Paul Kalanithi was my best friend in high school. Together we had many fairly innocent, sometimes slightly illegal, but always fun adventures. We stole street signs in the middle of the night and left them at the front door of the local police station. We serenaded paramours underneath their windows by moonlight. We gave ourselves literary nicknames: he was Gatsby, I was Shaft.
It was always known Paul was destined for great things. He went on to get B.A.s in philosphy and literature, then M.A.s at Stanford and Cambridge. Finally, he graduated Cum Laude from the Yale School of Medicine. He married an incredible woman, Lucy, a doctor of internal medicine. He was serving his residency in neurosurgery at Stanford. All by the age of 37. Paul died at that same age, 37. A lifetime non-smoker, he succumed to lung cancer.
When Breath Becomes Air is his story. Told with grace and bracing honesty, this is the story of Paul's journey from Kingman, Arizona to near the top of his incredibly difficult profession. Along the way we meet his friends, family, and particularly Lucy, who wrote the book's epilogue after Paul's death.
Filled with references to TS Eliot, Job, Samuel Beckett, Tolstoy and more, Paul writes with confidence and elegance. More than a by-the-numbers autobiography, When Breath Becomes Air, speaks to the philosophy of being human and what that means. He learns to transition from doctor to patient; from a giver, a fixer, to a needer.
Full of insight from a man who was still wrting with the spirit of the 16 year old boy I knew, When Breath Becomes Air is a life-affirming look at what being faced with the worst possible circumstances can make you do. And think. And feel. At the end of the day, hope prevails, even after we shuck off this mortal shell. Paul knew that better than anyone.
Mockingbird is the 2010 National Book Award winner for Young People's Literature. It tells the story of Caitlin Smith, a young girl with Asperger's Syndrome, who, along with her fater, is grieveing the loss of her brother in a school shooting. Here we get the store of how an act of extreme violence can shake a community to its core, cracking the foundations on a person by person basis. But we see it through Caitlin's unique perspective as she tries to make sense of the world in general and learns how to cope with great loss. Eventually, after getting help from a caring school therapist and a new friend, Caitlin learns to bridge the gap between her mind and her world. Then she is able to begin the process of healing, helping her father along the way.
Erskine wrote hr book in response to the Virginia Tech shootings of 2007. It is also inspired by her own experiences as a mother of a child who suffers from Asperger's. A must read for a wide variety of interests. Mockingbird appeals to all age ranges and is a lovely, compelling read.