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Fixed on Fiction

Brain on Fire and Sweet Tooth

We had a very busy meeting on May 8th! Due to our cancelled April meeting, Fixed on Fiction discussed both Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan and Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan.

Readers were invited to begin the discussion with any thoughts they wanted to share regarding Brain on Fire. Below is a selection of the comments made on our non-fiction selection:

  • I thought it was fascinating. She would have been dead or institutionalized without her parents, who were her advocates. It made me wonder what happens to those who are less fortunate and do not have that kind of support system.
  • I appreciated that it wasn’t too “jargony,” which could have been an obstacle.
  • It made me consider if a family who was perhaps less educated would challenge a diagnosis and second guess a doctor.
  • She was so lucky since timing was certainly in her favor. Life is timing.
  • I’m so glad she wrote this book because, in doing so, she has saved lives.

When I asked the group if they would recommend this book I received a chorus of “Yes!” So Brain on Fire was certainly well received among our group.

Next, we moved on to our selection for May, Sweet Tooth. Ian McEwan’s title was certainly met with mixed reviews. When I asked the group for their thumbs up or down verdict we ended up with two thumbs up, three thumbs down, and three “so-so” votes. Here are some of the initial thoughts from FoF members:

  • I had so-so feelings about the book as I was reading. It was lacking something. What makes it is the ending and I have mixed feelings about the ending making the whole book.
  • I liked it. I enjoyed the first person narration. I thought the pacing moved along just fine.
  • It’s a thumbs up for me. I thought it was a little bogged down with the short stories, but I think McEwan is a good writer and I enjoyed his language and style.
  • Thumbs down! I disliked the ending. How can I care about these characters when nothing I know is true?
  • I thought it was really dreary. I didn’t know if I could hang on as I was reading. I thought the ending was tied up too neatly, but McEwan isn’t a bad writer.
  • I was ambivalent about this one. It’s an OK book. I did enjoy the language and style.
  • I didn’t finish. I felt like it was discombobulated-there were too many stories going on at once. I liked the writing but the plot just didn’t flow.
  • I’m still reading. So far I’m not enjoying it but I will read through till the end.

I asked the group if the ending “made” the book, did getting through the entire novel feel like a chore or did they enjoy the narrative? One member brought up the difference between reading to escape vs. reading to learn. She noted that she reads to learn, so she was OK with the “mental effort” needed to read this book. Here we discusses the historical details of the Cold War, the intricacies of MI-5, etc. Another member mentioned how she too felt like there was much to learn- how Serena was recruited, the idea of the Sweet Tooth project itself. While she enjoyed these details, she did find the ending to be a bit contrived.

Lastly, one reader commented on how McEwan did an excellent job of representing what it was like to live in the 70’s. Most group members felt that the 70’s were very well depicted and true to the times. We discussed the treatment of women in the workplace- the stereotype that the female employees were there to find a husband rather than advance in their careers.

It was a lively, fast-paced discussion and I am grateful for the patience of the FoF members who allowed me to cram two books in one meeting! Please join us next month as we discuss The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.


I adored BRAIN ON FIRE and have recommended it to all my friends. :) I was disappointed in SWEET TOOTH, though - not because I thought it was badly written, but because I hated the ending (I know some people loved it, but it just wasn't my cup of tea). Thanks for the amazing meeting, Elizabeth!

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