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Common Reading Initiative

2019 Selection: When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air cover

A Pulitzer Prize finalist will be the 2019-20 Common Read at Mississippi University for Women.

Recommended by a cross-campus committee of faculty and staff, When Breath Becomes Air is Paul Kalanithi's memoir which finds hope and beauty in the face of insurmountable odds as an idealistic young neurosurgeon attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?

From the publisher:

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.

 

About the Common Reading Initiative

The Common Reading Initiative (CRI) at Mississippi University for Women draws on our rich literary heritage and builds on The W's tradition of excellence in teaching to:

  • Develop intellectual community among students, staff, and faculty outside the traditional classroom,
  • Foster intellectual curiosity, inquiry, and responsibility among all groups,
  • Deepen understanding of issues raised in significant books, and
  • Provide opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to engage socially in meaningful ways.

 

Book cover used with permission of Penguin Random House.