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The Two Kinds of Decay: A Memoir

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  956 ratings  ·  138 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
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
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
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
this is a book about being ill, and then thinking back on it many years later. sarah manguso runs through the multi-year course of her autoimmune disease (& other illnesses) in short bursts of writing, which i really enjoyed, both here and also in other memoirs like WHAT COMES NEXT & HOW TO LIKE IT. she has some really interesting perspectives into the mechanics and trajectories of living, some of which gave me pause, some that i disagreed with, but all points that made me reflect deeper ...more
I'm not sure why, but I expected great things from Manguso's prose, and by great things I mean something like Paul Monette's health memoir writing. That is very much not Manguso's style. She's a poet, so the words are few and well-considered, but still less vibrant than I'd expect for a poet, though I get that not all poets aim for that. The disease itself and her experiences, wow. I did appreciate the vignette about how she and her friends started saving the caps from vials that have "FLIP OFF" ...more
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
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
Manguso is a poet, and this account of a rare illness suffered in the author's twenties (she's only in her thirties now) shows it. The language is compressed, the account depends as much on white space as on text, and the voice, while quite cool, is vivid and forceful. The book is made up of short chapters that are themselves made up of the briefest paragraphs. Manguso succeeds in creating a work of art and also in conveying the absurdities and indignities of being young and desperately sick. Cl ...more
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
Wendy Ortiz
Lovely form, poetic voice, but sometimes I wanted it to be edited down further from what it was, and other times I wasn't as enamored with the voice as I'd been previously and sometimes I felt manipulated and sometimes not...

The star system on goodreads is a little ridiculous, so I would have to say it's more like somewhere between 'it was ok' and 'I liked it,' but closer to ok. There are some distinctly beautiful passages in these pages. I'd recommend it to cnf writers/memoir writers as a way t
Mrs. Danvers
I could read the last chapter over and over.
This got mailed to me yesterday afternoon and, 1:30 in the morning, I've breezed through it, a story of prevailing through neurological disease told in a series of interlinked vignettes. Perhaps I could be criticized for not ingesting and metabolizing every page, feeling the full impact of the author's plight, every ache and pain and laugh and crying of the author's voice. But I enter into this book as a neurologist, a neurologist who has seen CIDP and treated its close cousins on many occasions ...more
What I appreciate about this book is it is not sentimental, and comes from a very laconic, almost brutal perspective. If you like heart warming things, this book won't really appeal. To me, the special aspect of the book is how at her most depressed, you can see her hardness becoming softer compassion. Maybe she's objectively showing how hard it was to come by. This moment really got me seeing as the narrator has been kind of flinty and self-involved (justifiably for her age and situation) the w ...more
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.
It's damn hard to write about illness like this--maybe that's why it traditionally isn't or at least wasn't done that often--to engage Virginia Woolf's musing over the dearth of such work. Manguso brings us inside the experience of suffering a life-threatening illness with a deftness, simplicity, and economy I don't think I've seen before. But perhaps that makes this story sound familiar--it's not; it's utterly distinctive to Manguso. Does it traffic in the solipsistic? Yes, insofar as it avoids ...more
Louise Chambers
Written almost like a diary, but not at all self-absorbed. Highly recommend! I read this in one day.
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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
More about Sarah Manguso...

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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.” 8 likes
“If you think something's happened quickly, you're looking at only a part of it.” 3 likes
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