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November 2017

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The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for: People who enjoy memoirs such as When Breath Becomes Air.

In a nutshell: Now-deceased writer Nina Riggs documents her illness from diagnosis onward.

Line that sticks with me: “These are the things we all say at the end of book club now: ‘I love you.’ Of course we do. Why haven’t we been saying that all along?”

Why I chose it: Memoir + death = An ASK Musings staple.

Review: Author Nina Riggs gives us a gift with this book, in that it isn’t filled with terror and it isn’t overly optimistic. I’d imagine that both of those styles of memoir are necessary for people depending on how they view life, but it seems necessary to also have a book that deals with illness and terminal diagnoses via a third path. I won’t say this is more ‘realistic’ that a book full of fear or of hope, because I know everyone experiences life differently.

Ms. Riggs has two sons, but this isn’t a book addressed directly to them (although in the acknowledgments her husband confirms that they hope their sons will better know their mother as they read and re-read it over the years). It isn’t directed to her husband. It doesn’t even feel as though it is directed at women facing similar life events. It’s just a book that explores life and death via the unexpected twists and the fully expected turns. And it is lovely.

Ms. Riggs is the great-great-great-granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson, so there is a lot of discussion of nature and of him. She is also a very big fan of Montaigne, so he pops up frequently as well. But so do her best friends, and family, and neighbors. She takes her kids to school. She goes through radiation treatment. She buys a wig. She goes on vacation. She has moments of fear and panic, but even she acknowledges that the movie version of her life will likely have more dramatic scenes than her reality.

Her writing style is lovely. The chapters are often very short (sometimes only a paragraph), and while it could have ventured into overly flowery language, it straddles that line of near poetry and reality.

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