By Sarah Knight
Think about all the things in your life toward which you put valuable time, energy, and money. Some of these things are great! They bring joy into life and seem to be, overall, well worth the effort required. Some of these things are not so great! It is annoying to feel obligated to spend your precious resources on things you really don’t care about. In this book, inspired by “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Knight offers guidance for how to spend more time, energy, and money on things that bring joy and reduce the amount of resources lost to things that annoy. She breaks this down into two simple steps: deciding not to give a f*ck, and not giving a f*ck. She elaborates on each of these steps extensively, sharing examples from her own life as well as the experiences of anonymous friends, family, and online survey respondents to demonstrate each micro-step of her two-step process. She also describes methods of not giving a f*ck without also being a jerk about it, and emphasizes the importance of honesty and politeness as part of the process. All this leads to the ultimate goal of living your best life.
“The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck” by Sarah Knight is “a practical parody” (it says so right on the cover). Knight acknowledges the impact and inspiration of Marie Kondo’s similarly named book, which shows through in everything from the title to the font and spacing of words on the page. Knight does offer some practical guidance for implementing the practice of Not Giving a F*ck in your own life. Step 1 (deciding not to give a f*ck) consists of making several lists accounting for all the ways in which you spend time, money, and energy in different spheres of your life, such as work, friends, and family. Step 2 consists of countless examples for how to implement Not Giving a F*ck, and doing so with honesty and politeness so as not to be a jerk. While the guide is simple and straightforward, Knight writes with heavy-handed metaphor, cliché, and sarcasm, which sometimes muddles her explanation to the point where it is difficult to follow. Knight also throws in a couple random and hilarious references to things that make her personal Don’t Give a F*ck list, and includes links so you can check them out yourself. All in all, this book has a light tone to match the Don’t Give a F*ck message.
At times this book was fun to read, and at other times this book was so deep in mixed metaphors that it didn’t make any sense to me. After finishing it, I feel somewhat ambivalent about whether it would have made my “joy” or “annoy” list. It’s pretty quick to read and keeps a snarky tone throughout, but snarky sometimes edged into being crass and careless on occasion. I don’t know that I would read this one again.
By Paul Kalanithi
Paul Kalanithi forged a remarkable path to neurosurgery. Kalanithi initially started school with a plan to study literature while looking for answers to that great question: how to make meaning out of life? When literature fell short of providing these answers, he turned to philosophy, focusing on doctor-patient relationships and the morality of working with people facing mortality. This ultimately led him to the fields of neurosurgery and neuroscience, where he quickly rocketed to the top of his class, continuing to explore and refine his understanding of a meaningful life as mediated through the doctor-patient relationship. With graduation nearing and the world as his oyster, Kalanithi suddenly started to live the philosophy he had been searching for when the doctor became a patient diagnosed with terminal cancer. With his deep understanding of medicine, Kalanithi can make sense of the scans, tests, treatment options, and existing information about his illness. More foreign and difficult for him is releasing the role of doctor and allowing himself to become a patient following doctor’s orders. With the support of his wife and family, Kalanithi navigates the tumultuous waters of an unknown but significantly foreshortened lifespan while trying to live with that elusive and ever-changing sense of meaning.
“When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi is a story told in two parts: searching for morality and philosophy related to making meaning out of life, and enacting that morality and philosophy while facing an uncertain and swiftly approaching death. Kalanithi’s studies have certainly been thorough, and the first half of the book is laden with philosophical musings. Kalanithi strives constantly to put theory into practice, and weaves in stories from his colleagues, his patients, and his own reflections to illuminate the ways in which the doctor-patient relationship can contribute to making meaning out of life. As a patient, the second half of the book focuses on the new awareness he gains from living the other side of the doctor-patient relationship. He continues to illuminate the lessons he learns as a patient with personal reflections, stories from his interactions with others, and an intimate knowledge of how the body responds to sudden and unpredictable changes. The overarching tone of the story is one of grace, inquisitiveness, and calm acceptance. Though Kalanithi continually searches for answers, there is some measure of peace in knowing the answers can’t be nailed down.
I highly recommend this book. It almost feels gratuitous to read this book because he shares so many insights into the medical world, both as one who tries to relieve suffering and as one who succumbs to suffering. However, he offers his story freely and with the hope that others will learn from it, so that makes it OK to feel like I’m snooping a bit, doesn’t it? The inclusion of personal and patient stories and the reminder that all of us are grappling with death makes this book highly engrossing. Kalanithi’s perspective is realistic without being overly sentimental or overly callous. Certainly worth reading, and if you can manage it, worth reading in one (or two) sittings.