Originally published in: 2018
What it’s about: A woman’s first year living with stage IV, incurable cancer and the insidious aphorisms she has always told herself that she now must confront – like the book title.
What made me pick it up: I was scrolling through Twitter and saw her TED talk. So I watched it and then I googled and learned about this book.
My favorite parts: In the vein of other books which I have loved, like When Breath Becomes Air and The Bright Hour, this is a beautiful examination of life, and figuring out the important parts, and learning how to go forward even though you won’t necessarily live to see the grown up dreams from the seeds you’ve planted. Unlike those other two books, this isn’t about someone who is dying – at least not yet. It is about someone who is living with a disease that will likely end her life sooner than she ever expected, but maybe not as soon as she thinks. You will cry along with Bowler as she lives for two months at a time, between scans, and as she decides what legacies to start building for her young son and beloved husband. More than anything it will remind you to live more fully in the present since it is truly all the precious time we are guaranteed.
Who it’s great for: Anyone, especially those looking for truth after a difficult diagnosis.
Originally published in: 2017
What’s it about: The story of two friends, partners in art and life, creating animated works that bring them a sort of fame while also forcing them to confront difficult truths and traumas in their lives that other people would like to leave in the past.
What made me pick it up: I needed an audiobook to listen to and this one was available, has gotten a lot of good press, and has a cover that makes me want to read it.
My favorite things: Whitaker treats characters suffering addictions almost without judgment in a way that is refreshingly humane. She takes the time to develop every character’s layers and the complexity of their relationships.
Who it’s great for: Readers looking for complex relationships between characters or an exploration of identity.
Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).
Originally published in: 2014
What it’s about: Award-winning surgeon Gawande looks at how medicine approaches death and dying and some new ideas that might provide a more holistic end-of-life experience.
What made me pick it up: I’m curious about medical everything, and already had a place on my death Goodreads shelf to add this. I think anyone who has seen a loved one waste away in a nursing home or hospital has a sense that maybe we aren’t focusing on the right things at the end of life. I really like how much he recognizes the great work of hospice.
My favorite things: I liked how the author recognized that the drive to fix patients comes at the expense of quality of life sometimes in both general medical practice as well as his own professional experience. I also liked his emphasis on how we need to have hard conversations before it’s too late so our wishes can be documented and our loved ones can know what we want. This will make you reconsider how you might want your life to taper and move you to support alternatives in elder care that are just emerging. More than anything it will help you realize that there is more to life than medical sustainability at the end.
Who it’s great for: Adults of any age who are facing or will face end-of-life situations (so, that’s…. let’s see… all of us). It’s never too early to think, plan, and share our wishes.
Get this book from your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).
Originally published in: 2017
What it’s about: A teen girl watches her oldest friend as he is murdered by the police. She contemplates Tupac’s concept of THUG LIFE (The Hate U Give Little Infants F***s Everyone) while struggling to stand up for her community.
What made me pick it up: This has been getting crazy good press so I scooped it up as soon as I could.
My favorite things: Starr’s voice is genuine and her heartbreak palpable. Thomas captures the essence and urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement without exploiting or forgetting the real lives that have been lost. The current movement is tied to the past through more than Tupac’s words; reminiscent of the response by Bloods and Crips to the Rodney King verdict, local opposing gangs band together to protect their communities and join in protest against the violence they face at the hands of the state. The overall effect is both breathtaking and devastating.
Who it’s great for: Teens and adults looking to understand and process the violence faced by communities of color in our society.
Pick up a copy of this book at Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.
Originally published in: 2016
What it’s about: As a medical resident Kalanithi discovers he’s got terminal cancer, and details the decisions he makes as a result and all the thoughts that come with that diagnosis.
What made me pick it up: It was short. And I’d heard it was powerful.
My favorite things: This book is stunning. It will make your heart break into pieces. Every time I thought it was done I’d turn the page and get hit with another scene so heart-wrenching I could hardly bear it. But you do because the story is so gripping. Kalanithi writes as he’s dying – writes about medicine, which is his life’s passion; writes about his wife, who is his great love; writes about meaning. His writing was hard enough but the end was the even more difficult. The final third of the book isn’t written by him. It’s written by his wife, after he’s gone. The bittersweetness of it all will stay with you. This book will haunt you in the best way.
Who it’s great for: Teens. Adults. Anyone who has witnessed a family member slowly fade from terminal illness. Those who like happy/sad books.