Book: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air is a moving and sad yet inspiring memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question, ‘What makes a life worth living?

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.

When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity – the brain – and finally into a patient and a new father.

It’s an emotional investment and although it is about dying, for the most part, the indelible impression it leaves is that it is more about living.

Read a review of When Breath Becomes Air.

Buy the book.

The Discussion Around ‘Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?’

I have a love/hate relationship with my smartphone so was compelled to read the article Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? that has been widely read and debated this week.

Through her research, Jean M. Twenge found that: “More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millenials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.”

She calls this new generation that has grown up with smartphones ‘iGen’ and there are some startling facts and figures about how they behave and feel.

“The portrait of iGen teens emerging from the data is one of a lonely, dislocated generation,” she says. “In the next decade, we may see more adults who know just the right emoji for a situation, but not the right facial expression.”

Whilst this article was interesting and somewhat shocking (though unsurprising if you’ve witnessed teens on smartphones), I found the response Yes, Smartphones Are Destroying a Generation, But Not of Kids by Alexandra Samuel more helpful and insightful.

She paints a less dire picture and asks us to “Consider another possible explanation for why our kids are increasingly disengaged. It’s because we’ve disengaged ourselves; we’re too busy looking down at our screens to look up at our kids.”

She suggests we stop paying attention to alarmist attacks on kids’ screen time and pay attention to our kids. Her research suggests the way forward is to: “Embrace our role as digital mentors: actively encouraging our kids to use technology, but offering ongoing support and guidance in how to use it appropriately.”

Sage advice, though it does feel as parents and/or adults, we’ve been sucked into the smartphone void as well and need to find ways to get it under control in our own lives first.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat – A New Cookbook by Samin Nosrat

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is a new cookbook by chef, writer and teacher, Samin Nosrat. Designed to be your compass in the kitchen, the cookbook demystifies the four elements of good cooking – salt, which enhances flavour; fat, which delivers flavour and generates texture; acid, which balances flavour; and heat, which ultimately determines the texture of food – and shows that if you can master these, anything you cook will be delicious.

I can cook but I’ve largely been a follow the recipe type person.  I have high hopes that this will be the book that transforms me into one of those people that say: “I’ve only got these three obscure ingredients at hand but I’m going to whip you up something sensational.”

Empathy Cards and Book

I love the idea behind this book There Is No Good Card For This: What to Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful and Unfair to People You Love. We’ve all been there and sadly the older you get, the more likely you’ll hear that crap stuff has happened to those you know and love. I doubt many of us can confidently say we’ve handled these moments with aplomb. One of the authors of the book also creates these brilliant empathy cards that are a sweet, honest and often much needed/appreciated way to tell someone you’re thinking of them and there for them when bad shit happens and you don’t quite know what to say. Like this ‘Infertility Judging‘ card or ‘Everything Happens‘ card. The creator, Emily McDowell, also has a range of cards you can send via Paperless Post to make it even easier.

Fight Like a Girl – Clementine Ford’s Debut Book

Clementine Ford‘s debut book Fight Like A Girl is personal, brave, honest and powerful. It’s described as “an essential manifesto for feminists new, old and soon-to-be, and exposes just how unequal the world continues to be for women. Crucially, it is a call to arms for all women to rediscover the fury that has been suppressed by a society that still considers feminism a threat. It will make you laugh, cry and scream… it will make you demand and fight for a world in which women have real equality and not merely the illusion of it.” I opted for the audio version (narrated by Ford) and found her voice so impactful in telling her story. A chapter in, I vowed to buy it for my daughter to gift to her when she’s old enough to read it but by the end, I felt it was an important read for everyone, regardless of gender. Watch her talk about it. Buy the book.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance – A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Part memoir, part historical and social analysis, Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis – that of white working-class Americans. I’m borrowing words from Amy Chua given she sums this book up perfectly: “A beautifully and powerfully written memoir about the author’s journey from a troubled, addiction-torn Appalachian family to Yale Law School, Hillbilly Elegy is shocking, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, and hysterically funny. It’s also a profoundly important book, one that opens a window on a part of America usually hidden from view and offers genuine hope in the form of hard-hitting honesty.” Given Vance’s turbulent upbringing, it amazed me that he was able to write in a straight, honest (and at times very loving) way without ever being patronising or attempting to gain sympathy. Compelling reading. Read a reviewBuy the book.

Speak, Memory: A Story About Artificial Intelligence and Grief

A thought-provoking story about how a programmer used artificial intelligence (AI) to keep talking to her friend after his death.

Speak, Memory asks whether AI can help to ease grief and ultimately, just because we can, does it mean we should?

Modern life all but ensures that we leave behind vast digital archives — text messages, photos, posts on social media — and we are only beginning to consider what role they should play in mourning. In the moment, we tend to view our text messages as ephemeral. But as Kuyda found after Mazurenko’s death, they can also be powerful tools for coping with loss. Maybe, she thought, this “digital estate” could form the building blocks for a new type of memorial.

It’s similar in concept to the Black Mirror episode Be Right Back’

Read the full article here.

I Used to Be a Human Being – Confessions of a Manic Information Addict

Great article about our smartphone addiction and the impact it’s had on society. A lot of what Andrew Sullivan writes here I feel many of us are experiencing but not able to articulate as well. Love the thought that perhaps the only safe space we have left is the shower.

Also: “We all understand the joys of our always-wired world — the connections, the validations, the laughs, the porn, the info. I don’t want to deny any of them here. But we are only beginning to get our minds around the costs, if we are even prepared to accept that there are costs. For the subtle snare of this new technology is that it lulls us into the belief that there are no downsides. It’s all just more of everything. Online life is simply layered on top of offline life… You are where your attention is. If you’re watching a football game with your son while also texting a friend, you’re not fully with your child — and he knows it. Truly being with another person means being experientially with them, picking up countless tiny signals from the eyes and voice and body language and context, and reacting, often unconsciously, to every nuance. These are our deepest social skills, which have been honed through the aeons. They are what make us distinctively human.”

Time will tell if it hasn’t already.

Read the full article here.

Moss & Fog – Beauty, Design, Smart Ideas

Who doesn’t like looking at beautiful things?

Moss and Fog is a project by a creative guy, Ben. It grew out of his overwhelming desire to share cool and beautiful things he sees. He covers areas of design, science and nature that appeal to the eye and the brain. Like this crazy $150 Million Stair to Nowhere (pictured) that New York will be getting some time next year and this Perfectly Preserved Mid Century Home in Dallas and these Incredible Geometric Desserts.

In his own words “Design/culture blogs are plentiful, but I think when well curated, they can be beautiful respites on the internet to get inspired and find new ideas.” Agree.

Visit and sign up to Moss and Fog.

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