Everyone Should Read This Book
If the weight of mortality does not grow lighter, does it at least get more familiar? (Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air)
I read a lot. If there were more hours in the day, I would read even more. Reading lends tremendous peace and meaning to my life; it's a safe place of sorts. I'm so happy to have learned this about myself. Mom has always been the most voracious reader I know. I have fond memories of trailing her around our local bookstore, watching her plow through books as my sisters and I orbited her, and played. And now? That's me.
Yesterday, a book was published: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. I'd heard about this book. I'd read his wife's heartbreaking, exquisite piece in the New York Times. I have friends who knew Paul, and his family. I raced to Book Culture in the morning, bought the book, and spent much of the day reading it, my girls bopping around me, coming in for periodic snuggles and sugar requests.
For those of you unfamiliar with this man and his story, a bit of background: At age 36, just as he was about to complete his training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Faced with his mortality, Paul, a true polymath and lover of literature, turned to writing to tell the story of his transformation from doctor to patient, from life to death. Eight months before dying, Paul and his wife Lucy - who penned a wrenching and gorgeous epilogue to the book - welcomed their baby girl Cady. Paul dedicated the book - which he didn't have a chance to finish - to his daughter.
I can't remember the last time a book had such an impact on me. Truly. I finished it last night on my couch next to my husband as he watched an old Daily Show. Tears streamed down my face. When I turned the final page. I didn't put the book down right away, but held it closed in my hands, ran my finger along its spine, along its simple white cover. My mind traveled. I thought of Lucy, a woman probably around my age, who is now out in the world sharing this book. I thought of her heartbreak and her bravery and her grace.
But mostly I thought about little Cady, a little girl who will only know her father through words. But that's the amazing thing, the haunting thing, the most meaningful thing: She will know him. This book is for her and it offers a window into the incredible man who was her dad, a window I have no doubt she - and all of us - will forever treasure. The story is so sad, but I think of this girl and I believe she is lucky in so many ways.
So, not the lightest read, no. But, my goodness, an important one. Paul's story is his, but it is imbued with a cast of universals, with critical questions about human meaning and mortality, life and love and loss. As Abraham Verghese says in his powerful foreward to the book, "Be ready. Be seated. See what courage sounds like."
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Though I'm still processing it, I'm grateful for how it's already changed me.
What's the last book you read that profoundly affected you?