James Lang was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in 1996, when he was twenty-six years old. Five years later, however, a particularly severe bout with Crohn's, including a hospital stay, dramatically changed his relationship to the disease. Lang's memoir explores his ongoing relationship to Crohn's disease, both in the context of medical reassessments and diagnostic adjustments and in relation to his personal and professional development in his first year as a tenure-track professor of college English.


A compelling and pleasurable reading experience, this well-written memoir is richly informative for anyone experiencing Crohn's or another chronic illness, directly and/or indirectly (as a family member or health care provider). What does it feel like to live with the ongoing, often unpredictable aspects of chronic illness and their significant impact not only on physical well-being but also on the social body? In the specific case of Crohn's, how do we cope with bowel routines, flare-ups, etc. in the context of explicit social demands for productivity and promptness as well as implicit demands that we be free of any noticeable bodily difficulties?

Lang's memoir explores the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual dimensions of chronic illness, all in their dailiness as well as seen from a larger, more reflective perspective. By interweaving with chronic illness the things that make up most lives (childhood and parenthood; marriage and sexuality; friendship and collegiality; the demands and pleasures of a career) he makes a powerful statement about the realities of most people's embodied lives and offers a detailed example of what a full, active life that includes Crohn's disease might look like. We learn about his enculturation into the meaning of illness; how he handles work and social engagements in relation to proximity to bathrooms; what life is like when he's acknowledging his disease, and what it's like when he's ignoring it.

We also become fully engaged in Lang's adjustment to life on the tenure track, a stressful developmental experience for any college teacher. As the title suggests, this book participates equally in two genres of memoir, those about teaching and those about illness. Readers should note that the spiritual dimensions are not explored via a conversion narrative/inspirational testimonial; this is not a doctrinaire spiritual text but a thoughtful commentary. Lang has since published another memoir, Life on the Tenure Track (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005).


Capital Books

Place Published

Sterling, Va.



Page Count