Reading: When Breath Becomes Air

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When Breath

Between the sub-freezing temps and a gnarly head cold that swooped in on Friday, I spent a fair amount of time curled up on various pieces of furniture in my condo reading this weekend. I finished When Breath Becomes Air by the late Paul Kalanithi and long after I set it down, his incredibly profound, beautiful words were still washing over me. It’s been awhile since I have had a book do that, where I really wanted to absorb and consider every page.

To make science the arbiter of metaphysics is to banish not only God from the world but also love, hate, meaning—to consider a world that is self evidently not the world we live in. That’s not to say that if you believe in meaning, you must also believe in God. It is to say, though, that if you believe that science provides no basis for God, then you are obligated to conclude that science provides no basis for meaning and, therefore, life itself does not have any.

A neurosurgeon at Stanford, Dr. Kalanthini spent the two years after his terminal cancer diagnosis examining what makes life meaningful. His approach from both a science standpoint (he was a doctor after all) and as a lover of literature and words and his family was fascinating. The book examines death but more than that, it examines what one does with the time spent living and that perhaps the elusive search for the meaning of life isn’t that elusive at all.

The NYTimes gave it an incredible review and with the author having been the brother-in-law of one of my favorite bloggers (Cup of Jo), I decided to pick it up and I am so glad I did.



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Living abundantly where you are, as you are.

Living. Abundantly. Where you are. As you are.

When I received Shauna Niequist’s new book in the mail last week, I was delighted. I adore Shauna and her words and when I found out she was writing a devotional, I hit pre-order on Amazon before I had a chance to blink. And, in all irony of irony, it arrived, I admired it…and it went in the cupboard in my mad dash to clean my house for a dinner party.

Even though I know Shauna is an avid supporter of dinner parties, for a book called “Savor”…come on, right? Terrible move, Nina.

I’ve had a hard time finding my voice lately. Past fears, opportunities, future that’s here but not quite yet, everything has seemed to quite literally come to a head at the same time. So I’ve gotten quiet, just trying to get through whatever this weird season is. Make it through, just let the time pass.

The opposite of savoring anything.

In sending an email to an old friend today, I realized how badly I was craving the connection that comes from when we tell the truth and are heard. It breeds more truth telling and more connection.

I knew immediately that I needed more of this so I pulled Savor down from in between my salad bowl and dessert plates and the words below the title nearly knocked me over.

Living abundantly where you are, as you are.

In other words: today is enough. You are enough. There is no lack. Be here. Now.

In this book are 365 devotions, one for each day of the year. I flipped to March 9 and it was about creating space. You know what I absolutely, 1000% do not want to do when I am uncomfortable or afraid or frustrated? Create space. For anything or anybody. Shauna’s words on that page told me the truth through a beautifully selected passage and it opened up something in me that needed to tell the truth too.

I can hardly wait to start my days with Savor and, God-willing, do a little more savoring each day.

{the necklace in the photo is from The Giving Key, an organization in LA that creates these keys with the intention that you will give it away some day to someone who needs to message. They also employ people looking to transition out of homelessness. Cool, right?}

Summer Reading

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I go through times when I devour a book every few days and times when news websites and social media make up the majority of my reading. I liken it to junk food- I feel better when I am consuming actual literature but sometimes…takeout happens, life happens.

I was hoping that long flights, train rides and leisurely afternoons spent in lounge chairs would mean the reading of books and that it did — I read 3 books in the last 2 weeks. Here’s the roundup:

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: This is a young adult novel that just reads like a great novel. Cancer is what crosses the main characters paths but it’s simply the (albeit massive) factor that is shortening their time. Hazel Grace and Augustus navigate first love and last chances with searing wit, realism and the non-cliched attitude that now is all we have and it’s the duty of our humanity to live every last ounce of it. I loved it and the story told by Hazel was so grabbing that it made for a very quick read. The passengers near me on the flight to Italy were also treated to my ugly cry at the end. Good lord.

The Women by TC Boyle: After reading Loving Frank, I am fascinated by the life of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The Women revolves around all of the women in his life- 3 wives and a mistress- as told by one of his protégés. The factual stories around these women and their entanglement with the grandiose and complicated Wright is incredible but what I really loved about the book was the narrative- instead of chronological order, it’s told in themes. Never confusing, i found the writing to be compelling and left me, again, utterly fascinated by this man by whom we know through buildings, not relationships.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: I had heard so much about this book from friends and while it was long, it was very good. I read the 800 pages while on a cross Atlantic flight so the multitude of details flowed together easily and likely eliminated any slowness. 13 year old Theo Decker’s life is turned upside down after a trip to an art museum ends with a bomb and the death of his mother. The events set in motion by this day alter everything, including the famous painting his took in his confusion that horrible day. The topics of art theft and art dealing I find interesting and I felt the theme that while what happens in our childhoods impacts what follows, there is the possibility and, ultimately, the responsibility to make your own way is spot-on. Long but I learned a ton and felt it was worth it.

What are you reading? I would love to hear any recommendations you have!

Book Suggestions?

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I just finished Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City (I learned so much about Chicago architecture…and murder.  So creepy.) and am in need of a new great read.

What are you reading right now that I absolutely must pick up?  I would love to know your favorite summer (and non-summer) reads!

Below DITWC are some of the books that have kept me up late at night in the past several years.  I definitely recommend all of them!

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, The Help by Kathryn Stockett and Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist.