Memoir/Biography

A Doctor’s Final Reckoning With Death

Paul Kalanithi recounts the story of his own mortality with the precision of a surgeon and the poeticism of a gifted writer—because, of course, he was both.

But his uncanny ability to inhabit two seemingly disparate worlds does not end here; his narrative also straddles the divide between doctor and patient, caretaker and cared for, lackadaisical philosopher and man of reason. At the heart of this reckoning is the battle that consumes his days: “to pursue death: to grasp it, uncloak it, and see it eye-to-eye, unblinking.” WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR is the beautiful, heartbreaking exploration of this very inevitability that we all fear—but that few dare to look straight in the eye.

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A Startling Mosaic of a Life, a Country, a Continent

When we meet Bobo, who is Alexandra Fuller’s younger self in her memoir DON’T LET’S GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT, it is very late, or very early, and she is in the loo. Her older sister Van is there with her, holding a candle, on the lookout for spiders, snakes, and scorpions, while Bobo pees. Bobo is maybe five, and has woken her sister instead of her parents to accompany her, because waking her parents might mean being mistaken for a “terrorist” and getting shot.

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The Perfect Recipe for a Delicious Life

In 1988, I lived near the Verrazano Bridge, and whenever the temperature was above freezing I’d walk down to the Narrows and read on one of the benches that ran along the bike path. Laurie Colwin’s HOME COOKING quickly became (and remains) one of my favorite bench reads—no surprise, considering I have loved every one of her novels. Her gift for creating authentic characters extends even to herself. At the time, I was 22 years-old and the kitchen in my New York City studio apartment was barely 3 feet wide. It didn’t have an oven or cabinets, and the refrigerator was dorm-sized (with no freezer); but this didn’t stop me from loving my little oasis, and cooking every day.

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I Can Do Anything…Except That

I’ve always enjoyed adrenaline-boosting hobbies—aerial acrobatics, surfing, mountain biking—so as I neared my half-century mark, I thought, Should I thru-hike the Appalachian Trail?

I immersed myself in all things AT (as the trail is affectionately known) and came to the unwavering conclusion that no way in hell could I ever do such a thing.

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A Beautiful Girl, Her Mysterious Death

New York City is rich with fascinating stories. Some are heartbreaking, some funny, and some so mysterious and odd, you would assume they are fictional.

One such story is the tragic tale of Mary Rogers—a young woman whose body was found floating in the Hudson River in 1841. Her story seems to be straight out of a Gothic mystery…perhaps because it inspired one.

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An Introspective Memoir About Navigating Change

My father used to say his dream was to be a hermit in the woods. No cell phone, no emails, no text messages fluttering through the ether demanding his attention and response. Just a cabin and quiet. Howard Axelrod’s 2015 memoir, THE POINT OF VANISHING, captures my father’s idyllic dream.

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A Life in Waves

I am not a surfer. I have never spent a day on big, rough waves in Hawaii or on small but perfect waves in Tonga. I am, however, a rubbernecker. If there’s a stretch of beach where I can watch surfers bob up and down in wetsuits waiting for a break, I’m there. William Finnegan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, BARBARIAN DAYS: A SURFING LIFE, is the literary equivalent of sitting on the beach on a day with good breaks.

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The Ultimate Underdog Story

“The Queen of Katwe” will hit the silver screen in Disney’s highly anticipated adaptation this month and stars Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo. Like “The Blind Side,” the film brings to life the story of an underdog whose drive and commitment allows them to overcome incredible odds in life and in sports. The new film is based on THE QUEEN OF KATWE: ONE GIRL’S TRIUMPHANT PATH TO BECOMING A CHESS CHAMPION by Tim Crothers—a true, moving, and triumphant account of a young girl who rises out of unlikely circumstances to become an international chess star.

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A Christian, a Muslim, and a Jew Walk Into a Room…

When Ranya Idliby’s daughter was in grade school, she asked whether, as Muslims, they celebrated Christmas or Hanukkah. The question made Ranya think about her own faith and wonder why she knew so little about other religions. She recruited two other suburban moms—Suzanne Oliver, a devout Christian who had been raised Catholic but had converted to the Episcopal Church, and Priscilla Warner, who defined her Jewishness more as a cultural imperative than a religious one—to write a children’s book with her about the similarities, differences, and connections between Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

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A Miserable Childhood, A Transcendent Tale

One day in the spring of 1995, when Frank McCourt was sixty-four years old, I received a box from literary agent Molly Friedrich, containing the first 159 pages of the memoir ANGELA’S ASHES. Several of us read the pages, as Frank would say, with alacrity. And loved them, swiftly seduced by the opening sentences: “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived it all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood; the happy childhood is hardly worth your while.”

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