43 Following

A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.


Book 75/100: Brain on Fire - My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness - Susannah Cahalan

This feels a little like one of those books that was written because a story got a lot of press, and the author, who is a halfway decent writer since she works for a newspaper, decides, "Hey, why not write a whole book?" Perhaps she was even approached by an agent or editor with a request for something, since the subject matter is enticing enough to sell well. That is to say, something about the telling of this story felt "forced" and a little disingenuous. Perhaps Susannah's background as a journalist predisposes her to a rather rote telling of events: "This happened, and I felt this way. That happened, and I felt another way." There seemed to be a lot of "telling" rather than showing, and the experience ultimately felt distant. This is understandable, since Susannah doesn't actually remember most of her "month of madness" and instead reconstructs it from journal entries and hospital footage.

I found the last few chapters of the book to be most intriguing, I think because in them Cahalan's background as a journalist becomes a strength rather than a weakness. She pulls reviews brain research and discusses the reaction she's received from others with similar experiences after going public with her story and also reflects upon how the experience has changed her; she will never be the same despite having made a "full recovery," nor will those who loved her. In the ending, I found the kind of "meaning-making" that was absent for most of the book.

I've often seen this book compared to [book:January First: A Child's Descent into Madness and Her Father's Struggle to Save Her|12453610], and I can understand the comparison as they both deal with the struggle of identifying a neurological issue that defines easy categorization. But as far as dramatic storytelling goes, I found January to be the more captivating of the two.