Friday, July 25, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: radiation days. the rollicking, lighthearted story of a man and his cancer by Lynn Hoffman

radiation days. the rollicking, lighthearted story of a man and his cancer by Lynn Hoffman is a lovely book that demonstrates the art and the value of living in the moment. The author is a novelist/poet, a chef, a professor of culinary arts, and a wine and beer connoisseur. A couple years ago (how long now?) he became a blogger–journaling his way through his year-long experience as a man with cancer.

As someone whose life revolves around the appreciation of food and wine (and beer), it was particularly cruel of Fate to strike Hoffman with cancer of the throat. He underwent chemotherapy and radiation that, for a long time, destroyed his sense of taste. He had a hard time swallowing and talking (particularly problematic for a teacher.) In the book, which builds on Hoffman’s blog posts, he explores how losing something so fundamental affected not just his life but potentially his identity. He has good days and bad days and some truly terrifying days, but each vignette shows how he retained a wonder and a curiosity about something that seemed to propel him onward to what will come next. Hoffman’s voice animates the book with a sincere warmth and gratitude (interspersed with occasional bits of frustration tempered with humor) that make the reader understand why the friends he is so appreciative of are so devoted to him.

This is a cancer memoir, but there’s more to it than that. Despite the all-absorbing job it is to be a cancer patient, Hoffman manages to go on living his life. He pays attention to the little things and shows us that they are, in fact, the big things. He points out the problem with "the bucket list." You shouldn’t wait until you’re dying to make a list of things you want to do. Get out and do them. He reminds us of the importance of friends, kindness, generosity. Of course we all know this, but he puts it all in a context that lets the message sink in a little more. Oh, also, get your kids an HPV vaccine.

radiation days is not just a book that I would recommend to someone who is facing a cancer diagnosis or to a family member of someone in that position. It’s a life philosophy book. We shouldn’t have to have a cancer diagnosis to appreciate life, but we’re generally so busy rushing through it that we don’t stop to look for the good in what we are experiencing right now. In the book, Hoffman mentions how much he loves teaching, one of his professions, and it was clearly helpful in his healing process that he was able to get out and teach classes as he was recuperating. Well, he’s teaching still. This is not a hit-you-over-the-head-with-its-sermon kind of book. It’s more gentle than that. Hoffman shows by example how each day is precious, cancer or not. It shouldn’t be so hard for me to remember that!


  1. I recently read the whole cancer blog of a friend who died from her cancer. It was heart-wrenching but now i feel so much closer to her, even in her death. I think I would like this book. Thanks for dropping by my Snapshot Saturday post.

  2. I would hate to lose my sense of taste. I'm not a foodie by any means, but food is one of life's pleasures and it must be so miserable to not to be able to appreciate it.

    This sounds like the kind of book we all need to read now & again to remind us what life is really all about.