Thursday Book Feature: When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air

by Paul Kalanathi

Copyright 2016.

 

During the last year of his neurosurgical residency, Dr. Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. In this memoir, he shares his experiences in an attempt to help others. The book has a prolog, two parts, and an epilog.

In the prolog, Dr. Kalanathi shares how he and his wife Lucy learned of his diagnosis. In the first part, he talks about his life growing up in a small Arizona town, his interest in neuroscience, how he studied abroad before returning to the states and attending medical school at Yale.

In the second part, he shares his experiences as a neurosurgical resident at a San Francisco hospital, leading up to his diagnosis. He discusses his treatment and how he and Lucy conceived a child, despite his illness. He explains how he returned to his residency after treatment and completed it before he took a turn for the worst. He died before he could finish writing this book, so Lucy ties up loose ends in the epilog.

One thing I found disconcerting was the lack of dates. We know that Dr. Kalanathi died in March of 2015 and that he was diagnosed a couple of years earlier, but that’s it. I think it’s a good idea to insert dates throughout a memoir to orient the reader, and I do this in My Ideal Partner.

When Breath Becomes Air reminded me of when my mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1999. It was never known where the cancer originated. After six months of chemotherapy, she was given a good prognosis, but a couple of weeks later, she was gone. Dr. Kalanathi’s oncologist was reluctant at first to give him a prognosis. I can see why, I guess.

I liked Lucy’s description of her husband’s death in the epilog. He died in a hospital room, surrounded by his family, even his infant daughter. I felt guilty because my own husband died alone. Of course he wasn’t alert for the last few days of his life, and Dr. Kalanathi was, most of the time. Lucy’s concluding paragraphs emphasize something I’ve always believed. When you lose someone you love, you grieve, but where there’s love, even in death, life goes on.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

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Thursday Book Feature: A Town Like Alice

A Town Like Alice

By Nevil Shute

Copyright 1950.

 

Jeanne, a young English woman, is taken prisoner by the Japanese in Malaya during World War II. She and other women and children are marched across Malaya from one village to another. One Japanese commander after another refuses to take responsibility for them and sends them on their way. This goes on for over six months. Under-nourished and receiving little medical attention, fraught with illness, half of them die but not Jeanne.

Along the way, the women are befriended by two Australian soldiers, also prisoners. One of them, Joe, steals several chickens from a nearby Japanese officer’s home in order to feed them. When the Japanese find out, they crucify him and force the women and children to watch, then move on.

Months later, in another village, with the Japanese guard escorting the women dead after an illness, they’re left to their own devices. They work in the village’s rice paddies to support themselves for the next three years until the war ends.

Years later, back in England, Jeanne receives a sizable inheritance from a deceased uncle. Armed with sufficient funds, she returns to the village in Malaya where she and the other women worked in the rice paddies. In gratitude to the villagers for supporting her and the other women during the war, she has a well built in the center of town to make life easier for the women of the village since there is no running water.

She then finds out that Joe survived his ordeal at the hands of the Japanese and travels to Australia to find him. Fate brings them together, and she starts a new life in the outback.

This story is told, in part, by the lawyer in England who manages the trust fund Jeanne’s uncle set up for her in the event of his death. The lawyer relates Jeanne’s story, as she tells it to him in person and through her letters.

In a way, this book reminded me of a memoir I read a couple of years ago. Unbroken is the story of Olympic track star Louis Zamperini’s life in a Japanese concentration camp during World War II. At one point while Jeanne and the other women are marching across Malaya under Japanese guard, she wonders if life would be better in a camp. If she knew what was happening to Zamperini, probably at about the same time…

At the end of the book, the author includes a note in which he explains that during World War II, the Japanese marched a group of women and children across Sumatra, not Malaya. Why, then, did he set that part of the story in Malaya? He should have explained his reason for re-inventing history. Otherwise, if I were Australian, and you were to ask me if this was a good book, I would say, “Oh my word!”

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

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Thursday Book Feature: The Dog Really did That?

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Really Did That?: 101 Stories of Miracles, Mischief, and Magical Moments

Edited by Amy Newmark

Copyright 2017

 

This collection of true stories focuses on rescued dogs but includes many different tales about pooches. In “Geometry Dog,” a teacher explains how her canine friend helped her students learn arithmetic. “Jazmine’s Journey” is the story of how one rescued dog, abandoned in Wyoming’s Red Desert, traveled to her forever home in Canada with the help of strangers. ⠠⠔ “Brains Versus Brawn, the author shares her experiences raising basset hounds.

Most of the stories are written by women, but some have male authors. Some are funny, others touching. The stories begin with quotes, mostly about dogs, by celebrities and others. Proceeds from sales of this book go toward animal rescue.

In the foreword, Dr Robin Ganzert, President and CEO of American Humane, encourages readers to adopt shelter dogs but points out the responsibility involved in caring for a pet, a responsibility I’m still not ready to undertake. I like dogs, and although it’s been almost five years since the death of my late husband, who suffered two strokes and whom I took care of during the last six years of his life, I still don’t want to care for another living thing.

That said, this book can still be enjoyed, even if you don’t want to adopt a dog. Many of the stories made me laugh, and some moved me almost to tears. This book would make a great gift for any dog lover, and you’ll support a worthy cause by purchasing it.

***

     Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

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Thursday Book Feature: Notes from a Small Island

Notes from a Small Island

by Bill Bryson

Copyright 1995

 

Journalist Bill Bryson, author of A Walk in the Woods and other travel books, grew up in Iowa, then moved to England, where he married and started a family. Later, his family moved back to the U.;S. so his children could be exposed to American culture. Before doing so, he took one last trip through England and parts of Scotland, sometimes on foot but mostly using public transportation. A couple of times, he rented a car.

Notes from a Small Island describes this journey, starting at Dover and ending near Inverness. Bryson describes each town he visited, giving some history and sharing memories of earlier visits. With humor, he reflects on the idiosyncrasies’ of the English bus and train system and of the English people in general. He emphasizes his love for England.

I found this book not only informative but also amusing. Bryson’s descriptions of English people reminded me of Garrison Keillor’S comic depictions of people in Minnesota. His account of a shopping trip with his wife, while taking a break from his travels, reminded me of James Thurber’s short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mittee, in which the protagonist daydreams to escape his demanding wife. Bryson’s descriptions of times when his guidebook misled him reminded me of a trip with my father to Mexico years ago when we had the same problem.

Why waste time, money, and effort on a trip to England when you can read this book instead? Of course things may have changed since Bryson made the original journey, but it’s still a good read.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

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Thursday Book Feature: Writing past dark…

Writing past dark: envy, fear, distraction, and other dilemmas in the writer’s life

By Bonnie Friedman

Copyright 1993

 

In this collection of essays on the writing life, the author, through stories of her own experiences and those of others, explores such topics as envy, distractions, and success. She talks about attending a writing school and how it didn’t help her. She asks the question of whether or not to write about someone you know and reflects on the loneliness of the profession and the need for perfection. In the end, she shares how she was affected by one story being accepted for publication by The New York Times and a string of rejections that soon followed.

I was compelled to read this book because of an upcoming appearance by the author at one of my writing group meetings. Because her writing can be abstract, parts of the book didn’t hold my attention. Her comparison between writing and the Biblical story of Abraham sacrificing his son to prove his faith in God was, to me, absurd.

However, I found most of her stories interesting, like the account of how her parents reacted when they read a book she wrote about them. It made me think of my own memoir. I’m thankful I didn’t have anything really bad to write about anyone in that book. To learn more about My Ideal Partner, click here.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

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Thursday Book Feature: Recipes for a Beautiful Life

Recipes for a Beautiful Life: A Memoir in Stories

By Rebecca Barry

Copyright 2015.

 

This isn’t a cookbook, although there are recipes throughout. Instead, this #1 New York Times bestselling author explores what it’s like to balance writing with marriage and family in a failing economy. Through an introduction, epilog, and journal entries spanning from 2008 to 2012, she talks about how she and her husband and two small boys started a new life in a small town in upstate New York.

She describes the difficulties of writing while trying to care for a big house and two small children, especially when her husband’s work took him to New York. She discusses how she and her husband struggled to make ends meet after he was laid off from one of his jobs, how they tried and eventually succeeded at producing a magazine, and how, after working on a book for a couple of years, she realized it wasn’t publishable and the sense of failure she had as a result.

She describes her close-knit family, the reason she and her husband settled where they did. She talks about her sister, who wanted a baby and finally adopted one, and her mother’s diagnosis with kidney failure. In the end, she explains how a new book idea and the success of their magazine gave her a new lease on life.

This book frustrated me at times. Like many of today’s parents, Rebecca Barry and her husband Tommy weren’t as authoritative as our parents were when my younger brother and I were growing up. As a result, their little boys walked all over them.

If I had yelled at three in the morning, “Mommy, get up now!” I would have gotten a spanking, which I would have deserved. When my younger brother acted out in a restaurant, Dad took him outside, put him on the hood of the car, gave him a talking to and perhaps a spanking, which he also deserved. Talking back was not an option. Children must learn to respect others, to take responsibility for their actions, and to do things they don’t want to do like putting on their pants and going to school. That’s how I was raised, and I’m proud of it.

That said, this book helped me put my own life in perspective. I’m so thankful I wasn’t trying to write a book with a traditional publisher’s deadline looming while caring for two small children, especially in a society where spanking is taboo. All I had to contend with while getting my novel, We Shall Overcome, ready for publication was my late husband Bill’s partial paralysis as a result of two strokes. Oh, there were interruptions galore, since he could do little for himself, but at least he didn’t throw things or pee in the bathtub.

Then again, the comforting thing about being a parents is that your children will eventually grow up and be able to fend for themselves. However, when you’re caring for a loved one who will probably never walk again, things don’t usually get better. You can learn more about our struggles by reading My Ideal Partner.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Thursday Book Feature: Against All Odds

Against All Odds

by Danielle Steel

Copyright 2017

 

From this best-selling author comes a novel about the worries associated with parenting adult children who take foolish risks. Kate, a widow, runs a successful high-end clothing resale shop in New York City. In the course of two years, her four grown children, each in turn, risk their happiness.

Isabel, a lawyer, falls for a former client with no job, no ambition, and a drug habit. Justin, a homosexual writer, along with his partner, have three babies with the help of a surrogate mother and donor eggs.

His twin sister Julie, a clothing designer, finds a man who appears to be perfect in every way but turns out to be abusive after she marries him. Willie, the youngest, an information technology specialist, falls in love with an older woman who is divorced with two children.

To add irony to the story, Kate, the parent who worries about her children’s immorality, becomes involved with a married Frenchman with whom she’s doing business. What happens as a result of all this? Read the book and find out.

Despite Danielle Steel’s annoying habit of doing too much telling and not enough showing, I enjoyed reading this, as I did many of her other books. Once I picked it up, it was hard to put down. The Recorded Books narrator did an excellent job portraying all the characters. This book makes a great point. As a parent, you sometimes have to let your children make mistakes, then be there to help pick up the pieces.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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