The Still Point of the Turning World [NOOK Book]

Overview

“A brilliant study of the wages of mortal love.” —The New York Times Book Review


What does it mean to be a success? To be a good parent? To live a meaningful life? Emily Rapp thought she knew the answers when she was pregnant with her first child. But everything changed when nine-month-old Ronan was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease, a rare and always-fatal degenerative disorder. He was not expected to live ...
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The Still Point of the Turning World

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Overview

“A brilliant study of the wages of mortal love.” —The New York Times Book Review


What does it mean to be a success? To be a good parent? To live a meaningful life? Emily Rapp thought she knew the answers when she was pregnant with her first child. But everything changed when nine-month-old Ronan was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease, a rare and always-fatal degenerative disorder. He was not expected to live beyond the age of three. Rapp and her husband were forced to re-evaluate everything they thought they knew about parenting and to learn to parent without a future.


Even before the book’s publication, Rapp set the Internet ablaze with her New York Times op-ed piece about parenting a terminally ill child. An immediate bestseller, The Still Point of the Turning World is Rapp’s memorial to her lost son and an inspiring and exquisitely moving reminder to love and live in the moment.


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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Sarah Manguso
The "grief memoir" is by now a well-established subgenre of autobiography, the array of recent books about dead loved ones a veritable graveyard. The best of these…aren't just sad stories; they're attempts to write one's way out of the crisis. So it is with Emily Rapp's Still Point of the Turning World, a memoir in which a mother's grief occasions a brilliant study of the wages of mortal love.
Publishers Weekly
Rapp's next work after her memoir about her childhood disability and foot amputation (Poster Child) delineates a bracing, heartbreaking countdown in the life of her terminally ill son. At age nine months, Ronan was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs, a rare, degenerative disease, involving the lack of an enzyme, that is always fatal, striking the parents as a complete surprise, despite the author's having been tested during standard prenatal screening. An affliction most prevalent among Ashkenazi Jews, Tay-Sachs actually has more than a hundred mutations. 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. Her narrative does not follow Ronan as far as his death, but gleans lessons from Buddhism and elsewhere in order that Rapp could "walk through this fire without being consumed by it." Unflinching and unsentimental, Rapp's work lends a useful, compassionate, healing message for suffering parents and caregivers. Agent, Dorian Karchmar, William Morris Endeavor (Mar.)
San Francisco Chronicle
Impassioned and searing…Rapp combines an essayist's willingness to lay herself bare on the page, a theologian's search to plumb the mysteries of life and a poet's precision. The result is stunning…It's a circular account, raw and cerebral, raising more questions than it presumes to answer.
The New York Times Book Review
A brilliant study of the wages of mortal love.
Los Angeles Times
Radiant… Emily Rapp is not one to sugarcoat hard truths…Writing is clearly an essential tool for dealing with 'thoughts that put me right at the thinning edge of sanity.' But her memoir is also an indication that this self-proclaimed reformed 'ambition addict' hasn't eschewed all aspirations: Redescribing story, Ronan's story — his path, his myth — could blaze new pathways of understanding not only for me but for others.
Kirkus Reviews
A passionate, potent chronicle of the author's last months with her son. In January 2010, Rapp (Creative Writing and Literature/Santa Fe Univ. of Art and Design; Poster Child: A Memoir, 2007) learned that her firstborn, 9-month-old son, Ronan suffered from Tay-Sachs, a fatal degenerative disease, and would likely die by age 3. The Rapps had been concerned that Ronan's development was retarded; although he was an alert, happy child, he neither walked nor spoke. The author describes her moving struggle to make each day spent with her son memorable and to savor her ability to mother during the time remaining. She also considers her son's disability in light of her own congenital deformity that led to the amputation of her left leg. Though her disability goaded her to overcome all obstacles, such a path did not exist for her son. Her love for Ronan was unconditional and profound and otherworldly. In contrast to the expectations of ordinary parents, she and her son inhabited "a magical world…where there were no goals, no prizes to win, no outcomes to monitor." Despite her tragic loss, Rapp is fierce in her defense of the unique worth of her son's short life. He was "in his own way, perfect," and the author poses the rhetorical question: "We are not what we become, how we look, what we do--are we?" Searching for spiritual solace, Rapp and her husband attended a Buddhist retreat and cherished the words of one of the teachers: "Remember there's a whole person behind whatever physical affect presents itself." A beautiful, searing exploration of the landscape of grief and a profound meditation on the meaning of life.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101605851
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 3/7/2013
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 118,896
  • File size: 476 KB

Meet the Author

Emily Rapp, the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award, is currently professor of creative writing and literature at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design and a faculty member in the University of California-Riverside MFA program. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Emily Rapp, author of The Still Point of the Turning World

Why did you write this book?

After Ronan was diagnosed, I needed to focus my energies on something other than despair. Writing this book saved me, in the sense that it gave me a constructive task to do each day other than take care of my son, the sight of whom filled me with an immense grief and panic and sadness and joy and love. I felt compelled to write it -- I experienced hypergraphia, where I literally couldn't stop writing. And, finally, writing the book felt like a way of kicking back at the chaos of the universe, at this incredibly raw deal: you gave me this experience? Watch and see what I do with it.

Can you describe the experience of writing and sharing Ronan's story?

Writing this book clarified an important distinction for me: that writing is cathartic, not therapeutic. Catharsis is from the Greek word to strip away, to burn away the unnecessary, and that's what I felt I was doing. The end goal of a cathartic artistic experience is art. The end goal of a therapeutic experience is emotional stability or regulation. I felt manic and crazed while I wrote this book, and also completely, terrifyingly free. I felt I had nothing to lose, and so I wrote the kind of book I've always wanted to write, I just never thought I'd be writing it about this particular subject. As an artist, the experience was electrifying. As a person, it was draining and exhausting.

Did writing help you explore your grief?

I'm not sure it helped in the sense that it made me feel better, but every artist wants to create order from chaos. Grief is the ultimate emotional chaos -- it's a full body experience and there's no way to numb it, erase it, get out of it. In a sense, writing about grief externalized the experience. I could examine it objectively, smell it, taste it, throw it around. And I was angry, and asking questions in written form helped me manage that rage.

You drew upon many literary influences, from C.S. Lewis to Mary Shelley to Sylvia Plath. How did these writers and thinkers help you process your experience? Was anyone particularly influential?

Lewis and Shelly and Plath have always been touchstones for me, so it's no mistake that they helped me manage this experience as well. Part of what helped me manage my grief experience was to make my world big, and because I'm a writer and a reader, big meant vertically deep. I read and read and read -- as a distraction, but also as a way of finding out how others had survived sorrow and moved on. I also found the most helpful writers to be those who were also philosophical in some way, and this fits with my background as a theologian. I was asking the biggest questions about the extremities of the human emotional experience, and I felt I needed literary guides who had done the same kind of intellectual tunneling.

The Still Point of the Turning World is based on your 2011 New York Times essay, “Notes from a Dragon Mom.” What compelled you to write that piece? What was the response like?

After Ronan was diagnosed, I found myself isolated as a parent in the “normal” world. I was a part of the parenting group of families with Tay-Sachs, but out at the grocery store, in the mall, walking outside -- I just felt that the world was going on and I was not a part of it, and I was weary of people feeling sorry for me. As I got to know these dragon parents, as I call them, I realized that they were, in fact, practicing the true art of parenting: which is a slow process of letting go, only we would be letting our children go in the most epic sense, in that we would witness their deaths. They were not objects of pity, and their lives were not hideously said; they were tough, and their lives were beautiful and difficult. The response was overwhelming, from parents and non-parents, and taught me the lesson that there is no ladder of loss or suffering, and that it is general in the world.

What does it mean to you, now, to be a good parent and to live a meaningful life?

My goal as a parent is to make Ronan as comfortable as possible, and to fill his short life with meaningful experiences; music, outdoor activities, and most of all, in these final stages of his life, comfort. He is who he is. This is a lesson I will never forget about parenting: that children are people, not projects. My responsibility, I feel, in the wake of Ronan's raw deal, is to live the biggest, fullest, richest life possible, because he was never given the opportunity to do so.

What has Ronan taught you?

So much. He has taught me that grief has a terrible beauty because it is an expression of the depth of one's love. He has taught me that there is no use obsessing about the past or worrying about the future, but there is only the moment. He has taught me that the world is chaos, and it will reach all of us, that we have no control. That we are all mortal, and that we should love as hard as we can while we're here, even if it means experiencing gutting loss if we lose that person. He taught me that I'm not alone, and that friendships I've cultivated over years and decades are rock solid, reliable, life-sustaining.

What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

That the human project is to love and to lose and to make meaning from this fundamental truth. I hope that people will practice a radical generosity and empathy, be more authentic, let themselves be more vulnerable and real, in public and in private.

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Customer Reviews

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( 17 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 17 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2013

    Not so great

    I purchased this book after it was reviewed in People. While I have a huge amount of sympathy for the author, this book said the EXACT SAME THING in almost every chapter. I'm not sure what I expected, but this was disappointing. The book is well written, but the subject matter could have been covered in a magazine article, not a 210 page book.

    5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2013

    Although not as I expected, the book offers much philosophy and

    Although not as I expected, the book offers much philosophy and thought provoking references regarding grief, death, and life.  It seemed a bit disjointed at times, but I can understand that happening in the midst of anger and grief.  It portrays the state of Emily's mind trying to take in what has happened to her son.  Emily has been able to live many places and experience many cultures that the rest of us have not.  I had hoped for more content regarding the last months of Ronan's life (September 2011 - February 2013), information on who helped care for Ronan when Emily was traveling, the impact on her relationship with her family, husband, and friends, and students.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2013

    This book is far more about the author than the child whose trag

    This book is far more about the author than the child whose tragic death is the pretext for its publication. It is a smorgasbord of arcane literary references and sometimes bewildering personal recollections. At one point the author tells us how her blouse wound up on the floor while she was making out in a car in France. Call me old-fashioned, but I am a stickler for good taste. This is not my cup of tea.

    5 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 13, 2013

    This memoir is a love story in its simplest form--that between a

    This memoir is a love story in its simplest form--that between a mother and her dying son. It's a love without boundaries or expectations. As Emily Rapp introduces the book, "This is a love story, which, like all great love stories, is ultimately a story of loss." And later, "What was unconditional love if not love that expects nothing in return, especially from a child who was arguably as helpless as Ronan? We made him, we loved him, end of story."

    Following the journey from Ronan's diagnosis with Tay-Sachs disease at nine months through the year that follows is often heart-wrenching, sometimes uplifting, mostly inspiring, and always honest. The simultaneous joy and pain that Rapp struggles with everyday is heartbreaking, but is the reality she endures. Her writing is a gift to Ronan, her words the beauty that his story deserves.

    "It is a unique and terrible privilege to witness the entire arc of a life, to see it through from its inception to its end. But it is also an opportunity to love without a net, without the future, without the past, but right now." 

    She shows the reader what it is really like to be present and to love in time. How the best we can hope for our children is that they know this kind of love.

    This book will stay with you, as will Ronan's sweet face, long after you finishing reading it. A must-read manifesto of love.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 15, 2013

    Was very unhappy with this book. It could have been a magazine a

    Was very unhappy with this book. It could have been a magazine article, but when you use five words to describe one word, you can write a book.

    2 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 9, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Highly recommended!!!

    Great book. I would suggest that it is a must read!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2013

    I wish i had read the reviews before buying the book.

    Same as the headline. Did not tell how she actually dealt with her son dying. Maybe too personal, but what else was the purpose of the story? To give her philosophy of death? I wanted to know how someone else dealt with their grief and a close, personal, loved one dying. Tragic, but what was the story?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 17, 2013

    Should not waste your time!

    Very depressing. Did not even finish it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 29, 2013

    This is an awesome book - everyone should read it.

    How do you live knowing your baby is going to die and there is nothing that can save him? Emily Rapp simultaneously breaks your heart, comforts you and shares her solution. I bought this book after seeing Ms. Rapp on the Today Show. I wondered how, since she said that her child, Ronan, had died only a few weeks before, could she have this book on shelves. Why write? Because it provided her sanity. She says it herself on page 137, "I've always believed in the power of stories to make life cohere, to create a necessary order around us, and this can, in turn, help us fully live."

    This story will do just that.

    Its not a story about dying, it's a story of living, every day a celebration, every day a crisis, always focused on what will be the best way to make Ronan happy, and yet, Emily shares her emotional terror and confusion and makes you see life, and death, in an amazing and new way.

    It's sad, but not a downer. It's encouraging and not preachy. It's probably one of the best books I've read in years.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2013

    I recommend.

    At times this book was difficult to read but I was glad I did. There is much to be learned from this family's story.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2013

    I understand that one would expect a good read. But this is an a

    I understand that one would expect a good read. But this is an autobiography about grief and loss. The author was not writing to sell, she was writing to make sense of all the chaos in her life. It filled me with tears and I am so glad I read this. 

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2013

    Aberry1282@yahoo

    Nook friend

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 11, 2014

    This book is full of powerful emotions but it's just not my cup

    This book is full of powerful emotions but it's just not my cup of tea. It very philosophical and religious. I thought it would focus a little more on tay sachs disease then on the parents of Ronan. This story mostly dealt with how the parents were dealing with their son having this disease.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 20, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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