When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

when breath becomes ir

Paul Kalanithi was only 35 when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. A neurosurgeon and aspiring author, he writes with heart-breaking clarity and emotion about his journey from the diagnosis of his illness to his tragic death at the age of 37.

It’s quite difficult reading this memoir in the beginning, knowing that the author will be dead by the end of it. But Kalanithi writes with such matter-of-factness about his situation, without self-pity or defeatism, that it is impossible not to continue on the journey with him.

As a doctor, Kalanithi speaks candidly about the medical realities of living with aggressive terminal cancer. As a husband, son, expectant father and friend, he offers a deeply affecting insight into what it means to face the loss of a future with loved ones.

It is impossible not to be moved by Paul’s story. It is remarkable and compassionate, both hopeful about life and resigned to the inevitability of death. The day I read the final chapter I was sitting in my favourite coffee shop, where a kind lady came over to see if I was ok after spotting me sobbing my eyes out. She was the first person I recommended this memoir to and she hasn’t been the last. Heartbreaking and uplifting, “When Breath Becomes Air” is a book that will stay with you.

[Editor’s Note: Another contributor has previously reviewed this book for the blog. You can read that here.]


You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here. 

Brilliant Book Titles #155

the man whose teeth.jpg
You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.


Small town America tears itself apart in this realist novel from one of the greats of science fiction

Leo Runcible – of Runcible Realty – is too excitable and too pushy. His wife drinks too much. He may be a man of principle, but Liberal Jewish Leo is an outsider in the lilywhite Carquinez, Marin County.

When he gets into a pointless argument with a customer over his neighbour Walt Dombrosio’s house guests, the resulting ramifications follow a bizarre logic of cause and effect to lead in entirely unexpected directions …

And can Leo really have found the skull of a Neanderthal man in middle America?

THE MAN WHOSE TEETH WERE ALL EXACTLY ALIKE is a dazzling novel by a writer famous for his power to surprise and delight.

Brilliant Book Titles #154

candy girl
You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Decreed by David Letterman (tongue in cheek) on CBS TV’s The Late Show to be the pick of Dave’s Book Club 2006, Candy Girl is the story of a young writer who dared to bare it all as a stripper. At the age of twenty-four, Diablo Cody decided there had to be more to life than typing copy at an ad agency. She soon managed to find inspiration from a most unlikely source amateur night at the seedy Skyway Lounge. While she doesn’t take home the prize that night, Diablo discovers to her surprise the act of stripping is an absolute thrill.

This is Diablo’s captivating fish-out-of-water story of her yearlong walk on the wild side, from quiet gentlemen’s clubs to multilevel sex palaces and glassed-in peep shows. In witty prose she gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at this industry through a writer’s keen eye, chronicling her descent into the skin trade and the effect it had on her self-image and her relationship with her now husband.

No Way But This: In Search of Paul Robeson by Jeff Sparrow

no way but this

A fascinating study of the life of one of the iconic figures of the 20th century, who is now forgotten by many. Paul Robeson was the son of a former slave, who rose above his origins to become a talented athlete, and a Shakespearean actor but who is best remembered for possessing one of the finest voices of his generation. People who know nothing of Robeson will probably have heard his sublime rendition of “Old Man River” from the musical “Showboat”.

Robeson enjoyed unparalleled success but he paid a huge price for adhering to his principles during the McCarthy era in the USA. Sparrow tells his story in an unconventional way and it is all the better for that. Robeson was a man with a social conscience and this put him at the heart of many of the significant moments in the history of the twentieth century. From the struggle against oppression of African Americans, to the Spanish Civil war and from the rise of Soviet Russia to the cause of  Welsh miners, Robeson never shirked his responsibility to do his bit to make the world a better place.

Sparrow tells the story through the places of significance in Robeson’s life and by this he links the events of the past with the here and now reality of these locations. In doing this he produces , not only a very complete portrait of a man of towering presence, in all his flawed glory, but he has much to say about the world as it is now.  This is not just the story of a man but the story of a century, not only that, it lays bare the lingering effects that that century had on our current one. I finished this book feeling challenged to take up the fight for justice and full of admiration for a man who paid a huge price for living by his principles. Read it!


You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

5 New TV Books to Watch Out For

Little Me: My life from A-Z by Matt Lucas (3 Oct 2017) little me
The hilarious, heart-warming and tear-jerking memoir from one of Britain’s best-loved comedians and actors, Matt Lucas

‘Hello there. Welcome to my autobiography. I see they’ve made my teeth whiter in the photo, so that’s good.

Throughout this book I talk about my life and work, including Little Britain, Come Fly With Me, Bridesmaids, Les Miserables, Alice In Wonderland and, of course, Shooting Stars.

The thing is, this is a bit different to most memoirs you may have read, because it comes in the form of an A-Z.

For instance, B is for Baldy! – which is what people used to shout at me in the playground (not much fun), G is for Gay (because I’m an actual real life gay) and T is for the TARDIS (because I’m a companion in Doctor Who now). You get the sort of thing.

Anyway I hope you buy it at least twice. Thank you.’

Blue Planet II by James Honeyborne & Mark Brownlow (19 Oct 2017)
blue planet II
Take a deep breath and dive into the mysteries of the ocean.

Our understanding of ocean life has changed dramatically in the last decade, with new species, new behaviours, and new habitats being discovered at a rapid rate. Blue Planet II, which accompanies an epic 7-part series on BBC1, is a ground-breaking new look at the richness and variety of underwater life across our planet.

With over 200 breath-taking photographs and stills from the BBC Natural History Unit’s spectacular footage, each chapter of Blue Planet II brings to life a different habitat of the oceanic world. Voyages of migration show how each of the oceans on our planet are connected; coral reefs and arctic ice communities are revealed as thriving underwater cities; while shorelines throw up continual challenges to those living there or passing through. A final chapter explores the science and technology of the Ocean enterprise – not only how they were able to capture these amazing stories on film, but what the future holds for marine life based on these discoveries.

Clinging to the Iceberg: Writing for a Living on the Stage and in Hollywood by Ron Hutchinson (1 Nov 2017)
clinging to the iceberg
Wickedly funny, insightful, often absurd but always true, Clinging to the Iceberg explores the inner workings of the business of writing for hire. It’s written by someone whose career has spanned over forty years on stage and on screen, including thirty lucrative and sometimes uproarious ones in Hollywood. Genuinely laugh-out-loud, it will astound and inspire and along the way reveal the REAL tricks of the dialogue writers’ trade.

Hutchinson takes us through his successful career via hilarious anecdotes including a near-death experience on Venice Beach, being paid by Dreamworks to not actually work for them, and struggling to stay sane on location on one of the great movie flops of all time.

Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier by Mark Frost (2 Nov 2017)
final dossier
The crucial sequel to the New York Times bestselling The Secret History of Twin Peaks, this novel bridges the twenty-five year gap, and takes you deeper into the mysteries raised by the new series.

The return of Twin Peaks is one of the most anticipated events in the history of television. The subject of endless speculation, shrouded in mystery, fans will come flocking to see Mark Frost and David Lynch’s inimitable vision once again grace the screen. Featuring all the characters we know and love from the first series, as well as a list of high-powered actors in new roles, the show will be endlessly debated, discussed, and dissected.

While The Secret History of Twin Peaks served to expand the mysteries of the town and place the unexplained phenomena that unfolded there into a vastly layered, wide-ranging history, Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier tells us what happened to key characters in the twenty-five years in between the events of the second series and the third, offering details and insights fans will be clamoring for. The novel also adds context and commentary to the strange and cosmic happenings of the new series. For fans around the world begging for more, Mark Frost’s final take laid out in this novel will be required reading.

TV Noir: The Dark Genre on the Small Screen by Allen Glover (14 Nov 2017)
tv noir
Noir–as genre, style, movement, or sensibility–has its roots in the hardboiled detective fiction of the likes of Hammett and Chandler; the works of these authors were among the wave of post-WWII Hollywood films that in 1946 were, separately, tagged “film noir” by French cineastes Nino Frank and Jean-Pierre Chartier. But film wasn’t the only medium with a taste for a dark story. Hundreds of live dramas were staged on television in the 40s and 50s–adaptations of the works of Chandler, Hammett, Cornell Woolrich, David Goodis, W.R. Burnett, Dorothy B. Hughes and other writers of teleplays featuring brooding detectives and femmes fatales, gangsters and dark deeds. Dark storytelling gained traction on the small screen, with some key differences from film, not the least of which is the continuing hero, back week after week to address a new disruption of the social order.

In TV Noir, noted film and television historian Allen Glover has written the first complete study of the subject, surveying the TV programming that evolved from the film noir heyday. Deconstructing its key elements with astute and informed analysis, from NBCs adaptation of Woolrich’s The Black Angel and the anthology programs of the 40s and 50s to the classic period with the likes of Dragnet, M Squad, and 77 Sunset Strip and the neo-noirs of the 70s and 80s including The Fugitive, Kolchak, and Harry O., Allen Glover presents the essential volume on TV noir.

Consumed by David Cronenberg


Connoisseurs of Cronenberg’s cinematic work will most definitely be satisfied with his latest serving; a body horror, disease-addled, debut novel every bit as nauseating and hypnogogic as his films.

This bizarre tale follows, Naomi and Nathan, globetrotting freelance journalists who embed themselves within their stories with self-destructive abandon. The two are technology obsessed millennials driven by flash and spectacle, consuming the world through an ever shifting lens. They become subsumed by their subjects, a french celebrity philosopher couple, Celéstine and Aristide Aristoguy, and their orbiting students Chase and Hervé. Naomi follows Aristide to Tokyo after he is accused of murdering his wife. Nathan meets the other characters swept up in the Aristoguys’ wake, Dr Molnár and Chase Roiphe, first in Hungary and then Toronto, where he comes uncomfortably close to the blending of sickness and flesh. The pair embroil themselves in a depraved story of dysmorphia, disfigurement, and disease culminating in the most Cronenberg of climaxes, cannibalistic murder. Somewhere in the nexus of technology, disorder, and existentialism, Cronenberg’s raison d’etre is unveiled, acceptance, specifically acceptance of the erotic. As this conspiracy tale bloats onto the international stage, with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un getting mixed into the recipe, Naomi and Nathan sink deeper into their subjects, in what can only be described as a seductive flirtation with their own demise.

Cronenberg’s fascination with themes of technology, consumerism, illness, and sex are on full exhibition. There are Kafkaesque elements, with the insect audio passages, Satre with the sex with students themes, and a sci-fi feel with some strange futuristic hearing aids, but mostly it’s unadulterated Cronenberg; shocking, sensual, surreal. From Naomi and Nathan’s lush obsession with gadgets, cameras, and Apple paraphernalia, compulsively recording every interaction, to the Aristoguys’ pathological sensuality, eroticising every moment of their relationship, the vicissitudes of aging through to a full on apotemnophiliac melt-down, Cronenberg’s fixations are forefront. Occasionally lacking in character development and a more directorial attention to detail than a novel reader might need, the narrative crawls at times. Cronenberg sacrifices plot for intense psychological meditations. But what is at the heart of this story is a career-long infatuation with the erotic as reality. So much so that the reader is complicit in every act, an unnerving technique he employs with surgical precision and nightmarish honesty.

A must-read for any horror lover, a delectable treat for fans.


You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Brilliant Book Titles #153

i lost it at the movies.jpg
You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Published in 1965, this is Pauline Kael’s first book. It is at once her most uncharacteristic volume of essays and one of her most interesting. Rather than trace recent movie openings on a week-by-week basis, Kael here recalls classics by Ophuls, Renoir, and Bergman and comments on some of the international masterpieces of the early ’60s. She also meditates on the state of the art in provocatively titled pieces like “Are Movies Going to Pieces?,” “Fantasies of the Art House Audience,” and “Is There a Cure for Film Criticism?” Few movie reviewers of any generation can match her wit or intelligence. And almost no one can equal her passion for an art that had such an indelible impact upon her life; Kael’s treatment of Vittorio De Sica’s masterpiece Shoeshine is perhaps the most intimate and beautiful movie review ever written.I Lost it at the Movies is vintage Kael on such classics of post-War cinema as On the Waterfront, Smiles of a Summer Night, West Side Story, The Seven Samurai, Lolita, Jules et Jim etc. Her comments are so fresh and direct, it’s as if the movies had only been released last week.

Brilliant Book Titles #152

the roar of butterflies.jpg
You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

A sweltering summer spells bad news for the private detective business. Thieves and philanderers take the month off and the only swingers in town are those on the 19th hole of the Royal Hoo Golf Course. But now the reputation of the ‘Hoo’ is in jeopardy.

Shocking allegations of cheating have been directed at leading member, Chris Porphyry. When Chris turns to Joe Sixsmith, PI, he’s more than willing to help – only Joe hadn’t counted on being French-kissed then dangled out of a window on the same day.

Before long, though, Joe’s on the trail of a conspiracy that starts with missing balls, and ends with murder…

Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work by Steven Pressfield


Do you have a novel inside of you waiting to be written? Are you an artist but rarely actually take out a canvas and paint? Are you a musician but spend most of your time tinkering with the band logo rather than performing? If you are a creative with an ambition to turn your hobby into a career but find yourself procrastinating daily – this is the book that could kick you into action.

Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work by Steven Pressfield is the follow-up to his bestseller The War of Art. In Turning Pro, Pressfield argues that the world is divided between pros and amateurs. The vast majority of people are amateurs. They are people that want to do great things – like write a novel, be a renowned musician etc, but they aren’t willing to put in the work. They fill their lives with busy work.

Turning Pro is broken up into 3 parts: part one is The Amateur Life, part two is Self Inflicted Wounds, and part three is The Professional Mindset. It shows how people develop from being an amateur into a pro and the work they need to do to make this transition. It explains the ways that you can get trapped in the amateur mindset and where people struggle when it comes to turning pro. The book has many personal anecdotes from Pressfield that helps you understand the journey of turning pro.

I loved how Pressfield has formatted the book. Most chapters are only a page or two long, so it’s the perfect bed time read. You can read a couple of chapters and then ponder how you are going to turn pro as you fall asleep. Or you can read it in an afternoon on a lazy Sunday. It’s also the kind of book you’ll reread for years to come.

If you want a kick to get started on becoming a creative pro, this is the book for you!


You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here

5 New Memoirs to Watch Out For

It’s Too Late Now: The Autobiography of a Writer by A. A. Milne (21 Sep 2017)
a a milne
In It’s Too Late Now: The Autobiography of a Writer, A. A Milne, with his characteristic self-deprecating humour, recalls a blissfully happy childhood in the company of his brothers and writes with touching affection about his father whom he adored. From Westminster School he won a scholarship to Cambridge University where he edited the university magazine, Granta. He then went out into the world, determined to be a writer. He was assistant editor at Punch Magazine and enjoyed great success with his novels, plays and stories. And of course he is best remembered for his children’s novels and verses featuring Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin. This is both an account of how a writer was formed and a charming period piece on literary life – Milne met countless famous authors including H. G. Wells, J.M Barrie of Peter Pan fame and Rudyard Kipling.

Rosalind: A Biography of Shakespeare’s Immortal Heroine by Angela Thirlwell (1 Oct 2017)
Angela Thirlwell explores the fictitious life and the many after-lives of Rosalind, Shakespeare’s progressive new heroine, and her perennial influence on drama, fiction and art.

The book ranges widely across Tudor history, theatre history, sexual politics, autobiography, art history and filmography.

This highly original ‘biography’ of Rosalind – Shakespeare’s greatest female creation – contains exclusive new interviews with Juliet Rylance, Sally Scott, Janet Suzman, Juliet Stevenson, Michelle Terry, award-winning director Blanche McIntyre, as well as insights from Michael Attenborough, Kenneth Branagh, Greg Doran, Rebecca Hall, Adrian Lester, Pippa Nixon, Vanessa Redgrave and Fiona Shaw.

Logical Family: A Memoir by Armistead Maupin (5 Oct 2017)
logical family
‘A sweet, filthy peach of a memoir from a cultural explosion of a man.’

Born in the mid-twentieth century and raised in the heart of conservative North Carolina, Armistead Maupin lost his virginity to another man “on the very spot where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.” Realizing that the South was too small for him, this son of a traditional lawyer packed his earthly belongings into his Opel GT (including a beloved portrait of a Confederate ancestor), and took to the road in search of adventure. It was a journey that would lead him from a homoerotic Navy initiation ceremony in the jungles of Vietnam to that strangest of strange lands: San Francisco in the early 1970s.

Reflecting on the profound impact those closest to him have had on his life, Maupin shares his candid search for his “logical family,” the people he could call his own. “Sooner or later, we have to venture beyond our biological family to find our logical one, the one that actually makes sense for us,” he writes. “We have to, if we are to live without squandering our lives.” From his loving relationship with his palm-reading Grannie who insisted Maupin was the reincarnation of her artistic bachelor cousin, Curtis, to an awkward conversation about girls with President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office, Maupin tells of the extraordinary individuals and situations that shaped him into one of the most influential writers of the last century.

Maupin recalls his losses and life-changing experiences with humor and unflinching honesty, and brings to life flesh-and-blood characters as endearing and unforgettable as the vivid, fraught men and women who populate his enchanting novels. What emerges is an illuminating portrait of the man who depicted the liberation and evolution of America’s queer community over the last four decades with honesty and compassion―and inspired millions to claim their own lives.

Keeping On Keeping On by Alan Bennett (5 Oct 2017)
keeping on
‘I seem to have banged on this year rather more than usual. I make no apology for that, nor am I nervous that it will it make a jot of difference. I shall still be thought to be kindly, cosy and essentially harmless. I am in the pigeon-hole marked ‘no threat’ and did I stab Judi Dench with a pitchfork I should still be a teddy bear.’

Alan Bennett’s third collection of prose Keeping On Keeping On follows in the footsteps of the phenomenally successful Writing Home and Untold Stories, each published ten years apart. This latest collection contains Bennett’s peerless diaries 2005 to 2015, reflecting on a decade that saw four premieres at the National Theatre (The Habit of Art, People, Hymn and Cocktail Sticks), a West End double-bill transfer, and the films of The History Boys and The Lady in the Van.

There’s a provocative sermon on private education given before the University at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, and ‘Baffled at a Bookcase’ offers a passionate defence of the public library. This is an engaging, humane, sharp, funny and unforgettable record of life according to the inimitable Alan Bennett.

Monograph by Chris Ware (10 Oct 2017)
The first and much-anticipated monograph by multi-award winning cartoonist and graphic novelist Chris Ware, chronicling his influential quarter-century career. While illustrator Chris Ware s singular body of work is often categorized as comics, his trailblazing work defies genre. Whether he is writing graphic novels, making paintings, or building sculptures, Ware explores universal themes of social isolation, emotional torment, and depression with his trademark self-effacing voice. The end result is wry, highly empathetic, and identifiable to all walks of life. Ware, like Charles Schulz, Art Spiegelman, and R. Crumb, has elevated cartooning to an iconic art form. This volume is a personal, massive, never-before-seen look at how the artist s life and work combine, beginning with his newspaper family and the influence of their work; his art-school days in Austin and Chicago; to his career from the early 1990s to the present day. It also delves into how, as a storyteller and builder, his near-compulsion to build in three dimensions feeds into the thinking of his innovative narrative art. The book contains a comprehensive collection of his work, including many previously unpublished examples, and is an intimate window into a comics master sure to appeal to fans of art and storytelling.