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The Still Point of the Turning World

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  2,138 ratings  ·  312 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
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published March 7th 2013 by The Penguin Press HC (first published March 1st 2013)
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Nov 09, 2012 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
Apr 13, 2013 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
Feb 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs, read-2013
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 read THE 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 cr ...more
Mar 08, 2014 marked it as abandoned
Shelves: uncertain
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
Dec 07, 2012 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
May 02, 2013 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
Feb 25, 2013 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
Rob Blaine
Mar 28, 2013 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 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
Mar 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
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
Jan 30, 2022 rated it really liked it
I have wanted to read Emily Rapp’s The Still Point of the Turning World for quite some time. I was reminded of Rapp’s memoir when reading Heather Lanier’s Raising a Rare Girl, which tells of her experiences with her daughter’s very rare condition, Wolf–Hirshhorn syndrome. Rapp’s book revolves around her young son, Ronan, who was diagnosed with a degenerative, and always fatal, disorder named Tay–Sachs disease when he was less than a year old. In The Still Point of the Turning World, Rapp recount ...more
Mar 01, 2013 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
Apr 14, 2013 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" http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/16/opi... and am happy that this book resonated with me as much as the article did.

This boo
Erica Nicol
Jan 07, 2013 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
Feb 18, 2013 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
Feb 22, 2013 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
~✡~Dαni(ela) ♥ ♂♂ love & semi-colons~✡~
Moving, sad, and poignant; any parent (any human) should be able to empathize with Rapp's grief over slowly losing her beloved only child to a cruel and horrific disease. Yet Rapp's book feels more like a rumination on loss than a memoir per se. Long passages are devoted to rambling thoughts about life, death, and other Big Topics, and Rapp quotes voraciously from various literary works. I felt myself removed from Rapp's story for long stretches and ultimately connected with her grief only on th ...more
Rachel B
2.5 stars

Rapp made some good points and observations in the first half of the book, particularly on what it's like to live with a disability (read: not as devastating as people imagine). The second half dragged for me, and felt like filler. Perhaps this was just because the author and I have very different personalities and so we grieve very differently.

It was sad to see that though she had grown up in a Christian family, the author never became a Christian herself, and her spiritual beliefs are
Debbie Petersen Wolven
Feb 24, 2013 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
In 2011 Rapp’s baby son Ronan was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease, a degenerative nerve condition that causes blindness, deafness, seizures, paralysis and, ultimately, death. Tay-Sachs is usually seen in Ashkenazi Jews, so it came as a surprise: Rapp and her husband Rick both had to be carriers, whereas only he was Jewish; they never thought to get tested.

This memoir was written while Ronan was still alive, and the rapid, in-the-thick-of-it composition is evident: it rides the same rollercoaste
Mar 10, 2013 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
May 04, 2013 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 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
Sep 06, 2013 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 15, 2013 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. ...more
Nov 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Beautiful, intense, thought-provoking, open. More thoughts to come in essay form.
May 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This was a beautiful ode to Ronan, but mostly it was a view into the world of anticipatory grief, and how one navigates that journey (and is swept away by it). I had eight beautiful and painful months with my daughter between the knowing and her passing, and there were so many times in this book that I realized Emily and I had the same thoughts and responses to our shared situation of knowing our child wouldn't survive (in Haley's case, cancer).

I was surprised at some of the negative reviews of
Mar 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing
"A broken heart is an open heart, and there exsists great strenght in a shaky vulnerability. "

This was a beautiful and gut wrenching read. Dealing with my own deep grief I have been drawn over and over to others experiences, wanting to emerse myself in their stories so that I can better understand my own. Emily Rapp shares so openly about the experience of watching her son die, and how she to sought guidance in books and others stories, and how this helped her process her own grief. There were a
Feb 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio-reviews, memoir
I certainly can understand why readers may find this memoir more of an academic reflection on grief and less a mother's loss of her child. But what a profound loss, from a terrible genetic disease, with terrible symptoms and a slow inevitable death. While all around her this over-achieving woman, who has her own life shaping disability, is forced to watch other toddlers flourishing while hers will never even speak and was starting to die almost as soon as he was born. The image of the author wri ...more
Jan 31, 2018 rated it it was ok
Rapp writes on page 102, “Anyone who has ever trudged through one of Hegel’s muddy, dense passages of prose may understand this frustration.”

I am very sorry to say that this sums up how I felt about this entire novel. Such a shame as the subject matter meant it had so much potential to be a moving, emotional read yet it just left me cold. I’m trulysorry for what she went through and the untimely death of her son but I did not engage with neither her or her writing.
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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

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114 likes · 40 comments
“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?” 13 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.” 9 likes
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