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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Would your reading change, if you knew your life was ending soon?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (25799 points ) September 27th, 2012

Will Schwalbe’s mother faced that inevitability. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and they began reading together. (article)

Mr. Schwalbe has written a memoir called The End of Your Life Book Club. One interesting point he makes is they did not feel pressured to read the “right” books.

I feel that a lot. I’m unsure why, but I often feel I’m supposed to be reading a certain caliber of books. It must have something to do with my classical education.

If I suddenly knew my time was severely limited, I would want to reread at least one of my favorite books: Eros the Bittersweet by Anne Carson. It’s a book for all readers and writers.

I would want to read something new by one of my favorite authors, Christopher Moore. His work never fails to make me laugh.

I can’t imagine how else my reading might change.

How about you?

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21 Answers

_Whitetigress's avatar

Hmm interesting. I don’t know if my reading would increase. I would however say I’m 90% sure I would write more. I’d write about all my memories and try to sync it chronologically while attaching an opinion or writing about something I learned from the memory. I don’t know. I had my first panic attack a few weeks back and thought it was a heart attack. I had my son in my arms and I thought this was the way I was going to go, and I didn’t even get to see my son grow up

It was sort of a reality check. I can’t call it a near death experience since it was only a panic attack. But I was near blacking out and that mindset is just tricky overall.

The more I’m writing about this situation I’m beginning to understand your question more so bare with me. And to answer your OP I think now yes my reading would change. I would want to read more philosophy on how to behave socially. Or how to be more graceful. I notice the older I get, the more angrier I’m getting and the more defensive I’m getting. I still try to see things from different angles and different views. But nearly almost all the time my initial reaction to someone who I feel does something wrong to me gets me really upset. I tend to take things really personal and I know I shouldn’t. So yeah I think I’d like to read more up on Zen practice and how the Native American culture believed in spirits of the world more and how they depended on it (Like how they trusted nature and what mindset they had, I’m sure it was much more peaceful than my mindset at the moment)

Stuff like that. Well great question hard to follow an answer up to it. At least in my neck of the woods.

Shippy's avatar

I might be off topic a little, but your question reminded me just how little I read. I used to devour books, I often had three on the go. I feel quite sad that this has gone entirely. I battle to even read paragraphs correctly these days. When I was younger I loved books like “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand. I pretty much read all her books. I used to have to hide them, because I belonged to a rebel crowd at school. “We” didn’t read, we were too busy being “cool”. I adored poetry and wrote a lot myself. I never learned though the pedantics of it. So although I wrote, I never knew if it were any good.

I watched a movie a few years ago about a poet. His poetry was gritty, realistic and I was entranced by the movie. He was contemporary, and from another country, but died in San Francisco of AIDS (In case you know him, since you are very well read in poetry etc., and can give me his name?).

If I were dying I probably would not read at all.I would enjoy sites, sounds smells they are faster. Plus I would glance at inspirational books, like Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s book on death and dying. To give me the fortitude to get through. Plus a few porn mags!

rooeytoo's avatar

For pleasure reading I love Janet Evanovitch’s Stephanie Plum series. I can’t wait to get each new one as she grinds it out. Actually I really enjoy light, quick books, or fiction of any sort. Other than books relating to my business, that is all I read. I don’t think it would change for any reason. I will say though, since I discovered the free audible classics online, I am listening to the old classics as I run or am engaged in a project that does not require my brain.

lifeflame's avatar

I think I would probably read less, and spend more time with people and being out there doing things.

If I had a specific chronic illness I might want more information about it, medically and also how other people deal with it. (For example, I would re-read “Grace and Grit” by Ken Wilber if I had cancer)...

wonderingwhy's avatar

Yes, I have a tendency to put off books I think I’ll really like, particularly series/authors, so as to have a consistent supply and not be “craving”. That would certainly change. I imagine I would read less over all – there are other things I’d want to do which would suddenly take precedence – but more fiction when I did. Non-fiction (except for relevant medical literature) would take a back seat in general as at that point as, assuming the end is near. I can’t gain as much from it. I suspect I’d also be a lot less tolerant of mediocre work and probably not start any new open ended series. I’d also make the effort to contact a couple authors and try to find out “how the story ends” with a couple things.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Probably not, but I might try to get through all of Christopher Moore’s stuff. That guy is so twisted and funny. I could use the laughs I guess.

Seek's avatar

I don’t think so.

There are many classics that I simply have no desire to read. “To Kill a Mockingbird” might be a fantastic book. It’s sitting there, on my shelf… nah. I’d rather really enjoy “The Blind Watchmaker” by Richard Dawkins than try to force myself to experiece some “must read” book.

The only Dickens I’ve read was “A Christmas Carol”. I’m totally OK with that. It was a fine book, and I’m sure the rest are lovely, but there are other authors higher up on my list. On the other hand, I love Boccaccio’s “Decameron”, and re-read it often. I like a lot of ancient (mostly anonymous) poetry, too.

If my life were going to end, I’d probably just read the books I really want to read more voraciously – finally finish the Camulod Chronicles (I only have 2½ books left…) and work harder at Darkover and Dune.

prasad's avatar

May be I will read much that relates to God.

ucme's avatar

I’d probably read much quicker.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I don’t think I would spend my time reading, if my time was limited. I would spend all of my time with my children and grandchildren, making sure they know how much I love them and how much they mean to me. I would also make sure they would survive my passing by letting them know that I had a good life, made that way because of them.

wundayatta's avatar

Funny. I have several friends who died of cancer in recent years. They all had organized support groups of people who would visit with them, and most of the visitors would be given books to read aloud.

When you are sick with cancer, you really don’t have a lot of energy to do much. I suppose that watching movies might put you asleep, and do you want to sleep any more than you already are, what with how tired the cancer makes you?

Having your support network read aloud gives you a way to interact without actually having to take a lot of energy from the sick person, I am guessing. You are with a person, which feels good, and you have a task to do, which gives you structure, and that is helpful.

I don’t see why I would be any different from any other sick person. It seems a nice thing to be read to. I also might listen to the radio a lot, but I already do that. Then again, the news might be agitating, so perhaps being read to is safer. It’s really hard to know, for sure.

I think I would also be like @_Whitetigress and write more memoir as long as I had energy. I would ask my children if they had things they wanted to know. I would ask them to feed me questions on a daily basis, and do my best to answer them. I might ask others to ask me questions, too. Hmmm. Thinking that makes me wish I could do that now. There are certain things I might like to explain if I knew anyone was interested.

wildpotato's avatar

I’d reread Being & Time, probably a few times, to get my being-towards-death straightened out. I feel very lucky to have discovered Heidegger – it’s not easy to be-towards-death, but it’s a relief to have found a way to wrap my head around dying. I might also go through my Kiergegaard & Whitehead stuff. I would not reread the Phaedo.

I’d reread most of Philip K Dick’s oeuvre, and Bukowski’s.

So I guess I have a bucket list for books – but really, I already try to live like I might die at any moment, so I try to read as much as possible to prepare myself for it. Ted Danson’s character in Bored to Death said once, “I can’t die now; I haven’t figured anything out yet,” and I never want to find myself in the position to say something like that.

gailcalled's avatar

Relatively speaking, my life will be ending soon. I crossed the half-way mark a while ago.

No, my reading habits would stay the same.

When I was being treated for cancer, they didn’t chance. i simply read more because I wasn’t able to do some other things for a while.

Roby's avatar

Yes..I wouldn’t read at all. I’d be too devesated.I’d most likely just sit around and wait to die.

gailcalled's avatar

@Roby: That is one definition of life…waiting to die.

Better to find something more interesting than simply sitting around.

(devastated)

Coloma's avatar

I would read less, I would want to be present in all the moments I had left, just sitting in nature and taking in the beauty before lights out. Reading is in the mind, I would want all of my senses engaged and watching my own story unfold would be much more gratifying than having my nose stuffed in a book.

janbb's avatar

I think I would not stick with any book that hadn’t grabbed my by the second paragraph.

rojo's avatar

I don’t think I would change much. I really do not go out looking for a certain book, author or even a particular topic. I go and find something that strikes my fancy and read it.

Pazza's avatar

Yes my reading would change!..........

I wouldn’t bother.
I’d be too busy gettin pissed!......

flutherother's avatar

I think I wouldn’t want to read anything new but would want to revisit books I had enjoyed in the past.

Pazza's avatar

I think I would go on an orgy of debauchery, and maybe on my journey, revisit the top shelf in the local off-licence for some self indulgence.

I may also re-read some adult video’s

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