Freshman year was hard. That’s really all I have to say about finishing the first year of university in the comfort of my bedroom. In between the never-ending lecture videos and midterms that keep cycling through, it’s hard to find a little headspace for my own sanity. It was difficult to watch my wellbeing get warped into a spiral of stress, helplessness and fears of my life being derailed by the pandemic. With one of my few escapes being reading, I launched myself into reading my way into alternative realities and novel perspectives. Despite being bombarded with factual knowledge each day as per the usual STEM major routine, I found comfort in reading about science and interdisciplinary discussions on top of my hobby reads. So here I am, presenting the four books that transported me into a comforting space and out of the abyss known as Zoom University.
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
In Being Mortal, Dr. Atul Gawande confronts his struggles as a healthcare professional as he examines the contradictions in extending a patient’s lifespan and providing a reasonable quality of life when medicine fails. Offering a rare perspective into medicine, the essays propose a reality that the medical community is blatantly wrong in its approach of end-of-life care. Instead of taking every measure possible to keep our ailing loved ones alive, we should perhaps seek an alternative in providing them the most comfortable ending to their wonderful lives.
Despite its scientific basis, the delicacy and humanity in Gawande’s writing will be sure to intrigue you. The profoundly personal touch in the book is definitely the cherry on top, as Gawande was presented with this exact dilemma at the time of writing with his father being diagnosed with a terminal illness. This perspective transcends the medical realities and circles back to the ultimate consideration in experience of end-of-life care, which aptly prompts the pondering of what truly matters at the end of life.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
This book is hands-down one of my all-time favourites. Published posthumously, the memoir vividly depicts the journey of Dr. Paul Kalanithi being catapulted from doctor to patient overnight with an inoperable cancer diagnosis, just as his career as a neurosurgeon and new fatherhood were about to begin. The beauty in this memoir, however, is the eloquence and richness that Kalanithi uses in his wordcraft. It is rare to find comfort and hope in a tale of terminal cancer and death, yet his writing paints a bittersweet beauty despite its morbid context. As I followed his narrative, it was not uncommon for me to find myself forgetting that this man was staring right in the face of death, for his words demonstrate such power, hope and confidence. If I had to be honest, I am constantly at a loss for words when describing this book as no words would do it justice, the only way to experience this book is by reading it. And I urge you to please, please, take some time to get lost in the heartbreaking beauty of Kalanithi’s world.
Gmorning, Gnight! by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Illustrated by Jonny Sun)
During this year, there were many mornings where I refused to get up out of the sheer fear of having to find a sense of direction for the day. As thousands of thoughts race through my head, the one thing that seems to ground me every morning is a small message from this very book. Each page spread is a pair of “g’morning” and “g’night” rhymes written by the legendary Lin-Manuel Miranda, accompanied by the simply amazing illustrations from Jonny Sun (Go Canada!). While the messages may be short, they certainly hit pause on a buzzing brain every morning and remind me that there is always a way to get through the day. My favourite part of this book is that it also gives me closure and affirmation as I unwind for the night with its “gnight” messages. Even for those reluctant to read, Gmorning, Gnight! is ultimate self-care in these troubling times. Just trust me on this one.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy
The world needs more Charlie Mackesy right now. Through the unlikely group of four friends, Mackesy illustrates important life lessons on friendship, love and kindness with simple dialogue and breathtaking ink pen illustrations. In my times of peaking anxiety and overwhelm, flipping to any page in this book is surely like a reassuring pat on the shoulder. The mini messages encapsulate a lot more than what meets the eye, reminding readers that there is still plenty to love and appreciate in this uncertain present. The impact will not be diminished whether you read it all in one go or a page at a time; the stories of these four friends will always be a ray of reminisce and hope of the beauty in our world. Short messages can go a long way and Mackesy has perfected it.