Read: 2018 Edition
Everything that mattered to me in prints and audio-visual.
Before 2018 finally becomes a thing of the past, I thought to share some of the books I consumed that made my soul richer. 2018 was monumental for me for many reasons, and chief among this was that I finally got to launch my own show, in the way of a podcast. Realizing this 4-year dream made a world of a difference to me. And thanks to having such a platform to share stories and processes, connect the world, and engage with people, I was able to get some book recommendations from some of my guests.
In 2017, I read a total of 57 books and wrote about it extensively too. While I was not trying to beat this number but merely either to entertain myself, learn and unlearn a behavior, or just plainly satisfy my curiosity, I was able to read a total of 86 books in 2018.
More than half of these books were read through my OverDrive and Libby apps via my local library as an audiobook or an e-copy. I purchased the rest as hard copies. I also happen to be a member of a book club in my workplace, so I got three books free of charge. Here are the top reads in no particular order (except the last one which is now immortalized on my running list of favorite reads ever), categorized by broad themes I came up with:
I am history buff, and so it was not surprising to see that more than half of the books I read belonged to this category. In 2017, a chunk of the history books I read was about the two Korean nations. Well, as it turns out, there are only so many published books you can read about these two countries — so you would not be hearing a lot about Korea this time around :-(
- Korean History
I think I have an unhealthy obsession with North Korea (NK) because I have probably consumed almost every published book I can lay my paws on about this Hermit Kingdom. This odd fascination might be largely due to how cut off they are from the rest of the world, and I think that for all we know, they could be having a “The Village” moment.
Unlike most books on NK which are either written by scholars about the political climate and military structure, or by defectors who made it to the South, Travis Jeppsen’s See You Again in Pyongyang is quite different. For starters, he visited North Korea and stayed there for a month to study Korean (I mean how close can you really get). I thought he did a good job in depicting the lives and struggles of everyday North Koreans without enmeshing it through the prism of the worn-out geopolitical frameworks we are so tired of by now.
His book was a breath of fresh air, and a reminder that in our (at least mine) voyeuristic obsession or indifference about NK, we forget that people are people and countries are countries. Restrictions aside, North Koreans are like people from everywhere else around the world — they experience love, and heartbreaks and they hustle and daydream too. I do have some reservations about this book — due to how drawn out a lot of the stories were and some strong sentiments expressed, especially regarding Otto Warmbier’s death (I don’t think that is something to make mockery of) and the criticism of the West’s foreign policy (especially that of the US) with regard to North Korea. His approach regarding the latter was too one-sided.
- World History
I re-read a lot of old classics like George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984. Thanks to an Uber ride I ordered during my trip to Boston last year, I was able to get this book recommendation from my driver; it was actually being played in the car when I got in. If you love to drink any or all of these six things — coffee, Coca-Cola, wine, hard liquor, tea, or beer, then Tom Standage’s A History of the World in 6 Glasses is a worthy read. Sadly, growing up in Nigeria, world history was not a subject I was taught, so I grew up really deficient in so many areas. Reading this book was like going on a journey (with a glass or cup of whatever drink was being talked about) that spanned across the French Revolution, Persian Empire, to the British Empire and its odd fascination with tea stolen (ahem, imported) from China, to the globalization of brands such as Coca-Cola. The book depicts the evolution of civilization to the modern day and beyond. In addition to reading about some world events, this book served as a reminder that those drinks have withstood the rise and fall of many civilizations.
Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty
As a Nigerian, I used to argue that the solutions to our economic and political problems could be found in the hands of its citizen. As it turned out, I was half-right about this. It took one of my guests’ gentle steer towards a different direction, for me to realize how half-wrong I had been. History is rife with many examples to consistently show that countries that changed on its axis were not really due to the citizens changing but with institutional and policy changes that improved the lives of its citizens.
Reading Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty provided me with the insight I needed to know that lasting changes, especially in this case, require a top-down approach. I learned that economic institutions could either be extractive or inclusive. Extractive economic institutions lack sustained prosperity and do not provide open and economic institutions as well as incentives necessary to harness the creativity and entrepreneurship of its people. In such economics, the Elites rule and can obstruct progress as they deem fit (I thought about Nigeria a lot while reading this book). And inclusive economies do not. While these are broad generalizations, the book does a good job in providing plentiful historical and current examples to buttress its points. I also learned that poor countries (as measured by absolute poverty) have similar presentations, no matter what part of the world they are located in. Poor countries are poor because they have extractive economic and political institutions, where a culture of monopoly, corruption, and lack of political rights are the norm. This point was made very clear to me when I chatted with my friend — Nathan, who’s from Myanmar — during an episode in which we explored the shadows of our countries, post-British colonization. I found out that Nigeria and Myanmar are so much alike in more ways than I thought, and not just due to our common colonizer — the British.
Finally, if you love Orwell’s 1984, then Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley would be a worthwhile read for you (after reading Brave New World first, of course). The first book, Brave New World, is a dystopian novel that is set in a futuristic society and dealt with themes like science and human efficiency against the backdrop of feudalism and totalitarianism. This book piqued my interest after watching many an episode of Black Mirror that explored similar themes, such as the dangers of technology, eugenics, and human relations. I should also warn that some of his observations are a bit caustic and I can see why it was banned and censored in several countries when it was first released. The second book, Brave New World Revisited, is a nonfiction exploration of the themes in the first book. His latest book, written three decades later, is a lot bolder and contains several extrapolations and observations from the industrial world of the 1950s.
Notable Mentions: Things That Matter by Charles Krauthammer; Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand; and The Complete Stories of Anton Chekhov, Volume 2 by Anton Chekhov.
2. Nostalgia — of the present and past.
After spending seven years in the US, I finally made two trips to visit home — Nigeria last year; once in April and then November.
- Nothing quite stirs back the nostalgia I feel about Lagos, Nigeria than the book — Everything Good Will Come by Sefi Atta.
The first time I read this book was in 2008, and I have re-read it twice between then and now. Having been away from home for so long, I wanted something to jolt me back to the nostalgia of the past while I scrambled to find where I fit in the grand scheme of things as I made the dreaded journey back home. You could say that this book served as my comfort blankie, and you would not be wrong in that assessment. Ms. Atta’s book remains one of my favorite books written by a Nigerian female as it did not fail in its quest to explore a lot of the salient issues we experience, which range from marriage, nonconformism, religion, feminism, friendship, patriarchy, and politics. I also think that being female in Nigeria, we can find bits and pieces of our own stories in the protagonist’s (Enitan’s) story.
- The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma was recommended to me by one of my Kenyan friends. I think one of the beauties of Nigeria is our cultural expressions and this book was packed with a lot of it. The book was narrated from the first-person point of view of one of the brothers, Benjamin Agwu, on the collapse of his family. I read the audio version, and I deeply thank the young man who did the narration (despite how off some of his pronunciations were).
The book is packed with several symbols about nature and use of metaphors to explain several concepts (at a point, it got a bit tiring). I have heard a lot of my non-Nigerian friends complain about how hard it is to read most Nigerian books as they are often not written with considerations for outsiders. I think this book does its job in not falling into that described category. Plus the storyline is as tragic as they come (I blame the Nollywood effect on this actually) with themes ranging from religion, familial piety, superstition, proverbs, to brotherly love (or its lack thereof). I think this book will do well if adapted into a movie. It has enough material to survive the insipid washing it might go through during the screenwriting process.
The things my brother read shaped him; they became his visions. He believed in them. I have now come to know that what one believes often becomes permanent, and what becomes permanent can be indestructible ― Chigozie Obioma, The Fishermen
- One of the topics I explored during a couple of episodes on my podcast was the experiences of Africans, both in Africa and in the diaspora. This topic was also one that I had explored during my conversation with the person seated next to me on my flight to Charlotte, NC.
- Deep into our conversation, she recommended the book — Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi to me. What a book! This book is a family saga which follows seven generations, beginning with the two half-sisters — Effia and Esi (spoiler: they will never know each other) and how their lives (and their ensuing progenies) are forever changed by the legacy of American slavery and African colonialism. Each chapter is rich in history, the depiction of the Black experience at home and abroad, as well as the gruesome nature of the Transatlantic slave trade — which I think, speaks to the depth of research went into putting this book together. The eye-opening experience garnered from this book, as well as the strong characters are ones you are bound not to forget so quickly.
Notable Mentions: Several of Anne Lamott’s books (Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace; Hallelujah Anyway; Stitches), The Road Less Travelled by Scott Peck, and The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis.
- The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance — Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matter by Sinclair B. Ferguson
Sometime in October last year, I reached out to a friend, Doc Ayomide, about the issue of church attendance and its relevance to the Christian life. I had argued that I did not think that church attendance needed to be a regular thing for fear of it being too religious. He begged to differ and gently pointed me to this book as a resource.
The premise of his counterargument was that being part of the body of Christ; we cannot think of ourselves as apart from Christ to be considered functional. That blew my mind, and it also helped put a lot of meaning into the Hebrews 10:23–25 bible verse.
The book also provides a sound justification to what it really means to be “in Christ” and how to embrace the true gospel. It also deals with one of the most significant present-day issues facing reformed churches — external moralism (legalism). Mr. Ferguson does all of these teachings with love and the heartiest dose of humor you could expect from a Scotsman!
Now because this book is quite a long read and versed in theology (I struggled at some point with some of its chapters), I suggest to read it chapter by chapter and find someone or a group of people to discuss the themes with together — as I did with my friend. Before reading this book, I knew zilch about the Marrow Controversy or the role that the Church of Scotland played in this controversy in the 18th Century. Reading this book also made me identify a critical gap: that there is a dearth of discussion of Christian history and theology, especially among Nigerian Christians. Internally, it made me reflect on the right perspective to have in understanding the gospel of grace so that I can relate in a Christ-like way to everyone around me.
“There is a kind of psychological tendency for Christians to associate the character of God with the character of the preaching they hear — not only the substance and content of it but the spirit and atmosphere it conveys. After all, preaching is the way in which they publicly and frequently ‘hear the Word of God.’” — Sinclair B. Ferguson
“‘Isms’ (such as legalism and antinomianism) can be dangerous, not only for those who espouse them but also for those who employ the categories. They too easily become “one size fits all” pigeonholes. Individuals are not categories, and treating them as such can be quite misleading and often ignores their context. In particular, we need to be cautious in using language in a pejorative way. Words ending in -ism and -ist seem to lend themselves to emotive rather than descriptive use. — Sinclair B. Ferguson
- Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World by Max Lucado
Anxiety was something I had to finally come to terms with last year when everything came to a crescendo in my life. Talk therapies, bullet journaling, and positive confessions have been the most beneficial to me at managing the crippling effects of anxiety. I have generally avoided reading books about anxiety because they generally tend to leave me more anxious than I was before reading them. I can’t seem to remember how I stumbled on this book by Max Lucado; in fact, the last time I read his book was several years ago when I was a college student. But I am glad I did.
The book is an easy read, and its premise is based on Philippians 4:4–8 and Max uses the acronym CALM (Celebrate, Ask, Leave, and Meditate) as a teaching tool to explain these verses. While all of the tips he gave were biblical, he is very open enough not to discount the usefulness of pharmacotherapy in managing this disease — which I think is one of the beautiful things about this book.
I read this book twice in three days, and by the time I was done, two core messages stuck to me: 1) Anxiety is a part of the human experience and we ought to put all of those worries and concerns into God’s hands, and 2) Having anxiety or depression is not something I should be ashamed about as a Christian; indeed these are not sins but emotions like sadness or grief. What makes them sinful is when we let these emotions drive us to make decisions that we will regret.
The book also reinforced my need to trust God more and repent of my tendency to think I can control every outcome. Yeah, this book was pure comfort food.
“The benefit of being a great sinner is dependence upon a great grace. I found a forgiveness that is too deep to be plumbed, too high to be summited. I have never been more or less saved than the moment I was first saved. Not one bad deed has deducted from my salvation. No good deed, if there are any, has enhanced it. My salvation has nothing to do with my work and everything to do with the finished work of Christ on the cross.” — Max Lucado
Notable Mentions: Church History 101 by Sinclair B. Ferguson; Uncomfortable by Brett McCracken; Whisper by Mark Batterson; Killing Kryptonite by John Bevere.
- While on a trip to New York, the lady I sat down beside on the L-train was reading this book. So, I did what any curious person with a bad case of FOMO would do, looked it up! I immediately borrowed a copy of the audiobook from my library and began reading. I have always been very curious about trauma, especially the lingering, insidious post-effects that come up later in life. Sexual trauma, especially, is an area I am most interested in and the book — The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel A. van der Kolk — is an excellent read for this topic, as well as other kinds of trauma.
My brain is as academically wired as they come, so I relished in the numerous wealth of research and evidence shared by the author, despite how dense they were. As a matter of fact, I had to order a hard copy of the book, so I could link the auditory experience of listening to the book with a visual one. This book is not for the fragile-hearted as it goes deep into the mind-body connection and the science of trauma. The book covers three essential areas:
- What constitutes trauma and PTSD
- How trauma affects the body, brain, and personality
- Moving beyond trauma — healing and regaining stability. What can you do?
What drives my curiosity towards trauma is how its manifestations are often our brain’s way of protecting us from the abuse we suffer. A clear example of this would be the different personalities people with dissociative identity disorder have. When we become traumatized, we go into survival mode, and in most cases, we develop a pseudo personality (on top of the one we are born with), higher levels of intelligence, and an alteration in our brain chemistry. These attributes are also what make trauma a major issue. Because, like a newly made vampire, you are frozen in time and everything can be carbon-dated into two distinct time periods — before the trauma (BT) and after the trauma (AT). Normalcy becomes a challenging concept to grasp as you are constantly in overdrive and there are alterations in the fear circuity in your brain. Specifically, your prefrontal cortex is underdeveloped, which leads to more stress hormones — cortisol — being circulated in your body. But Dr. van der Kolk does not just end it there; he provides a lot of resources to help such individuals edit their maps, so they don’t have to repeat and return to the same pre-set reactions.
If anything, this book will help lend understanding and validation to your experiences as a trauma survivor. It’s also an excellent resource for those who live with (or are married to) traumatized people. I think if we all understood the negative, almost exacting impact that trauma has on every one of us, whether directly or indirectly, we will be more proactive at preventing it.
“The fundamental issue, therefore, in resolving traumatic stress is to restore proper balance between the rational and emotional brain (to feel in charge again over how you respond and how you conduct your life.) As long as people are either hyperaroused or shut down, they cannot learn from daily experience. Even if they manage to stay ‘in control,’ they become so uptight they are inflexible, stubborn and often depressed.” (Alcoholics Anonymous call this “white-knuckle” sobriety.) Real recovery on the other hand, produces different and much better results including a healthy sense of self-‐control and management of one’s life, self-confidence/respect, and a restored capacity for playfulness, creativity and imagination.” — Bessel A. van der Kolk
“The challenge of recovery is to reestablish ownership of your body and your mind — of yourself.” — Bessel A. van der Kolk
- Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault — Justin and Lindsey Holcomb
The #metoo movement gained a lot of momentum in 2018, and with that came a revisiting of the issue of sexual abuse and how to move towards healing and restoration. I listened to a very good episode about it on Tyler Braun’s podcast, and I got a book recommendation from it too. Rid of My Disgrace is beyond a self-help book for sexual assault victims. Far from it!
This book contains a lot of biblical wisdom that helps you come to an understanding of how to heal and help others, not by solely relying on self-will, good vibrations, and light, but purely by the pursuit of God. It enables you to understand how God is in the details and workings of our lives, no matter what we have been through and that there is nothing too big for the grace of Christ. And that indeed, as Christians, we do have hope in Christ because he knows what it is like to suffer.
“What victims need are not self-produced positive statements but God’s statements about his response to their pain. How can you be rid of these dysfunctional emotions and their effects? How can you be rid of your disgrace? God’s grace to you dismantles the beliefs that give disgrace life. Grace re-creates what violence destroyed. Martin Luther writes that “the love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it.” One-way love is the change agent you need. Grace transforms and heals; and healing comes by hearing God’s statements to you, not speaking your own statements to yourself.” — Justin Holcomb
- Broken Porcelain by Theresa Odigie
My dear friend, Theresa, published her first book of poems (yay!) and I invited her to read one of her poetry on the show. This served as a conversation starter for our talk on Child Sexual Abuse in Nigeria and our culture of silence around it. This book is a collection of pure sadness and connectedness and can be purchased on Amazon. Here’s my review of it:
Some poems are easy to read and make you feel good on the inside; this is not one of them. This is what you expect when you read a book about past experiences that you save for your therapist or your priest, whichever comes first. I could not digest the content of this book all at once because some of its contents were too heavy to process all in one sitting. So, I highly recommend you reading them when you are ready to face some of your personal demons or when you need something sad and jolting to validate your emotions.
This book felt like reading a friend’s diary openly. My favorite poems are “Self-Baptism,” because it chronicles the experiences of a victim of sexual assault and abuse; “Pain,” because it is jarring and raw, and “In my Thirties,” well you gotta read it to understand why.
I recommend this book to anyone who is on a quest to find words for the angst they feel. It’s a book written to rescue us from ourselves. Most importantly, it is a book to remind us that it is OK not to be OK.
Notable Mentions: It Didn’t Start With You by Mark Wolynn
- Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief by Jordan B. Peterson
Now, this is a book you have to read like your Bible. Not because it’s a holy text (it isn’t) but because you cannot digest all of its contents at once (it took JP 14 years to complete this book). If you rush through it, you will miss a lot of gems, and you will be incredibly frustrated. I don’t even think it’s humanly possible to read the contents in one sitting; there are not enough gigabytes in the human brain to contain the revelations therein. So what’s this book really about then? It’s a book that will blow your mind as it offers to answer some of the most profound questions of human existence as explored through religion, literature, sociology, culture, mythologies neuroscience, philosophy, and our modern society. What’s even unique about this book is the abundance of scientific findings and philosophical underpinnings that abound in it. If you are a fan of Jung, Nietzche, Frankl, the Holy Bible, or Dostoevsky, well come on aboard, as you will have a field day with this book on any of those topics. I also recommend this book to anyone who’s undergoing an existential crisis or has ever pondered about the meaning of life. But be warned that this is a long read and can come off as a bit redundant. As a result, you might consider watching some of his YouTube videos to understand his work.
“The purpose of life, as far as I can tell… is to find a mode of being that’s so meaningful that the fact that life is suffering is no longer relevant.”
― Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson
Ah yes! Yet another Jordan Peterson book. I discovered JP early last year when I stumbled across one of his YouTube videos, and have since kept abreast of his work. While I don’t agree with all of his messages (indeed some make me pause for concern), I must commend him for his ability to stay consistent. And while not being a born-again Christian, JP has done more in piquing the interests of atheists and agnostics regarding Christianity, which have left some pastors humbly flummoxed at this man’s prowess. Also, while some might find his messages polemical, you can’t deny the merits of his philosophy on personal responsibility. I also think that one of the reasons he’s achieved such level of popularity is the vacuum he is filling, especially in his largest audience — men in their late 20s and early 30s. This self-help book even went on to become one of the biggest best-sellers in Korea.
So, expect the usual drones reminiscent of other self-help books, albeit with a twist of humor, good storytelling, and animated wit. At the end of this book, you might just become a better person. In the meantime, don’t forget to clean your room.
“The proper way to fix the world isn’t to fix the world. There’s no reason to assume that you’re even up to such a task…but you can fix yourself. You’ll do no one any harm by doing so. And in that manner, you will make the world a better place.” — Jordan B. Peterson
Notable mentions: The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down by Haemin Sunim
- Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance
I shed many tears during and after reading this book. It’s a book with compelling stories about the Appalachian trail on poverty, race, classism, grits, glory, and upward mobility that will tug at your heartstrings. The author was quite too audacious in depicting all of his family problems, especially considering that some of the characters are still alive and Googlable. Perhaps, one poignant reminder from this book is how poverty is still poverty regardless of its ZIP code of residence. That for example, hillbillies share a lot of regional similarities with southern Blacks. The only book that came close to this one was Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx. While many pundits taunted this book as the explanation for the rise of Trump, I think that is a gross oversimplification. The real lesson, I think, is its depiction of the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on adulthood, and opportunities for better policies to serve those who are the most vulnerable among us. Netflix is adapting the book into a movie soon.
- The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future by Ryder Carroll
Bullet journaling (aka #BuJo) was something I started last January, and it has completely changed my life. To think I have been missing out on Bujo for many years. If you find regular diaries and planners too mundane, tiring, and cumbersome to lug about, then bullet journaling is for you. You actually get to make it what you want it to be. Like a newly-bit vampire, I was very thirsty with my first BuJo that I poured so much time into designing it than making it what it really ought to be. So I got burnt out, and this made me skip journaling altogether for a couple of months. Those were the months I felt the most emotionally constipated and unorganized.
So you could say that I was in a quandary, but that changed when I read Ryder’s book. I watched two YouTube reviews about it first before buying, and this turned out to be a worthy investment. His book put to rest the controversy that has divided the BuJo community over how much design is too much. The book sets a good argument for the BuJo method — an analog approach for the digital age, and how handwritten things enforces reflection and discipline. It also sets a deep philosophical tone to help deal with the anxieties and stresses of everyday life. Ryder’s book reminded me of how much more I could do with my BuJo and how to measure what really matters to me — in a dynamic way.
I no longer decorate my BuJo as I used to. In fact, for 2019, I purchased a predesigned one with the layout I needed. I still love colors, so I color code some of my tasks and reminders. I still include my selfie polaroids, collect quotes and anecdotes, and forage information as I did with my previous BuJo. But this time around, it is with more intentionality to impress nobody else but me.
“Your Bullet Journal can be your to-do list, journal, planner, sketchbook, or all of the above, all in one place.” — Ryder Carroll, The Bullet Journal Method
6. Great Reads
- Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
I love Korean history (ah, you already knew this, right?), and I have always been curious about the relationship between Korea and Imperial Japan, especially on the issue of comfort women. This book satisfied all of those curiosities and more. It was quite as satisfying and as entertaining as watching a Korean drama. Set at the beginning of the 20th century to pre-war Osaka, Tokyo, and Yokohama, Pachinko is a family saga spanning several decades, and it follows the life of Sunja and her family for generations. Despite the several characters that abound in this book, it was slow-paced and easy to follow. The melancholy I felt reading this book was similar to what I experienced with Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. The story is about love in all of its form — filial, romantic, just name it, family, human survival, life, death, national pride, and tradition. This book also helps you appreciate family as well as admire the power of people to rise -0about desperate circumstances.
Perhaps, something the author did brilliantly was her depiction of “han” through her characters; a relatively tricky concept to articulate. There’s not quite the word in English to capture the definition of han. I have often grappled with finding the true meaning of this word, and Ms. Lee’s book helped me unravel just that. Han is that sentiment that connects Korean people — it’s a feeling of sorrow, isolation, and unavenged injustice. However, han isn’t anger or vengeance; rather, it is passive, exudes patience and hope, that someday every wrong will be made right.
“There is no literal English translation. It’s a state of mind. Of soul, really. A sadness. A sadness so deep no tears will come. And yet still there’s hope.” — President Bartlett, West Wing.
While a lengthy book, Ms. Lee’s eloquent and smooth storytelling keeps you engrossed to the very end. Not long after reading this book, Netflix released Mr. Sunshine which served as a wonderful companion to Pachinko.
- When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalathani
*Le sigh* I knew what I was going to get myself into before reading this book, but I embraced the entropy like an oncoming pleasant collision. This book is an autobiographical sectional account of Dr. Paul Kalathani — a father, husband, gifted writer, logophile, and a Standford neurosurgeon of Indian origin. Reading the foreword alone, you get to know what happened at the end (assuming you were oblivious about this). At the age of 37, Paul made the journey of no return to the other side but not before leaving behind a lot for us to ponder about on the meaning of life.
Cancer is the central premise of the book but with a little twist. Like what happens when roles are reversed, and the doctor becomes a patient, especially at the prime of his career? It’s a book about patient-doctor communication when they both inhabit the same body. One of the lessons I have tried imbibing in my students is the ability to help their patients make sense of their illnesses because, without this, there’s little or no difference a pharmacist can make. Paul’s book affirmed this lesson and the need for healthcare providers to be more humane and empathetic.
“When there’s no place for the scalpel, words are the surgeon’s only tool.” — Paul Kalathani, When Breath Becomes Air
It’s also a book that confronts humanity and mortality, survival odds, and keeping hope alive when the die has already been cast. What happens when time ceases to be a linear progression but a continuum of space? This book is also about marriage and family — the struggles of being the loved one dying of cancer, the comfort of being loved through this and the ensuing challenges, and the intentionality to create a progeny before your time is up. It’s a book about finding your calling and giving it everything you have. Paul was very intentional about being a neurosurgeon, and he beautifully captures his career trajectory in this highly emotive book.
I thank Paul for this book as he has helped me to continue on with my own life’s journey, regardless of what comes my way. Every word he spoke made me reflect on my life’s purpose with courage and determination. I found it difficult and easy to read to read this book. It was not certainly pleasurable, given the mortality at hand, but it made me think a lot of my own mortality and how I would like to be remembered. It made me want to live in every moment. I have a lot of questions I would have loved to ask Paul. Like, what kept him going forward despite the end that was looming ahead of him? Was it perhaps his lifelong pursuit of meaning and purpose, as depicted in his early years? I guess I’d have to make do with this statement he made:
“You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.” — Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air
And just when I thought I could not cry anymore while reading this book, his words to his daughter towards the end of the book ripped me into pieces:
“That message is simple: When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.” — Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air
The epilogue, which had to be written by his wife Lucy, was equally breathtaking. And she captured Paul’s life the best when she said: “What happened to Paul was tragic, but he was not a tragedy.” I am certain that Paul’s legacy as immortalized by his words and works will make him live forever in our hearts, on the internet, and every space in between.
“There is a moment, a cusp, when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of living. We are never so wise as when we live in this moment.”
― Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air
Notable Mentions: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande.
So there you have it, folks. The books that shaped my view in 2018 and beyond. Which ones have you read? Which ones are you looking forward to reading? Also, what recommendations do you have, having read my list?