When Breath Becomes Air

“Doctors, it turns out, need hope, too.”

Paul Kalanithi

One of the phenomena that has characterised the past eighteen months is the emergence of a small bundle of encapsulated RNA, the coronavirus – a blight that has swept over the earth and brought with it the incorporation of ‘social distancing’, ‘self-isolating’ and ‘lockdown’ into modern day lexicon. Against the backdrop of this pandemic, and during the last six months in particular, one of the books I have found myself returning to time and time again to finish is that of Kalanithi’s. What was it about the growing number of Covid deaths that led me to read about his?

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The Dead | Longreads

“Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.”

There are certain texts read at school that seldom do you find yourself picking up again, until years have passed and the eyes with which you view the world are no longer the same. Such is the case for me, Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’, and the story that comes before its close.

(Spoilers within.)

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The Godfather

“A man who is not a father to his children can never be a real man.”

One of the many quotes attributed to the man to whom the title’s moniker refers, Mario Puzo’s ‘The Godfather’ depicts his protagonist as in possession of a fierce familial loyalty – often in conjunction with elements of ruthless cunning and ugly violence that too make up his character. For those familiar with the story, be it through the novel or the biopic released three years later, each element is as integral to the tale as the other. Though the concurrent existence of such antithetical sentiments in one man may seem contradictory – who could possibly approve of robbing another family of a loved one when they value their own so dearly? – through Puzo, the Don’s motives have always been clear: protecting and providing for his family in the perceived absence of America doing the same.

Is it this concept that secured the franchise’s place in both popular culture and cinematic history?

(Spoilers within.)

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Chakraborty: The City of Brass

“He’d gone pale, and she paused to listen to the pulse of his heart… Despite the graying hairs in his beard – ill-hidden by henna – and the plumpness in his belly, he suffered from nothing other than an excess of wealth. She’d be glad to help him with that.”

April. Aside from bringing with it spring flowers, sunshine, and the taste of upcoming exam season in the air, this month brought forth new reads as well. Though I started by picking up Tolstoy for the first time (stick with me to hear about that soon dear reader), when I found ‘The City of Brass’ thrust eagerly into my hands by a fellow bookworm as well, I soon realised parallel reading was not an option.

Now that isn’t to do a disservice to our Russian friend in the slightest – I found him surprisingly readable after all, and progressed faster than I thought I would on entering his world. But either Chakraborty’s world was just that little more compelling, or the prospect of borrowing such a pristine copy was too daunting for me to leave ‘The City of Brass’ unread for too long. It was the latter, in any case, which was most definitely responsible for my returning Chakraborty’s (finished) novel the next day.

And boy, what a novel.

(Spoilers within.)

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Dead Poets Society

“Medicine, law, business, engineering; these are noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love; these are what we stay alive for.”

– Mr Keating

Earlier this week, as I fancied I found myself with enough time on my hands, I decided to head to 1950s Vermont and catch up with Robin Williams as Mr Keating, an English teacher on a journey to inspire his students through the medium of poetry. Aside from the aforementioned gem he offered up (which I somehow found myself in firm agreement with, despite paradoxically also being reminded I probably ought to have been studying), Dead Poets Society is unsurprisingly littered with snippets from great poetry as well.

Frost, Tennyson, Byron and Whitman, to name but a few, all get offered a moment of glory in the film, and while it is no doubt well deserved, I couldn’t help but wonder at all the other remarkable wordsmiths who could’ve too done well with a spot on centre-stage. To that end dear reader, I offer you a poem I stumbled across from a poet just as renowned in some parts of the world as those I’ve already mentioned. Though admittedly his work below is in a translated form, Keating’s themes of beauty, romance, love, are still all artfully present, and have been wonderfully woven together to form the first on his list of what makes life worth living: poetry.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

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Love, Poems, and February 14th

“And neither the angels in Heaven above // Nor the demons down under the sea // Can ever dissever my soul from the soul // Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.”

Amongst some of the earliest lines of poetry I can recall, the unwavering dedication of Poe’s protagonist to his beloved has long been a beautiful source of wonder. And on the eve of the most romantic 24 hours in the Gregorian calendar for those who celebrate it, such an all-consuming love makes for perfect fodder for Valentine’s day cards and celebrations.

I can’t help but wonder though, what would the holiday look like if the below example from The Bard was more often followed instead?

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