Book Recommendation


The Bright Hour is a radiant book. Nina Riggs brings her fine sensibility and craft as a poet to her heart-wrenching yet funny memoir about facing death as a young wife and the mother of two little boys. Structuring her book around anecdotes that are, more often than not, full of irony and joy in the everyday chaos of family life, she selects only the details that illuminate, bringing the reader closer to that bright hour of clarity about what really matters in life.

Cancer is endemic in Nina’s world. Her family history is full of it. In the short time of her own illness, Nina’s mother also dies from cancer, and a close friend confronts the exact same diagnosis as Nina.

But Riggs’ world is also full of poetry and philosophy. Without any intellectual pretension, she looks to Montaigne for inspiration and searches her heritage as Ralph Waldo Emerson’s great-great-great granddaughter for meaning, taking her perfect title from one of his works.


Author Nina Riggs

The last chapters are from just this past January, so this book feels especially immediate with its political and cultural references. I’d say it’s even more powerful and personal than Paul Kalanithi’s beautiful bestseller, When Breath Becomes Air (another perfect title). If you’re looking for excellent books on death and dying, don’t miss Being Mortal by Atul Gawande either.

About susanbriscoe

English teacher, writer
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7 Responses to Book Recommendation

  1. I liked THE VIOLET HOUR, fresh takes on death and dying. The editor places side by side essays about deaths of famous creative people,for example Susan Sontag. Also, the poems are wonderful in Japanese Death Poems, words from poets written upon the prospect of their deaths. Many are Haiku. I do not like the American way of death. Fresh perpectives are very much needed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ArunaS says:

    These are great ideas, and there is much in film and digital media as well that explores illness, dying and death. For myself, I have come to recognize that death is not a singular experience, a noun, possibly not even a process (dying), as my experiences with loved ones have varied from catastrophic, violent death, to unexpected sudden death, to being witness to the process and the uncertainty of dying (or the knowledge that living as many of us experience it is finite, perhaps? That waiting for the moments of dying). For those of us who live on, to learn and to witness and to grieve, these are important differences. Perhaps it is difficult to engage in fresh perspectives because we are so bound by expectations, norms, and fear that death is an end, a state, a finality (and by “we”, I do mean all of us, but especially those of us who witness dying and feel that anticipatory grief). I do want to say, Susan, that this Death Project, has been a wonderful teaching for me. The tendrils of that teaching reach backwards, forwards, and around, and make me recognize, as I have said before in these responses, the importance of recognizing relationship even in the unlikeliest of places. Having been alongside people I love who have died, and whom I still mourn, and whom I have experienced the process of mourning before death with, there is something–hmmm–sacred? about sharing this experience among people who are not connected except by relationship to you. I have not expressed my gratitude to you directly, and wish to do so now. Thank you.


    • susanbriscoe says:

      Thank you, Aruna. You are always so deeply thoughtful! I think you are right that we could be recognizing and exploring dying and death as a much larger part of life. I have no direct experience of such loss myself, so I’d love to hear more of your ideas on this should you care to share them!


  3. curioussteph says:

    I loved both When Breath Becomes Air and Being Mortal, and now I will look for The Bright Hour. Thanks!


  4. Great suggestions. I join the chorus: thank you for everything, always. xo


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