Tag Archives: Literature

A LIFE OF DECENCY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

When Breath Becomes AirWhen Breath Becomes Air

Written by: Paul Kalnithi with foreword from Abraham Verghese

Narration by:  Sunil Malhotra, Cassandra Campbell

PAUL KALANITHI (AUTHOR, NEUROSURGEON)
PAUL KALANITHI (AUTHOR, NEUROSURGEON)

“When Breath Becomes Air” memorializes a life of decency.  It is not a perfect life.  It is a short life of comfort and accomplishment, infused with stress and failure.  Paul Kalnithi is the son of Indian immigrants who grows up in Kingman, Arizona.  Kingman is a town of less than 29,000 people lying between Las Vegas luck and Phoenix senior living.

KINGMAN MAP (LAS VEGAS TO THE NORTHWEST, PHOENIX TO THE NORTHEAST)
KINGMAN MAP (LAS VEGAS TO THE NORTHWEST, PHOENIX TO THE SOUTHEAST)

Paul’s parents, particularly his mother, demand much from their children.  Paul is exposed to the classics of literature at an early age to supplement his private school education.  His educational interest is split between literature and science.

PAUL KALANITHI'S PARENTS (SUE, A MEDICAL PHYSIOLOGIST AND PAUL, A CARDIOLOGIST LIVE IN KINGMAN, AZ)
PAUL KALANITHI’S PARENTS (SUE, A MEDICAL PHYSIOLOGIST AND PAUL, A CARDIOLOGIST LIVE IN KINGMAN, AZ)

Paul is accepted at Stanford to pursue certification as a neurosurgeon.  His motivation to become a doctor is partly based on a desire to understand the meaning of life.  If there is meaning, Paul believes it lies in the lacunae of the mind.

Within one year of Paul’s ten year journey to graduation, he is struck with lung cancer.  After a first round of treatment, Paul’s cancer is in remission and he returns to Stanford to finish his residency.  As he nears completion of residency, the cancer reasserts itself and Paul decides to write “When Breath Becomes Air” to explain what he believes about life.

PAUL AND LUCY KLANITHI WITH DAUGHTER CADY
PAUL AND LUCY KLANITHI WITH DAUGHTER CADY

There are many messages for those seeking meaning of life in “When Breath Becomes Air”.  Paul’s story is founded on insight drawn from literature and experience.  Though Paul is a man of science, he argues there is a God.  He observes that humans are fallible, not least of which are neurosurgeons that fail to acknowledge their errors.  All human beings make mistakes because of errors in judgment, inexperience, ignorance, and human weakness.

Those who choose to listen to “When Breath Becomes Air” will look at life differently.  Not because of belief in God or the fallibility of human beings, but because we all live between Las Vegas luck and Phoenix senior living.  Death is a part of life whether it is an end or a beginning.  Education makes a difference and no life of comfort and accomplishment is without stress and failure.  The best one hopes for is to live and leave life as decently as Paul Kalnithi.  Palu Kalnithi dies at 37.

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FOUNDATIONS OF LITERATURE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

Heroes and Legends: The Most Influential Characters of Literatureheroes and legends By: Professor Thomas A. Shippey

The Great Courses: World Literature Lectures

PROFESSOR TOM SHIPPEY (AUTHOR AND SCHOLAR OF TOLKIEN TRILOGY, FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION)
PROFESSOR TOM SHIPPEY (AUTHOR AND SCHOLAR OF TOLKIEN TRILOGY, FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION)

Little is offered on the foundations of literature by Professor Thomas Shippey in his lectures on Heroes and Legends. He fails to show how hero and legend stories are unique, repeated, and expanded upon in new literature about similar characters and adventures. The Heroes and Legends’ lectures are grade school snapshots of literary heroes and heroines. Shippey disappoints the listener by not drawing on his vast knowledge of Heroes and Legends in literature to illustrate genre’ continuity.

Professor Shippey’ lectures span centuries of Hero and Legends creations, from Homer to Stieg Larsson. Structure of the lectures is barely thematic and not chronological. Shippey’s lectures are, at best, a “stream of consciousness” exploration of western literature.

To characterize Odysseus as a trickster and Aeneas as a straight arrow trivializes adventure and ignores issues of motive, justice, and revenge in the genre. The battle between good and evil is ubiquitous in Heroes and Legends‘ literature; good and evil have become equally seductive qualities in heroes’ literature.  Evolution of good and evil presence in heroes and legends is not explored.

The first lecture is about Frodo Baggins and the Tolkien’ trilogy which would have been a great introduction to the existence of good and evil in the genre but little is said about Baggins’ temptation by the power of the ring and how the temptation of evil is a recurrent theme in hero’ literature.

As Shippey points out Baggins is a different kind of hero. He grows into his role. He begins as milquetoast but grows into a Cincinnatus; not as a great warrior/leader, but as a person of conscience that understands the importance of rising to the occasion but returning to normal life when victory is achieved. Baggins is a hero willing to take a stand for what is right and then act upon it, but leave that persona when he is no longer needed. Baggins is a transitional character for the genre of heroes and legends but Shippey fails to build on that observation. How many more Baggins come after Tolkien’s masterpiece?

Shippey notes there is a foundation; i.e. a structural contiguity that supports hero and legend’ story-tellers. Shippey identifies some of the unique characters and vignettes of heroes and legends but often neglects the story-tellers’ contribution to literature. The lectures would have been more interesting if Shippey added more insight like his note that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes creates a foundation for dual heroes. Shippey shows how Blomquist and Salendar in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” carry the legend of Holmes into the 21st century. That is insight a listener is looking for; not a book report on chosen hero and legend literature.

In his last lecture of the series, Shippey talks about a house of legends with prescribed foundations. That should have been his first lecture. He is intimately familiar with the books he discusses but he fails to bring heroes and legends together in a format that describes the foundation of hero and legend literature.

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