Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

More depressing true crime for me

I can’t stop reading it. The more depressing the better.

On Sunday I finished The Family Next Door: The Heartbreaking Imprisonment of the Thirteen Turpin Siblings and Their Extraordinary Rescue by John Glatt. Tuesday it was 3,096 Days in Captivity by Natascha Kampusch, translated by Jill Kreuer.

Both were harrowing reads. I had to take breaks so as not to become totally creeped out and depressed by the depredations of the world. But, I soldiered on with my typical voyeur’s interest. :/

The Family Next Door: The Heartbreaking Imprisonment of the Thirteen Turpin Siblings and Their Extraordinary RescueThe Family Next Door is the story of the Turpin family. You may recall a devastating news story breaking in early 2018 when one of the 13 Turpin children, sneaked out of her house before dawn to call 911 and report that her parents were abusing her and her brothers and sisters.

The siblings, several of whom were chained to their beds when police arrived, were rescued that day when police followed up on the phone call. A horrifying story of abuse and neglect and pure, unadulterated crazy came to light. You can read the basic details on Wikipedia. In the book, John Glatt paints a picture of the parents’ background, which includes their strict religious upbringings, combined with a truly saddening history of sexual abuse for Louise.  It’s hard to read, but I thought Glatt a competent writer. I saw some complaints on Goodreads about his style and people pointed to repetitiveness, but I found anything repetitive helpful as there were so many characters and children’s names to remember.

If you’re interested in the story, here’s a nice update on the children. The parents are both in prison where they belong.

3,096 Days3,096 Days is a memoir written by an Austrian woman, Natascha Kampusch, who was kidnapped at age 10 and kept in a basement prison for 8 years. Her kidnapper starves her and turns out the lights in her dark, scary basement world in order to discipline her and keep her in line. She is also molested, beaten, and forced to cook, clean, and do hard labor for the kidnapper. She escaped in 2006.

This is a translation and the author is not really a writer, so the writing is very simple, with no real style. But the story is so compelling that I couldn’t put it down. If you’re interested, but don’t want to read the book, I suggest googling her name. There are lots of interviews and videos.

And those are my depressing reads for this week. Good things I am listening to something lighthearted: Excellent Women by Barbara Pym.

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Friday Fives

Friday Fives

And because I’m such a good blogger this week, I’ve got a Friday Fives post comin’ atcha!

Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby

Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby

What I’m Watching:

I finished up a series of Gardener’s World via BritBox and next up is a thorough spooky movie watch list for October:
-Rosemary’s Baby (So good.)
-The Omen
-The Conjuring
-Amityville Horror, old and new
-Paranormal Activity
-Psycho (I’ve never seen it!)
-Practical Magic
-The Turn of the Screw (starring Michelle Dockery of Downton Abbey fame)

41150394What I’m Reading:

Ok, don’t judge: The Family Next Door: The Heartbreaking Imprisonment of the Thirteen Turpin Siblings and Their Extraordinary Rescue.

I have to find out what the deal is with these people. So far, it seems the parents come from a family of incestuous religious zealots. Ick. Those poor children.

29927840What I’m Listening to:

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym, narrated by none other than Jayne Entwistle. It is delightful! I just discovered Pym and plan to read her novel Quartet in Autumn. Isn’t it fun to discover new-to-you authors? And even better when you love them.

What I’m Making: 

Quite a bit, actually. I’ve just finished a Day of the Dead themed mantel at home, and I’ve been making a collaged postcard a day as part of the 100 Day Project. I’m late to the project and it’s officially over, but I’m still going to do 100. You can see them all here. 

 

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Day of the Dead wreath and a favorite postcard

What I’m Loving: 

I could spend hours falling down the rabbit hole of the Five Books site, where they interview experts who recommend the five best books on a particularity topic.  Vikings, Sylvia Plath, World War II. It’s all there.

And that’s it for this Friday. Tell me what you’re into right now!

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Hidden Nature

29328188._SY475_I’m really back with fervor this week, I guess. So, hello again, here’s a post about this great book I just read called Hidden Nature: A Voyage of Discovery by Alys Fowler.

It is Fowler’s story of exploring the extensive Birmingham, England, canal system via inflatable raft. I enjoyed it so much, mostly because of Fowler’s talent for describing the composition of a manmade landscape overrun by nature. Canals, a unique part of Birmingham’s built history, seem to exist at a crossroads of the developed and the natural.

I found Fowler adept at describing the convergence:

I lay back in the boat and allowed the grey sky to descend like a blanket. Then I noticed fireweed, or rosebay willowherb. It gained the first name because it likes to colonise burnt-out spaces, and famously turned post-war Britain into a blaze of pink. Its common name refers to the soft grey leaves that look like those of the willow. In late summer it is crowned with bright pink flowers, but in autumn it does something marvellous: it burnishes its fire-loving nature so that it looks like an autumn bonfire as those grey leaves turn red from the outer edge in, like burning embers, a brilliant orange-red, the seed heads wisping up like smoke. Here was a whole uninterrupted bank of colour, burning away. It was beautiful and fiery, unapologetic about its final call. It singed my retinas against all the grey gloom. Like a touch-paper, it lit up the bit of me that lives outside, and I remembered who I was and why I was there.

I mean, that’s why I go outside at all, if we’re going to get deep here—to remind me of who I am.

There are many more descriptions like this. Fowler also gives us some canal history, goes on adventures with a couple of friends, and makes some good entertainment of her foibles as a first-time rafter. The first time she uses the raft, the weather is stormy and it all but blows away. She ends up looking a bit ridiculous as she endeavors to clamber in. How can you not see yourself in that? If you can’t, you’re much more capable than I am and should be congratulated.

 

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Not a canal, but the river near my house.

The part of the book I didn’t care for was an important theme in the book, I’m afraid. Fowler is working out her feelings for another woman. She is married to a man with a progressively debilitating illness and they end up separated after she comes out to him. There are a wealth of feelings to feel and things to work out between them and, to be honest, I found myself skimming these parts.

I don’t quite know why. Is it because I’m a boring straight person who can’t relate? I kind of think it’s because I felt Fowler is better at writing about the nature stuff than the life/feelings stuff. For example, she refers to her husband by an initial “H” and conversations with her new lover, Charlotte, are often described in vague terms rather than actual dialogue given. Because of her nebulous exposition, I don’t really feel I had the chance to familiarize myself with the people in her life, so I can’t really empathize with the issues that develop between them. Does that make sense?

She was actually wonderful at talking about the adventures with her friends, conversations with her mother, and even exchanges with other boaters/paddlers. So I wonder if maybe she was too close to the husband/girlfriend issues to offer much perspective? Or perhaps she was purposefully not revealing much to protect them.

At any rate, I wanted more canal and less “I’m sad about my divorce and don’t know how to navigate my new self.” That sounds harsh and I’m probably being too critical and unfair. Perhaps someone who’s struggled with the same issues would appreciate those sections.

What I personally took from this book was quite valuable, however, as Fowler confirmed for me an idea I have had but couldn’t put words to: It is possible, not to mention totally wonderful, to look for the nature available to you in your city’s landscape (if you live in a city). You can find solace there. You don’t always need a mountain or a forest or an ocean if you don’t have them at hand. It is both possible and OK to find peace in an environment where ivy climbs a bridge wall or where a river runs next to a road. In other words, if you, too, kind of dig the weeds growing between the cracks in the driveway, this book may be for you.

If you’ve read this one, I’d love to know what you think!

And, finally, to prove a point, here are two garden pics I took on a walk around my neighborhood in August showcasing two totally different styles.

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2019 Classics Challenge, What Shannon Read

Ibsen: Four Major Plays

3399467Miracle of miracles, I read another classic!

For the “Read a Classic Play” category of the 2019 Back to the Classics Challenge, I read a collection, Four Major Plays by Henrik Ibsen, translated by James McFarlane and Jens Arup. The four plays included are: A Doll’s HouseGhostsHedda Gabler, and The Master Builder.

Ben, Jake, and I go to performances of Shakespeare at the university where I work (and where Ben went to school, and around which our lives tend to revolve), and the last time I read a play, I was prepping for one of those shows. I like to refresh my brain before I go.

Aside from those, I can’t think of a play I’ve read since college. So I wasn’t sure how much I’d like reading plays. I attempted this category with an eye toward getting it over with.

But it turns out I like reading plays! Fun to discover something new about your reading preferences at 38, isn’t it?

Anyway, the play I intended to read for this item in the challenge is A Doll’s House, but I ended up reading all four plays because I just wanted to. They were all interesting in their own ways.

But getting to my main selection, I see why A Doll’s House caused a ruckus when it was first performed and also why it is a classic. From the first scene my feminist hackles were raised. And I found the ending wonderfully satisfying in that regard.

Here’s a great plot summary by Encyclopedia Britannica:

The play centres on an ordinary family—Torvald Helmer, a bank lawyer, his wife Nora, and their three little children. Torvald supposes himself the ethical member of the family, while his wife assumes the role of the pretty and irresponsible little woman in order to flatter him. Into this arrangement intrude several hard-minded outsiders, one of whom threatens to expose a fraud that Nora had once committed without her husband’s knowledge in order to obtain a loan needed to save his life. When Nora’s act is revealed, Torvald reacts with outrage and repudiates her out of concern for his own social reputation. Utterly disillusioned about her husband, whom she now sees as a hollow fraud, Nora declares her independence of him and their children and leaves them, slamming the door of the house behind her. 

I couldn’t ask for more in a feminist work. And watching the drama play out, I identified right away with Nora as she struggled in the role assigned to her by society and, most significantly, her husband. Apparently, despite being a modern woman, I’m not alone in appreciating that exposition as Wikipedia tells us A Doll’s House was the world’s most performed play of 2006, the centennial anniversary of Ibsen’s death.

Would Ibsen consider this play “feminist,” I wonder? Now, I’m down an internet rabbit hole looking for an Ibsen biography. Sorry there’s not much commentary from me, or comments in general on the other plays in the book. Sometimes when I read classics, I have a hard time doing anything but deferring to the work others have already done. There are more capable reviewers and critics than I voicing opinions about these works. And I don’t often find I have anything interesting to add.

Do you know what I mean?

p.s. As mentioned above, this is my selection for the Read a Classic Play category of the 2019 Back to the Classics Challenge.

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Fiction, Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

And there went all of August and September…

I started this post about four times and couldn’t think what to say…which is exactly the problem! I haven’t had much to say over the course of the last two months. And while I’ve thought about my blog every day during that time, it was only with a vague wistfulness and the thought that I really should maintain it if I expected anyone to read it ever again.

So, here I am, attempting to get back into a bloggy mode and I do, in fact, have a few thoughts about the books I’ve been reading. So here’s a bit of a round-up post.

Books I’ve Read Recently and Also Had Some Thoughts About:

35580277Blood Sisters by Jane Corry: This book is just about completely ridiculous. Especially the last chapter. And the one where the sister with brain damage gets pregnant and marries her boyfriend with Down’s syndrome in her care home, defying logic and good sense. Not because he has Down’s syndrome, but because of the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy and both party’s inability to care for the coming baby, or have a marriage at all, come to think of it. In fact, the whole novel defies good sense throughout. But…I still read it through to the end and if you’re looking for a light thriller-y read, I would actually recommend it. One of my favorite audiobook narrators, Jayne Enwistle reads a part in the audiobook version. Read it and commiserate with me over the ridiculous, slap-dash final chapter.

Fascinating. This is a memoir by one of the best friends of Anna Sorokin (alias Anna Delvey), a young Russian woman who conned New York City’s wealthy out of their pocket money. But DeLoache Williams was a not-so-wealthy close friend of Anna’s who also got conned. Working in the photo department for Conde Nast, DeLoache Williams has some ins to the fashionable City scene. She is so young and trusting and listening to her read her own book via the audiobook version was quite touching. It’s full of millennial speak, including real text message exchanges, and a delightful glimpse into certain New York City hotspots at a very particular moment in history.  Further reading via the New York Times and The Cut will give you all the background you need. But even after reading those articles, I still wanted to read DeLoache Williams’ book and I’m glad I did. I found her to be a capable and charming, if youthful, writer.

17333432Man Repeller: Seeking Love. Finding Overalls. by Leandra Medine: And speaking of New York City fashion, I also read Medine’s book in an afternoon. It’s…OK. I honestly quite enjoy the Man Repeller site and, while I find Medine’s personality somewhat grating, I still wanted to know the story behind it. Come to find out, there isn’t much of a story. Just a young, privileged, though hardworking, New York City woman obsessed with fashion who possessed a unique viewpoint: fashion that makes the male gaze irrelevant. Enough of a stance for me to get behind, but I was surprised at the complete lack of exploration of this viewpoint in the memoir. Instead, we get her childhood, the beginnings of her eating disorder, which is also not well-explored (I imagine because it is ongoing), and only the very start of her blog. Which is fine. Medine is a solid fashion writer and I found myself wishing for more descriptions of clothes and outfits and less about her childhood. I’ll still read the blog.

32819894Restart by Gordon Korman: I really enjoyed this young adult novel, which is the story of a school bully with amnesia that causes him to mend his ways. It’s pretty straightforward with somewhat stock characters and a familiar theme to anyone who’s read A Christmas Carol and the like. But I enjoyed Korman’s writing and the quirks of the various characters in the novel. I thought Chase’s character development was a bit of a stretch given that he was a bully before his accident—even with memory loss, can a bully transform into a compassionate friend and champion of justice? Perhaps so. Would recommend this one.

42270835._SY475_The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead: This novel by the author of bestseller The Underground Railroad has received a lot of acclaim this year. And for good reason. It’s pretty much a Shawshank Redemption set in Jim Crow-era Florida. It’s the story of Elwood Curtis, a nearly college-age black boy sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called The Nickel Academy. Injustices and hardship abound and there is a devastating ending in store. Highly recommend.

 

Have you read any of these? Would love to hear your thoughts!

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

The Diary of a Bookseller

In 2004 I wrote a business plan for a store I wanted to call Granola Books. It was to be a used bookstore and its tagline would be “Feed your mind.”

I think about that today, 15 years later, at 38, and wonder how my life might’ve been different if I’d taken the leap and started that bookstore. At that point, Amazon was just revving up. I was selling a lot of books online, dipping my toes in to bookselling, and side hustling before side hustles were cool. That was when you could make money on all but the cheap and plentiful New York Times bestsellers.

It was a big dream and I was a broke recent college graduate with a toddler and $50,000 of student loan debt, still living at home with my dad and siblings.

I wanted it so badly and none of it felt possible. So, instead, I became a secretary and a freelance writer, and worked my way to being the financially sound, debt-free content creator you know today. 😉

In between, I’ve been a magazine editor, worked in a library, and started my own now defunct subscription box  This is the first time since I graduated college that I have not had a side hustle. I quit freelance writing for local magazines last fall. My kid is grown. I am learning to embrace a weird amount of free time.

37457057All this is prelude to saying that when I finished The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell, it felt like a privileged glimpse into a life that could’ve been had I chosen that path…readers will impart their own meaning onto books, won’t they? Honestly, who the fark knows if Granola Books would’ve been successful or not. The trials of indie bookstores in a world ruled by Amazon cannot be underestimated.

But aaanyway, Bythell’s book is a peek into the daily activity of a used bookstore in rural Scotland. It’s a memoir written as a diary, as the title says, with an entry each day for the span of a year. Bythell owns The Book Shop in Wigtown, Scotland, “Scotland’s National Booktown,” where there are many other book shops and a large, popular annual festival, The Wigtown Book Festival.

As of the writing of the book, Bythell employs a handful of odd but wonderful helpers, including Nicky, a taciturn woman who routinely ignores the tasks Bythell assigns her, rearranges the books in the shop to her liking, and brings in dumpster finds for what she names “Foodie Friday.”

Meanwhile, Bythell’s shop is host to a cast of quirky customers worthy of a fake sitcom village. That’s the real treat in this book. In the vein of Jen Campbell’s Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops, but with more narrative context, Bythell offers up gem conversations like this one:

A Northern Irish customer (an old man in a blue tank top) came to the counter with two books and asked, “What can you do for me on those?” The total came to £4.50, so I told him there was no way I could possibly give him a discount on books that were already cheaper than the postage alone on Amazon. He reluctantly conceded, muttering, “Oh well, I hope you’re still here next time I visit.” From his tone it wasn’t entirely clear whether he was suggesting that my refusal to grant a discount on a £4.50 sale would mean that customers would leave in their droves, never to return and the shop would be forced to close, or whether he genuinely meant that he hoped the shop would survive through these difficult times. 

Lots of moments like this to entertain the reader. We also learn about Bythell and his hobbies and friends, and the bookstore’s place in town life. And we begin to understand the daily ins and outs of running a bookshop, dealing with shipping issues, malfunctioning POS systems, and such minutiae as Bythell’s difficulty keeping the shop warm enough in the winter. Hilariously, Nicky wears a full-on ski suit from October to April.

It’s truly enjoyable. You should read it. Whenever I make it to Scotland, some day in the future, I’m totally going to The BookShop to buy books.

Special thanks to Sarah Cords of Citizen Reader for recommending it on her blog, which is how I found out about it.

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2019 Classics Challenge, Fiction, What Shannon Read

A Girl of the Limberlost

915344b6c5624cc02e5fc17c9e45894662815b80A Girl of the Limberlost by novelist and naturalist Gene Stratton-Porter is an Indiana classic. And since I live in Indiana and needed a book for the Classic from a Place You’ve Lived category of the 2019 Back to the Classics Challenge, I thought this was the year I should read it.

First published in 1909, the novel follows the story of Elnora Comstock, a farm girl growing up near the Limberlost Swamp in northeastern Indiana. The swamp, a real place, was eventually drained between 1880-1910 for agricultural development.

Elnora lives on a farm with her widowed mother Katharine Comstock, a hard woman that reminded me of Marilla Cuthbert (from Anne of Green Gables) but without the obvious love that underlies her tough exterior. In fact, Katharine was giving birth to Elnora as her husband drowned in quicksand in the swamp, and so Katharine blames her daughter for her husband’s death—because apparently she thinks she would’ve been there to save him if she wasn’t giving birth?

A true leap of logic there, but whatever. Anyway, poor Elnora bears her mother’s scorn her whole life. In the beginning of the story, she’s an outsider, starting high school as a bit of a pariah because she’s poor and doesn’t wear the right clothes to begin with. But she a loving neighbor couple who act as her aunt and uncle. They buy her clothes and browbeat her mother into helping provide what Elnora needs for school.

To earn money to pay for school and the things she needs, Elnora sells specimens left to her in a box in the woods by Freckles, the title character of Stratton-Porter’s previous novel. I didn’t know until I’d finished it that A Girl of the Limberlost is actually considered a sequel to Freckles. I just saw the character Freckles mention in AGOTL and was like, “Who the hell is Freckles?” Anyway, I guess I’m not as careful a reader as I think I am because I probably should’ve figured that out.

As time goes by, Elnora makes friends at school, befriends an orphan boy that her neighbors adopt, has a climactic altercation with her mother that brings them closer, and gets involved in something of a love triangle with a nature-loving young man and his former fiance.

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Limberlost State Historic Site in Geneva, IN

All the while she makes money selling specimens from the box or those she collects herself to the “Bird Woman,” a naturalist character who apparently stands for Stratton-Porter herself.

I feel like, other than summarizing the plot for you, I don’t have much to say about this story. I felt it was kind of like an Indiana version of Anne of Green Gables, except that I didn’t care about the characters as much. I liked learning about the flora and fauna of the swamp as I am a nature-lover myself, but even that kind of bored me after awhile.

That said, I’m definitely going to find a book on Stratton-Porter because she must’ve led a really interesting life for an Indiana girl. Wikipedia says she was one of the most popular novelists of her time. I’d heard of her, but I didn’t know she was that popular. I’m also going to visit her former home and greenhouse, which are now part of a state historic site.

So that’s what I really felt I got out of reading this novel. I learned more about a whole realm of Indiana literature that I have yet to explore. And that excites me.

p.s. As mentioned above, this is my book for the Classic from a Place You’ve Lived category of the 2019 Back to the Classics Challenge.

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