Memoir Mondays: BRAIN ON FIRE

Imagine waking up strapped to a strange hospital bed. You are alone, and you cannot move or speak. You’re wearing a wristband that says you are a flight risk, and you are told you are violent, dangerously unstable, and prone to hallucinations. No one knows what’s wrong with you—least of all yourself.

This terrifying experience marked the beginning of Susannah Cahalan’s real life “month of madness,” during which she would become a shell of her former self, spiraling downward into acute psychosis and a state of near-catatonia. A team of doctors spent a million of dollars worth of tests in a desperate search for a diagnosis–all of which came back negative. The medical field was baffled by her case, and ultimately came to the (wrong) conclusion that she was schizophrenic and needed to be institutionalized in a psychiatric ward.

It took one doctor (nicknamed Dr. House for his uncanny diagnostic skills) to save Susannah. Using a brilliant (and shockingly simple) diagnostic technique, Dr. Souhel Najar proved that Calahan’s psychotic behaviour was caused by an inflammation of the brain: her body was attacking her brain in a rare and often fatal form of autoimmune disease, called Anti-NDMA Autoimmune Encephilitis.

In Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, Susannah Cahalan provides the reader with far more than a simply riveting read and a crackling medical mystery. This is a powerful account of one woman’s struggle to recapture her identity and to rediscover herself among the fragments left behind. Using all her considerable journalistic skills, and building from hospital records and surveillance video, interviews with family and friends, and excerpts from the deeply moving journal her father kept during her illness, Susannah pieces together the story of her “lost month” to write an unforgettable memoir about memory and identity, faith and love. It is an important, profoundly compelling tale of survival and perseverance that is destined to become a classic.

Learn more about Brain on Fire.

Visit Susannah’s website.

Watch her discuss Brain on Fire below:

Memoir Mondays: BRUCE

“There are many things I could and should be doing right now, but I am not… I am reading and rereading this book. Why did you do this to me?” – John Stewart

I grew up listening to the Boss, specifically the vinyl recording of his 1984 hit single “Dancing in the Dark,” which–crucially–also had “Pink Cadillac” on its B-side. To this day, “Pink Cadillac” remains one of my all time favourite songs, and it also explains my obsession with that particular vehicle. That’s the thing about Bruce Springsteen’s music: it’s an experience that stays with you, and can shape who you are in little to big ways. Only the best kind of music can do that, and it’s elevated Bruce the Rockstar to almost mythic levels in the past four decades. You can imagine then how thrilling it was for me to finally learn about Bruce the Man in what his manager Jon Landau calls the Boss’ definitive biography: Bruce, by Peter Ames Carlin.

This sweeping biography of one of America’s greatest musicians is the first in twenty-five years to be written with the cooperation of Bruce Springsteen himself. With unfettered access to the artist, his family, and band members—including Clarence Clemons in his last major interview—acclaimed music writer Peter Ames Carlin presents a startlingly intimate and vivid portrait of a rock icon.

For more than four decades, Bruce Springsteen has reflected the heart and soul of America with a career that includes twenty Grammy Awards, more than 120 million albums sold, two Golden Globes, and an Academy Award. He has also become an influential voice in American culture and politics, inspiring President Barack Obama to admit: “I’m the president, but he’s the Boss.”

Built from years of research and unparalleled access to its subject and his inner circle, Bruce presents the most revealing account yet of a man laden with family tragedy, a tremendous dedication to his artistry, and an all-consuming passion for fame and influence. With this book, the E Street Band members finally bare their feelings about their abrupt dismissal in 1989, and how Springsteen’s ambivalence nearly capsized their 1999 reunion. Carlin deftly traces Springsteen’s often harrowing personal life: from his lower working- class childhood in Freehold, New Jersey, through his stubborn climb to fame and tangled romantic life, and finally to his quest to conquer the demons that nearly destroyed his father.

In Bruce, Carlin encompasses the breadth of Springsteen’s astonishing career and explores the inner workings of a man who managed to redefine generations of music. A must for fans, Bruce is a meticulously researched, compulsively readable biography of one of the most complex and fascinating artists in American music.

Learn more about Bruce.

Follow Peter Ames Carlin on Twitter.

Visit Carlin’s website.

Book Club Pick: A Stolen Life

“I feel that whatever I choose to do with my life, I know one thing, and that is I must not be afraid to live.” – Jaycee Dugard, A Stolen Life

I had heard of Jaycee Dugard before I picked up a copy of her powerful memoir and, in all honesty, I didn’t know if I could handle reading her firsthand account of my own worst nightmare. I asked a friend to read it with me, and it made a world of difference. Dugard’s voice is true, dignified, and an inspiration; her story may have broken my heart, but it also made me honestly believe–without any trace of irony–in the strength and resilience of the human spirit. I was glad to have a friend that I could share my experience of reading A Stolen Life with, as Dugard’s story is one that requires processing and, if you’re like me, a hug or two after you reach the last page. This is a story that needs to be talked about, and as such it’s our Book Club pick for this week.

When Jaycee Dugard was eleven years old, she was abducted from a school bus stop within sight of her home in South Lake Tahoe, California. She was missing for more than eighteen years, held captive by Philip Craig and Nancy Garrido, and gave birth to two daughters during her imprisonment. On August 26, 2009, Garrido showed up for a meeting with his parole officer, he brought Jaycee, her daughters, and his wife Nancy with him. Their unusual behaviour raised suspicions and an investigation revealed the tent behind the Garrido’s home where Jaycee had been living for nearly two decades.

A Stolen Life is Jaycee’s firsthand account of her experiences, beginning with the time of her abduction in 1991 up until the present. She alone wrote her story, and the result is a raw, intimate narrative that rocked me to my core while also inspiring me spread Jaycee’s ultimately hopeful and inspiring message: care for each other. Her voice sounds out from every word on the page, especially in the journal entries she includes from her early years of captivity; be warned, they are heartbreaking. I am in awe of this woman, who has taken control of her life and lives with love and hope, rather than with rage and hatred for the people who stole her from the street and the system that repeatedly failed her. You and your book club may want to discuss Jaycee’s attitude in regards to forgiving the Garridos, as I know this was a difficult topic for me.

Jaycee is an amazing human being, and her story deserves to be read. The best way I can think of to end this post is by referring to the motto of the JAYC Foundation, Jaycee’s charitable organization that helps facilitate support and services for families recovering from traumatic experiences and in need of healing: Just Ask Yourself to Care.

Watch a clip from Diane Sawyer’s interview with Jaycee Dugard. See more clips here.

Check out the Reading Group Guide for book clubs.

Browse through A Stolen Life.

Win up to 10 copies of A Stolen Life for your book club.

Learn more about The JAYC Foundation; you can even buy a pinecone to support Jaycee’s foundation.

Memoir Mondays: Paris: A Love Story

I should probably be embarrassed to admit this (the excuse I’m going with is I’m but a naïve intern):

I had no idea who Kati Marton was before I picked up a copy of her latest book, Paris: A Love Story. That being said, it surprised me how genuinely moved I was by her fascinating memoir, to the point that I teared up next to a complete stranger while reading it on the bus ride home–and that almost never happens (books choking me up, not the crying next to strangers… unfortunately).

Marton, first of all, is amazing. She fought hard to become an internationally respected foreign news correspondent with ABC back in the 1970s when the term “sexual harassment” had not yet been coined; she eventually became bureau chief and went on to receive a Peabody Award. If you don’t live under a rock (like I apparently do), you might also recognize her name from previous bestselling titles, which include, Hidden Power: Presidential Marriages That Shaped Our History and The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World). And if that wasn’t impressive enough, Marton is also a director on the Committee to Protect Journalists, and she serves on the board of directors of the International Rescue Committee, Human Rights Watch, the New America Foundation, and the Central European University. Oh and she’s also a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, P.E.N. International, and the Authors Guild. No big deal.

Some of Marton’s achievements are mentioned in the memoir, but most aren’t. Instead,  Paris: A Love Story is an unexpectedly honest portrait of the few men that Kati has loved and lost throughout her life, set in the city where it all unfolded: Paris, the most naturally romantic setting a person could ask for. The story begins with Kati describing her reason for writing the memoir in the first place: the man with whom she has finally found enduring love and happiness, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, has suddenly passed away. Paris: A Love Story is then the story of how she found Richard, why their relationship was so special, and how very much she’ll miss him.

This is a book for anyone who knows what it’s like to have loved and lost, be it with a partner or family or friends. It is also for anyone who has fallen in love with Paris, the city where Richard tells Kati she is most herself. Paris plays a constant and defining role in Kati’s life, beginning with her studies as a student in 1968, when France was in revolt, and then reappears ten years later, as the setting for her big career break as ABC bureau chief. Paris is also the city where she first falls passionately in love with none other than Peter Jennings, to whom she was married for 15 years. It was again in Paris, years later and after much heartbreak, that she and Richard discover and build the kind of relationship that I can only hope to experience myself one day. Finally, it is Paris that Kati returns to in the wake of Richard’s death. Her story is utterly and heartbreakingly romantic, in addition to being a compelling backstage remembrance of some of the most important historical events since the 1960s. The names of the people that populate Kati’s life are ones even I could recognize, some of which include Nelson Mandala, Hillary and Bill Clinton, Barbara Walters, President Obama, and Harrison Ford (just to name a few). Yet the most important character in this book is perhaps the city of Paris itself: Marton’s memoir is most definitely a love letter to her late husband Richard, but it is defined and inspired by the most romantic city in the world. I honestly can’t recommend this book enough.

Kati in Paris, 1978.

Learn more about the book.
Meet Kati in Toronto on October 4.
Watch Kati discuss Paris: A Love Story.
Like Kati Marton on Facebook.
Photos from Kati’s release party.

Andrew McCarthy- The Longest Way Home

With an irrepressible taste for adventure, candor, and a vivid sense of place, award-winning travel writer and actor Andrew McCarthy takes us on a deeply personal journey played out amid some of the world’s most evocative locales.

Unable to commit to his fiancée of nearly four years—and with no clear understanding of what’s holding him back—Andrew McCarthy finds himself at a crossroads, plagued by doubts that have clung to him for a lifetime. Something in his character has kept him always at a distance, preventing him from giving himself wholeheartedly to the woman he loves and from becoming the father that he knows his children deserve. So before he loses everything he cares about, Andrew sets out to look for answers.

Hobbling up the treacherous slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, dodging gregarious passengers aboard an Amazonian riverboat, and trudging through dense Costa Rican rain forests—Andrew takes us on exotic trips to some of the world’s most beautiful places, but his real journey is one of the spirit.

On his soul-searching voyages, Andrew traces the path from his New Jersey roots, where acting saved his life—and early fame almost took it away—to his transformation into a leading travel writer. He faces the real costs of his early success and lays bare the evolving nature of his relationships with women. He explores a strained bond with his father, and how this complex dynamic shapes his own identity as a parent. Andrew charts his journey from ambivalence to confidence, from infidelity and recklessness to acceptance and a deeper understanding of the internal conflicts of his life.

Read the first chapter.

Watch the trailer:

Chat with Andrew live online this Friday, Sept 14th, 2012. RSVP here.

Win a copy of THE LONGEST WAY HOME. Answer our trivia questions over at @SimonSchusterCA this week!