by Brian Bergen-Aurand
I’m stretching the boundaries a bit with this list, mentioning some books that brush up against or intrude upon our usual definitions of disability in order to broaden and disturb our conceptions of what disability memoirs and crip lit might exclude. (Synopses from Goodreads.)
1. A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise: A True Story About Schizophrenia by Sandra Allen (Scribner, 2018)
Dazzlingly, daringly written, marrying the thoughtful originality of Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts with the revelatory power of Neurotribes and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, this propulsive, stunning book illuminates the experience of living with schizophrenia like never before.
2. Heart Berries by Terese Maria Mailhot (Counterpoint Press, 2018)
Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father―an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist―who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame.
3. Sick by Porochista Khakpour (Harper Perennial, 2018)
In the tradition of Brain on Fire and Darkness Visible, an honest, beautifully rendered memoir of chronic illness, misdiagnosis, addiction, and the myth of full recovery that details author Porochista Khakpour’s struggles with late-stage Lyme disease.
4. The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind by Barbara K. Lipska and Elaine McArdle (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018)
Neuroscientist Lipska was diagnosed early in 2015 with metastatic melanoma in her brain’s frontal lobe. As the cancer progressed and was treated, the author experienced behavioral and cognitive symptoms connected to a range of mental disorders, including her professional specialty, schizophrenia. Lipska’s family and associates were alarmed by the changes in her behavior, which she failed to acknowledge herself. Gradually, after a course of immunotherapy, Lipska returned to normal functioning, recalled her experience and, through her knowledge of neuroscience, identified the ways in which her brain changed during treatment. Lipska admits her condition was unusual; after recovery she was able to return to her research and resume her athletic training and compete in a triathalon. Most patients with similar brain cancers rarely survive to describe their ordeal. Lipska’s memoir, coauthored with journalist McArdle, shows that strength and courage but also an encouraging support network are vital to recovery.
5. The Seasons of My Mother by Marcia Gay Harden (Atria Books, 2018)
In this lyrical and deeply moving memoir, one of America’s most revered actresses weaves stories of her adventures and travels with her mother, while reflecting on the beautiful spirit that persists even in the face of her mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.
This list is only a tiny selection of the disability memoirs out or coming out this year from publishers in the United States. It is only a starting point, of course, to set us on a path of summer reading.