Our editors’ recommendations for March include: Paul Kalanithi’s memoir on going from doctor to terminally ill patient, the comic that spawned Iron Fist’s future live-action TV series, a surprise winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature from France, and a reminder that teenagers living with disabilities enjoy going to prom and being loved like everyone else.
When Breath Becomes Air
Freya: Dr. Paul Kalanithi was 36 years old when he received his terminal cancer diagnosis. By that time, he had already accumulated a BA and MA in English Literature and a BA in human biology from Stanford, an MPhil in History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine from the University of Cambridge, and finally an MD from Yale, before going on to become a neurosurgeon. His impressive career was at its peak trajectory when he was forced to switch roles, becoming a patient instead. In When Breath Becomes Air, Kalanithi gives a unique perspective into the doctor and patient relationship, from a man who found himself on both sides. A polymath with a vested interest in both the sciences and the arts, Kalanithi delves deep into the intersection of biology, philosophy, and ethics. His book, written in the last year of his life, serves to explore humanity’s greatest question—“What makes life worth living?”—from someone who is approaching the end of his own. When Breath Becomes Air is an unstoppable read and a profoundly moving memoir about coming to terms with death from a man who worked to prevent others’, and then finally faced his own.
The Immortal Iron Fist: Vol. 1
David: The Last Iron Fist Story collects the first six issues of 2006’s relaunch of The Immortal Iron Fist, written by Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker. This volume lays the groundwork for Iron Fist’s backstory while introducing a rich mythology to the character’s history, formation, and motivations. Featuring a compelling story backed up by the beautiful artwork of David Aja, The Last Iron Fist Story includes some of the best Iron Fist comics ever made. It’s also the perfect starting point for new readers and a great primer for Iron Fist’s live-action debut, set to go into production later this year.
Alex P.: Patrick Modiano isn’t particularly well known—or translated—outside of his native France, so his 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature came as a bit of a surprise. He’s been described as a modern Proust, and Suspended Sentences proves the comparison apt. The three interconnected novellas are primarily concerned with issues of memory and nostalgia, tying a lingering sense of angst from childhood mysteries left unsolved to France’s national unease following the Nazi occupation and the myriad betrayals of the French Gestapo. The subject of the first novella, a Brassaï-esque photographer more interested in forgetting the past than in recording the present, is noted for preferring ellipses over all other punctuation. The same might be said for Modiano, who seems most at home in the mark’s evocative implication of that left unsaid. Written with deceptive simplicity and an atmospheric depiction of a Paris past, Suspended Sentences is an oneiric and quietly affecting examination of histories both personal and political.
Say What You Will
Ashley: “I’m so OCD” is a claim many of us make when something inconsequential bothers us more than it should—but really, that niggling doubt we occasionally feel is the most innocuous symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. As I’m learning from Cammie McGovern’s Say What You Will, which follows the budding friendship and romance between Amy, a girl who happens to have cerebral palsy, and Matthew, who suffers from undiagnosed OCD, the real demons of the disease are the voices that say if you don’t give into the compulsions, something catastrophic will happen. McGovern—founder of a resource center for children with special needs—simultaneously informs readers about the realities of living with a disability, while also effectively conveying that these young adults share the same worries, desires, and wits as their more able-bodied peers. Touchingly, both Amy and Matthew want to go to prom together but are too shy to ask. Once they work past the shyness, Matthew jokes that they’ve ended up in “the place where we sit around and bore each other to death talking about what we’re going to wear.” Say What You Will sparks comparisons to Rainbow Rowell and John Green, but stands on its own as a heartwarming reminder that, in most social situations, “The fear is real. The danger is not.”
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