Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Paul Kalanithi, WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR
I know, everyone is reading it. And, probably, everyone should be reading it. It’s heartbreaking, empathic, beautifully written; it reaches far beyond the hackneyed message of "make the most of what's left.” The author, a neurosurgeon who died of lung cancer at 36, asks openly, how do we find our values, in the middle of crisis, when life has been upended? And then how do we find them again, the next day, when something else has changed? One of my favorite parts of this book was his acknowledgement, early on, that "a word meant something only between two people, and life's meaning, its virtue had something to do with the depth of the relationships we form." He draws on his undergrad and M.A. in English--he references dozens of authors who wrote about the passage of time, from Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" on--and it adds a depth and reflexive humor to the entire book. Another of my favorite bits, alluding to the "pair of claws” in "Prufrock": "For the last several months, I had striven with every ounce to restore my life to its precancer trajectory, trying to deny cancer any purchase on my life. As desperately as I now wanted to feel triumphant, instead I felt the claws of the crab holding me back. The curse of cancer created a strange and strained existence, challenging me to be neither blind to, nor bound by, death's approach." I think readers who liked Atul Gawande's Being Mortal would appreciate this.