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The Still Point of the Turning World

3.65  ·  Rating Details ·  1,690 Ratings  ·  276 Reviews
Like all mothers, Emily Rapp had ambitious plans for her first and only child, Ronan. He would be smart, loyal, physically fearless, and level-headed, but fun. He would be good at crossword puzzles like his father. He would be an avid skier like his mother. Rapp would speak to him in foreign languages and give him the best education.

But all of these plans changed when Ron
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published March 7th 2013 by The Penguin Press HC (first published March 1st 2013)
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Community Reviews

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Aug 13, 2013 Josie rated it liked it
I feel guilty not liking this book but I just thought it was OK. I wanted a more personal account of Ronan and his illness. And in fact I very much liked how the author spoke about her experience when I saw her on the Today Show, which is what prompted me to buy the book. But the book itself was a bit preachy and almost even pretentious to me, and more philosophical then I expected. It just wasn't a very personal account of what her life was like with Ronan and that is what I hoped for. It was a ...more
Mar 15, 2013 Myfanwy rated it it was amazing
Chapter 22 of Emily Rapp’s memoir The Still Point of the Turning World opens with a quote from Franz Kafka, “By scribbling I run ahead of myself in order to catch myself up at the finishing post. I cannot run away from myself.”

I cannot run away from myself.

Running away from yourself is exactly what you wish to do when you experience the dying of someone you love. And imagine if the one dying is your child? You will say to me (as people have said to Rapp), “I can’t imagine that.” But you can, Rap
Feb 22, 2013 Anna rated it really liked it
How does one even begin to critique a memoir?I'm sure there are academic answers to this question, which rattled through me as I readTHE STILL POINT OF THE TURNING WORLD, but I don't think any of them could help me feel less uncomfortable at the thought of making value judgements about another person's experiences and emotions. I can pick apart a novel's plot and characters with the best of them, but to do that to a memoir seems more personal. The plot, such as it is, is not of the author's crea ...more
Mar 20, 2013 j rated it it was amazing
Lois McMaster Bujold, a great writer made no less great by the fact that she writes science-fiction books with covers like this, wrote one of the truest things I have ever read about becoming a parent: “It's a transcendental act. Making life… 'By this act, I bring one death into the world.' One birth, one death, and all the pain and acts of will between.”

This, from a story with spaceships and lasers in it.

When we have children, we birth potential into the world. We question ourselves, our spous
Aug 09, 2014 Marleah rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I have an eight-month-old daughter and was afraid that, while reading this book, I would be in tears the entire time. Not so (and this is neither positive or negative, just a fact). Rapp writes about her son Ronan with love and truthfulness, with interludes into literature and references to poetry, as well as her own personal history.

While reading the first half of the book, I was irritated by the literary and poetic interludes, because just as I started to be drawn into Ronan's story and start
Mar 08, 2014 Heidi rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
Where is the line between therapeutic writing that should be contained within one’s private journal, and therapeutic writing that offers meaning and perspective to a reader? Wherever it might be, Rapp stays mostly to the left of it.

I considered closing the book forever on page 36 and 47, again on page 57, and conclusively on page 123, where I read that she used to preach in her writing classes the need to achieve objectivity before sharing difficult life stories, “otherwise these stories can be
Mar 17, 2013 Bridgett rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction
I was about 3/4s of the way through Emily Rapp's moving memoir about her son's life and thus his dying when my daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. You never know exactly how much the words, the experiences, the intelligence in a book affects your own life, your own experiences, but I think I can say that ultimately this book probably changed the way I looked at the illness. Rapp's book is alive with great compassion and also an indictment of our very modern way of looking at life and de ...more
May 02, 2013 Gina rated it it was ok
As a new mother myself, I cannot imagine having a child with a terminal illness. However, the rank of two stars isn't for the author's strength of character or difficult situation (she makes clear she does't want anyone's pity anyway), or the writing, which is okay (barring that she is sometimes redundant and sometimes contradictory). She gets only two stars because of her tone. I found her to be quite self-righteous, condescending, and unappreciative. For example, she throws away all of the sym ...more
Rob Blaine
Apr 29, 2013 Rob Blaine rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
My enthusiasm for Still Point of the Turning World hit peaks and valleys, much as Ms. Rapp's touching story of caring for her terminally-ill son undulates between moments of profound insight and sheer rage. But, this book epitomizes why it is I think we read books in the first place -- that search for truths through relating (or trying to relate) to the experiences of others. At least, that's why I read books, for that rare instance where a book shakes your understanding of the world and of peop ...more
Judith Hannan
Mar 27, 2013 Judith Hannan rated it it was amazing
Toward the end of her exquisite book in response to her son Ronan's diagnosis of Tay-Sachs disease, Emily Rapp talks about going to a "Being With Dying" training session. She tells of being shown photographs of people dying and the "death portraits" of people who have just died. In many ways, The Still Portrait of the Turning World is like a death portrait; it is an unflinching examination of grief.

Tay-Sachs has no cure. Rapp makes sure the reader understands what this means in the opening pag
Apr 24, 2016 Natalie rated it it was amazing
The most searing, shattering, mercurial staring into the face of death and grief I have ever read.

All must come unbound and undone.

All will unravel.

There is no consolation.

No dying to delusion.

Dying to the relentless and unending demands of the ego.

The closest testament to living in the moment, to knowing what life is, and that the limit is already awaiting, that you will find.

An exquisite pain and an exquisite love right here.
Mar 01, 2013 Megan rated it it was amazing
I was fortunate to read an ARC of this book. This book was beautiful. The author is a Wyoming native so I enjoyed reading about references to my home state. Her son, Rowan had Tay-Sachs disease. He recently passed away. She has a popular blog (Little Seal) about her journey with her son.

This book came into my hands shortly before my mother passed away. It was a serendipitous gift. It provided me such comfort as I often read it under the covers with a flashlight in my own cocoon of grief. Emily R
Mar 01, 2013 Amanda rated it liked it

I feel bad being at all critical of this book because the subject matter is so heartbreaking. I love the 'thesis' and message of it - that in a way it was freeing to love this child with no expectation for the future. I just wish the book would have been a little more organized. It felt very much like we were just reading a diary with no endpoint and at times it got repetitive. She is a beautiful writer though and I can't imagine how tough it must have been to write about that topic. I am glad
Erica Nicol
Feb 05, 2013 Erica Nicol rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Knowing the subject matter of this book - Emily Rapp's navigation of loving and parenting her baby son Ronan, diagnosed with a terminal illness - I opened the first pages with both hunger and trepidation. The death of babies and children, perhaps because so hard to contemplate, seems to be better (or at least easier) fodder for fiction than non-fiction. We don't want these deaths to happen, after all. But they do. And The Still Point of the Turning World is a quietly gorgeous, honest and absolut ...more
May 04, 2013 Dana rated it liked it
Shelves: heart
I won this book, and in doing so, was encouraged to write a review in return. Because of the heart wrenching subject matter (a mother's thoughts during the very short life of her infant child, who she knows is slowly dying), I thought a negative review would be akin to throwing a puppy over a bridge. It is just really hard to be critical of a nonfiction book that has such a sad theme. Now that I'm done with the book, I am relieved to say that, while it was hard to immerse myself at first, I thou ...more
Feb 23, 2013 Downward rated it it was ok
this memoir of a mother's life with her terminally ill baby is heartbreaking, and emily rapp mixes her own day to day experiences of life with her tay sachs afflicted son, ronan, with passages about the nature of grief and death from cs lewis, mary shelley and others. the major jist of the book is that while we place the value of a person on their potential, how do you come to terms with someone whose potential exists literally in only the moment to moment sensory pleasures that make up ronans l ...more
Apr 14, 2013 Corri rated it it was amazing
I am so grateful to Emily Rapp for writing this book. Her son, Ronan, was Diagnosed with Tay-Sachs at 9-months-old in January 2011. He died in February 2013. As another who experienced the privilege and pain of her own child's "slow fade," I see this book as a gift -- to me, to my children, to everyone.

I first read Rapp's work in the 2011 NYT piece "Notes from a Dragon Mom" and am happy that this book resonated with me as much as the article did.

This boo
Sep 06, 2013 Kristi rated it it was ok
Grief is a deeply personal process that requires one to be fully self-absorbed. Clearly the author is in the midst of grieving while writing this because she wanders through each chapter completely self-absorbed, searching her own intellect through literature, religion, and philosophy for meaning and answers to her incredibly sad situation. Answers can not be found here. And perhaps that's her point.

Emily takes readers into (not through) her own grief process in a way that for me was neither hel
Mar 06, 2013 Lisa rated it it was amazing
The Still Point of the Turning World is a memoir that will stick with me forever. Emily Rapp's story of her life with Ronan, her son who was born with Tay Sachs, is honest, beautiful, heart-breaking, full of raw emotion and poetry. I found myself slowing down to read it carefully and then going back to read sections over again. I don't usually do that. I loved the way she incorporated other literature, poems with her story. Really anything I write won't do thsi beautiful story justice. It should ...more
Mar 20, 2013 Karen rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
I was a little disappointed in this book. I assumed it would be about Ronan, the infant son of the author, diagnosed with Tay-Sachs. It was actually about the author and her reactions and dealings with his diagnosis and brief life. I suppose it would be an excellent book for someone dealing with grief, but it wasn't what I was hoping for. I would recommend this to certain people but not just anyone.
Nov 13, 2012 Roxane rated it really liked it
Beautiful, intense, thought-provoking, open. More thoughts to come in essay form.
Margo Brooks
Jun 24, 2013 Margo Brooks rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
This is a book that every parent--probably every adult should read. But why? Why would anyone, let alone a new parent want to read a memoir about a dying baby for whom there is no hope of a future? Why would I, who am childless, want to read such a book? The answer is because this book explores grief and life and all the hard choices associated with death in a beautiful and powerful and sometimes out of control way. When Rapp and her husband learned that their son Ronan had Tay-Sachs, a degenera ...more
Leah Coffin
Apr 21, 2013 Leah Coffin rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 08, 2013 Sue rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
When rating books, I usually reserve my 5 star ratings for books that make me want to immediately call a friend and tell her to read this book! For that reason, my initial reaction to this book was to rate it 4 stars. But the more I considered this, the more I realized that I would never want to call anyone and say, "You must read this book. It's about a baby that's dying." Nevertheless, it's a beautifully crafted and heart-breakingly honest memoir of 5 star quality that deserves to be read by t ...more
Jack Waters
May 28, 2013 Jack Waters rated it liked it
"It is a unique and terrible privilege to witness the entire arc of a life, to see it from its inception to its end"(pg 246)

Rapp was such a witness of her son Ronan's brief life. She writes both against and of the finality that was given young Ronan by doctors due to his rare Tay-Sachs diagnosis. She seeks to illuminate the quality of life when it is certain that quantity will not be assured.

"What standards are we willing to use in order to judge the quality of any particular life? What kind of
Debbie Petersen
Apr 11, 2013 Debbie Petersen rated it it was amazing

I love the handful of earth that you are. Pablo Neruda

This review is long overdue, since I finished quite a while ago. I love the writing in this book; it is raw and stark and real and pulls no punches. It has been described as a memoir of dealing with her son's terminal illness, but it is so much more than that. What does it mean to live a full life? Ronan was loved and cared for from birth through his death. He happily lived in the moment every day. Then he was gone. Who is to say that this is
Jean Farrell
Jun 06, 2016 Jean Farrell rated it liked it
I wanted to like this book more than I did. There were many parts that deserved 5 stars, but the book as a whole left me a little colder than I would have expected, and I'm not exactly sure why. In some places, it was a very intellectualized exploration of grief, but that's okay. Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking is a very intellectualized exploration of grief, and I think it is one of the most moving, compelling personal narratives I have ever read. I think part of it is that grief for ...more
Mar 18, 2013 Natalie rated it liked it
Shelves: rumpus-books
What to say about this book. It took me forever to read, but that's not really the book's fault. I've been busy, so only got to read a chapter or so most nights, and it was good for that. It wasn't a book that, if you put it down for a few days, it was hard to get back in to.

Yes, this book is sad, and that is complicated by the fact that, right after I received this book from the Rumpus Book Club, we got word that Ronan had died.

This book brings up an interesting dilemma for me: as book review
Michelle Ryan
Jul 05, 2013 Michelle Ryan rated it liked it
I'm not sure where to start with my review of this book. I have a hefty library fine because it was overdue and couldn't be renewed due to other people's holds. But it was such a slow read! I kept waiting to get somewhere but in the 250 pages I felt like it really was a still point. I think this is what she was trying to accomplish because that is where her life was for so long. This book I felt, was very little about her son and mostly about her. She spends a lot, or it felt like a lot, of time ...more
Shaunaly ~  (A Book Away From An Episode Of Hoarders)
"I run ahead of myself in order to catch myself up at the finishing post. I cannot run away from myself.” I cannot run away from myself.

I had no intention of reading this unfathomably, heartbreaking story of a Mother who documents the tragic events as she watches her only son slowly leave this world, and her. With that said, after reading a brief synopsis in a magazine, I somehow felt compelled to read her story and in some small way, felt that by doing so, she just may feel my prayers and energ
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Emily Rapp was born in Nebraska and grew up in Wyoming and Colorado. Born with a congenital defect, her left foot was amputated at age four, and she has worn a prosthetic limb ever since. A former Fulbright scholarship recipient, she was educated at Harvard University, Saint Olaf College, Trinity College-Dublin, and the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener Fellow. She h ...more
More about Emily Rapp...

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“The standards for what is "normal" have become so formalized and yet so restrictive that people need a break from that horrible feeling of never being able to measure up to whatever it is they think will make them acceptable to other people and therefore to themselves. People get sick with this idea of change; I have been sick with it. We search for transformation in retreats, juice fasts, drugs and alcohol, obsessive exercise, extreme sports, sex. We are all trying to escape our existence, hoping that a better version of us is waiting just behind that promotion, that perfect relationship, that award or accolade, that musical performance, that dress size, that raucous night at a party, that hot night with a new lover. Everyone needs to be pursuing something, right? Otherwise, who are we? How about, quite simply, people? How about human?” 10 likes
“Ronan taught me that children do not exist to honor their parents; their parents exist to honor them. [...] Ronan was mine but he never belonged to me. This is not an issue of ownership. A child is not a couch.” 6 likes
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