April BOTM: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Home Forums Book Club Book of the Month 2017 Book Selections April BOTM: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

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  • #4029

    Maryrose S
    Keymaster

    Join us for the April BOTM Selection – When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

    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 treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air 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 neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father 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 death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.

    #4042

    GWTW1939
    Participant

    Uh oh, it sounds depressing, but I’m going to give it a shot! 🙂

    #4050

    Maryrose S
    Keymaster

    LOL – I always go for the emotional or the cultural it seems. 🙂

    #4074

    GWTW1939
    Participant

    I’m about 1/4 way through. It’s okay. I like Paul’s writing, makes it feel less depressing (slightly) 🙂

    I remember reading his popular NYT article years ago when it came out, and yeah, it was depressing. Poor guy 🙁

    #4098

    bkat
    Participant

    Started this the other day and am about 1/3 of the way through. Probably not the wisest choice for lunch time reading for me, lol. (I knew a very long time ago that a career in any kind of health care was not for me.)

    At the moment though, it’s alternating between depressing and me thinking the author is an ego driven arse.

    #4156

    GWTW1939
    Participant

    Done. I thought the book was a quick, easy read. That being said, it was depressing as hell. It’s sad that a bright neurosurgeon ended up dying so young. I found all of the medical and “sciency” stuff interesting, but knew in the end, it would be depressing. And it was. Yeah, I could see that Kat, but only because honestly, all the doctors I know are like that. I think you sort of have to be in order to do that work.

    I could not wait to finish this book so I could move on to something lighter 🙂

    #4158

    Maryrose S
    Keymaster

    Working primarily with doctors (on the insurance end no less), I agree, arrogance was definitely present. But I think it’s in their nature – especially for the surgical specialties. I think I’ve gotten pretty immune to it, 15 years into the business.

    But yes, depresssssssssssing! I’m still only halfway through so I’ve got some time to wrap it up.

    #4181

    bkat
    Participant

    I finished this last week or something like that. And yeah, the over all arching theme word was depressing. I knew it would be just because of the subject matter. Like you, I couldn’t wait to be done and move on to something less depressing.

    And I fully expected the arrogance with the doctor/medical side. But I also thought it was there on the personal side and in the literature side. Sometimes I felt like he was name dropping books and authors just to say “Look what I’ve read. That’s how great I am”. I’ve known and worked with a few English profs and while there may be 1 or 2 who were ego driven jerks (every college dept on the planet has at least 1), most are not. Honestly, looking at his writing and medical life, that’s probably a reason why he moved on to science rather than staying anywhere near English Lit. His writing kind of nagged at me in that it felt clinical and I was never not able to put it down. I read a review on Goodreads that compared it to a writers workshop where everyone is trying to one up the last person to share. That’s definitely what it felt like. Like instead of just putting his thoughts and feelings to paper, he was always trying to make those words and feelings more grandiose, more larger than life. Somehow those sentences and paragraphs needed to be more profound than anything else thought or written by someone facing death. Instead it felt almost monotonous, pretentious and less empathetic than it could have been.

    Now the afterword/epilogue written by his wife, Lucy? That got to me. Like, I should probably have a couple of tissues nearby got to me. She should write more. And she should be credited as a co-author.

    • This reply was modified 3 months ago by  bkat.
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