In one of these sharp-eyed essays, the author--a surgeon and teacher at Yale in the two divergent fields of medicine and writing--says: ""There are no 'great' subjects for the creative writer; there are only the singular details of a single human life."" This collection of new essays covers a spectrum of such ""singular details,"" combining the keen eye of the clinician with a rare felicity and subtlety of style. He becomes a guest in a Venetian monastery in the first essay, amusedly observing the monks at first and, while later warming into personal friendship, keeping his emotional distance throughout from the mysteries of faith. ""Fetishes"" explores the feelings of a woman undergoing surgery for a tumor on her ovaries and--humanly enough--worried chiefly about whether her husband will finally discover her secret upper-plate. Selzer's tone is sufficiently aloof that these essays seem stately rather than charming even when they assay very minor topics, such as the joy of doing hand-laundry: ""in the washing of small remnants such as handkerchiefs, bandannas or other pannicelli, it is best to group three of the raglets to provide sufficient bulk that the thumping, squeezing and kneading will not have been delivered against too flimsy a mass."" In other essays, from the upstate love story of Tom and Lily (""A rainbow over Troy would be Heaven getting sarcastic"") to a vignette in which a very fragile, very elderly hospital patient spends minutes of utter concentration forcing her shaking hands to guide a large gold earring into her pierced ear, the author demonstrates an odd mixture of cool objectivity and engagement with his surroundings. This is an elegant and perceptive collection of essays: they are more truly well-written than the work of most of our current bumper crop of literary medicos, though they may disappoint those who like their medical humanism served up with a tad more folksy warmth.