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The Two Kinds of Decay: A Memoir

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  746 ratings  ·  122 reviews
The events that began in 1995 might keep happening to me as long as things can happen to me. Think of deep space, through which heavenly bodies fly forever. They fly until they change into new forms, simpler forms, with ever fewer qualities and increasingly beautiful names.

There are names for things in spacetime that are nothing, for things that are less than nothing. Whit
ebook, 192 pages
Published May 26th 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2008)
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In bite sized and poetic chunks, Sarah Manguso tells what it's like to come down with a debilitating disease at a young age. The book jacket doesn't even name the disease, simply calling it "a wildly unpredictable disease that appeared without warning" when she was 21 years old. In fact, her disease, which is "something like" a chronic form of the neuologic disorder, Guillain-Barre syndrome, lacks a proper name as yet, but is referred to as chronic idiopathic demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy ...more
As hypocritical as this may sound, coming from a memoirist, I'm generally skeptical of the memoir form. So many memoirs end up as bleats of narcissism. But THE TWO KINDS OF DECAY seems, almost magically, to bypass narcissism completely, maybe because it's so concerned with the self's survival under conditions that seem designed to eradicate it. By the self I don't just mean the body, though the disease that Sarah Manguso contracted during her junior year in college was overwhelmingly corporeal, ...more
I initially thought I liked this book quite a bit. But as I sat with my thoughts a little longer, I realized it bothered me more than moved me. You don't get to truly know her, but you do get to know all about what's physically wrong with her and how it's treated. I could deplore her plight but couldn't feel enough empathy for her because she didn't reveal enough of herself for me to connect with her. I might have been able to if she had provided a more compelling account of the psychological as ...more
Rebecca Foster
I am surprisingly devoted to books about illness and death. Indeed, many of the best books I've read in the last year or two seem to center on wasting illnesses and unexpected mortality. I attribute this not to a morbid personality but to a desire to read about what really matters: birth and death and the quality of the life in between. Perhaps I feel that in reading these memoirs I am getting close to the bone of what it means to be human and experience frailty and fatality.

Much like Susannah C
Anne Sanow
If you're going to write a memoir--and, let's face it, most people shouldn't--then it should be as starkly honed and beautiful as this one.
One-sitting read: elegiac, shameless . . . the kind of work that reminds ecstasy is supposed to hurt a little. And it does.
The first word that initially came to mind after reading Sarah Manguso's book, The Two Kinds of Decay, was "stark." The subject matter could be what brought that word to mind. Add to that, the author's treatment of her memoir as distanced, if not clinical. Her writing is very controlled. She also shirks sentimentalities effectively, despite the painful and personal nature of the material. Further, the short chapters, block paragraphs, and abundance of white space seem to form a visual context of ...more
This book is very hard to read. The delicacy and impossibility of each phrase—delivered with the magnitude of several hours’ hospitalization is painful. It’s not spontaneity that tickles you, but a hard, hard, hard stone that is pushed through the canal and at one point relinquished so almost anything can have dire meaning because it has weight. Weight from a doctor saying: Look, here is the smallest violinst in the world playing you a Dvořák violin concerto to It is here again, this certainty I ...more
Nov 30, 2011 Erin rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Erin by: friend
I highly recommend this for anyone who 1) has a family member or friend with a complicated, rare, or terminal illness, and/or 2) works in a medical or rehabilitation setting. A colleague of mine recommended it, and it was extremely helpful in helping build/increase my empathy for an estranged cousin who has a severe autoimmune disorder and for some of my patients.

Chapters I especially loved:

A Role Model (discusses her connection with Joseph Heller)
Causation, Music, When, Measuring (commentary
I gather from other Goodreads reviews and the jacket blurbs that people who liked this book absolutely loved it. I can understand that reaction -- the structure is different from most memoirs (short vignettes, almost like a notebook or journal of the period in which she was extremely ill), and the writer is very adept with language, befitting a poet.

That said, I had a lot of trouble getting into it. I felt bad for her, and she clearly missed out on a lot in her young adulthood by having this ill
emma kate tsai
Absolutely amazing. Her writing style, which is very sparse, is perfectly complementary to the size (very short) and nature of this book, one about a young woman diagnosed with a horrific autoimmune disorder of the nervous system. The book isn't written in chronological order, but is certainly painstakingly organized in a way that makes sense. And the sparseness of prose feels right for something like this: you get sick and it's all about hospitals and facts and numbers. You become, in a sense, ...more
Read the STOP SMILING review of The Two Kinds of Decay:

A writer does not need to have experienced great suffering at an early age in order to write a good memoir while still young, but it doesn’t hurt. In 1995, then-21-year-old Harvard undergrad Sarah Manguso contracted a rare, devastating disease — her immune system began to produce antibodies that attacked her nervous system, which induced paralysis that began at her extremities and encroached toward her vital organs. The Two Kinds of Decay do
When you find yourself listening to a friend talk about what is wrong with them, how their body is failing them and you listen, hear, and empathize with them, but know you really are revolving around two different suns, read this book. When you think you understand, read this book.

Manguso ably conveys the corrosive nature of living (more aptly, existing) with an autoimmune disease. Her sparse phrasing resonates so well both for the powerful images she paints and as a metaphor for the distilled s
Karen Castillo
This book is not just about sickness but also about the manner we utilize language to express it and deal with it.

The Two Kinds of Decay: A Memoir is truly moving. It will make you realize how unfair life can be. It was seen in this miserable tale, how humans are tough, yet there's this side of us that makes us weak. Good things and bad things happen to people and you cannot avoid it, for troubles and challenges are part of life's package. We all have our sufferings, and according to Bernice Joh
This is a fabulous, highly creative memoir; there may have never been an autobiograpy quite like this one. While a junior at a famous college, Manguso developed a rare neurological disorder from which she suffered from, in one way or another, for 9 years. Lots of interesting medical details mixed in with heartfelt self-conversations and reflection. The style is extraordinarily elegant (she is an acclaimed poet, as well), yet readable. I found this book on the shelf at the local library, decided ...more
Hannah Jane
Sarah battles a crazy disease, the kind of mysterious disease with no definitive end. It’s a disease that requires a central line, the kind of disease that attacks nerves and turns the body into a battleground.

And while all these things are very critical in this memoir, the most important element is how the disease is presented to the reader. This book may be comprised of poems threaded with angst, humor and despair or it could be a teetering castle of prose blocks. Or perhaps it’s one long essa
NPR called this memoir about devastating illness a book that "won't want to make you slit your wrists." Manguso had a devastating blood disease in her junior year at Harvard. Her recovery lasted nine years. This is as much a coming of age story as it is her account about disease. The staccato prose reflects her determination to move on. Highly recommended.
I hadn't expected this book! I will carry the kind cheerleader nurse with me, I think. And the schizophrenic woman's singing. I am still aching for the father, in the background, who got so suddenly old, and for the mother, whose friends were of no help. When you are utterly vulnerable in your body--Manguso writes this so well.
Erin Malone
This memoir of a young woman diagnosed with a rare blood disease is a fascinating account. I liked how straightforward it is, even in the face of horrible but necessary medical treatments. Manguso is a poet, and the economical language and structure of this sets it apart from other memoirs. A compelling read.
Oct 16, 2008 Meghan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who write both poetry and non-fiction; people who work on disability studies; my mother
Manguso is doing something pretty magnificent formally in The Two Kinds of Decay. It's not fully non-fiction; it's not prose poetry; it's not notes. It functions as something in among all three. And she writes it true to the existential crisis that serious illness and disability can engender.
Emma Bolden
An unbelievably honest, unflinching view of illness, told with sensitivity, grace, and humor. This is the kind of book that makes me want to write.
Siobhan Fallon
The beautiful writing somehow balances out the unbelievable horrors that the narrator undergoes as her blood and body fail her at 21.
Louise Chambers
Written almost like a diary, but not at all self-absorbed. Highly recommend! I read this in one day.
addictive, incredible, must read.
Manguso, mainly a poet these days, I believe, writes a concise memoir about her struggle with a mysterious auto-immune disease. She writes her memoir in the way you might imagine a poet would, impressionistically, with incidental encounters given the same weight as invasive medical procedures. Each chapter is short, a vignette that arises out of fog for a moment of bright clarity before fading back into the past.

I read this as a healthy person seeking to gain insight into how someone lives with
"All autoimmune diseases invoke the metaphor of suicide. The body destroys itself from the inside."

The Two Kinds of Decay by Sarah Manguso is a memoir of her battle with a rare and debilitating disease, a chronic form of Guillain-Barre syndrome called CIDP (Chronic Inflammatory Demvelinating Polyneuropathy) which causes her blood to produce antibodies which attack her nervous system, starting at the peripheral and moving inwards, from her feet and hands to her most vital organs. The treatments
This memoir begins during the author's junior year at Harvard, as she develops tingling and numbness in her feet and hands after a protracted head cold. She initially ignores these symptoms, but after a few days she develops weakness in her legs and difficulty walking, which prompts her to call her parents to bring her to a local hospital. There she is initially diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disease in which the body's immune system attacks the protein that covers peripheral nerve ce ...more
It's kinda hard to review memoirs because you're criticising people's lives, and it's doubly hard to review memoirs where the author went through something rather tragic or horrific or just plain sad, and then to turn around and be like, "Um, your life story was interesting but you did a bad job telling it."

All this being said, Manguso did a pretty good job with a difficult subject: her young life lived in a hospital. In her early 20s, Manguso discovers that within her blood a battle is raging
Michele Harrod
I particularly enjoyed this book for it's cool unsentimentality. It wasn't a teary eyed 'woe is me' overview of the horribleness of suffering - although the hell the author most definitely went through, being pumped full of steriods, and having crappy treatments that weren't fixing her fast enough - gave her every right to write one. Instead it was more retrospective, a story of a girl. And what she remembered about 'that time'. The moments that stick with you. The ones you'd sooner forget. The ...more
After reading Sarah Manguso's poetry off and on for the past eight years, I always suspected we might be pals in an alternate universe. Drinking buddies most likely. However, upon randomly discovering (AKA weeding the constantly over-stuffed Throg's Neck biography section) that she had written a memoir about developing a chronic illness in her twenties, I will swear on the lives of both Ada the hound and the adorable Alexis Torres that we are meant to be the bosomest of Anne Shirley/Diana Barry ...more
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Sarah Manguso (b. 1974) is an American writer and poet. In 2007, she was awarded the Joseph Brodsky Rome Prize Fellowship in literature by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her memoir The Two Kinds of Decay (2008), was reviewed by the New York Times Sunday Book Review and named a 2008 "Best Nonfiction Book of the Year" by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Her poems and prose have appeared in The
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“My existence shrank from an arrow of light pointing into the future forever to a speck of light that was the present moment. I got better at living in that point of light, making the world into that point. I paid close attention to it. I loved it very much.” 3 likes
“If you think something's happened quickly, you're looking at only a part of it.” 2 likes
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