Friday, December 17, 2021

Nonfiction Review: No Cure for Being Human

In case you somehow missed my gushing (in videos and blog posts) about how much I love author Kate Bowler, let me fill you in. Kate hosts a podcast called Everything Happens that has quickly become my all-time favorite podcast. Every episode makes me both laugh out loud and tear up. Listening to one recent episode, she said something so hilarious and unexpected that I almost spit my tea across the room and immediately made my husband listen, too (he agreed). You can read more about her podcast in this post I wrote on my chronic illness blog. So, when I heard Kate had a new book coming out, I knew I wanted to read it. I picked it up at a local indie bookstore this fall, and it was my first book read for Nonfiction November. My review is so late because I wanted to wait until I had the time to do this wonderful book justice. No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear) by Kate Bowler was just as moving as I'd expected and, like her podcast, made me both laugh and cry.

Kate is living with incurable cancer. She has gone through every kind of treatment and surgery you can imagine and is OK for now, but she still has to endure periodic treatments and live with the shadow of cancer hanging over every moment. This has made her incredibly honest and open and helped her to reevaluate what's important in life. Both her podcast (see the logo above) and this book are based on the idea that when something bad happens to you--cancer, like Kate, or living with chronic illness, like me, or divorce or any other kind of loss or chronic struggle--well-meaning people jump in with all sorts of unhelpful comments and advice. Much of this derives from our entire society's focus on a culture of "toxic positivity," which includes harmful beliefs along the lines of "if you just try hard enough, you can overcome anything," which those of us who've dealt with loss or chronic issues know is not really true. All the positivity in the world won't cure Kate's cancer or my immune disorder. In the book, Kate shares the details of her journey with cancer while including some of these myths she's run into versus the honest truths of real life. Chapters include classic feel-good lines like Best Life Ever, Bucket Lists, YOLO (You Only Live Once), and more. She debunks each of these in turn while sharing her intimate story of struggle and survival. Here, she tackles the ever-popular Bucket Lists:

" ... We have made bucket lists into a new form of experiential capitalism. Hang gliding. Snorkeling. Times Square on New Year's Eve and Paris in the spring. A successful life is one that can be completed.

The problem with aspirational lists, of course, is that they often skip the point entirely. Instead of helping us grapple with our finitude, they have approximated infinity. With unlimited time and resources, we could do anything, be anyone. We could become more adventurous by jumping out of airplanes, more traveled by visiting every continent, or more cultured by reading the most famous books of all time. With the right list, we would never starve with the hunger of want.

But it is much easier to count items than to know what counts."

That was one of dozens of passages I tabbed in my book because Kate has such a way with words and an ability to get to the heart of the truth that I always feel like she is talking directly to me. And her amazing sense of humor keeps popping up in unexpected places and surprising me, like this excerpt from a chart at the back of the books of "Cliches We Hear and Truths We Need":

"Things People Say                            A More Complicated Truth

Carpe Diem                                        I mean, yes, unless you need a nap.

Let go and let God.                            God loves you, but he won't do your taxes."

You might be thinking that a book about someone's cancer journey (with such an uncertain future) would be depressing, but it's not. Kate has such an amazing ability to crystallize her experiences and thoughts into universal truths. And she is very much an optimist ... but an optimist who has had the ice cold, bracing truth of real life thrown in her face. The result is raw emotion, honesty, and openness, all tempered by a wonderful sense of humor just when you need it. The book had very much the same effect on me that her podcast does: laughter, tears, and wanting to write down half of what she says to remember. She has an amazing talent for saying just what I need to hear. I find listening to her or reading her book to be a very comforting and reassuring experience, as she makes me realize I am not alone and I can have a happy life without embracing all the go-go-go/do-do-do pop culture positivity we see every day online. This is my life, limits and all, and Kate helps me to accept that and find joy in it. If you have not yet discovered Kate, this book is a great place to start.

202 pages, Random House

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.

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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here, with Kate's soothing voice narrating her own words, and/or download it from Audible - listen to get an idea of her honesty and humor, even in the face of horrible circumstances.


You can buy the book through, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!


Or you can order No Cure for Being Human from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

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