Anne Lamott has taught many aspiring writers valuable lessons on our craft. But her recent books have been so much more, as she shares wisdom on living the best life we can in this sometimes-hard world. Almost Everything: Notes on Hope is a lovely, short look at how we can find hope everywhere around us, despite hard things being a given. She may be “stockpiling antibiotics for the apocalypse,” but she still finds time to share with us “several truths,” of which she is “almost sure.” I read this one (or listen to it) several times a year.
When Breath Becomes Air
In case you’ve been hiding under a rock and missed it, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanathi turns the doctor into the patient. Kalanathi left us a superb and clear-eyed look at his coming death from cancer while he completes his training to become a neurosurgeon AND becomes a father. Completed by his wife Lucy after he passed away, this is an essential look at how we can- we must- find meaning and purpose in every moment of life, because it is so very temporary.
Everything Happens for a Reason
Everything Happens for a Reason by Kate Bowler hit me hard, since as a bereaved father I have heard every one of the Christian clichés she’s hit with by (usually) well-meaning people who learn she has terminal cancer. A beautiful and powerful look at how the things we say land on those who are suffering, Bowler helps us all learn how to help in a better way. I love this book, and found it helpful, even in my own grief.
Once More We Saw Stars
Once More We Saw Stars by Jayson Greene is devastating. A tragic accident took the life of Greene’s two-year-old daughter Greta, and with her loss he and his wife were plunged into a suddenly very scary and dark world for parents. When a piece of your city kills your child, how can you ever see the light again? Greene’s struggle through grief, his success at keeping his marriage together, and their decision to have another child are presented with a clarity and vulnerability that left me broken and crying, yet even more hopeful than ever.
The Unwinding of the Miracle
The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams is a look backward from near-death that offers us a great deal of hope and joy in our own lives. She passed away from cancer in her thirties, a mother of two who overcame great odds (born poor and blind overseas) to become a Harvard-educated lawyer. But she writes with such grace and gratitude about life, and how much better it is to really live while you’re living than to mourn your death. She writes, “Dying has taught me a great deal about living—about facing hard truths consciously, about embracing the suffering as well as the joy. Wrapping my arms around the hard parts was perhaps the great liberating experience of my life.” A beautiful, necessary, gift of a book.
I've Seen the End of You
W. Lee Warren, M.D.
My career as a neurosurgeon immerses me in the hardest parts of people’s lives. And yet, the human resilience, faith, and spirit never ceases to amaze me. My heart is continually moved at how individuals rise to the challenge when facing incredibly hard things. And so, my writing, although it often examines pain, loss, and grief, somehow always lands on hope.
Thus, I am drawn to writers who grapple with hard things but manage to find light in the darker corners of our experiences.
To that end, I have encountered five books that have helped me see so much grace and light in the world.
Featured image: @kidero_ag via Twenty20