You may not think that reading about the topic of death and dying is appropriate for summer, but in fact there are a number of newly published books that examine the aging and dying process with hope and inspiration. Look for some of these, available to be signed out, on the shelves of the Holy Trinity library now.
Gratitude by Oliver Sacks
This world-renowned neurologist, famous for his writings on strange neurological conditions, died last August. He spent the two years of his of life writing this series of essays, several of which went viral after their release. His last essay includes the point, “I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself.” Doesn’t that alone make you want to read more?
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Reviews of this memoir, written by a very successful neurosurgeon who was diagnosed and died from terminal cancer, have been overwhelmingly positive. Abraham Verghese penned this line in the introduction: “One of the most poignant things about Dr. Kalanithi’s story is that he had postponed learning how to live while pursuing his career in neurosurgery. By the time he was ready to enjoy a life outside the operating room, what he needed to learn was how to die.” The story that pulled me in was his decision to have a child after learning he was sick, because of his belief that living is not about avoiding suffering, it’s about creating meaning.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Happens in the End by Atul Gawande
Most of us have heard of this book, although I have yet to read it (perhaps this will be my summer)! Gawande examines the “overmedicalization” of aging and dying through personal vignettes, yet his popularity as a writer for the The New Yorker promises that the reading won’t be dry. If you don’t feel like reading, you can also listen to or watch this Frontline episode.
The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America by Ann Neumann
After caring for her dying father, Neumann decides to become a hospice volunteer and through this novel examines the varying perspectives and complications of how we deal with dying in America today.
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant: A Memoir by Roz Chast
This would be the most humorous of this list, so certainly suitable for summer reading. New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast writes a graphic novel about watching her parents decline, become too frail to stay in their longtime apartment, suffer dementia and die in their nineties in a hospice-care facility.