Meghan O'Rourke in The New York Times:

DeathDeath has been a great literary theme for so long you might think there’d be little left to say on the subject, but in recent decades the literature of death has taken an interesting and novel turn. Writers are recording their own deaths as they happen. In “Endpoint” (2009), John Updike chronicles his last years and his struggles with metastatic lung cancer. In “Mortality” (2012), a collection of his final columns for Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens documented his brutal experiences with cancer; Roger Ebert did the same in “Life Itself: A Memoir” (2011), as did the Washington Post columnist Marjorie Williams in her shattering essays collected in “The Woman at the Washington Zoo.” Earlier examples include Anatole Broyard’s “Intoxicated by My Illness” (1992), in which the author, a former editor at The New York Times Book Review, muses on dying, having learned he has late-stage prostate cancer; Paul Zweig’s memoir “Departures” (1986); and James Merrill’s final poetry collection, “A Scattering of Salts” (1995). Today’s literature of death consists mainly of a subgenre, the literature of dying.

…Hitchens’s “Mortality” — an extraordinary book — offers an exquisitely detailed portrait of dying underscored by the author’s reluctance to be sentimental and his hatred of self-pity. (Losing one’s writerly control is one of the obvious pitfalls here.) One day, Hitchens finds himself covered with a red radiation rash — “To say that the rash hurt would be pointless. The struggle is to convey the way it hurt on the inside.” He describes being “recently scheduled for the insertion of a ‘PIC’ line” — a procedure meant to take 10 minutes. Two hours later, he lies “between two bed-pads that were liberally laced with dried or clotting blood.” He quips about the medical paperwork (“curse of Tumortown”) and the “boring switch from chronic constipation to its sudden dramatic opposite,” offering all the details that Nora Ephron wrote about not wanting to burden friends and family with. This is the special humiliation of the slow death — the days spent on what Sidney Hook (as Hitchens reminds us) called a “mattress grave.” Hitchens makes us contemplate the central question of the modern death: Are these slow, medicated processes worth the pain? No, you think, fiercely — but, he acknowledges, he’s glad he bought himself more time.

More here.