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How to Choose Nonfiction: Terminal Illness Memoir

One of the easiest ways to start reading nonfiction is to choose memoir. Memoir is a biography or autobiography of events in a person’s life. In my blog today, I zoom into a specific nonfiction shelf I call ‘terminal illness memoir’. The reason I narrow down memoir into ‘terminal illness’ is because reading can become so much easier that way. You need to know you are interested in the topic.

In order to do that, you need to choose what you read. That way, the author’s writing skill will drive you towards the end of the book. I mentioned of the same approach here, when I spoke about reading nonfiction: Science.

In today’s post, I will provide my recommendation on terminal illness memoirs. I believe such memoirs are easy to relate to. Because sometimes we forget we are mortals and would eventually face death. On top of that, there is a beauty in the literature of a person who knows he/she was dying. In the sense and action they take to live to the fullest. It is inspiring – as we, the ones blessed with health choose to browse our phone for hours a day!

On that note, I would recommend reading terminal illness memoirs if you would like to delve into nonfiction. Highly recommended for those not interested in the ones from the business or self-help shelves. For all we know, being fully aware that we are all dying one way or another is an awakening. Such awakening should lead us to live fulfilled lives, both in our career and personal lives.

That said, get ready to have your heart tugged with the list below. I have listed three terminal illness memoirs and how one is different than the other. I hope my recommendation will help you select your reading!


This book is Mitch Albom’s personal account of his professor (Morrie Schwartz) who faced a terminal illness. Mitch would make time to visit Morrie every Tuesday just to spend some time with him. Not in the sense to check on Morrie’s health progress, but to just talk and be with Morrie. Along the time they spent together, Morrie began sharing some wisdom about life and Mitch began recording their conversations which he compiled as a book.

Tuesdays with Morrie is not only a memoir of a person who witnessed the degrade and suffering of a person dying with ALS, it is a philosophical account on how life should be lived.


This is my personal favourite among the three because it is written as a first person, by Randy Pausch himself when was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Randy had small children and wanted to leave his kids something they can remember him of, little did he know his book about achieving childhood dreams is one EVERYONE should read in their lifetime.

Randy’s narration of his perspective was highly positive in spite of his condition. In fact, he expressed his gratitude for his illness, as it allowed him to make time for the things that really mattered before his death. And in fully knowing that each time he served someone, it could well be his last. Which begs the question, “What wisdom would you try to impart to the world if you knew it was your last chance?”

Randy stressed that everyone should be happy at what they do. Life is too short and life can be taken away from us at any time. His vision of achieving ones childhood dreams is anchored together with his vision of enabling others’ childhood dreams. This is evident in his emphasis on the importance of quality relationship with those around us. I choose this book as the best among the three because it was easy to read and it doesn’t try to make you cry. (Randy is against sympathy to his illness.)


This book is a personal account of Paul Kalanithi who was neurosurgeon. As a doctor, he was able to break bad news to patients and support his dying patients physically and mentally. It was ironic that one fateful day, his own prognosis came back with the possibility of lung cancer and after series of tests, the prognosis was positive.

However, upon learning that he had a terminal disease, he decided that it was time to have a baby with his wife. Not only that, he also decided to write a memoir about helping the dying. And to expect the unexpected. Because you might serve as a doctor today, but served as a patient tomorrow.

Some pages in this book can get a bit technical about neurosurgery but I must applaud Paul Kalanithi’s writing skills. He has the ability to describe situations, feelings, taste, in a mix of words that are antagonistic – yet is fully understood. I would recommend this book for those who love literature (first and foremost) and those who wants a doctor’s perspective on living with a terminal disease.

I hope my list helps you choose the kind of books to find that ‘reader’ in you. It is best to read a memoir you can relate to according to profession, gender, the ordeal etc. Remember, it is always about making the right choice of books for yourself, and I think reading on memoirs about living with a terminal disease is relatable to all of us. That’s because without us realising, we are all in fact, dying.

So what do you think about the book recommendations above? Have you ever read such memoirs that are so intense, that you needed to catch your breath? Let me know which books do that to you? I’ve certainly had my share of reading where I was clutching my heart and had to make sure I was breathing properly! Let me know in the Comment section below.

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