When Breath Becomes Air

This book was chosen by a steering committee at my university and I volunteered to be a book discussion facilitator for it. I’m always looking for opportunities to interact with other people and be able to discuss books, particularly since reading is an independent activity. Book clubs and book discussion groups are always helpful to get different perspectives and aid in the synthesis of the book.

For this book discussion we started by asking everyone to describe the book in one word. Most people said something along the lines of “emotional”, “cathartic”, “hopeful”, etc. I was the only one who seemed to have a more cynical opinion of the book, and answered the question by saying “disappointing”.

I said the book was disappointing mainly because I have read many books of this nature and this novel did not bring anything new to the table. It is not to say that the book was not enjoyable, or that the ideas were not interesting, but in the grand spectrum of books written by doctors, this was not the best one. However, I do appreciate and respect Paul Kalanithi, and I think it was important that he actualize his potential as an author before his passing.

There were several snippets of the book that I did extremely enjoy, particularly when he explains his thought process on what to do about his diagnosis and how that would affect his life:

“My life had been building potential, potential that would now go unrealized. I had planned to do so much, and I had come so close. I’ve spent almost a third of my life preparing for it. I had mapped out this whole forty-year career for myself—the first twenty as a surgeon-scientist, the last twenty as a writer. But now that I am likely well into my last twenty years, I don’t know which career I should be pursuing. If I had some sense of how much time I have left, it’d be easier. If I had two years, I’d write. If I had ten, I’d get back to surgery and science. If only I knew how many months or years I had left. Tell me three months, I’d spend time with family. Tell me one year, I’d write a book. Give me ten years, I’d get back to treating diseases. The truth that you live one day at a time didn’t help: What was I supposed to do with that day?”

This section resonated with me because for a lot of us in higher education this is what it feels like. We go to school, and we get trained for years and years. We build up our potential but are not yet actualizing it; we are building potential energy and none of it is turning into kinetic energy.

Paul, in making this statement, made me reflect a lot on my own life and of this conundrum. What can I do, as of now, to actualize some of my potential? Cancer, or other life-threatening conditions, should not be what pushes us to ask these questions. We should always be considering what we can do now, because you truly never know how much time you have left. That is kind of the beautiful and sinister thing about life in modern times. Most of us will easily live to old age, thanks to modern technologies in medicine and decreases in infectious diseases. However, this is a luxury that not all of us will have and only time will tell who makes it through. We need to face our mortality on a more regular basis. Only to ensure that we are accomplishing the things we want to accomplish every day.

The last part of the quote that I highlighted above, “What was I supposed to do with that day?”,  reminds me that we should always strive to live in the present. We get too caught up in the past or in the future, and forget about all the things there are to experience NOW.  Very reminiscent of this panel I attended with the topic: “The evolution of scientific research over the last half century”. One of the researchers on the panel mentioned how important it is to enjoy the journey. When building all this potential, never forget that it is an active process and not passive.

“Good books often answer questions you didn’t even know you wanted to ask”
― Will Schwalbe





Book Deals for September 7th

Seems that I am unable to help myself from buying books. In my defense I did have some Amazon credit available to me so I willingly spent that.

In today’s interesting book deals:

When Broken Glass Floats: This book fits well into my book journey goals. Definitely about a place I have never read about and know almost nothing on except for the details a friend of mine from Cambodia shared here and there. Excited to see where it takes me!

Ten Thousand Saints: I did not actually purchase this one. I am restraining myself but it seems to be a good find as well. The description had this one sentence that really grabbed me: “A sweeping exploration of family, loss, and one generation’s attempts to escape the mistakes of their parents”.

History is All You Left Me: This one I could not help myself mainly because I haven’t read a sad love story in awhile. In a lot of the books I have been reading recently the love stories have not been central so it will be a nice change of pace. Additionally this book doesn’t follow the usual heteronormative angle that love stories take.

Happy Reading!

“You can tell if someone really loves Books by the way they look at them, how they open and close them, how they turn the pages.”
― Milena Busquets

Book Deals for September 5th

These are harrowing times it seems and it would only be fitting that the book that stood out to me today revolves around Hurricane Katrina: Salvage the Bones. Particularly poignant for these times with Hurricane Irma on her way.

Check it out!

“The question isn’t whether I have time to read or not (time that nobody will ever give me, by the way), but whether I’ll allow myself the pleasure of being a reader.”
― Daniel Pennac

Book Deals for September 1st

It is a little late for this but these books seem worthy of being publicized for being on sale today! I will unfortunately not be purchasing them since I need to put a halt on my purchases for awhile. Too many books to read. Best problem to have though!

The Bright Hour: This book stood out to me mainly because of the book cover! But after reading through the description I was struck by it. Particularly given the book I just finished this week, “When Breath Becomes Air”. This book also has a 5 star review with 210 reviews! Not bad at all!

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: This book is by Maya Angelou so needs no explanation. A must read!!

Happy Reading!

“I had found my religion: nothing seemed more important to me than a book. I saw the library as a temple.”
― Jean-Paul SartreThe Words

Mundane is Good 

The PhD life teaches you a lot of things, it teaches you how valuable your time is and that you have be careful how you spend your heartbeats. You learn to prioritize things and how to let certain things go. Unfortunately, there is not enough time in the day to do all the things you want to get done.

However, I have been struggling with the routine that is the PhD life. I have never been a fan of routine and thrive on unexpected developments. This is why I always try to keep myself busy with extra-curricular activities or things outside of just school. I require a lot of stimulation. Nevertheless, I am trying to learn how to appreciate the mundane. I think we are taught that life is supposed to always be dramatic, and that anything besides that is boring. In other words, it’s problematic to see time pass you by and is considered boring or mundane. I want to change my perspective on that and learn to appreciate the mundane. Only because that is what my life is right now and I refuse to be in a state where I do not look forward to things. I am, unfortunately, working on my potential energy right now and so can not yet fully actualize myself. That doesn’t mean though that I shouldn’t enjoy myself, just requires a little change in perspective.

Life Mottos:
1. It’s Fine
2. No One to Blame But Myself
3. The Mundane is Good

Book Deals for August 26th

At a departmental event today but there’s always time to be keeping an eye out for good deals! 

In today’s exciting deals: 

The Secret Life of Bees: this is just a must-read. It has a good reputation for good reasons. Please check out! 
The Last Lecture: a depressing book but an amazing book. Read it awhile ago and made me want to go to Carnegie Mellon. One of those books I’ll always remember. Leaves you with a lot to think about and potentially a lot to cry about. 
Happy Reading! 

“There comes a time when you have to choose between turning the page and closing the book.”

–Josh Jameson

Book Deals for August 21st

It is a little late to be posting this given that the day is almost over but because I am currently reading this book wanted to share:  A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing.

I will forewarn that this book is slow to start but it is written in such a creative way. I did have to pause with reading it for awhile because it took a lot of brain power to get through the chapters, due to the unique language she uses. But I am so glad I picked it back up!

If you are looking for something unique and reminiscent of Clockwork Orange’s creation of an English spinoff language, look no further.

“The ability to read awoke inside of me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive.”
― Malcolm XThe Autobiography of Malcolm X

Book Deals for August 17th

In today’s deals:

Mama Day
– This book just jumped out of me because of the description. Then come to find out it is by the same author as “The Women of Brewster House”, which I loved and reviewed not long ago. Definitely seems like a good pick!

A Land More Kind Than Home
– I mainly was interested in this book deal because the setting is in North Carolina, and that is where I now live. I think it is extra meaningful to read books that are set where you live. Makes you feel more connected to the characters, and if the author does a good job, you will be able to imagine the scenario perfectly since you live in the backdrop. Plus it has a 4.5 star rating on Amazon!

Gulag: A History
– This is the book I decided to purchase. It is a Pulitzer Prize winning book on a topic that is not discussed enough. The Nazi concentration camps are a large focus of many books, but not often are the concentration camps of the Soviet Union discussed. This is mainly because we turned a blind eye to the crimes our allies committed during WWII.

Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit
– I just really like the title of this book and it seems like a good “feel good” sort of book.


“Books are a poor substitute for female companionship, but they are easier to find.”
― Patrick RothfussThe Wise Man’s Fear


Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga

This was a very timely read given the threat of North Korea on Guam, a place most people in the U.S. do not even know is a U.S. territory. Although this book does not specifically discuss Guam, it does focus on the imperialism of the U.S. which is very much related to Guam.

It is amazing the amount of things that are not mentioned in the classroom when discussing U.S. history. This book speaks to the imperialist past of the U.S. by highlighting a very specific story that illustrates this seemingly forgotten past.

Ota Benga was kidnapped from his home in the Congo to be put on display at the St. Louis World’s Fair as well as the Bronx Zoo. At the time the science community, specifically the anthropological community, was very focused on displaying the superiority of the white race, relative to African people, specifically ones like Ota Benga (he was a Mbuti pygmy).

Pamela Newkirk did an amazing job researching what she could on the information available on Ota Benga. A lot of the available information was skewed and/or biased given that it was not coming directly from Ota Benga. Nevertheless, she did a wonderful job letting the reader know that this was not necessarily the truth and to be skeptical. I appreciated though that she presented the information available in a matter of fact manner to allow the reader to make their own judgment on the information presented.

The length of the book was perfect. I realize that it is hard with these sort of topics to know how much to put it and what to leave out. Additionally, Pamela integrated details on the African-American community of the time, beyond just the scope of their role in the release of Ota Benga from the Bronx Zoo.

However, what stood out to me the most was the incorporation of the role the St. Louis World’s Fair, zoos, museums and anthropology played in the imperialism of the U.S. It is not often that you happen upon a book that is able to cover such a breadth of topics and so well. Pamela Newkirk not only gave justice to the story of Ota Benga, but successfully used his tragic life story as a means to explain the greater forces at work.

“The presence of Benga and his countrymen– along with the Native American; the Filipinos and Igorot; and the Japanese Ainu–was intended to highlight the United States’ conquests, imperialism, and progress”. – Pamela Newkirk




Book Deals for August 12th 

Really need this rainy weather to abide! Trying to enjoy one of my last weekends before school resumes. A little hard with the rain. 

Anyways, on this rainy Saturday, I have some wonderful books deals: 

Meridian: this book is by the glorious Alice Walker, the author of “The Color Purple”. 

Confessions of a Sociopath: Given the stigma associated to sociopath, this read could prove to be rather illuminating. 
Delicious Foods: The title within itself gets me. The synopsis is really well done and I was stricken by this statement made “In Delicious Foods, James Hannaham tells the gripping story of three unforgettable characters: a mother, her son, and the drug that threatens to destroy them.” 
“There is no mistaking a real book when one meets it. It is like falling in love.”             – Christopher Morley, Pipefuls