When Breathe Becomes Air

When Breathe Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi was a beautiful book. I read it on a sunny day over the summer because I knew it was a sad story. How could it not be? A doctor diagnosed with cancer dying just as his child was born? I did not expect it to be so engrossing. I read the book in one sitting. One day would be more accurate. I broke it up by pausing to make myself some lunch.

The book is a reflection on life and death. Paul was a magnificent writer. His thoughts flowed well and had an ability to articulate his thoughts succinctly and clearly. It’s fascinating to me that Paul wrote this book in the last year of his life. To be able to examine your life and the future that will happen without you in such a thoughtful way is a gift. The world lost not only a promising doctor but an amazing author.

His wife, Lucy, writes the epilogue and that was when the tears started to come. It was hard to read it but it was beautiful. I heard a lot about the book but didn’t want to read something about someone who was dying. It seemed too sad a story but Paul didn’t allow it to be sad. It was thought provoking that made me think about my own mortality.

If you can’t tell, I absolutely loved this book. I highly recommend reading it if you get the chance. Everyone can take something away from this book. Who has read this book? What did you think about it?

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didon

Joan Didon’s husband died on December 30, 2003. He had a massive heart attack. 10 months later, she began to write about the experience.

The Year of Magical Thinking is a portrait of grief. I think what really struck me was that she was unable to just sit and wallow in her grief. She had to pick up and be strong for the people around her. On the night her husband died, they had just returned from visiting their daughter who was in a medically induced coma. They were unsure if she was going to live. In a strange twist of fate, her husband was in fact the person who did not live.

It is hard to imagine what it must have been like to have your partner of over 30 years pass away suddenly and also have your only child be in such a precarious medical condition. Throughout the book, she makes it clear that he was a partner in every way to her for many years. The sudden loss of this support system must have been such a difficult thing to experience.

It is interesting because she makes it clear that to her, his death was sudden and unexpected but he seemed to foreshadow his own death. From Didon’s retelling of her conversations with her husband in his last years of life, he seemed to believe he was living on borrowed time. It was almost as if he knew he would be leaving her at a difficult period in her life.

This was the first book I’ve read by Joan Didon. I didn’t know much about her or her husband other than Claire Messud recommended reading her books. I look forward to reading more of her works and also exploring her late husbands various works.