Critical writings on being ill
July 4, 2021 8:22 PM   Subscribe

I need discourse on being ill.

Two time cancer survivor here. I am looking for books or essays that I can commiserate with about having a sick body.

A few examples:

- On Being Ill, Virginia Woolf
- Illness as Metaphor, Susan Sontag
- Ghostbodies: Towards a New Theory of Invalidism, Maia Dolphin-Krute
- Sick Woman Theory, Johanna Hedva

Appreciate your suggestions, thank you.
posted by antihistameme to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I recommend the book Disability Visibility edited by Alice Wong as well as the online Disability Visibility Project, which has a tag for chronic illness, cancer, and many others.
posted by smorgasbord at 8:31 PM on July 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Tolstoy is often used in medical ethics courses to help young medical professionals-in-training to understand their patients' suffering/death/humanity.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:32 PM on July 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

Close to the Bone by Jean Shinoda Bolen helped me when I had cancer.
posted by angiep at 8:36 PM on July 4, 2021

Tig Notaro's live comedy album Live is a contemporaneous account of experiencing a breast cancer diagnosis on top of other health/life issues.
posted by JackBurden at 8:44 PM on July 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

The Undying: A Meditation on Modern Illness would likely be right up you alley. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed reading it, but I can see why it won awards and think it might be helpful to you given your stated interests.
posted by reren at 8:48 PM on July 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Malignant: How Cancer Becomes Us by S. Lochlann Jain is both a memoir and a cultural analysis that basically swept the awards available to anthropology books. An excerpt is available at the publisher's website.
posted by Wobbuffet at 8:59 PM on July 4, 2021

Sweet Invisible Body by Lisa Roney. About having type 1 diabetes.
posted by ChristineSings at 9:57 PM on July 4, 2021

Check out a book called "Now That I Have Cancer, I am Whole." It's a collection of essays and meditations from people experiencing cancer, some sad, some uplifting, and it's provided me much solace in the past.
posted by carlypennylane at 10:19 PM on July 4, 2021

Giving up the Ghost, by Hilary Mantel. Extract.
posted by paduasoy at 11:41 PM on July 4, 2021

There is a literary magazine by and for chronically ill and disabled people called Sick.
posted by mani at 11:58 PM on July 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

I found (and still find) Alphonse Daudet’s In the Land of Pain a useful read when I am feeling exhausted by my various infirmities, despite my conditions and Daudet’s aren’t very similar. The book is short, witty, compassionate, and philosophical about living with incurable and untreatable illness. He never finished the project, so it’s more a collection of vignettes than a coherent narrative, if that matters. Warning: While it doesn’t appear in this text, Daudet was a virulent antisemite.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:02 AM on July 5, 2021

This might be too specific, but it could also lead you to other writings by the authors included: *Crip Time*, a special volume of South Atlantic Quarterly, includes essays by several people about how
"bodily and mental disabilities shape the experience of time."
posted by correcaminos at 4:45 AM on July 5, 2021

- The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by Jean-Dominique Bauby
- Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion
posted by basalganglia at 6:35 AM on July 5, 2021

I am a cancer patient.
Literary theorist Susan Gubar has written extensively about having ovarian cancer. I have really like her essays in the New York Times. You can find them by searching her name on the site. She has also written two books: Memoir of a Debulked Woman and Reading and Writing Cancer.

I have also liked Christopher Hitchens' writing on having cancer. You can find his essays by searching his name with cancer. His book on having cancer is titled Mortality.

Duke theology professor Kate Bowler has written Everything Happens for a Reason: and Other Lies I've Loved about her experience with colon cancer.

And on a less intellectual note, I liked Gilda Radner's memoir, It's Always Something.
posted by FencingGal at 8:10 AM on July 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

The Body Silent by Robert Murphy. "Robert Murphy was in the prime of his career as an anthropologist when he felt the first symptom of a malady that would ultimately take him on an odyssey stranger than any field trip to the Amazon: a tumor of the spinal cord that progressed slowly and irreversibly into quadriplegia. In this gripping account, Murphy explores society's fears, myths, and misunderstandings about disability, and the damage they inflict."
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:11 PM on July 5, 2021

A few years ago, I took a class focused on writing about living with chronic illness. We read selections from:

Sick: A Memoir - Porochista Khakpour
Blindsided: Lifting a Life Above Illness - Richard M. Cohen
Autobiography of a Face - Lucy Grealy
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating - Elisabeth Tova Bailey
In the Kingdom of the Sick - Laurie Edwards
On Being Ill - Virginia Woolf (already on your list)
When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanithi
Chronically Lit, though it hasn't been updated in quite a while.
posted by writermcwriterson at 9:43 AM on July 6, 2021

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