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Brain on Fire

by Susannah Cahalan |

REVIEWED BY KRISTEN MASCIA

MEMOIR

In early 2009 journalist Cahalan, then 24, was flying high: She was in love and a rising star at the New York Post. But that spring she began to unravel. She couldn’t concentrate, spun into wild verbal tangents, lashed out at loved ones and refused to eat. Soon she was having paranoid hallucinations and seizures-signs, she finally learned, of anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis, a newly identified disease that erased all memory of an entire month of her life. In this memoir she reconstructs the harrowing weeks she spent at NYU medical center as doctors struggled with her baffling case. Using interviews with friends, family and medical personnel along with surveillance footage from her hospital room, Cahalan, now healthy, paints a haunting self-portrait. “I’m not safe here,” she writes. “I look up at the video cameras. They are watching me…” It’s riveting stuff, though problematic since Cahalan is, as she notes, the person least suited to recall her altered self. Still, the book is a fascinating look at a disease that-if not for a nick-of-time diagnosis-could have cost this vibrant, vital young woman her life.

Dear Life

by Alice Munro |

REVIEWED BY KIM HUBBARD

People PICK

A new Munro collection is always a treat, but there’s special cause for celebration here: Along with 11 stories-her usual sharply etched gems-the 81-year-old has included three autobiographical pieces, “the closest…things I have to say about my own life.” Each centers on a memory from her Ontario childhood, and each is both ordinary and strange. The time a babysitter died-and Munro thought she saw the corpse’s eyelid move. The summer she was plagued by nightly fears that she might strangle her beloved sister. “This is not a story,” Munro writes, “only life.” By sharing it, she’s given us a rare portrait of the artistic imagination in embryo.

Sweet Tooth

by Ian McEwan |

REVIEWED BY KYLE SMITH

NOVEL

This ’70s period piece about a comely literature lover who joins Britain’s MI5 intelligence agency examines the interplay of stories and lies. Serena Frome, tasked with giving aid disguised as foundation grants to an unwitting novelist with anti-Communist views, has an affair with him instead. Is her deception a betrayal, bad etiquette or a great story? McEwan ponders all the angles with his customary cool intelligence.

She Loves Me Not

by Ron Hansen |

REVIEWED BY ERIC LIEBETRAU

STORIES

Rich in imagery and emotion, Hansen’s latest collection comprises 12 new stories and seven from his 1989 book Nebraska. The tone of these spare tales reflects the contemplative, occasionally desperate mood of the wide-open prairie lands and their conflicted inhabitants. “Wilde in Omaha,” about a young journalist accompanying Oscar Wilde on his American lecture tour, displays the author at his precise best. Not all the entries are as memorable, but the collection confirms Hansen as a top-notch master of the short-story form.

Hallucinations

by Oliver Sacks |

REVIEWED BY JUDITH NEWMAN

NON-FICTION

Some are visited by the most horrific apparitions, some by the most benign and even delightful ones (Unicorns! Kitties!). But just about every human being will at some point experience hallucinations, those phantasms of sight, sound, smell and touch that may drive us to madness, great creative heights or both. Renowned neurologist Sacks explores every facet of the hallucinatory experience-whether created by illness or brought upon ourselves by drugs-and as always he illuminates the strange beauty, even the divinity, in abnormal brain function.

Hell-Bent

by Benjamin Lorr |

REVIEWED BY MEREDITH MARAN

NON-FICTION

What’s Bikram yoga? Think 90-minute sessions in 110° studios full of bodies “hell-bent” into painful positions. Overweight and curious, the author stumbled into a Brooklyn Bikram class. Three months later he’d lost 45 lbs. and gained a fascination with extreme yoga. Now a Bikram instructor, Lorr interviewed yogis, scientists and scholars about the limits and potential of the human body and mind. His findings make for an addictive read.

COMMENTS? WRITE TO KIM HUBBARD: bookseditor@peoplemag.com