Thursday, May 12, 2016

When Breath Becomes Air - A Review

     When Breath Becomes Air is a memoir by Paul Kalanithi who, as an undergraduate with a deep love of both science and literature, sets out to find the “intersection between the mind and the brain,” and who, after becoming a neurosurgeon with only one year of residency left, is diagnosed with terminal cancer.

     Yes, like many other bestsellers of late like Sherwin B. Nuland’s How We Die, and Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, When Breath Becomes Air is a book about dying.  But unlike other books about dying, this one is so lyrical and so unforgettable it is as if, like author-physician Abraham Verghese writes in his Foreward, “Out of his pen he was spinning gold.”
     But don’t take my word for it. Or Verghese’s either. Not when you can take it from the doctor himself who, about the morning of his diagnosis, writes:
     “I received the plastic arm bracelet all patients wear, put on the familiar light blue hospital gown, walked past the nurses I knew by name, and was checked in to a room – the same room where I had seen hundreds of patients over the years. In this room, I had sat with patients and explained terminal diagnoses and complex operations; in this room, I had congratulated patients on being cured of a disease and seen their happiness at being returned to their lives; in this room, I had pronounced patients dead…I had even, in moments of utter exhaustion, longed to lie down in this bed and sleep. Now I lay there, wide awake.”

     Then upon hearing the words, “The doctor will be in soon,” he writes: “And with that, the future I had imagined, the one just about to be realized, the culmination of decades of striving, evaporated.”

     “In the context of Paul’s diagnosis,” Verghese wrote, “I became aware of not just his mortality but my own.” 

     But if you, as reader, find any of this amazing, it is what Dr. Kalanithi does after his diagnosis (while trying to find "the intersection between hope and acceptance") that will truly amaze you. 

     In When Breath Becomes Air, Dr. Kalanithi will take you with him as he moves toward death with integrity, vulnerability and courage.

     I loved this book. It strengthened my soul and helped me answer the question we must all ask in the face of death: What is it that makes life meaningful? 

Thursday, May 5, 2016


I saw a post yesterday on my Facebook feed which read:

“He said, ‘Books or me.’  
I sometimes remember him when I’m buying new books.”

The post was from Writerspace and of course, I loved it and shared it and when she saw it, one of my friends wrote:

Sometimes as I quickly scroll down my wall, I see a post and have passed who posted it. Instead of going right back up, I first read it, and then try to guess who posted it. I always know yours. I know you my friend.

I read that first thing this morning and smiled and felt just like someone in a Jack Nicolson movie. I can’t remember the name of it, but it was the one in which he “woos” (for want of a better word) a waitress who has a sick child and a neighbor whose dog he hates.

Anyway, when I read what my friend wrote, I felt just like the waitress who,  after receiving a compliment from Nicholson’s character, says “That’s just about the best compliment anybody’s ever given me.”