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Read Different: When Breath Becomes Air Paul Kalanithi


Happy July 4th to those of you celebrating in the U.S. today! Here’s one of the books that Book Worm chose for her read different challenge. If you want to read more about that you can read about it here. If you haven’t already, we hope you join us in pushing your reading boundaries. 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Published in: 2016
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: ★★★★
Find it here: When Breath Becomes Air

This ARC was provided by Random House UK(via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis from Goodreads: For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?
At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor making a living treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. Just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air, which features a Foreword by Dr. Abraham Verghese and an Epilogue by Kalanithi’s wife, Lucy, chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a young neurosurgeon at Stanford, guiding patients toward a deeper understanding of death and illness, and finally into a patient and a new father to a baby girl, confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: I am counting this as one of my read different books as I very rarely read non fiction. Despite the tragic nature of the book, this is a well written and moving account of what it means for one man to face death. The afterword added by his wife fills in some of the blanks that Paul left while he concentrated on telling the reader about the big issues in his life.

Paul often describes the surgeries he conducts and this provides a fascinating look at how brain problems are treated and the dangers involved. I also found it amazing that despite all his medical knowledge, Paul allows himself to be put off seeking the tests he knows would be definitive by the doctor in charge of his case. If a knowledgeable medical student won’t stand up for himself how would a normal person with no knowledge know what to ask?

This was an emotional and informative book that will appeal to many. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

Describing the premature death of twins “A match flickers but does not light. The mother’s wailing in room 543, the searing red rims of the father’s lower eyelids, tears silently streaking his face: this flip side of joy, the unbearable, unjust, unexpected presence of death…What possible sense could be made, what words were there for comfort?”

“Learn to be fast now. You can learn to be good later.” Advice from chief resident.

“The days are long and the years are short” Life for a neurosurgery resident.

“the destruction of these areas often restrains the surgeon’s impulse to save a life: what kind of life exists without language?”

“Death may be a one-time event, but living with terminal illness is a process”

“Time for me is now double-edged: every day brings me further from the low of my last relapse but closer to the next recurrence-and eventually death…”

“The good news is I’ve already outlived two Brontes, Keats and Stephen Crane. The bad news is that I haven’t written anything yet.”

Who would like this? I would recommend this to those who enjoy biographies, those with an interest in the life of a medical student or a cancer sufferer, and those who appreciate beautiful writing.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: When Breath Becomes Air

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? For those of you joining us in the read different challenge, which books have surprised you thus far?

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sounds good! I have a copy of this on my TBR stack, so I’m glad you liked it.


    July 4, 2016
    • Let us know what you think of it once you read it!


      July 4, 2016

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