Rebecca's Reviews > The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying

The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs
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it was amazing
bookshelves: cancer-memoirs, illness-and-death, read-via-edelweiss, best-of-2017, posthumous-publication

A natural successor, or partner, to When Breath Becomes Air, with which it shares beautiful prose and a literary/philosophical approach to terminal cancer. It’s a wonderful book, so wry and honest, with a voice that reminds me of Anne Lamott and Elizabeth McCracken. (For a while there was a sweet epilogue to these real-life losses: Riggs’ widower and Paul Kalanithi’s widow were temporarily an item! See this article.)

It started with a tiny spot of cancer in the breast. “No one dies from one small spot,” Nina Riggs and her husband told themselves. Until it wasn’t just a spot but a larger tumor that required a mastectomy. And then there was the severe back pain that alerted them to metastases in her spine, and later in her lungs. Riggs was a great-great-great-granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and she quotes from her ancestor’s essays as well as from Michel de Montaigne’s philosophy of life to bring things into perspective for herself. Indeed, the title quote is from Emerson’s journal in 1838: “That is morning; to cease for a bright hour to be a prisoner of this sickly body, and to become as large as the World.”

Riggs started out as a poet, and you can tell. She’s an expert at capturing the moments that make life alternately euphoric and unbearable – sometimes both at once. Usually these moments are experienced with family: her tough mother, who died after nine years with multiple myeloma, providing her with a kind of “morbid test drive” for her own death; and her husband and their two precocious sons. Whether she’s choosing an expensive couch, bringing home a puppy, or surprising her sons with a trip to Universal Studios, she’s always engaged in life. You never get a sense of resignation or despair. The book is even funny, making you smile through the pain.

Some of my favorite lines:
“inside the MRI machine, where it sounded like hostile aliens had formed a punk band”

“my pubic hair all falls out at once in the shower and shows up like a drowned muskrat in the drain.”

“My wig smells toxic and makes me feel like a bank robber. But maybe it is just a cloak for riding out into suspicious country.”

“‘Merry Christmas,’ says a nurse who is measuring my urine into a jug in the bathroom. ‘Do you want some pain meds? Do you want another stool softener?’”

Nina Riggs died at the age of 39 on February 23, 2017.
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Reading Progress

March 29, 2017 – Shelved
March 29, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
May 12, 2017 – Started Reading
May 12, 2017 – Shelved as: cancer-memoirs
May 12, 2017 – Shelved as: illness-and-death
May 12, 2017 – Shelved as: read-via-edelweiss
May 29, 2017 – Shelved as: best-of-2017
May 29, 2017 – Finished Reading
January 25, 2019 – Shelved as: posthumous-publication

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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Elyse  Walters Thank you Rebecca. I'm listening to it now. I've been spending afternoons (healing myself) --and soaking in our warm pool listening to this --
I too, had a 'spot' of (skin cancer) -- I lost half of a nose -- and my 3rd surgery is at the end of next month.
This book has 'not' been heavy downer to read during this time for me -- and your review is a perfect expression of why not!!!
Thank you!!!!!


Rebecca Oh you poor thing! I had no idea. You have had more than your fair share of health issues in the last few years. I agree that it's not a depressing read for someone with cancer, even though you know the author dies. She finds a lot of humor in her situation.


Elyse  Walters Thanks Rebecca --- I'm listening now -- Her quotes by Emerson are beautiful -- m bird next to me -- starts singing out too ---lol

Oh and yes --I sure have had my share of health issues --and 'yet' I 'feel' healthy -- and I'm hoping when this is over -- I'll see more upswings!! Thanks.
I liked when Nina talked about we are pilgrims when it comes to death --its an interesting way to think about death.
Hope you are good, Rebecca!! xo


message 4: by Nigel (new)

Nigel Good review thanks


message 5: by Lindsay (new)

Lindsay Did you hear that Nina Riggs’ husband married Paul Kalanithi’s wife? True story!


Rebecca I don't think they're married (yet), though they are an item. I read this book back in May 2017 and edited my opening paragraph to include that very fact!


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