a great one either.