The Memoir ‘Once More We Saw Stars’ by Jayson Greene

I listened to Jayson Greene on a podcast a while ago and noted to one day read his memoir, Once More We Saw Stars. With young children, it’s not the type of book I’d usually put on my reading list but there was something in the way he spoke about his experience that made me want to push past my discomfort and read it.

When the story begins, two-year-old Greta Greene is sitting with her grandmother on a park bench in Manhattan when a brick crumbled from a windowsill overhead, striking her. She’s rushed to hospital but dies shortly after, leading Greene and his wife Stacy into the unimaginable.

I found it unbearable at times but also felt a strange sense of commitment – if he could put such honesty and rawness out there, I had an obligation to read it. It’s a story about grief, loss, hope, healing, love, and the fragility of life.

As he tells The Guardian: “Trauma is a rip in your understanding of the universe… The idea that you can prepare for trauma is wrong. You can’t. Trauma is the unforeseen and the terrible. I think people are drawn to stories in which terrible things happen because in some ways they are one of the most proven mechanisms we have in making sense of the world and making sense of our emotions.”

Read a review of Once More We Saw Stars.

Buy it wherever you get good books.

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.

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.

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