The May long weekend is here, at long last. I love this weekend – the heat of the new spring sun wrestling back and forth with the cool, crisp air lingering around from the winter. The contrast makes for the perfect reading weather.
So, here are some must-read memoirs to immerse yourself in, sprawled out on the deck or beach or park. Pour yourself a glass of wine or a coffee or a pint and enjoy.
Brain on Fire – My Month of Madness
This book reaches into the dark recesses of your mind and coaxes out all of your deeply stowed away fears, pulling them from subconscious to conscious – releasing them before you, making the impossible possible.
You try to scream but you can’t get a sound out, your tongue heavy like a stone in your mouth.
You try to run, but your body is rigid, sluggish, spastic.
Everyone is turning on you. Leaving you. Ridiculing you. You’re alone.
This novel is the story of a bright-eyed, flourishing young woman, kick-starting her adult-life as a reporter at the New York Post. She begins to fret over a bedbug infestation in her cramped, quintessential New York apartment. Although there’s no visible sign of bedbugs, save for the two bites on her left arm, she purges her belongings to rid of the intruders. In the days that follow, her emotions seem to be in full pendulum swing, hitting extreme highs and lows, uncontrolled and without any apparent triggers. She can’t focus, she begins to perform poorly at work, and her world begins to slip ever so slightly… vibrant colours burn into her retinas and the ground teeters beneath her…
And then it all goes dark. Blank. Lost.
And the most horrifying of it all? This book is a memoir.
Susannah Cahalan courageously writes of her sink into a quicksand of madness – the more she struggles to wriggle free, the more aggressively the unexplained sickness takes hold of her mind and body. Her family and the medical community desperately try to keep hold of her as an array of symptoms, stemming from a phantom source, swiftly pull her into some unknown place.
Cahalan’s story brings to the light of day our worst nightmares, the fragility of our existence and the fine balance between sanity and insanity.
Perhaps I’m more intrigued than the average person by the fascinating functions of our minds and bodies and their intricacies and interdependencies at play, or perhaps not. Either way, Cahalan’s story is a must-read.
And if you’re into it, this one will be a movie soon.
I’m going to echo the sentiment I just made for Cahalan’s novel here– whether you’re into high finance, crime, political thrillers, or none of the above, this book is a must-read. And I include ‘none of the above’ because above all of these themes, this is a novel of human rights – a champion for justice and righteousness.
Beginning as a typical tale of the financial world and all its guts and glory, Bill Browder is experiencing his first real taste for thrill as he starts to bank serious buck on Wall Street. Sooner rather than later, his family history – as the grandson of the head of the American Communist Party – leads him to post-Soviet Eastern Europe where he settles into untapped emerging markets territory and eventually sets up shop in Russia, building his hedge fund empire.
We veer left from the financial roadmap of the book into murky political waters. Browder begins to peel back the layers of widespread and deep-set corruption until it comes knocking at his door – or rather, expelling him from the country, raiding his fund and framing him in an outrageous and elaborate tax evasion scheme. Browder is fearless in his fight against crooked oligarchs bolstered by a twisted political landscape, until the unspeakable brings everything and everyone to a skidding halt – the torture and murder of Browder’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, in the pits of a Russian prison.
Now we completely 180 to a resolute fight for justice. Everything – Browder’s business, his family, his own life – takes a backseat to his uphill climb to avenge Magnitsky and punish those responsible for his death, in a fight to right what is so inexplicably wrong in Russia.
While Browder’s, at times, chest-beating verbiage around his accomplishments is a bit off-putting, his feats are astounding nonetheless. And the novel’s roller coaster ride from highflying Wall Street to political crusade keeps you perched at the edge of your seat.
The Glass Castle
Writing of my two recent reads above, I accidentally started a theme for this post so now I’m just going to roll with it and keep going with the memoirs – wracking through my brain’s booklist trying to pull some up (I’m a book lender and a massive stockpile, to my mother’s annoyance, collects dust in my childhood bedroom).
Another great read – The Glass Castle.
‘The Glass Castle’ is a fitting title for this book. Jeanette Walls tells the story of her turbulent upbringing, along with her two siblings, by parents who created their own version of the world for them – and Walls hands over to us the warped lens from which her and her siblings grew up peering through.
Their father, a brilliant and brilliantly damaged man, unable to hold down a mining job due to his “little bit of a drinking situation”, and their mother, a free-spirited, and quite frankly, unhinged artist, resenting and releasing herself of any responsibilities associated with motherhood, leave the children to their own devices – with a parenting mantra being that suffering will teach them what they need to know. The children were hauled from one desolate Southwestern mining town to the next, living a life of destruction and devastation, cheerfully camouflaged as carefree and enchanting – in their own glass castle.
This book keeps you entertained with the various accounts of Walls’ unusual, to say the least, upbringing – for instance, of her father teaching her to aim and fire a pistol at age four should “the feds” ever surround them, or of him throwing her cat out the car window while the family made a hasty getaway from bill collectors (or as her father claimed, F.B.I agents).
While the book carries a light and whimsy tone, the stark reality of Walls’ life is quite apparent. At three years old, while cooking herself a meal of hotdogs, Walls burns herself so severely that she spends three weeks in the hospital, from which her father busted in and “rescued her” from – ignoring the cries of the nursing staff as they bolted from the hospital grounds.
This book will have you giggling while simultaneously grieving for this dysfunctional and adrift bunch – all the while rooting for the Walls children, fighting to make their way in whatever version of the world they’re faced with.
And like Brain on Fire, this one’s coming to a theatre near you as well, starring a couple of actors that I love watching on screen – Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson – so I have high hopes for this one.
Tuesdays with Morrie
Okay, if you’re taking the time to read a post about books and you haven’t read this one, I’d be very surprised. Everyone has (or has to) read Tuesdays with Morrie. This one was handed to me by a friend of mine, pushed into my hands with a stern look on her face and a “you have to read this.”
When Mitch Albom discovered that his old professor, friend and mentor was in the grips of A.L.S., an irreversible disease slowly ending his life, Albom rekindles their relationship with weekly visits to the old man’s home – every Tuesday. From his bed, with Albom attentive at his side, Morris Schwartz (Morrie) shares with Albom all he has learned about this life and the fine art of living it.
Upon finishing this one, I thrusted it into the hands of my family and close friends and I have no doubt that it spoke to them as it did to me.
So now I’m thrusting it in your direction. Tag, you’re it.