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review 2018-10-20 17:43
Raw, unfiltered, and achingly honest
When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanithi,Abraham Verghese

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi is a posthumous memoir/biography from a man who was both in the prime of his life and the beginning of what promised to be an illustrious career as a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist. The terminal lung cancer which was already making its way through his spinal column wasn't part of the plan...and yet Paul chose to meet this challenge head-on as a way to understand and learn how the inevitability of death can be explored by those shepherding the way. How does the mind and brain (seen as two separate entities here) play a role in this? He first approached this topic through the lens of literature which he had always been interested in (hence the beginning of the book which would eventually be published after his death) but he then moved on to his direct experience as a doctor and then as a patient. Paul was interested in the bigger picture of what exactly death means and he kept trying to parse it out by asking, "Where did biology, morality, literature, and philosophy intersect?" (pg 41). He didn't shy away from the ugly underbelly of cancer treatment and how it's seen from both a medical professional's standpoint (best practices, proven remedies, etc) and the one receiving the care (uncertainty, despair, anger, and frustration to name a few). Facing mortality and asking the tough questions are the overarching themes of When Breath Becomes Air but this is also a quiet story about a man coming to terms with the fact his life was about to end. I don't want to give away all of the details because I really think you should read this one if you never read another book about death (although why stop here?). I didn't know if I'd be able to continue it at several points (there were tears) because it mirrors so much of what my dear friend, Jessica, went through during her battle with cancer. But I am happy that I persevered. 10/10

 

This quote blew my mind because I feel I'm constantly justifying to people why I do the work that I do even though some of it doesn't compensate me at all (the blog) and the one that does is probably never going to make me financially solvent (children's librarian). Looking at the bigger picture is hard if you are cutting out the crucial bits like death which comes for us all.

Indeed, this is how 99 percent of people select their jobs: pay, work, environment, house. But that's the point. Putting lifestyle first is how you find a job - not a calling. - pg 68-69

If I remember correctly this was a quote from Paul's wife and I think it perfectly encapsulates why this is such an important book. It's why I've read and reviewed so many books around this topic over the past year. 

Paul confronted death - examined it, wrestled with it, accepted it - as a physician and a patient. He wanted to help people understand death and face their mortality. Paul's decision not to avert his eyes from death epitomizes a fortitude we don't celebrate enough in our death-avoidant culture. - pg 215

Side note of interest (at least to me): Lucy, Paul's widow, found love again with a recently widowed father of two...who's spouse also wrote a book about her journey of dying. That book is The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs and yes it's totally going on my TRL.

 

What's Up Next: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

 

What I'm Currently Reading: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

 

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-10-15 15:00
Review: Bum Fight- an Unlikely Journey from Hopeless to Humanitarian by Rufus Hannah & Barry Soper

 

 
'A Bum Deal: A Memoir' is the story of the man who was the face of the infamous website BumFights, Rufus Hannah, aka Rufus the Stunt Bum. It chronicles his journey from early alcoholism and social misfit into a symbol of unrestrained greed and disregard for human life and finally a voice for others with similar troubles. It's a story that sounds clichéd in our times but still occurs all too often. And as is often the case, a human face and voice are what's needed to drive the issues home.

It almost seems Rufus was doomed from the start. Coming from southern working class parents with alcohol problems, he was born jaundiced due to his mother's drinking. Even so, they often resorted to the old southern remedy of lacing the baby bottle with vodka to keep the child quiet. Yet the parents instilled a work ethic into all of their children that served him well when little else did.

His journey takes him through failed marriages and jobs lost due to alcoholism across country and finally to San Diego where he meets Donnie, a fellow vet with similar problems. They migrate to Donnie's hometown of La Mesa where they manage an existence as the only homeless men in the town and are somewhat absorbed into the community. At the insistence of another resident they're hired on as handymen by Barry Soper, a local businessman. The three men are mistrustful of each other but over time they develop a real friendship- especially Rufus and Barry.

A chance encounter with a HS student with a video camera- Ryan McPherson- sets them on the path to notoriety together. Ryan's callousness towards the two men is apparent to Rufus from the start but as he supplies them with the necessities, namely booze, they feel obligated to go along. Heat from the cops forces Ryan to move operations to Vegas, where things start to spiral out of control. Rufus and Donnie realize the danger they're in and contact their friend Barry, who helps spring them and gets Rufus on the road to recovery.

This reads as a complete stream of consciousness work, as if Rufus simply talked about his life and the notes were sorted out. Events leap around a few times, especially in the beginning, as people and events are suddenly thrust upon you with little preamble. There's also some gaps left open towards the ending- especially his attempt to repair his relationship with his children, that's never followed up and leaves you wondering.

'A Bum Deal' is not exceptional but intriguing at times and insightful into the mindset of an alcoholic. Rufus' emotions are raw and unfiltered, underscoring his helplessness, frustration and acceptance of his situation as well as his struggle to get them under control to save himself. It also provides a few details about the BumFight phenomenon, but more importantly, it's about the redemption of a man who fell too many times to pick himself up without the help of someone who cared enough to do so. And who doesn't need a helping hand once in a while?

 

 

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review 2018-10-12 17:49
True Historical Horror
But You Did Not Come Back: A Memoir - Marceline Loridan-Ivens,Sandra Smith,Judith Perrignon
Marceline, was taken to a camp with her father when she was just 16. She writes of her nightmare, her community, her country, her family, but mostly the effect of losing her father and his dreams in such a way. Her painful memories that never diminished, while everyone kept telling her to just forget. Those who did not walk in her skin could never fully understand their bond and the cost of the break.
This is her story a feel of what being in her skin felt like during and after the war. Her life was forever altered and never safe and free. The story is beautiful, her words direct and full of heartbreak. I finished it still wishing he might come home. This war left few happy ever after stories. I will never forget her
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review 2018-10-07 22:01
Let Your Mind Run
Let Your Mind Run - Michelle Hamilton,Deena Kastor

To my fellow runners:  Have you ever had this experience--where you are running (race or training run) and find your mind filled with negative self-talk?

 

Why am I so slow?

Why did I register for this race?  I can't DO this!

I can't keep up with [other runner]!  What's WRONG with me?!?!?

No, not a HILL!  This will kill my pace!

 

Chances are, if you run, you have first-hand knowledge of the destructive potential (and pervasiveness) of thought patterns like these.  What if you could turn around the way you think, so your thoughts can boost your performance and overall fitness?  Whether this is something you've personally mastered or something you aspire to, I believe you will find value in this Deena Kastor book.

 

Deena Kastor started running as a middle-schooler, taking to the sport after her parents had encouraged her to try a variety of activities.  Soon she was winning races, and those wins carried through into high school.  In those early days, pure talent was fueling the victories.  Races were for running hard, and practices were for having fun.  When the wins became harder to come by, that was modified to hard running for races AND practices.

 

The high-school running led to a scholarship to university in Arkansas, but by the time she graduated, running had lost its luster.  Deena was on the verge of pursuing a career as a baker when a friend encouraged her to train with a coach in California and give professional running a try.  A phone call with the coach convinced her to move to his town.  They clicked, and part of Deena's journey as a runner involved learning to use positive thinking to support her training and racing.  She cites many of the sources she consulted, which readers might be interested in checking out on their own.

 

Along the way, she married Andrew Kastor, had a baby girl named Piper, steadily progressed and set records in a variety of distances, from 5k through marathon, and eventually formed her own racing team--benefiting from her and Andrew's knowledge.

 

This book is relevant to me as a runner, and I can't comment on whether non-runners would be interested in it (though anyone can use positive thinking for various pursuits).  But this is definitely a great choice for runners, especially those looking for strategies to get out of their own way and train their brains to help rather than hinder their progress.

 

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review 2018-09-29 18:50
Reading with Patrick
Reading with Patrick - Michelle Kuo

This was an eye-opening book. I found Kuo's story at turns heartening and frustrating — as an eager member of Teach for America, she offered hope for an impoverished, unruly group of last-chance students, but at the same time, she was so ill-equipped and naive it was dangerous. Often throughout the book, Kuo compares Patrick's plight to her own immigrant family's struggles, which I understand, but I think it made her tone-deaf to this particular urban crisis. I give Kuo tremendous credit for reconnecting with Patrick when she learned he was incarcerated, but I sometimes felt those months with him provided a beyond-reproach excuse for her own career indecision. Upon her return to the Delta, Kuo learns the harrowing fates of many in the class she taught, but does not seem concerned by her inability to make an impact with anyone but Patrick. What's more, at different points Kuo acknowledges huge gaps in their education, that provide few with the skills to reach beyond their circumstances. Obviously, this is not a situation that can be changed overnight, or with the limited attention span of a short-term volunteer teacher, but still.

 

I appreciate Kuo's devotion to Patrick, and the sacrifice it entailed. But parts of this story seemed more to me (and I hate how cynical I feel saying this) like they were intended to pad a resume or write a book. There were so many others in Patrick's class simply left behind, and I could not get that out of my head, how you could choose just one student to place all of your hope in, at the expense of the rest.  But despite all my misgivings, I do believe that Kuo has provided a valuable window into an untenable situation — where the difference between the haves and the have nots is, in some cases, literally criminal.

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