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Story pick: Confronting cancer

After writing about a storm that blew through my neighborhood late last week (and ripped down a tree in our backyard and took out the power for a day...), I was looking for something light to read. I leafed through some newspapers and magazines, surfed through a few blogs and landed on Double X, a blog on Slate. The blog is supposed to be about "what women really think." But this ditty by former Postie Hanna Rosin caught my eye instead: Is This Woman The Most Boring Writer Ever.

The post is about Michael Kinsley's contest to find the most boring story ever. I froze for a moment - did he mean me? But I quickly recovered my composure when I saw that he had chosen a first-person piece by a woman writing about a night on a train.

Writing in first person is tough. The trick is to find a way to be universal and resonant without being self-absorbed and taking readers nowhere. Rosin's blog linked to a first-person piece she thought worked. And I wholeheartedly agree. Love him or hate him, Christopher Hitchens, writing about his cancer diagnosis, Topic of Cancer, in September's Vanity Fair is gripping, powerful and evocative. He has managed that trick of writing so searingly about himself and this place of dread that, though I was looking for something light, I couldn't put it down:

An excerpt:

"It took strenuous effort for me to cross the room of my New York hotel and summon the emergency services. They arrived with great dispatch and behaved with immense courtesy and professionalism. I had the time to wonder why they needed so many boots and helmets and so much heavy backup equipment, but now that I view the scene in retrospect I see it as a very gentle and firm deportation, taking me from the country of the well across the stark frontier that marks off the land of malady. Within a few hours, having had to do quite a lot of emergency work on my heart and my lungs, the physicians at this sad border post had shown me a few other postcards from the interior and told me that my immediate next stop would have to be with an oncologist. Some kind of shadow was throwing itself across the negatives."

By Brigid Schulte  | August 9, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Story Picks  
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