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

The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs
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it was amazing

I would like to say my five star review is rooted in my own literary acumen and this particular book's compelling, beautiful, almost lyric prose. And the book is filled with beauty, lyric and profane. But since it was written by my wife, I feel like I have to come clean and say I'd be giving her five stars regardless, because I loved her more than anything. I love my kids a TON. They're amazing little guys, my favorite living people in the whole world, and I'd literally lay down in Boston traffic for them. But I'd swap them every day of the week for Nina. Sorry guys. Twice on Sundays. (Why Boston? Well, it may not be the worst traffic, but I think it's maybe got the drivers with the most mens rea of any city I've ever been to.).

Seeing the book come together, getting to witness the transition from idea, to concept, to manuscript, now to nearly final publication, has been a treat not only because of the publication itself, but how much its helped me and my family focus on the important things Nina left us. Her talent, her wit, charm, beauty, and her complete refusal to let terminal disease ruin the few bright days she had left after her cancer ran wild. The Bright Hour will be a tremendous legacy for our two boys as they grow and learn to live with their loss, and anytime they want access to Nina, a huge part of her will be right there on the page. But I also hope as many people as possible will share in that legacy and get to know Nina as well as anyone can now that she's gone. And not just because of the loss at such a young age, but because of the amazing person she was and the tremendous talent she had for sharing her vision for leading a good life, even under the shadow of terminal disease. Trust me: She was the absolute best and it comes through beautifully here in The Bright Hour.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
April 12, 2017 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-49 of 49 (49 new)

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Georgette John, you were very lucky to have each other. Bless you and your boys.


Carla Jean It's a remarkable book by a writer who was obviously a wonderful person.


message 3: by Kathleen (new) - added it

Kathleen Ruttum John...I have buried two sisters who both died at age 41 from metastatic breast cancer. Both leaving a combined 4 young children and grieving husbands. I have to admit I was afraid to read this book. But after I read the review in the Washington Post, I was determined to read it. The review were in the post started the review by saying "don't be afraid to read this book". We have blessed to have had these amazing women in our lives and your wife tells a story that is both heart wrenching and life affirming. Thank you for sharing her with the world!


message 4: by Sharyn (new) - added it

Sharyn Flanagan I'm reading the USA TODAY review now and know that I must get this book and read it. I've also experienced loss due to cancer and have struggled with the feelings of being left behind. My partner tried his best to be strong for everyone else and rarely let on any despair. He took pleasure in his every day and in all of his friends. He was our rock when we should have been his. So I will be reading this book very soon.


Katie Just finished this tonight. I am so impressed with the many facets of her writing; the joy and pain I could feel through her words. She is a beautifully, talented writer.
I bought this book because my mother has stage four breast cancer that has now spread from her bones into her organs and I'm feeling quite helpless. I thought reading this might give me a better perspective and understanding of what she is living with. It absolutely did. It was a cathartic experience, to say the least. I'm really glad I read this. I wish I could tell her thank you for writing it. I hope that your family is doing okay, I'm sure it has been very difficult. If it helps, just know Nina is helping many with her words. I'm sure that can provide some comfort.
Take care.


message 6: by Deb (new)

Deb Clanton I read this book in one sitting because it grabbed me from the first words. My cousin was just diagnosed with stage 4 triple negative breast cancer. We are all so frightened. This book helped in so many ways. I loved Nina's beautiful writing style and the lyricism in this book. I also remember reading the Modern Love column at the time. Nina was a unique talent and this book is masterful.


Letitia John, your wife was remarkable. I love her just from reading this book. I am so sorry you lost her. I'd rather there be a world with her in it and no book, but since that can't be true, thank you for sharing her (and Ginny) with us.


Melody A poignant reminder of the preciousness and beauty of each day we have to be here and love each other whatever our circumstances. Nina was a luminous soul and you were such a loving and stalwart champion for her. Love to you and your sweet boys. p.s. We got our dog, Marigold, from Tony in Mocksville. 💕🐶


Donna Memento Mori. I had to write it down and remember it. Nina (and Ginny) had to "remember you must die" on a daily basis for so long but thankfully Nina made the time and effort to share her bright words with everyone so we can remember her. I lost my mom to metastatic breast cancer and my best friend to a rare cancer and even though remembering their final hours is so painful, it is important and each minute will live on in my memory. Her mother's choice of orange and Nina's kintsugi/broken pot reference were heart-breaking images and will stay with me.


message 10: by Rita (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rita So very sorry that Nina had to struggle with this horrible disease. It's a story that resonates with so many. Take care of your boys and yourself.


message 11: by Dyan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dyan A wonderful read. I so enjoyed your appearance at Book Passage with Lucy Kalanithi as you were both interviewed by Kelly Corrigan. Your boys are so lucky to have had Nina as their mom and you as their surviving parent. Like Nina, your warmth, wisdom, and sense of humor will guide them well. Godspeed.


message 12: by Jill (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jill Dear John, I am so sorry for your loss. Nina was an amazing writer. Her book touched me deeply, and made me laugh and cry at the same time. I too am a Mom with young boys so I could relate to all her worries, hopes, and dreams for them. I wish you peace in your grief, and all the best for your family. God bless.


message 13: by Helene McKay (new)

Helene McKay John, I too, love your beautiful wife and her mom from the very first page. Thank you for sharing her remarkable writing with all of us! How very brave and awesome and how full of wisdom and love!


Roxanne Holloway What she wrote was heartbreakingly beautiful and I wish your family the very best in this world. This book was a treasure and I, not even knowing her, feel absolutely devastated...I won't soon forget it or her.


message 15: by Jane (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jane John, I just saw the lovely review you wrote about your wife's book. It has undone me in all the right ways. I think you are right. Nina is utterly real and alive on these pages. And her writing knocks me over. The last line of the book is so perfect, so understated: "There is nothing in this whole world that would make me call them back in." This book continues to work on me. It is astonishing. Here's the review I wrote: This book made me laugh out loud and totally broke my heart. The book is written in very short, two to five page chapters, that are moments compressed as delicately as poems. Many describe the author's diagnosis with and treatment for breast cancer. Since I am a breast cancer survivor, I ached with understanding. I remember the radiation treatments...but I didn't need chemo, I haven't had a recurrence, and I was 67, not 38, when I received my diagnosis, so her story is far more tragic. But the book isn't focused on tragedy. When he husband tells her that he can't wait for life to be back to normal, she responds, "I can't handle you saying that. Thinking that way kind of invalidates my whole life right now. I have to love these days in the same way I love any other. There might not be a 'normal' from here on out." In fact, Nina's husband John is terrified, and also he is her best friend. The book contains their first meeting, their lives with two sons, Nina's parents' early lives as a newly married couple and many stories that introduce friends and siblings. One way that Nina, a poet, deals with her life as a cancer patient is to read philosophers who celebrate ordinary life while contemplating the death and the wonder of being alive. She quotes often from Montaigne and her great great great grandfather, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

At one point, after a particularly gorgeous chapter, I thought to myself, oh, this is a book I wish I had written. Then I realized, that would mean I would have to have lived this life. I wouldn't change lives with Nina Riggs, but the fact of this book means that I can live my life more deeply.

I don't own the book. I read a library copy. But I realize I need to have my own copy. It's a book I'll reread often. The writing is so amazing. Nina's life is hilarious, heartbreaking, and also, in its unique way, utterly amazing.


message 16: by Chris (new)

Chris Thank you for commenting on here...you, your wife and your boys have been very much in my thoughts since reading The Bright Hour. Nina's personality really did shine through in her writing & this is a wonderful gift to all of you...if you could, please give your boys a hug from me :)


Courtney McGrale I could not love this book more. What a great gift she gave.


miteypen Having a terminal disease focuses your life like no other experience, but fortunately your wife's words helped me to share that focus without going through what she and all of you went through. But then again, we all are terminal in the end and I feel fortunate to have her book as a guidebook for the rest of my life. I will cherish my copy and share it with others.

My husband couldn't understand why I would want to read something so sad. I told him that I thought it would help clarify some of my own thoughts about the meaning of life. I was right and I can't help but feel that by sharing her death you have brought life to all of her readers.


message 19: by Rose (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rose Cearley I bought this book a few days before my dear friend, Chris Dech, succumbed to leukemia, in the hopes of understanding, just a little bit, the journey she was on. It is a truly beautifully written book. Thank you, Nina and John, for sharing your difficult experiences.


Mary So sorry for your loss. I loved getting to know your wife through this book. Thank you for sharing. You and the boys are in my thoughts and prayers. ❤️


Michele John, know that Nina left you one other gift, to be surrounded by readers of her story and yours, surrounded in love. Peace, my friend. ( After reading this lovely memoir, I'm certain I'd call you and Nina friends!)


Donna Thank you John for sharing your thoughts. They made me decide to read this memoir, even though some felt I would find it too worrying as a breast cancer survivor myself. I found it so uplifting bearing witness to your wife's challenges and how she worked through them. Undoubtedly, I shall read it again....a little more slowly this time so I can ponder on some of her thoughts. Just love her gallows humor.....something we have in common, along with age of diagnosis, and having two young boys. Wishing you and your boys peace and healing.


Carolyn Royse Words cannot express my love for this book! I try to remind myself daily to be grateful and treasure all the moments. Nina let us in and shared a beautiful story, her story and again reminded us all how precious each moment is. Thank you so much for your courage and your story, it's one I will not forgot and will carry with me daily.


Clare G John, Thank you for your review. I am so sorry for your loss. I am a wife and mother who has had love and loss. I can't imagine what kind of strength and beauty your wife possessed to have written such a treasure. She writes with such nrutal honrsty and clarity. What a gift she left behind.


Sandy Yorkey-Morgan I was reluctant to read this book having experienced the loss of my only brother earlier this year (not from cancer, however) but I am so glad that I did. I truly appreciated the humor, pain, wisdom and inner beauty your wife possessed. Thank you to both of you for sharing your story.


message 26: by Stephanie (last edited Mar 06, 2018 02:16PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Stephanie It was an honor getting to know Nina, you, your sons and the rest of your family and friends. That said, I was surprised to discover you are in a relationship already. No judgment, just surprise. Now I have to read When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.


Eilis408 John...my heart breaks for you and the boys. I just finished reading Nina's book and it is astonishing. I thank her and your family for sharing this deeply personal journey. I will remember her always.


Carla This book shook me in a way no other book has and will stay with me for quite some time. Your wife was a very talented woman. I feel like I know you and your boys through her book, and I truly wish the best for you all as you reshape your lives around the hole she left behind.


Druie So many good thoughts out into the universe for you and yours. Keep breathing. Grief can become that old friend we all know. Be wild in your grief and in your loving.


message 30: by Liz (new) - added it

Liz I haven't read it yet, but having lost my husband from cancer I'm sure to cry:(


message 31: by Tara (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tara Tragically and incredibly loving and honest. thank you for sharing.


StevieB John, so glad I read Nina's beautiful book. I understand the journey and the heartbreak.
My sister left us a very long time ago, different cancer. She left a husband and two sons.
As I read of Nina's suffering, yet humor & strength, I remember that Sheila fought just as hard.
Her husband eventually remarried. Her son's have family's and really great careers that I know she would be proud. A doctor and someone in law. Great sons!


message 33: by carol. (new)

carol. Beautifully written. My condolences.


Karen To John, I am reading this wonderful book that your wife as left for all of us. It is truly amazing. She has such a talent for making your feel as though you are in the room with her. I feel as though she could have been my good, dear friend if only I had been blessed enough to know her. How does she do all of this through the written word? God bless you and your boys.


Nancy This was an amazing book; your wife was a beautiful writer and a beautiful person. That much is evident from this book. I bawled my eyes out at the end. I’m so happy with your recent turn of events; it gives me hope for the darker times.


Cheri Rowden Mr. Duberstein, I loved your wife's memoir. She had such courage and a beautiful gift for writing. Her memoir brought me to tears, especially since I have a friend who is battling stage four cancer as I write this. Despite all of her treatment, it continues to spread. I read Nina's book with my friend in mind. She too has children and young grandchildren who will be devastated by her loss, as you are over your yours. God bless you and your sons. You have my sincere condolences.


Wendy Orr I can hardly bear to comment on a book in the face of your loss - even though my comments about the book are all pure admiration for the exquisite writing and respect for the honesty and courage of the exceptional person who wrote it. So, as both writer and reader, I will just say thank you for your own courage in supporting her in the writing and publication of this extraordinary gift to the world.


message 38: by M.J. (new) - rated it 5 stars

M.J. Prest I have read a lot of transcendentalism and even took a course on it in college, and this memoir fits right up there in the pantheon of Emerson and Thoreau. Heartbreaking and wise and beautiful and aching and true, your wife wrote a book that carried me along like a river that you always knew was heading for a waterfall.

I wish I had known Nina. I think we would have been friends. I have a porch and a solid supply of bourbon, so on my next porch-sitting day, I will drink a glass for her.


Tracy Strimling I stumbled upon Bright Hour as it was mentioned in an essay by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee. What a gift, Nina’s lyric prose. She cuts through the chaos of cancer and lays bare the messy truth. The fear, the gallows humor, the tedium of treatment punctuated by moments of pure clarity. And the love! Love for family, friends and the natural world are documented so honestly it hurts. My cancer was not triple negative and I am gratefully living in that hopeful scary space that is NED (No Evidence of Disease). I wish she and Ginny (and the many friends I’ve lost) were here with me. And I celebrate her singular voice. Thank you Nina. May you Rest In Peace.


Terri I am very thankful for this book. I am honoured to be allowed to share a glimpse of this journey. I appreciate the time and effort your wife took to write this, in what I know is a very tiring and difficult time. The book is a beautifully written work and it speaks volumes of the authors talent.
My sincerest condolences and much love to you and your family.


Cindy I loved this book. I have a sister who is battling ovarian cancer, but breast cancer is also rampant in our family. I am so sorry for your loss. I feel privileged to have insight into how Nina was feeling throughout her journey with this horrific disease. Thank you for publishing this book. I will never forget it.


Linda K. My daughter is Nina’s age with sons ages 6 and 4. Nina’s memoir moved me deeply. I am also so impressed by you as husband, father, son in law and brother in law. There are few things that make me feel profoundly emotional, but Nina’s story strikes me at my deepest human level. I am so sorry for your loss.


Lindsay Lohmeier Just read her memoir. It was beautiful. My own mother passed away when I was 17 and so my heart feels for your boys (who are so young - close to my own 2 boys age). Thank you for allowing us into your world for those 2 years and allowing so much insight as to what it’s like for every member of the family. So sorry this happened. Take care.


message 44: by Susy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Susy I just inhaled this beautiful book in two days. Nina was an amazing observer of familial life & painted a beautiful portrait of your family. But you too have a gift with words so you have that credential going when reviewing this book. On a personal note, my father died suddenly at age 40 & my parents let alone my sister and I (ages 7, 41/2 and 20 months) never had a chance to say goodbye or relish our last few days. I have no idea which scenario is better; probably neither but Nina's musings certainly lead me to think her final months were a gift. Keep the memories alive.


Angela I fell in love with Nina, her writing, and her world view on page 2, and continued to swoon repeatedly throughout the book. What an incredible gift she left for her family and us all.


Emily Dupree I just finished When Breath Becomes Air and started The Bright Hour last night. I already knew about John and Lucy and their amazing love story prior to reading the books so I felt I needed to get to know their spouses. I can already see on page 2 of The Bright Hour how Lucy and Jonn got together. Life is a wild ride. So glad these 2 found love in the face of such sadness. I look forward to reading Nina's story. xoxo


message 47: by Jean (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jean How very wonderful to see the first review of this brave and beautiful book was by John Duberstein, of whom Nina Riggs speaks so lovingly in her book. And how lovely to know that John found love again after Nina's death. I found her book to be so touching.


Jenna I found this book after reading When Breath Becomes Air which lead me to read a blogpost by Lucy’s sister which mentioned this book. My dad died three days ago and somehow this book and Paul’s book helped me through the process. Nina’s book is stunning and you are so spot on about her prose being lyrical. This book is one that I will gift to friends and think about for a long time. Nina’s love for life and your family was so beautiful. What a lovely gift this book is for the world.


message 49: by Linda (last edited Mar 04, 2020 02:49AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Linda John, I've had this book on my shelf for 2 years. As a three-time breast cancer survivor I had to be ready to read it. What an amazing memoir from a brave warrior woman, wife and mother. Her voice was so strong in the memoir - it being extinguished was the saddest part for me. Nina has left a beautiful legacy of love, spirit, courage and memory for you all.


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