Paul Kalanithi had always asked himself one question: Where do biology, morality, literature, and philosophy intersect? As a neurosurgeon resident and MA graduate from Sanford’s English literature program, he was highly interested in finding out what a meaningful life consisted of; but, when he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at 36, the question took on a whole new meaning.
“When Breath Becomes Air” is Kalanithi’s memoir, which he started writing upon learning of his condition. It remains unfinished, as he passed away in March of 2015.
I picked up this book yesterday. I finished it yesterday. This is a memoir that is, as one reviewer put it, simply impossible to put down or forget. A friend noticed that I was reading this and sighed. “I don’t why you read all those depressing books,” he said, and I sort of understand where he’s coming from. Books about mortality, hardships, and trials are never “fun” to read, but there’s something indefinably inspirational between their pages. Beyond that, Kalanithi manages to make his life-and-death experiences come across in an extremely hopeful light. I certainly shed some tears, but I also smiled, laughed, and took account of the great things in my own life.
One of Kalanithi’s first lesssons was that values constantly shift as mortality is realized. What was most important–writing, surgery, family? What goals were worth exploring and which were left better untouched? Should he and his wife try to have a child even though his life was coming to an end? Kalanithi searches medical books, literature from across the globe, and his own experiences to better understand what life is really all about.
I know not everyone will want to read this book, but I highly encourage you to give it a chance. His book is a reminder that we all have something to teach, something to learn; after all, “Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.”
Thanks for reading. –Autumn
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- The Importance of Reading from Director Ryan Johnson in Library News & Notes