Back to top

A Novel Book Club: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Event Image: 

About the club:

Join your pals at Novel on Wednesday, January 22 at 7 p.m. for A Novel Book Club. Our monthly picks will encompass a wide variety of genres, interests, and reading styles, with book club members involved in choosing future selections. Unlike a lot of book clubs that are spawned from a group of friends, we are a group of friends spawned from a book club. We really hope to see you at the next meeting! (Book club members get 10% off the price of this month's book--ask for your discount at the register!)

About the book:

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.

About the author:

Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon and writer. He grew up in Kingman, Arizona, and graduated from Stanford University with a BA and MA in English literature and a BA in human biology. He earned an MPhil in history and philosophy of science and medicine from the University of Cambridge and graduated cum laude from the Yale School of Medicine, where he was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha national medical honor society. He returned to Stanford to complete his residency training in neurological surgery and a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience, during which he received the American Academy of Neurological Surgery's highest award for research. He died in March 2015. He is survived by his large, loving family, including his wife, Lucy, and their daughter, Elizabeth Acadia.

Event date: 
Wednesday, January 22, 2020 - 7:00pm to 8:15pm
Event address: 
387 Perkins Ext.
Memphis, TN 38117
When Breath Becomes Air Cover Image
By Paul Kalanithi, Abraham Verghese (Foreword by)
$26.00
ISBN: 9780812988406
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Random House - January 12th, 2016