Read This: When Breath Becomes Air

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Sorry for the impromptu hiatus on the blog. The good news is, I've been doing a lot of reading and writing (for my book), just not on here! (And, of course, prepping for the wedding which is somehow < 2 weeks away. Eeeek!)

But I just read a book I couldn't help but gush about here. It's been near the top of the nonfiction NYT Bestseller list for a while now, so maybe you've already heard about the poignant story of Paul Kalanithi, the author of When Breath Becomes Air.

In short, Kalanithi was about to finish his intense residency as a neurosurgeon, when he was suddenly facing his own diagnosis: stage four lung cancer. (He had never smoked.) It is after this world-shattering diagnosis that Paul began his work on this book, that chronicles his winding path to become a doctor (he got a Masters in Literature first before med school!), his life's search to find meaning, and his ultimate transition from doctor to patient.

His experiences as a brain surgeon inform a lot of deep philosophical questions he poses throughout the book. Is the purpose to life really happiness? (He doesn't think so.) What does it mean to really be alive? (Is an intubated person in a coma alive?) How can you lead a meaningful life? The whole text is interspersed with literary quotes and poems, which (as an English major), I, of course, adored.

I will say I was surprised by some of the technical medical jargon in the book, but really my only other "critique" is that I could have easily read 100 more pages. The ending felt a bit rushed, and this is because, as his wife explains in the Epilogue, Paul sadly passed away before he could fully finish it. Oh, this book made me cry, but that's not surprising.

Still! Paul accomplished so much in his much too-short life, and now is inspiring thousands post-death. It's impossible to read this book and not feel inspired to take advantage of your time one earth.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who is mortal—that is to say, everyone.

p.s. Quick fact For blog readers: Paul is Joanna Goddard's (of Cup of Jo fame) twin sister's late husband, so I'd been following his story before the book was published. He wrote some moving pieces for the New York Times, including this piece called How Long Have I Got Left?