This month I focus exclusively on writings by and about the writer-neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi, who died last year at age 37. I didn’t know him, and I only met his wife briefly years ago. So this isn’t personal or coyly promotional. It’s just admiration and awe for a life, the small oeuvre of a gifted writer, and some of the writings he inspired.
If you haven’t read him yet: do. You may cry, but you won’t be sorry. And if you cry, only some of the tears will be because of the story. Others will be for the insight, the simplicity and lyricism of the prose, and the realization that he wrote so well and beautifully while having chemo, while having his first child, and while dying.
When Breath Becomes Air – A brilliant and highly literate mind faces an early death with honesty, erudition, stories, thoughts and beautiful language.
My Marriage Didn’t End When I Became a Widow by Lucy Kalanithi – First, clearly Paul was not the only doctor-writer in the family. Second, if you are or ever have been married, or partnered, or seriously in love, and/or wondered about the meaning of life or love, you should read this.
Falling Together – Empathetic Care for the Dying by Lisa Rosenbaum – Lisa, a prolific doctor-writer for pubs like the New Yorker, the New England Journal of Medicine and the New York Times, was Paul’s friend. Among the strengths of this piece are the blend of personal stories and larger concepts, including meaning, autonomy and our roles as human beings and doctors at the end of life.
In the book, we learn that Paul planned to be a physician-scientist for a few decades and then spend another couple of decades writing. He won’t get to do either, of course. But if he hoped to be recognized as a writer of talent and import, he certainly succeeded.