Tag: Memoirs

The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich: An Emotionally Gut-Wrenching True Crime / Memoir Mash-Up

May 18, 2017 Memoirs 4

The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-LesnevichNonfiction – Memoir / True Crime
Released May 16, 2017
336 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (published by Flatiron Books)

Headline

Though not perfect, The Fact of a Body is a thoroughly unique, complex, and emotionally gut-wrenching mash-up of true crime story and dysfunctional childhood memoir.

Plot Summary

Marzano-Lesnevich interweaves the painful story of her upbringing in an abusive family with the true story of the murder of a five year-old boy by a sex offender (Ricky Langley).

Why I Read It

A mash-up of a dysfunctional childhood memoir with true crime literally couldn’t be any farther up my alley. Plus, Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You (my review), called it a “marvel.”

Major Themes

Crime, Mental Illness, Pedophilia, Childhood Trauma, Abuse, Family Secrets

What I Loved

  • This memoir / true crime mash-up is totally unique and was mostly (see below) successful for me. Marzano-Lesnevich interweaves the true story of the murder of five year old Jeremy Guillory by convicted sex offender Ricky Langley (and Langley’s childhood and coming of age) with the story of her own family and childhood, which resembles Ricky’s in surprising ways.
  • The farther I read, the more sense it made to meld these two stories into one book.
  • Marzano-Lesnevich’s exploration of the making of a sex offender is frightening and heart-breaking all at the same time. And, the juxtaposition of reading about the perpetrator of a sex crime alongside the victim of a sex crime gives this story incredible depth and nuance…and certainly brought up some complex feelings for me.
  • By the end of the book, I was just heart-broken about all of it and surprisingly emotionally gutted.

What I Didn’t Like

  • The Fact of a Body has been compared to In Cold Blood, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Serial, and Making A Murderer. For me, the Serial and Making A Murderer comparisons were unfounded and misleading. Serial and Making A Murderer focused heavily on “is or isn’t the suspect actually guilty?” And, that’s not what The Fact of a Body does at all. Rather, you know who the perpetrator is right away and there is never any question of his guilt. The Fact of a Body is more an exploration into the psyche of a killer and sex offender…a la In Cold Blood.
  • Initially, I found the writing style and structure a bit tedious. The shifts between Ricky/Jeremy and Marzano-Lesnevich’s childhood were jumpy and Marzano-Lesnevich injected her own opinions/speculation into the Ricky/Jeremy story with statements like “he must have been thinking X” or “maybe he does Y,” which I found annoying. However, either I eventually got used to the style or things smoothed out farther into the book, because it bothered me much less by the end.

A Defining Quote

But how could I fight for what I believed when as soon as a crime was personal to me, my feelings changed? Every crime was personal to someone.

Good for People Who Like…

True Crime, dysfunctional childhood memoirs, dysfunctional families, emotional gut-wrenchers

Other Books You May Like

Another true crime book focusing on the psyche of a killer:
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

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A Lowcountry Heart: An Homage to Pat Conroy

November 25, 2016 Nonfiction 8

A Lowcountry Heart, Pat ConroyNonfiction – Memoir/Essays
Released October 25, 2016
320 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it…if you’re a Pat Conroy fan.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Nan A. Talese) via NetGalley

Summary

A collection of Pat Conroy’s writing on a range of topics (including letters to readers and thoughts on reading, writing, and beloved friends and family) and his most popular speeches and interviews.

My Thoughts

If you read this blog regularly, you know I’m a huge Conroy fan and will gobble up pretty much anything he writes. I’ll even forgive him the occasional divergences into over-the-top writing. So, after his death earlier this year, I was thrilled to hear we’d get one last collection of Conroy nonfiction. This entire book feels like an homage to Conroy, his career, and the most important people in his life…even though most of the pieces are written by Conroy himself. You feel like you’re reading his final words and thoughts…though he couldn’t have known that when he was writing these pieces.

As I was reading, I kept marveling at the new things I was learning about Conroy…despite having already read everything there is to read about his life. Here are some of my favorites.

On South Carolina…

South Carolina is not a state; it is a cult.

On sports…

Sports can teach you everything you need to know about yourself.

On literary taste (no fantasy, dystopian, or sci-fi for him, except Margaret Atwood and George R.R. Martin)…

Literary taste is the defining thing in all of us. It is as unpredictable as it is fascinating.

On promoting his books (and I suspect this is rare for authors)…

I got out to sell books and it has become one of the greatest things about being a writer during my lifetime. No writer should turn down the chance of meeting the readers of his work.

On specific books and authors…

Yes to The World According to Garp by John Irving, Ann Patchett, Anne Rivers Siddons, Leo Tolstoy, Richard Russo, Jonathan Franzen, Serena by Ron Rash
No to Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon, Martin Amis

On writing style…

Tim never liked anything I wrote. As an English teacher, he insisted the prose be spare, unadorned, unflashy, but hard-hitting and severe. From the beginning of my career in Beaufort, Tim found my writing overcaffeinated, pretentious, and blowsy.

On the Citadel’s plebe system…

It let me know exactly the kind of man I wanted to become. It made me ache to be a contributing citizen in whatever society I found myself in, to live out a life I could be proud of, and always to measure up to what I took to be the highest ideals of a Citadel man – or, now, a Citadel woman.

A primer for his most famous novels…

In The Great Santini, it was – why did I hate my father? In The Lords of Discipline – why I hated the plebe system. In The Prince of Tides – why did my sister go crazy?

On My Losing Season…

It might be the best book I will ever write.

On the first line of The Lords of Discipline (“I wear the ring.”)…

I think it is the best line I have ever written and best English sentence I am capable of writing. I love that phrase; I love that sentence.

On his career overall…

Though I wish I’d written a lot more, been bolder with my talent, more forgiving of my weaknesses, I’ve managed to draw a magic audience into my circle. They come to my signings to tell me stories, their stories. The ones that have hurt them and made their nights long and their lives harder.

A Lowcountry Heart is a book for Conroy fans and feels almost like a commemorative artifact. It has a gift-y feel, so would make a perfect holiday gift for Conroy fans this Christmas/whatever you celebrate.

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Nonfiction November 2016: Be the Expert…Dysfunctional Childhood Memoirs

November 22, 2016 Book Lists 25

Nonfiction November 2016
This week’s Nonfiction November (hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Lory at Emerald City Book Review, Rachel at Hibernator’s Library, Julz at Julz Reads, and me) topic is Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert:

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

Hop on over to Julz Reads to link up your posts!

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I love books about dysfunctional families. And, lucky for me, there’s a plethora of those in the world of fiction. But, turns out heartbreaking childhoods, for better or for worse, lend themselves to fantastic memoirs as well. Here are some of my favorites…

Dysfunctional Childhood Memoirs

Dysfunctional Childhood Memoirs

A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs
An abusive and emotionally distant father.

All Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg
Extreme poverty in the deep South, an alcoholic and volatile father, and a mother trying to hold her family together through it all.

Darling Days by iO Tillett Wright
Wright’s tough upbringing on New York City’s Lower East Side in the late 80’s/early 90’s…including poverty, her parents’s addictions, and her struggle with gender identity and sexuality.

Fiction Ruined My Family by Jeanne Darst
An alcoholic mother and a father forever trying to publish the “Great American Novel” at the expense of providing for his children…and Darst’s struggle not to repeat her parents’s mistakes in adulthood.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
Growing up poor in Appalachia with an erratic mother plus social analysis of the Appalachian poor’s struggle to achieve upward mobility.

Hungry Heart by Jennifer Weiner
Overcoming body image issues and managing life with an erratic father.

Still Points North by Leigh Newman
Navigating Newman’s parents’s divorce and disparate lifestyles.

The Death of Santini by Pat Conroy
Reflections on rebuilding a relationship with literature’s most famous abusive father.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
A vibrant, yet destructively alcoholic father and an eccentric mother averse to domestic stability.

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Alcohol & Advil: The Mothers and Hungry Heart

October 25, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 17

Alcohol and Advil Literary Style
Welcome back to Alcohol & Advil, where I pair a book likely to cause a “reading hangover” (i.e. the alcohol) with a recovery book (i.e. the Advil)! For me, the “alcohol” is usually a book that I either absolutely loved or one that punched me in the gut in an emotionally depleting way…and, in this case, it’s the former.

The Alcohol

The Mothers, Brit BennettThe Mothers by Brit Bennett
Fiction (Released October 11, 2016)
288 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Riverhead Books)

Plot Summary: While seventeen year-old Nadia Turner is mourning the shocking loss of her mother, she starts a relationship with Luke Sheppard, her pastor’s son, resulting in an unwanted pregnancy.

My Thoughts: The Mothers was one of the most hyped books and the big debut novel of this Fall (author Brit Bennet is only 25 years old and was named to the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35). And, it completely lived up to the hype! The first page is one of the best first pages I’ve ever read and I highlighted three passages before moving on to Page 2. I could immediately tell that Bennett’s writing was my kind of writing (which I will try to clearly articulate in an upcoming post) and the tone and style reminded me a bit of Ann Patchett’s in Commonwealth.

Grief was not a line, carrying you infinitely further from loss. You never knew when you would be sling-shot backward into its grip.

What I loved most about the actual story is that it takes on a number of serious topics, but none of them dominate the book. It’s about a young girl trying to make sense of her mother’s death and being left with a father who has withdrawn into his own grief. It’s about a teenager’s relationship to her church…and the feelings that come along with doing things the church likely wouldn’t approve of. It’s about the ongoing repercussions of those actions. It’s about friendship. It’s about race (the story takes place in a black community in California). It’s about the aftermath of trauma. Bennett handles all this in a subtle way…it’s there, a part of Nadia’s life, impacting her feelings and decisions, but life goes on. For me, this rang true to how life really happens. The Mothers will no doubt make my Best Books of 2016 List and would also make a fantastic book club selection.

The Advil

Hungry Heart, Jennifer WeinerHungry Heart by Jennifer Weiner
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released October 11, 2016)
432 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Atria Books) via NetGalley

Plot Summary: Bestselling author Jennifer Weiner’s memoir-style essay collection about her childhood, writing, her struggle with her weight, marriage, and motherhood…and the Bachelor/ette.

My Thoughts: You probably know Jennifer Weiner from her bestselling novels Good in Bed and In Her Shoes or her hilarious and pointed live-tweeting of the Bachelor/ette shows. But, her memoir reminded me that there is far more to this lady than enlivening my Twitter feed on Monday nights. Hungry Heart is an incredibly relatable memoir about a girl gradually growing comfortable in her own skin. After reading about her childhood (which includes a horrific father and adjusting to her mother starting to date women at age 54), I came to respect her determination, work ethic, and ability to recover from her father’s abandonment. She worked her tail off to become the writer she is and was never swept up in the glamour of the “writer’s life.” This memoir also confirmed my belief that she is an author who should host a podcast and I can see her dispensing Dear Sugar-style advice to women as successfully as Cheryl Strayed. Though the book was overly long and a bit repetitive towards the end, it was the perfect mix of light-hearted humor and real-life struggle to help me adequately recover from The Mothers!

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Read One, Skip One: Hillbilly Elegy and Cruel Beautiful World

October 11, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 18

Hillbilly Elegy, J. D. VanceHillbilly Elegy by J.D.Vance
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released June 28, 2016)
272 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Harper)

Plot Summary: Vance’s hybrid memoir of his childhood growing up poor in an Ohio town (Middletown) / social analysis of the plight of poor Appalachians.

My Thoughts: Before reading Hillbilly Elegy, I’d heard it compared to Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle (which I loved) and I agree that the memoir portion does bear some resemblance. But, Vance takes Hillbilly Elegy to the next level (5 star level for me!) by seamlessly blending in social analysis of why the poor, white working class is failing to achieve upward mobility. This blend of life story and social analysis is tough to execute well (I’m looking at you, The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts) and Vance made it work. Vance’s social analysis is brave and articulates hard-to-swallow truths, even about his own family, which make this book almost a plea to his fellow hillbillies to take some responsibility for their lives. 

But this book is about something else: what goes on in the lives of real people when the industrial economy goes south. It’s about reacting to bad circumstances in the worst way possible. It’s about a culture that increasingly encourages social decay instead of counteracting it.

Through a combination of hard work, a supportive grandmother, a clear vision, a driving ambition to “get out”, and a bit of luck, Vance served in the military, then graduated from Ohio State and Yale Law School (a rarity for folks from his town). His success enables him to portray the difficulties (i.e. countless unwritten social rules) working class people that do make it face as they try to assimilate into the white collar world. Hillbilly Elegy is the perfect combination of entertaining story (including Mamaw, a fantastic trash-talking grandma with a heart of gold who Vance credits with saving his life) and commentary on a specific segment of the population that has become more visible in this election…making it a great discussion starter for book clubs.

Cruel Beautiful World, Caroline LeavittCruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt
Historical Fiction (Released October 4, 2016)
352 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Publisher (Algonquin Books) via NetGalley

Plot Summary: When sixteen year-old Lucy runs away with an older man in the early 1970’s, the family she left behind tries to piece together what happened while her new life doesn’t turn out quite how she imagined.

My Thoughts: Amid September’s back to school chaos (see my review of A Gentleman in Moscow), I craved reading that didn’t require too much concentration and Cruel Beautiful World fits that bill. Upon reading this first line, I thought Cruel Beautiful World would hit the spot perfectly:

Lucy runs away with her high school teacher, William, on a Friday, the last day of school, a June morning shiny with heat.

Though I wasn’t highlighting much (i.e. the writing wasn’t making a huge impression), the first half of the book was decently entertaining, if not particularly memorable. However, the ending included a couple eyeroll-inducing surprises and one that I saw coming a mile away, turning my mild enjoyment into annoyance. And, Lucy’s so-called obsession with news of the Manson murders felt forced and unnecessary…like Leavitt just needed some vehicle to highlight that the book is set in the early 1970’s because the time period didn’t shine through the story otherwise.

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Alcohol & Advil: Mudbound and Dinner with Edward

July 14, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 19

Alcohol and Advil Literary Style
Alcohol & Advil, where I pair a book likely to cause a “reading hangover” (i.e. the alcohol) with a recovery book (i.e. the Advil) is back! Chalk up the long hiatus to a lack of books that left me sufficiently hungover to warrant a post. For me, the “alcohol” is usually a book that I either absolutely loved or one that punched me in the gut in an emotionally depleting way…and, in this case, both.

The Alcohol

Mudbound, Hillary JordanMudbound by Hillary Jordan
Southern Fiction (Released March 4, 2008)
354 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Algonquin)

Plot Summary: Shortly after Laura McAllen’s husband (Henry) moves their family to an isolated farm in the Mississippi Delta, her brother-in-law (Jamie) and the son of one of their tenant families (Ronsel Jackson) return from fighting in World War II to the Jim Crow era South.

My Thoughts: This award-winning 2008 debut reminiscent of Pat Conroy (the story itself more than the writing style), begins with a city girl trying to adjust to a spartan life of backbreaking farm work and becomes unputdownable by the end. A sense of foreboding hangs over everything and I could feel the tension…in Laura and Henry’s marriage, between the McAllens and the Jacksons, between Laura and her hateful father-in-law (Pappy), and within Jamie and Ronsel upon their returns from World War II. Something was definitely going to blow. The writing is simple and down-to-earth…with a cadence that takes you right to the Deep South.

When I think of the farm, I think of mud. Lining my husband’s fingernails and encrusting the children’s knees and hair. Sucking at my feet like a greedy newborn on the breast. Marching in boot-shaped patches across the plank floors of the house. There was no defeating it. The mud coated everything. I dreamed in brown.

Mudbound is centered around the themes of racism and women’s role in a marriage. There is a keen perspective of what it was like for a black war hero, having been celebrated abroad, to return home to be treated like a lessor class of human:

Ronsel

I never thought I’d miss it so much. I don’t mean Nazi Germany, you’d have to be crazy to miss a place like that. I mean who I was when I was over there. There I was a liberator, a hero. In Mississippi I was just another nigger pushing a plow. And the longer I stayed, the more that’s all I was.

And what it was like for a wife to have little say in the direction of her life, to be expected to defer to her husband always, and to serve her father-in-law as if she were his employee. These themes lead to some barbaric events that are not for the faint of heart. Mudbound is the best piece of Southern fiction I’ve read all year and one of the best I’ve ever read and would be a great choice for fans of Pat Conroy.

The Advil

Dinner with Edward, Isabel VincentDinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released May 24, 2016)
224 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Algonquin)

Plot Summary: As a favor to her friend, Valerie, Isabel begins having dinner with Valerie’s elderly father, which turns into far more than just dinner and far more than just helping out Valerie.

My Thoughts: New York Post reporter Isabel Vincent’s memoir was a perfect follow-up to the brutality of Mudbound because it was completely different, it was short, it was sweet and hopeful…and because it focused on food, an innocuous and comforting topic. It’s a weird mix of food memoir and self-help book, with a splash of New York City history (particularly about Roosevelt Island, where Isabel and Edward live), but it miraculously works.

When Isabel shows up for her first dinner with Edward, she’s working herself to death and her marriage is in trouble, while Edward is trying to recover from the death of his beloved wife, Paula. One dinner turns into many, which then turn into a rescuing of the soul for both Isabel and Edward. It turns out Edward is a true gourmande, creating elaborate, multi-course feasts and imparting his culinary wisdom to Isabel (and me – I’ve already tried his trick for fluffy scrambled eggs!) in the process. Dinner with Edward combines the comforting feeling of Our Souls at Night with the delectable food focus of Sweetbitter…and is going on my 2016 Summer Reading, Cooking/Food Books, and Great Books Under 300 Pages lists.

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Inspirational Nonfiction: Home is Burning & The Three-Year Swim Club

November 19, 2015 Nonfiction 20

These reviews are part of Nonfiction November hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, Becca at I’m Lost in Books, and Leslie at Regular Rumination.

Nonfiction November 2015


Though these books feel completely different or couldn’t have more different subject matters, they are both incredibly inspiring stories in their own ways.

Home is Burning, Dan MarshallHome is Burning by Dan Marshall
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released October 20, 2015)
320 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased

Plot Summary: Dan Marshall is twenty-five and living a stress-free life in L.A. when he’s called home to help care for his ALS-stricken father (Bob) while his mother (Debi) undergoes chemo for her own advanced non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

My Thoughts: Home is Burning is inspiring, sad, funny, raw, and honest…I laughed (a lot) and cried (some). It’s full of life lessons and, thanks to Bob Marshall, is a blueprint for how to get the most out of the time you have left. Bob was an avid marathoner and chose to compete in the Boston Marathon despite his ALS diagnosis, finishing in just over six hours at a time when he couldn’t even tie his own shoes. It’s also full of F bombs, crass and inappropriate humor, drinking, and jabs at the Marshalls’ Mormon neighbors (they are a rare non-Mormon family in their Salt Lake City neighborhood). If any of this is likely to offend you, steer clear of this book!

Dan is upfront about his privilege (he regularly refers to himself as a “rich, white asshole”). He has no problem saying selfish-sounding things about the impact of his parents’ illnesses on his own life that I’m sure others’ in similar situations think, but never actually say. His openness about the emotions that go along with seeing your parents in such vulnerable situations and giving up your life to become a “caregiver” make this a must read for anyone finding themselves in a “caregiver” role. And, the entire book is a gigantic lesson in putting on your big boy/girl pants.

The Three-Year Swim ClubThe Three-Year Swim Club by Julie Checkoway
Nonfiction – Sports (Released October 27, 2015)
402 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it…if you’re interested in swimming and/or the Olympics.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased

Plot Summary: The true story of a Hawaiian sugar plantation elementary school teacher (Soichi Sakamoto) who trained (starting in an irrigation ditch!) a group of mostly Japanese-American children to swim for the Olympics in the late 1930’s/40’s.

My Thoughts: When I heard about this book at BEA, I immediately jumped on it…as I was a swimmer growing up (and was not familiar with this story) and love all things Olympics. Coming from that perspective, I enjoyed this book for the most part. I loved getting to nerd out with swimming and the Olympics – the political machinations behind the Olympic bidding process, 1930’s training techniques, and the differences in the 1930’s version of the sport (i.e. butterfly seemed to be missing and distances were 110, 220 rather than today’s 100, 200). If this stuff sounds like boring minutia, you should probably skip this one.

I was completely invested in the fates of Sakamoto and his underdog swimmers during the first half of the book. Can they become national players? Will the females be allowed to attend Nationals? Will his stars make the Olympic team? Then, World War II hit, changing the story’s direction. It hit the pause button on the swimming suspense and shuffled the people I’d been rooting for. This is obviously how real life played out, but it made for an odd story arc and dulled my emotions.

The Three-Year Swim Club lacked the intense emotional impact that made The Boys in the Boat such a widespread success, but would be a great choice for people interested in swimming and/or the Olympics.

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Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan: Book Review

February 9, 2014 Books to Read, Memoirs, Nonfiction 2

Brain on Fire, Susannah Cahalan, psychosis, memoirNonfiction – Memoir
Released November, 2012
290 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Link to this book on Amazon

Plot Summary of Brain on Fire:

The true story of 26 year old New York Post reporter Susannah Cahalan’s unexplained “descent into madness” and her subsequent struggle to recover her identity.

My Thoughts on Brain on Fire:

This month is my turn to host our book club in Larchmont and, consequently, I got to choose the book. I turned to the blog’s Facebook page for suggestions and, when Brain on Fire was mentioned (thank you, Courtenay Palmer!), I remember having read Cahalan’s abbreviated version of her story in the New York Post (my favorite newspaper!). The story eventually grew into this book.

Brain on Fire is a fascinating medical mystery. Susannah’s first symptoms were flu-like (true of 70% of patients with her illness), which then spiraled into numbness, seizures, hallucinations, paranoia, memory loss, loss of motor skills, and catatonia. After weeks of doctors haphazardly diagnosing her with all kinds of things (alcohol withdrawal was my favorite), she ended up at the renowned NYU Comprehensive Epilepsy Center for a month while the experts there struggled to figure out what was wrong with her.

This book, while absolutely having the potential to turn me into a hypochondriac, was a wake-up call for me that, as miracle-working as many doctors are, they don’t have all the answers all the time. I think we get lulled into a sense of security that, when we get sick, we go to the doctor, he/she diagnoses us, and we get treatment. Brain on Fire is a harrowing reminder that it’s not that simple…that there are so many things that the experts don’t yet understand. And, that you might need to cross paths with the one doctor in the world who is familiar with your rare illness to get your life-saving treatment.

The other major issue that made an impression on me was how many people there must be out there that have some sort of brain disorder and are incorrectly diagnosed as mentally ill. Susannah was certainly headed in that direction had her doctors not persevered and contacted the correct experts in the field. I don’t want to say what exactly was wrong with her, as that question accounts for a lot of the suspense in the story, but I will say that her diagnosis was fascinating for me, especially as she was only the 217th person in the world to be diagnosed with the illness since its discovery in 2007.

As I was reading, I became more and more astounded that someone who had been where she had could then, within a few years, have the mental sharpness and emotional strength to put together such a well-written and impeccably researched book. She was able to clearly explain complicated medical issues and make them entertaining (although she did go into too much detail at times):

“The mind is like a circuit of Christmas tree lights. When the brain works well, all of the lights twinkle brilliantly, and it’s adaptable enough that, often, even if one bulb goes out, the rest will still shine on. But depending on where the damage is, sometimes that one blown bulb can make the whole strand go dark.”

The one thing that annoyed me (and it’s minor) were the sections of italics throughout the book, which I think represent her memories and/or hallucinations from the time of her illness. My question is, since she claims to barely remember the month or so that she was ill, how does she know what she was thinking at periods during that time? These were not, in most instances, things that she could have reconstructed from medical records or interviews with people close to her. Or, is my assumption totally incorrect? 

Brain on Fire is a captivating and quick to read memoir and is going on my Book Club Recommendations List.

You May Also Like:
Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot



The Big House by George Howe Colt: Mini Book Review

February 5, 2014 Books to Read, Memoirs, Nonfiction 2

The Big House, George Howe Colt, memoirs, Cape Cod, Cape Cod summer house, national book awardNonfiction – Memoir
Released May, 2003
336 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Link to this book on Amazon

Plot Summary of The Big House

After deciding to sell the house on Cape Cod that had been in the family for half a century, the author visits one last time to reminisce about family.

My Thoughts on The Big House: 

A warm book that will bring back especially fond memories to anyone who grew up gathering somewhere with siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, etc. I also learned something about Cape Cod history and Boston Brahmin life.

The Big House is a 2003 National Book Award Finalist for Nonfiction and is on my Book Club Recommendations List (and will go on a future memoirs list).

Book Review (Southern Literature Month): All Over but the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg

January 29, 2014 Books to Read, Memoirs, Nonfiction 3

Southern Literature Month

This is my fourth post for fellow book blog, The Blog of Litwits’Southern Literature Month. My previous three posts were light and uplifting Southern fiction…this one is a bit different, but absolutely deserves a spot in Southern Literature Month!

All Over but the Shoutin', Rick Bragg, memoir, alcoholism, alcoholic fathers, Southern memoir, Southern, Alabama, povertyNonfiction – Memoir
Released December, 1991
354 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Link to this book on Amazon

Plot Summary of All Over but the Shoutin’

Bragg recounts his childhood growing up destitute, with an alcoholic and mostly absentee father, in rural Alabama.

My Thoughts on All Over but the Shoutin’: 

In his heart-breaking, but hilarious memoir, Bragg mixes stories of “young-boy-in-the-country” hi-jinks (i.e. the hilarious) with the impact of an irresponsible, alcoholic father on his family (i.e. the heart-breaking).

And, as a counterpoint to his father, Bragg’s memories of his mother add a much-needed heartwarming element.

This book is on my Book Club Recommendations and Books for Guys lists.