Sunday, July 31, 2016

'Brain On Fire': An Appreciation, Not A Review ...

The phone rang, a month or so ago, at an hour when most people don't call, and a number appeared that I didn't recognize.

I let it go to voicemail.

It was my friend Kris in California. He started his message saying that it had been a long time since we'd talked. Indeed. It had been so long, I didn't recognize his number. Or maybe it had changed.

But we had been trading comments on Facebook, so he thought he'd pick up the phone, because he wanted to tell me about a book he'd read that I had to read: Brain on Fire.

He talked long enough that my voicemail cut him off – Kris, if you read this, know that I'm chuckling about your loquaciousness – and a few days later, I heard my mail arrive with a louder-than-usual thud.

The book had arrived. I opened the manila envelope, read his sticky note, and added it to my "someday" pile. I had a book languishing from the library that I wanted to finish first.

Yesterday afternoon, though, in the mood to read, I grabbed three contenders from the pile and plopped myself on one of Angelo's chairs in the dining room, and opened Susannah Cahalan's book, flipped past the lengthy table of contents, and began with the Author's Note.

I finished it a little while ago, here on Sunday night, having slept 10 hours last night – uncharacteristically – and having devoted a good portion of today to not reading, which is to say, this book is riveting. And you should read it.

It's a fascinating memoir of her medical journey – "blood brain barrier, sure," I said, wondering if Dr. Keith Black would end up on her team. Nope, he doesn't, but I knew of his work because I wrote a short feature about him for the Tribune 20 years ago. Susannah's a journalist, so that aspect of her work felt relatable, too, though my newspaper days are well behind me. But it also broaches the subject of medical care in this country, of how many patients go un- or misdiagnosed either out of ignorance or expediency on the part of physicians – they need to see so many patients, many can't devote the time necessary to individual cases nor stay abreast of every new development – or simply from a lack of resources. We're making strides in insuring more people here but universal health care should be the goal. (That's my opinion, not hers, at least, not overtly stated, but I wouldn't be surprised if she agrees.)

It will set you to wondering if some people in your life have been misdiagnosed. Folks diagnosed with a host of conditions – from autism to schizophrenia – may in fact be going through what she endured.

It's a serious book and it contains a fair amount of science, yet it reads quickly because it's so well written. I had heard about it before but for whatever reason, it didn't register as something I should read at the time. So thank you, Kris, for sharing it with me. Your reason for sending it was spot on, but it was so much more important beyond that.

As the title of this post proclaims, this is an appreciation, not a review. I've stopped reviewing everything, intentionally, anyway. I don't want to spoil anything for anyone nor do I want to dissuade. What I love may not be what you love and vice versa. But when I read something I love, the least I can do it add my voice to the zeitgeist so, perhaps, others will read it and love it, too.

And speaking of love, I read the acknowledgements, as I do. It feels like the right thing to do, to acknowledge – albeit it in a different way – the people who help an author with a book's journey. Occasionally, I see a name I know and that's nice. So I read Susannah's, though none of the names connected.

Until I arrived at the penultimate line: "And thank you to Preston Browning, who offered me a place to write at his charming Wellspring House, which has become my second home."

I burst into tears, because I am an enormous sap.

And because Preston was one of my favorite professors in college. I love that Susannah has the privilege of knowing him, too. He's extraordinary.

(I had to Google him. An article about him ran at the end of June. The man hasn't changed in his activism and ideology, and I swear to God, he looks younger than when he taught me more than two decades ago.)

But I digress, though anyone who knows Preston understands. The man is digression-worthy to the Nth degree.

Find Susannah's book. Devour it. Or savor it. But do read it. It, too, is extraordinary.


Blogger Alison said...

I also devoured that book. Like you, I read it in one sitting, or just about!

9:05 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Such a fascinating intersection of quick read and intense subject.

9:22 AM  

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