July 17, 2018

The Bright Hour

The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs
2017 Simon and Schuster
Finished on December 11, 2017
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent!)

Publisher's Blurb:

An exquisite memoir about how to live—and love—every day with “death in the room,” from poet Nina Riggs, mother of two young sons and the direct descendant of Ralph Waldo Emerson, in the tradition of When Breath Becomes Air.

“We are breathless, but we love the days. They are promises. They are the only way to walk from one night to the other.”

Poet and essayist Nina Riggs was just thirty-seven years old when initially diagnosed with breast cancer—"one small spot." Within a year, the mother of two sons, ages seven and nine, and married sixteen years to her best friend, received the devastating news that her cancer was terminal.

How does one learn to live each day, “unattached to outcome”? How do you approach the moments, big and small, with both love and honesty? 
Exploring motherhood, marriage, friendship, and memory, even as she wrestles with the legacy of her great-great-great grandfather, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nina Riggs’s breathtaking memoir continues the urgent conversation that Paul Kalanithi began in his gorgeous When Breath Becomes Air. She asks, what makes a meaningful life when one has limited time?

Brilliantly written, disarmingly funny, and deeply moving, The Bright Hour is about how to love all the days, even the bad ones, and it’s about the way literature, especially Emerson, and Nina’s other muse, Montaigne, can be a balm and a form of prayer. It’s a book about looking death squarely in the face and saying “this is what will be.”

Especially poignant in these uncertain times, The Bright Hour urges us to live well and not lose sight of what makes us human: love, art, music, words. 

If I were still working in a bookstore, I would love to recommend this beautifully written memoir to customers who enjoyed Being Mortal and When Breath Becomes Air. Reminiscent of Kelly Corrigan's (The Middle Place) conversational writing style, I was hooked and couldn't put this book down. I never read in the middle of the night, but Riggs' book about cancer and family and death kept me reading late in the night. She has given her two young sons and husband a lasting legacy of her love, which I hope will bring them comfort in the coming years. 

There are some lovely passages throughout this stunning memoir and it is quite obvious that Riggs was a poet. Who knew one could write such beautiful prose about cancer and death, while fighting for her own life. She lost her mother (also to cancer) prior to the beginning of her own second round of chemo, which makes this book even more tender. And yet, there is nothing sappy about The Bright Hour.   

Some favorite passages:
I am reminded of an image...that living with a terminal disease is like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss. But that living without disease is also like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss, only with some fog or cloud cover obscuring the depths a bit more -- sometimes the wind blowing it off a little, sometimes a nice dense cover.
You are fully entitled to slap the next person who tells you that God only gives us what we can handle.
We have called in hospice for my mom.
It's strange, because hospice is one of those words that when you say it people's faces fall. It is a word that evokes last breaths and hushed voices. But the more I think about it, the more I'm struck by what a beautiful word it is -- hospice. It is hushed, especially at the end. But it's comfortable and competent sounding, too. A French word with Latin roots -- very close to hospital but with so much more serenity due to those S sounds. ...
It used to mean a rest house for travelers -- for pilgrims. And is there anything more welcome to a weary pilgrim than rest?

Nina Riggs' stark honesty (and witty sense of humor) had me wishing that her life wasn't cut so short - I'd love to read more of her writing! I borrowed the book from the library and wound up buying a copy for a second reading. As with Being Mortal, I feel that The Bright Hour should be read by everyone.

My reviews for Being Mortal, When Breath Becomes Air and The Middle Place can be found by clicking on each title.


  1. I can see that I need to read this one. I love the quote about hospice. Truly. I think all of us should live our lives like this. Full of beauty and peace and joy. Also love the quote about 'living with a terminal disease' and 'living without disease'. You know, we are all terminal, eventually. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Kay, I have a feeling you'd enjoy this one. Glad you enjoyed the passages I shared.

  2. This does look like it's beautifully written. I love memoirs and will have to add this to my wish list.

    1. Kathy, it's a lovely memoir. Hope you find a chance to give it a read.

  3. This definitely belongs on my wish list!

    1. JoAnn, you won't be disappointed! I'm almost ready to read it again and it hasn't even been a year.


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