Book Reviews / by Deborah Clague

When Breath Becomes Air
Written by Paul Kalanithi

Anyone reading this journal would be able to ascertain that my life forever changed in 2014. Since then, I've been on a quest, often hopeless, in trying to understand and come to terms with my father's unexpected death from esophageal cancer. It is not easy watching a loved one suffer, physically and emotionally, as the toll of their fate approaches. But I was but a bystander. The inner conflict and fear the patient feels is an altogether different realm of reality, one that is rarely documented in such raw, exquisite form. This autobiography details that struggle as author Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon, details his life pre- and post-cancer diagnosis. This is definitely not an easy read – I was teary throughout most of it, the weight of its words weighing on me for days – but certainly a life-changing one. 

Favourite line: the last paragraph of this book sits profoundly in my mind and heart as a reminder that the moments in between matter more than we can ever fully comprehend. 

I Hate To Leave This Beautiful Place
Written by Howard Norman

The title of this book is what originally drew me in; it references an Inuit story the author transcribed years previous about a man who is turned into a goose and forced to fly south, leaving the home and family he loves behind. But its five chapters are also a broader examination on how life doesn't travel from point A to point B, but rather contain a whole world of impudent detours, unbridled perplexities, degrading sorrows, and exacting joys that can befall a person in a single season, not to mention a lifetime. 

Favourite line: "And the story contains, with the philosophical generosity characteristic of Inuit spoken literature, and without necessarily spelling it out, a meditation on what the world requires of and imposes on an individual attempting to live a dignified existence, and how that person comes to knowledge of him- or hersel through indelible experience."

Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?
Written by Timothy Caulfield

The short answer is yes. This book explores a variety of modern day beauty and health myths, and relates them back to the influence celebrity culture has on society. From the illusion of celebrity authority to the illusion that anyone can be a celebrity, everything is covered. I found it interesting that the book, covering issues and concerns typically relating to the female gender, was written by a man.  

Favourite line: "The off the cuff comment from Gwyneth that she has the occasional smoke because the indulgence helps her to look vibrant ... is so ludicrous (and, from a public health perspective, so harmful) that it is hard not to be a bit angry with the actor, particularly as she has set herself up as the paragon of healthy living."