Tag Archives: Brain on Fire

Book Club Reflection: Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

21 Jul

I feel like I’m perpetually apologizing for how long it takes me to write these reflections but I love doing them. Not only do they get the most hits for my blog, it’s a good way for me to review the book one last time after my book review and put our discussions in a more logical order. Well, what’s logical to me at least.

We thought this was a slightly odd choice for a book club selection. There’s never as much to talk about for non-fiction books as there is for fiction titles. It’s hard to refute what someone does or says in non-fiction like you can in fiction. However, it’s a current bestseller, though we’re not exactly sure why. A lot of best sellers make you want to get up and tell everyone you see how life changing the book was and how you’re now inspired to do X or Z or how it’s changed your perspective on Y. But not this book. Don’t get me wrong, it was interesting and well written. It was easy to digest in short segments, much like short magazine articles. However, I’m not raving about it. If someone asked me for a book recommendation now, this would not be it. I was kind of neutral on the book and most of our members were as well. There were a few fans, but they were not the majority.

One of the questions in the back of the book asked us to consider the reliability of Cahalan as a storyteller. In truth, she had to do as much research to write about her journey as she would have needed to do on an event she wasn’t alive for. Luckily she was in near to people who remembered the time, but her research skills are commendable.

Another question from the book asked why the division into three parts and fifty-three chapters was meaningful. One of our members suggested that the three parts were like the three parts of the brain Cahalan addresses, as detailed on page 42 of our copies (Chapter 8); Frontal lobe, temporal lobe, and the brain stem. We likened the short chapters to the articles Cahalan is used to writing and suspect that this is a comfort zone of writing for her.

This book made us all feel vulnerable; like we could become deathly ill tomorrow and never recover unless we’re lucky to have access to some of the country’s top doctors. And the scary thing is that this is true of everyone every day.

Cahalan was very lucky to find Dr. Najjar. Her first doctor denied there was anything wrong with her, but he did get her admitted to the hospital which helped her along her path. In Chapter 23, Dr. Segal, her first doctor in the hospital, tells Susannah’s family that she’s been assigned to Dr. Najjar. While the family is at first upset, we think this showed a lot of bravery on Dr. Siegal’s behalf. He was big enough to admit what he didn’t know. Instead of trying to treat Susannah even though it was above his expertise, he knew to pass her off. It’s hard to remember that doctors ‘practice,’ not ‘perform’ because medicine is an art, not yet a science. There are times when it’s wrong and while that’s unfortunate, it’s the ugly truth.

We were all struck with how supportive her friends and family were, especially her boyfriend Stephen. We thought it was great that co-workers and cousins were making big efforts to come see her. Stephen’s commitment to her was commendable. The two hadn’t been together for very long and he could have left and no one would have blamed him, but he stuck around. I suggested that it’s almost better that they hadn’t been together a long time. Susannah said she never felt completely like herself again after the illness. If Stephen had been with her for a long time before the illness, he might find that he feels distant from the ‘new’ Susannah but because they were not as close before, he can see the changes and recognize them but can still adjust to her new personality.

It bothered some of our members that Susannah’s parents decided not to tell their son about his sister’s condition. Some of us understood more than others. On one hand, you would want to know if your sibling was sick. You would want to be there for them and help out in any way you could. On the other hand, there wasn’t much more that her brother could have done. He was away at college and the only thing he could do was sit beside her bed, which would mean he’d miss enough classes to need to drop out of school.

My university didn’t give us Labor Day Weekend off (which is a Federal Holiday in September for my non-US readers). Their reason was simple; retention. They found that Freshman were more likely to drop out if they returned home so soon after classes started. If they had one ‘bad’ professor or fight with their roommate, it might be tempting to stay home and leave that awful college thing behind. But by staying on campus, students had to figure things out for themselves and were more likely to stay in school. I think this is kind of what the Cahalan’s were thinking by not telling their son. They wanted him to stay in school.

We wondered if Cahalan did make the 100% recovery she thinks she did. She says she was changed as a result of this disease. Is part of that change not having the full mental capacity she had before she got sick? Even though she feels she has made a 100% recover, she has a 20% chance of the disease reappearing. If it does, it could damage her further, but knowing what the disease is might be key to getting her the treatment she needs quickly in the event of a relapse. We doubt she’ll ever completely recover her brain function, but she’s recovered enough to happily live the life she had before. I can bet that Cahalan is happier to be alive and healthy each day much more than I am.

Our book club meets again next week! We’ll be discussion Will Schwalbe’s book, “The End Of Your Life Book Club.” I really need to get a jump on that title!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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WWW Wednesday, 25-June-2014

25 Jun

As expected, not much to report for MizB’s WWW though I’ve been progressing nicely!

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I’ve slowed down just a bit onThe Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. It’s good, but not so gripping that I can’t put it down.. I’m at the final stopping point of The Maze Runner by James Dashner and I’ll remain there until after the 4th of July holiday so don’t expect any movement there. And please be a dear (unlike Nicole) and don’t tell me who dies at the end. On audiobook I started Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser but I’m still on the first disk. I guess I haven’t driven anywhere alone in a while. My carpool buddy and I are almost done with Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Final disk! I’m getting close to finishing A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers. It’s very unlike his other book that I’ve read but I’m really enjoying it so far!

Recently finished: Nothing finished. This gives me a sad face because I’ve made so much progress with all of my books! I did review Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan which you can enjoy.

Reading Next:  I have  The Coward by Kyle R Bullock next on my shelf. After that I’m going to seriously attack my When Are You Reading? Challenge and try to knock out the remaining time periods as fast as I can! I’m starting to get nervous on this one.

I should have some progress to report next week! Possibly two books. What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Review: Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan (4/5). A book that makes you afraid of the stranger coughing next to you.

23 Jun

Yet another book club book that I enjoyed and never would have found otherwise. I love book clubs for this reason. It’s always scary for me to pick up non-fiction because I find it very hit or miss. For this book, TOTAL HIT.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Brain in Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

Susannah Cahalan was a successful New York reporter one day, and the next she was confused, having seizures, and paranoid. What happened? Cahalan takes the reader on her journey the way her family experienced it; one day at a time and one clue at a time. Having contracted a rare auto-immune disease that distorted her brain function, Cahalan’s journey is long and scary; the reader knowing it could happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time.

I liked the way Cahalan structured this book. She make it a mystery for the reader as well, giving them only as much as she and her family had each step of the way. With each diagnosis, guess, and clue, she’s included the medical terminology and explanations she’s gained since regaining herself. She doesn’t have memory of so much of her time that a lot of her story is drawn from what her family and the doctors remember.

It was so strange to hear about Cahalan’s behavior during her illness. The way she behaved changed so drastically from beginning to middle to end that it was almost a study in inconsistent characters. Knowing that a disease mysteriously contacted can do that to a person is alarming.

Cahalan’s boyfriend, Stephen, was my favorite character. He was given an easy way to duck out when things got hard but instead he stuck with Susannah and her family. It would have been a quick and dirty way into a family, but he didn’t shy away and embraced it with full strength. I think that’s a trait all women look for in a man.

Susannah’s parents reminded me of my dad. My mom went through a really terrible accident when I was young and my dad, much like the Cahalans, was at the hospital day and night, waiting for any news: good or bad. I could see him in them and the desperate hope they clung to.

I enjoyed how Cahalan described her disease at the end of the book. She took case studies and notes from her doctor to paint a picture of others suffering from the disease, not just herself. It was interesting to see how the disease takes different forms and affects different individuals in different ways. I thought this was well researched and presented in a way that didn’t feel like a dry research paper.

I didn’t like the parts where Cahalan narrated scenes that had been recorded during her illness. They were scenes of her waking in the middle of the night and having paranoid delusions of which she has no memory. They felt a little too much like ‘Paranormal Activity’ to me and took me out of the story. I wish she’d worked them more into her narrative as they stood apart a lot.

Cahalan’s family was so dedicated to her health and I found that really inspiring. I liked that even when things looked terrible, they stuck with her and wouldn’t leave her side or give up hope that things could return to normal. Everything can get better.

Writer’s Takeaway: Cahalan used a first person narration voice to cover a point of her life from which she has little memory. There’s no better example of blending memoir and autobiography that I can think of. It was researched, yet speculative at the same time and she blended it well. A good example of meshing styles.

A well written story with a harrowing premise. 4 out of 5 stars.

Until next time, write on.

Like this review? Let me know on Goodreads!

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts
Review of “Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness” by Susannah Cahalan | Read Brave
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan | These Little Words
Review: ‘Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness’ by Susannah Cahalan | Book Buzz

WWW Wednesday, 4-June-2014

4 Jun

SO MUCH PROGRESS!!! It feels good to participate in MizB’s WWW and be able to brag about it.

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I’m making more steady progress on my NaNo. I’m about 3/4 of the way done with it and I’ve realized there’s a lot of filler I need to cut out. It will be an interesting revision process. I’m still on hold for The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson but I am next on the list. I’ll start on The Maze Runner by James Dashner again this weekend. I bet I’m done with the next section by the time I report back.. On audiobook I’m listening to The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. It was the first book on my long list that the library had in non-CD-but-still-audio form. Go figure. My carpool buddy and I are still working on Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. I’m not sure how I feel about it still and we go long times without listening to it so I’m not sure how long this will take! My physical book at the moment is an ARC; O, Africa! by Andrew Lewis Conn. I’m still trying to figure out the voice of the narrator and it’s making it hard for me to get into, but I’m excited about something rooted in the 1920s!

Recently finished: Two! I finished two books! The first is The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. This is for my informal work book club and I was the first to read it so I could pass it on. We’ll meet to discuss when the third woman has finished it. I also finished  Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan on audio. This was for one of my book clubs as well and I liked it a lot. The writing was a good mix of scientific fact and memoir. Look for reviews soon.

I’ve posted a review for I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak yesterday. Enjoy!

Reading Next:  It’s going to be A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers for my ‘edgy’ book club. This book sounds really cool so I’m excited to get started on it!

My goal is to finish reading my NaNo in the next week. What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 28-May-2014

28 May

So there’s progress to report for MizB’s WWW but no finished books. I guess you win some and you lose some, eh?

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I’ve made slow progress on my NaNo novel. I try to read it when I’m not really tired and can devote my whole brain to critiquing it, so I guess I’m saying I haven’t been reading it a lot. Still working on it. My other physical book is The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. This is my work-book club book and I’ve got to read it first so I can pass it on to the next person.

I’m still on hold for The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. Update pending. I finished the third part of The Maze Runner by James Dashner. This book is getting hard to put down which makes it difficult to stick with the Read Along timing. I’m doing my darndest! On audiobook I’m listening to Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan. I’m really enjoying it so far! The narrator is good and the story is really moving. It’s a great mix of medical study and human interest story. My carpool buddy and I are still working on Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. It’s a bit slow going because we don’t carpool every day and I had a call-in meeting last week, but we’ll get there.

Recently finished: Nothing finished, but my review for The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa went up last week. Enjoy!

Reading Next:  I’m really hesitant to say anything right now. I’m in the middle of so many that I’m not ready to look forward to another just yet. It might be a book club selection, but I’m hoping it’s an ARC!

Hopefully I can get one or two of these finished in the next week! What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 21-May-2014

21 May

I’m so glad to have progress to report for MizB’s WWW after having so little last week. I think this spurred me into action.

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I’m finally reading my own book! It’s the really really rough draft of the book I wrote for NaNoWriMo. It’s in rough shape, believe me. Hopefully I can gain some semblance of a structure and consistent characters when I do a re-write.

I’m on hold with The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. Someone put a hold on it and I didn’t know, so I have to wait three weeks to start back on it. Those bastards. I finished the second part of The Maze Runner by James Dashner. My first Read-Along post went up on Thursday last week. If you’re interested in joining, let me know soon before we get too far along! We’re just starting chapters 10-19 and will be done with them by 26-May. On audiobook I’m listening to Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan. It’s a true story about a reporter who was almost institutionalized while suffering from a rare disease. This is my book club selection for June. In a lovely turn of events, my carpool buddy agreed to try some audiobooks! After day one, she’s fallen asleep and I’m pleased. We settled on Brave New World by Aldous Huxley which she’s read and enjoyed and I’ll be reading for the first time.

Recently finished: Two books finished!  The Geography of Memory by Jeanne Murray Walker is an ARC I’ve been wanting to read for months. I’m glad I finally did. The memoir focuses on Walker’s mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s; a similar battle to the one my protagonist faces in my NaNo. I also finished I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak on audio. The narrator was great, but I’m confused about the ending. I’m not sure I really understood it.

Reading Next:  I’m going to take a jump on these ARCs. Next up is O, Africa by Andrew Lewis Conn. It’s set in the 1920s, so you can judge my excitement from that.

I’m feeling better about books moving forward. I see a bright light full of words and libraries. What are your three Ws? Leave a comment and let me know and also check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Recently Added to my To-Read Shelf

4 Apr

Having realized that my ‘Recently Added’ feature is very similar to MizB’s Friday Finds, I’m trying to time my posts up with hers. It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so let’s delve in!

  1. Stonehenge by Bernard Cornwell. My mom is the first person to recommend a book to me on Goodreads and I can’t deny my first recommendation! We’re both fans of historical fiction and I expect the highest quality from her recommendations. The book covers ritual sacrifice and the building of Stonehenge.
  2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. This came out of my post about Amazon’s Book list. I was told if I’m going to write Young Adult literature, I should read it’s classics. Touche. I’m excited to read about young Mr. Caulfield’s journeys.
  3. The Maze Runner by James Dashner. Is it bad I’m reading this because I want to see the movie? Maybe? I’m still reading. My husband purchased this for a YA Lit class in college and then devoured the entire series on our honeymoon. The stories follow Thomas and the other teens that are living inside a terrifying maze. Watch the trailer:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64-iSYVmMVY
  4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Attwood. This is another off of the Amazon list. I didn’t realize this was a dystopian book and now that I know I’m excited to read it! The women in a world of declining birth rates are only valued if they can have children. Yikes!
  5. Minutes Before Sunset by Shannon A. Thompson. Shannon is another WordPress blogger I’ve been following since I started here. I attended her virtual release party (even though I didn’t think I could!) and was lucky enough to win a copy of one of her titles. I chose the first in the trilogy she’s publishing now and I’m super excited to read about Eric and Jess’s journey!
  6. The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. We got our next round of books for one of my book clubs. This is the true story of Will and his mother and the books they read as she battles cancer.
  7. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan. Another book club selection and another memoir. Cahalan was unfortunate enough to develop a rare autoimmune that had her almost declared insane. She wakes up a month after her last memory without knowing what’s happened to her.
  8. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. The co-worker who recommended Life After Life recommended this book to me as well. She said it was one of her favorites in the past fives years, years in which I missed a lot of good literature being a college student. It’s about two women growing up in 19th century China.
  9. Midwives by Chris Bohjalian. The local libraries pulled together to bring Bohjalian to the area for some speaking engagements. This is the same program that brought Bruce Feiler to town last year. In an effort to save money, Nicole and I went to a used book store on Tuesday and I bought Midwives to have him sign when we hear him speak later this month. So financially sound.
  10. Terra Incognita by Ruth Downie. I lent my friend the first in this series (Medicus) and she enjoyed it so much she went out and bought the next three! To celebrate my birthday (which was Monday if you want to say something…) she gave me the second installment in the series. I love that these books cover Roman England, which is something I think is frequently overlooked in historical fiction.

That’s it! Yes, it’s a big haul but it’s been about a month since I’ve done this for you all so it makes (a little) sense. Do I have any duds? Any winners? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Until next time, write on.