Originally published at Kimberly Sabatini. You can comment here or there.
Over and over again, I’ve had the strange and slightly mystical situation of having books show up in my life–demanding I read them. When this phenomenon happens, it always makes me feel as if the Head Librarian of the Library of the Universe has a book recommendation for me.
It always starts off with the book I need to read, catching my eye in a very subtle way. Then, with increasing frequency, I’ll begin to hear people talking about or I’ll keep bumping into blog posts or reviews or social media posts referencing said book. If I continue to be dense about picking the book up, I’ll find that it continues to keep popping up in front of me in different locations. I’ll see it on a shelf, I’ll notice someone reading it or it will stare back at me from a magazine I’m reading.
Sometimes, I’ll go so far as to be compelled to pick up the book and flip to the cover flap, and yet I still won’t understand why I’m supposed to read THAT book. I must drive the Universe’s Head Librarian bat shit crazy sometimes.
It seems accurate that I always picture the Head Librarian at the Library of the Universe as Yvonne Craig in the roll of Bat Girl. It’s hard enough to be a Librarian at a book and mortar building and get people to read. Imagine being an unexplainable force of book nature. The Universe’s Librarian must be a little bit of a super hero to help the people who rationalize everything, understand that what we need shows up. And sometimes it’s a book.
One of the most memorable examples of Bat Girl, on her motorcycle, doing a high speed chase after me with a book in hand was with Malcolm Galdwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants.
This book was IN MY FACE. I saw it in magazines. I saw it on bookshelves. I couldn’t turn around without bumping into this book. From time to time I’d pick it up and contemplate it. I’d let my fingers run over the description before deciding that even though I’d read a couple of Gladwell’s books and was fascinated by them, I wasn’t ready to pick this one up at the moment. The wording didn’t overly resonate with me
In his #1 bestselling books The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell has explored the ways we understand and change our world. Now he looks at the complex and surprising ways the weak can defeat the strong, the small can match up against the giant, and how our goals (often culturally determined) can make a huge difference in our ultimate sense of success. Drawing upon examples from the world of business, sports, culture, cutting-edge psychology, and an array of unforgettable characters around the world, David and Goliath is in many ways the most practical and provocative book Malcolm Gladwell has ever written.
I wasn’t going to read it. At least not now. I convinced myself the book was showing up everywhere because Mr. Gladwell had some mighty fine marketing people. I thought it was a coincidence that this book kept stepping in front of my face. I was so naive.
I can remember the moment that book won the battle and I made the decision to read it. I sometimes wonder if maybe I subconsciously agreed to read it, in order to shut the Universe’s Librarian up. Either way, I was in my local airport and attempting to grab snacks for a family journey. As I stepped off the escalator and walked to the shop–there is was–directly in front of me. AGAIN. I picked up the book one more time and then sat it back down, telling the universe that it could relax because I was going to purchase it as an audiobook–ASAP.
And I did. And a couple chapters in, a lightbulb went off in my head. THIS book was filled with profound thoughts on dyslexia. That book that I didn’t think I would connect with, moved me, supported my instinctual thoughts, it enlightened me, it gave me a dialogue to share with my husband and my dyslexic kids and it added to a spark that had been growing inside me in regards to a manuscript that was forming. I needed that book. I love that book. And I reread it often, because it unfolds for me differently every time I return to it.
Thank you Bat Girl–for not giving up on me so easily. But because of the memorable persistence of that particular book, I have never taken the all knowing Librarian’s book recommendations so lightly again. You don’t have to hit me with a Bat-a-rang over and over again…forever. Now I listen closer and watch more carefully.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert didn’t have to work quite as hard to get me to pay attention. The Gift of Big Magic.
And most recently, When Breath Becomes Air, found me. I saw the cover on iTunes and without reading about it, I acknowledged that the title and the cover spoke to me, but I was in a rush and I’d have to check it out later. Then I opened a magazine and there it was. Immediately I understood it was for me and I had to know what it was about.
For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed 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 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.
I dropped everything and bought it on the spot. I’m reading it now. If you aren’t aware, my lovely mother-in-law was just diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. So, today I wanted to acknowledge the Universe’s Librarian for always having my back. I appreciate you.
What books has the Universe’s Librarian persuaded you to check out and read?