Like all mothers, Emily Rapp had ambitious plans for her first and only child, Ronan. He would be smart, loyal, physically fearless, and level-headed, but fun. He would be good at crossword puzzles like his father. He would be an avid skier like his mother. Rapp would speak to him in foreign languages and give him the best education.
But all of these plans changed when Ronan was diagnosed at nine months old with Tay-Sachs disease, a rare and always-fatal degenerative disorder. Ronan was not expected to live beyond the age of three; he would be permanently stalled at a developmental level of six months. Rapp and her husband were forced to re-evaluate everything they thought they knew about parenting. They would have to learn to live with their child in the moment; to find happiness in the midst of sorrow; to parent without a future.
The Still Point of the Turning World is the story of a mother’s journey through grief and beyond it. Rapp’s response to her son’s diagnosis was a belief that she needed to “make my world big”—to make sense of her family’s situation through art, literature, philosophy, theology and myth. Drawing on a broad range of thinkers and writers, from C.S. Lewis to Sylvia Plath, Hegel to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Rapp learns what wisdom there is to be gained from parenting a terminally ill child. In luminous, exquisitely moving prose she re-examines our most fundamental assumptions about what it means to be a good parent, to be a success, and to live a meaningful life.
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Author One-on-One: Cheryl Strayed Interviews Emily Rapp
Cheryl Strayed's most recent books include the best-selling memoir Wild, which was Oprah Winfrey’s first selection for Oprah's Book Club 2.0; the advice essay collection Tiny Beautiful Things; and her debut novel Torch. Raised in Minnesota, Strayed now lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, the filmmaker Brian Lindstrom, and their two children.
Cheryl Strayed: Why did you want to write this book?
Emily Rapp: I wrote this book out of necessity; I would say I didn't want to write it, but that I had to write it. I was compelled, in a way I've never been before, to try and make sense of the chaos of my life in the wake of my son's terminal diagnosis. I wanted to write it as a way of kicking back against grief, that great leveler, and I felt an urgency to wrangle with the deepest issues of human life--What is luck? Where do we go when we die?--because I was being faced with them in a real-time, intensely dramatic way.
Cheryl Strayed: What was it like to write this book, at the same time Ronan was slipping away from you?
Emily Rapp: It was terrible, and it was beautiful. On the one hand, I was tracking his decline; on the other hand, I felt swollen and bright with love. It might sound silly, but a broken heart is an open one, and I was definitely broken. But I was working, and this gave me purpose, and the more I learned from Ronan’s presence--his innocence and beauty--the more I wanted to write about what this parenting journey had taught me not just about being a mother, but about being a human being.
Cheryl Strayed: Who were the writers who served as touchstones during this process?
Emily Rapp: Mary Shelley, Louise Gluck, Sylvia Plath, Simone Weil, Carson McCullers, old Akkadian myths like the Epic of Gilgamesh, and especially the work of C. S. Lewis.
Cheryl Strayed: What did you learn that surprised you, about the process of grieving for Ronan?
Emily Rapp: That grief can be electrifying, shot through with moments of deep presence and a feeling of being in the moment, which alternatively creates a feeling of elation, of true happiness. I was surprised that I could laugh, and love, and be, and also grieve through all of that. It taught me the fundamental truth of death-in-life that we all try to avoid but eventually cannot.
Cheryl Strayed: What do you most want readers to take away from the experience of reading this book?
Emily Rapp: I want readers to rethink their notions of tragedy and normalcy. I want them to find beauty in our human fragility, in the precariousness of all our lives, and I want this to act as a catalyst for them to live and love more boldly in their own lives. To make their lives big and rich and full and meaningful, however that might look for them.
Photo Emily Rapp ©Anne Staveley
Photo Cheryl Strayed ©Joni KabanaReview:
An Amazon Best Book of the Month, March 2013: When her first child Ronan is diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease, a rare terminal and degenerative illness, Emily Rapp is forced to meditate on one of life's cruelest questions: what does it mean for a parent to outlive her child? Rapp can't help but dwell on all the things that her son will never do--the full life that wasn't robbed from Ronan so much as it was never given. Still Point of the Turning World is brave and magnificently written. Though there are moments of levity, in some ways, it can be hard to recommend Still Point because Rapp's story is so overwhelmingly sad. ("Here," you might say, "why don't you read this and bawl your eyes out?") But this is a book that's honest and thoughtful, and we find that, like Rapp herself, enduring such heartbreak imbues us with a new sense of wisdom and courage. --Kevin Nguyen
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Book Description Penguin Press HC, The, 2013. Book Condition: New. Brand New, Unread Copy in Perfect Condition. A+ Customer Service! Summary: " The Still Point of the Turning World is about the smallest things and the biggest things, the ugliest things and the most beautiful things, the darkest things and the brightest things, but most of all it's about one very important thing: the way a woman loves a boy who will soon die. Emily Rapp didn't want to tell us this story. She had to. That necessity is evident in every word of this intelligent, ferocious, grace-filled, gritty, astonishing starlight of a book." Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild "It''s hard to find words that do justice to Emily Rapp''s The Still Point of the Turning World . It''s one of those rare books that you want to press into people''s hands and simply say, ''You must read this. You will thank me.'' At every turn, Rapp avoids the maudlin and the expected to get at very deep truths, sometimes painful and sometimes liberating and sometimes both. She looks for wisdom and comfort to a wide range of sources ranging from C.S. Lewis to Marilynne Robinson to Buddhist teaching. And she looks to her son. This is one family''s story of living while facing death, but also an astonishingly generous work about recognizing the pain and grace that exist all around us." Will Schwalbe, New York Times bestselling author of The End of Your Life Book Club " Rapp has an emotional accessibility reminiscent of Wild author Cheryl Strayed; her unique experiences have a touch of the universal . She comes across as open, midthought. In her book, she wrestles with the ideas of luck and sentimentality and life and love and often circles back, unresolved. Despite being a former divinity student, she bypasses religion for literature, seeking meaning in poetry, myth and, especially, Frankenstein and its author, Mary Shelley. Her kind of parent? The dragon mother: powerful, sometimes terrifying, full of fire and magic ." Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times, "Faces to Watch in 2013" " A beautiful, searing exploration of the landscape of grief and a profound meditation on the meaning of life ." Kirkus Reviews (starred review) "Ronan''s 'death sentence' was for Rapp and her husband, Rick, living in Santa Fe, a time of grief, reckoning, and learning how to live, and her elegant, restrained work flows with reflections and excerpts from writers and poets like Mary Shelley, Pablo Neruda, and Sylvia Plath, as well as supporters who helped her during the difficult unraveling of her son''s condition. Writing about Ronan allowed her to claim the sorrow and truly look at her son the way he was. Unflinching and unsentimental, Rapp''s work lends a useful, compassionate, healing message for suffering parents and caregivers ." Publishers Weekly (starred review) "A writer writes; a mother mothers. When those passionate vocations merge in crisis, more than a memoir emerges. The Still Point of the Turning World is a philosophical inquiry into the nature of faith, character, love, and dying. This book is Rapp's, and Ronan's, enduring gift of selves for the rest of us." Antonya Nelson, author of Nothing Right and Some Fun "This memoir of extraordinary tenderness and grace in the face of unimaginable loss is searingly beautiful in the way of a sacred text. Emily Rapp certainly didn''t sign on to be our guide into the deepest crevasses of the human heart, but that is what she has become. Of course this is an undeniably sad book, but don''t let that stop you. It is also one of the most powerfully alive books I have ever read. Every page shouts: This is what it is to love! To risk! To lose! To bear witness! An unforgettable moral and artistic triumph." Dani Shapiro, author of Devotion and Slow Motion "Written with remarkable precision and restraint, Emily Rapp's The Still Point of the Turning World takes us to the depths of grief, where almost against our will, heartbreak becomes beautiful." Roger Rosenblatt, author of Making Toast and Kayak Morning "Emily Rapp has written an intimate, Bookseller Inventory # ABE_book_new_1594205124
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