Book Review: Letters to Dr. Wiggy


James Miranda, Sports Editor

Retired Pace professor Dr. Ellen Mandel’s first book Letters to Dr. Wiggy is a look into her effort to help her close friend and Pace colleague Dr. Susan Maxam during her chemotherapy.

The book, however, isn’t so much a typical book as it is a collection of emails sent from Mandel to Maxam. And that’s exactly what Letters to Dr. Wiggy is: a collection of emails.

There is no clear narrative and is more like a book of short stories that may be funny to those that read it solely for reading it. And that’s how it exists without the preface that is nodded to in the acknowledgments and foreword but not embellished in the book.

With the context, however, the book represents more than just a collection of emails between two friends. It captures that everyday theme of friendship and inspiration that can be seen throughout most people’s lives.

Maxam, or Dr. Wiggy, had to undergo surgery—a double mastectomy—two weeks after being diagnosed with stage two breast cancer and underwent a six-month long chemotherapy in 2012. Mandel decided to help her friend of nearly a decade and a half by sending funny everyday stories to her.

Virtually every day for six months Mandel emailed Maxam about her funny everyday happenings regarding her family and two grandchildren whom she spoils plentifully, how she was rushing to work one morning and applied mascara instead of lipstick to her lips while driving, or how she was crying at funeral under the pretense that it was her neighbor’s father but was actually a funeral for someone she hadn’t known at all.

Mandel, or Dr. Piggy as she refers to herself in the emails, also opens up a little about many of her personal insecurities such as her weight, an anxiety whenever she travels, and ultimately the beginning of her own battle with leukemia.

The book’s broken down into nine chapters and each chapter sets the theme of the emails included such as pets, travel, children and grandchildren, and holidays. Mandel proceeded to include select emails that applied to the theme.

All the emails are not present in the book (considering they span six months), however, and it’s only comprised of emails Mandel wrote and not Maxam’s responses, which seemed like there was a piece missing from the certain stories.

Stories such as how Mandel discovered that she was diagnosed with CML (chronic myeloid leukemia) would have been more impactful and sincere if Maxam’s reactions were present and the conversation was captured.

Letters to Dr. Wiggy is definitely worth the read if you’re a Pace student who knows Mandel or needs some inspiration and a laugh at everyday things that happen to everyone. But the lack of context regarding what the emails really mean can obscure the book to outsiders.