Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Two True Crime Hits

I sped through two works of true crime last week. I can’t get interested in any of the classics I’ve been wanting to read because all I want to read about is murder, apparently.Green River, Running Red: The Real Story of the Green River Killer - America's Deadliest Serial Murderer

What kicked off this spree was listening to the Crime Junkie podcast and hearing the story of the Green River Killer. It reminded me that Ann Rule had written a book about the case that I had glanced at and then dismissed because I wasn’t interested. Well, I downloaded the Kindle book from the library and set about getting all the terrible details.

Green River, Running Red is a story about the investigation of murders committed by a serial killer who targeted mostly women involved in prostitution beginning in the 80s (and possibly late 70s). Rule tells the story of many of the victims and what led them to prostitution along the SeaTac highway in Seattle. She does tell the story of the killer, Gary Ridgway, a classic normal-seeming blue collar worker who left some of his first victims along the Green River. He was finally caught in 2001 and eventually convicted of 49 murders, though he confessed to around 70, and is suspected to have been responsible for even more.

Ann Rule is my favorite true crime writer, hands down. Her focus in Green River, Running Red, like in her other books, is the police investigation of the crime at hand and she pays special attention to the victims and their stories, making sure to humanize those whose lives are often disregarded by larger society. She does paint a picture of the killer’s life and upbringing because she, like her readers, is fascinated by the personality that can lead someone to kill and kill over and over again.

Those stories are told within the framework of the police investigation leading to the killer’s eventual arrest. I recommend reading this only if you’ve got a strong stomach. There are graphic descriptions of the ways in which victims’ bodies are found, but I found the description of Ridgway and clearly psychopathic personality almost equally disturbing.

EvilAnother Crime Junkie episode reminded me of the case of Sylvia Likens, who was tortured to death in the home of a woman who was supposed to be taking care of her while her parents worked with a traveling carnival outfit. This case is well-known in Indiana, where I live, as it took place in Indianapolis, so I was eager to learn more.

After some online research, I landed on House of Evil by John Dean, which was first published in 1966, just a yer after Sylvia’s murder.

What’s unique about this terrible story is the fact that Gertrude Baniszewski, caregiver to Sylvia and her sister Jenny, solicited the help of her own daughter, Paula, as well as several neighborhood children, to abuse and eventually kill Sylvia. This story also requires a strong stomach, so if you can’t stand stories of child abuse or violence, avoid it, and maybe read the Wikipedia article, which is pretty correct, instead.

A review note: I thought this book was well-written, but I noticed some Goodreads reviewers calling it “scattered.” I didn’t think it was at all. There’s a clear progression along a timeline leading from the Likens sisters being dropped off with Gertrude right through the trial. Scenes are written pretty much chronologically.

On a tangential note, it’s hard to say why I read true crime. After finishing these books, I wondered, am I turning someone else’s tragedies into entertainment? I can’t honestly say that that’s not part of what I’m doing in reading these books. I mean, I think some  fascination with abhorrent behavior is natural. We all like to tell or listen to incredible stories and then remark “Isn’t that crazy?” And wonder how or why something terrible/crazy was allowed to happen. But is this kind of leisure reading akin to watching reality TV where the struggles of the people being filmed are offered up as entertainment? I don’t have an answer.

This list of 12 Reasons We Like True Crime was slightly reassuring. But only slightly.

Thoughts?

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Bingeworthy British Television

I consider myself something of an Anglophile, so when my favorite book blogger Sarah Cords sent me her book, Bingeworthy British Television: The Best Brit TV You Can’t Stop Watching, written with Jackie Bailey, I. was. stoked.

If you, like me, have dipped your toes into British TV via Acorn or just Netflix, and if you, like me, read encyclopedias for fun as a kid, you are in for a real treat. 

This is a quintessential guide to the British TV shows you have and haven’t heard about. My reading life is about to suffer…

The book is organized in sections by type of show: comedies, dramas, historical dramas, etc. Each 2-ish page entry focuses on one show, gives a synopsis, and talks about “Why It’s Bingeworthy.” There’s even a little trivia section and then the authors tell you “What to Binge on Next.”

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Honestly, one of my favorite things about the book is the little asides written by Jackie Bailey, a real life British person (lol) who gives us insight into watching television as a British citizen. If you don’t live in England, you may not know, for example, that: 

Every household in the UK that watches or records television is required, by law, to purchase a TV license. This currently costs £150.50 (about $200) per year. This money is used to fund the BBC and means that all BBC channels (on television and radio) are broadcast without any adverts.

I love the little peek into life in the UK. And I highly recommend the book if you have an interest in British TV. Also, Sarah runs The Great British TV Site, so check that out.

Do you have any favorite British shows? So far, I have loved Doc Martin, Gardener’s World, and, of course, Downton Abbey.

 

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

The Kids Will Be Fine

18465524Sometimes you just need to read something you agree with. Something squarely in your wheelhouse. Over the weekend, I felt due for a nice, salty rant about something, anything, that I could get behind. So I turned to The Kids Will Be Fine: Guilt-Free Motherhood for Thoroughly Modern Women by Daisy Waugh. Daisy delivered exactly what I needed. I knew she would because I’ve read this book before (in 2014, says Goodreads). But I remember liking it so much that I felt it was worth a re-read.

It was.

I have felt kind of salty myself lately about other people’s children. In general and in theory, I really like children. Children are the future, per Whitney Houston. They are beautiful and special and fun for many different reasons, including that life itself is precious and children have only just started the journey, free of the fetters of societal expectations for the moment.

But as I’ve gotten older and more experienced as a parent and a human being, I’ve begun to see other people’s faults played out in their children. Meaning, I often run into children who are spoiled and coddled and whose every action and conversation is prodded and guarded and narrated by their doting (insanely overly attentive) parents.

Jacob

Our own kid, who graduated over the weekend, with doting, proud, but not insanely overly attentive parents.

Is it the children’s fault? Certainly not. And, probably, most but the criminal parents among us are trying our best. There’s no handbook, as we all know, for the right way to raise children.

But there is common sense. And lest you think this was a rant of my own and not at all a book review, I will tell you that Daisy Waugh’s book lists the various aspects of parenting where modern parents tend to fail in applying common sense.

Rather than chapters, Waugh lists sections and topics, beginning with Part 1: Pregnancy and Birth and Ending with Part 5: Charm School.

Each section contains related topics, such as Baby on Board, a rant on those “Baby on Board” signs everyone puts in their cars; Babies at Night (“Can be a nuisance.”); and Other People’s Children (“Are likely to be fractionally less interesting and more irritating to us than our own…”). Accurate.

I just really enjoyed reading those passages on the behavior of other people’s children because they, specifically, have been annoying me lately (not all my friends’ children, mind you. Mostly strangers’.)

In addition, I loved what Waugh has to say about the helpful approach known as unparenting:

By unparenting, I mean that we avoid making motherhood any more wearisome, costly, or complicated than it needs to be. It means banishing pointless after-school activities that entail chauffeuring; eliminating “playdates” that require organizing more than a couple of days in advance; no more costume requirements for school shows and assemblies; and definitely no more maternal guilt.

And about freedom from maternal martyr syndrome, which she highlights in her response to a ubiquitous, insipid, not to mention non-inclusive, Facebook post making the rounds during the time she was writing the book. Here’s the post and the beginning of her commentary:

To all the UNSELFISH MOMS out there who traded sleep for dark circles, salon haircuts for ponytails, long showers for quick showers, late nights for early mornings, designer bags for diaper bags & WOULDN’T CHANGE A THING. Lets [sic] see how many Moms can actually post this. Moms who DON’T CARE about what they gave up and instead LOVE what they got in return! Post this if you LOVE your LIFE as a mom ♥

Barf bags disposed of? Good. Where do we begin? It’s absurd, clearly. And could be dismissed on grounds of breathtaking inanity. Nevertheless, in its clumsy way, it highlights what is a commonly held belief: that good motherhood requires a denial of personal pleasure and a negation of the self.

If you are tired of hearing about the negation of the self being a prerequisite for motherly love, I recommend reading that section. I know from experience that one can be a parent and have a separate identity too. Given this culture of self-sacrifice around parenting, it’s just nice to have that affirmed once in a while.

Look, I know I shouldn’t be in the business of criticizing other parents who are trying their best. I know how hard it is to raise kids, the demands that pull at you from all corners. It’s just. Sometimes I want to be crabby about kids with bad manners. Ok?

And that is my very ranty post for today. 🙂

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Help Me! One Woman’s Quest to Find Out if Self-help Really Can Change Your Life


HelpMebookHelp Me! by Marianne Power
was a fun little romp. I’ve said recently that if I am going to read and enjoy a memoir (or essays), I have to like the author’s voice. And Power has a very distinct voice. She’s Irish, living in London, and her style is sort of Bridget Jones or, as one Goodreads reviewer put it “this memoir reminded me of a Sophie Kinsella novel.”

I’ve only read the first Shopaholic book, but I totally get it.

Anyway, Help Me! is Power’s memoir about one year in her life in which she attempts to actually take the advice given in her favorite, or just well-known, self-help books. She’s a self-help book addict, so to speak, and though she’d read it for years before writing the book, she noticed that she moved from one book to the other without ever really applying what she’d read.

One of the things I liked about this book is that it gives a view of the self-help industry, and it is a billion dollar industry, from the view of someone who buys in to the various popular gurus’ advice while possessing enough self-awareness to criticize it thoughtfully. Though, as you’ll see, Power gets deeper into the world of self-help and starts to lose her perspective.

Power is funny and endearing throughout. She had me from this paragraph:

“So why did I read self-help if it didn’t, well, help? Like eating chocolate cake or watching old episodes of Friends, I read self-help for comfort. These books acknowledged the insecurities and anxieties I felt but was always too ashamed to talk about. They made my personal angst seem like a normal part of being human. Reading them made me feel less alone.”

That is exactly why I read self-help. I have a few shelves devoted to it myself (though it’s mixed in with some other general spirituality/philosophy/psychology stuff):

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I mean, I also read it so I can use some of the advice, but, admittedly, follow-through is not my strong suit. But it keeps me inspired. I’m not looking for a fix, let alone a quick fix, for any of my problems at this point. I’m just looking for ways to continue working on myself.

Anyway, if you read self-help, I think you’ll really enjoy the books Power chooses, her methods of applying the advice given, and the consequences that play out in her personal life. As a self-help reader, I felt like an insider. I recognized every book and author and much of the advice.

I also appreciated Power’s critique of gurus and methods, though she doesn’t approach this with the intention of an exposé. She’s sincere about her interest and her attempts to find advice to apply to her own life. Still, I found the chapter on Tony Robbins especially poignant. Power attends a three-day event of his and the whole thing reminds me of one of those kooky mega-churches with Christian rock music and a pastor with trendy facial hair. It’s fascinating.

Anyway, whether you like self-help or not, I’d recommend this one. I enjoyed Power’s personality and insights; plus, she’s a journalist, which means her writing is particularly adept. That can be hard to find with funny writing. I so often read books where the author is funny but a bit clumsy.

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Madame Lalaurie

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Not the mansion in question because it was dark by the end of the tour, but this is something that’s haunted – I forget why and how…

God I love New Orleans. Ben and I went there recently when I had the opportunity to travel for a work conference. I went to sessions during the day and the night was ours. It was so much fun. It’s pretty much Ben’s favorite city and he says that it’s one of the only places he’s been to in the U.S. that truly feels different to him.

While there, we went on one of those hokey ghost tours and it was super fun. You get more legend than history with that kind of thing, but it still gets you into the spirit of the place. Especially in New Orleans.

One of the stops on the tour was the Lalaurie mansion, originally home to Delphine Lalaurie, the inspiration for Kathy Bates’ character in American Horror Story: Coven. After hearing the legend of Madame Lalaurie, in which she tortures and kills her slaves and possibly (it was strongly implied by our tour guide) murders her husbands, I had to research the real history of Delphine and the ill-fated mansion (later owned by Nicolas Cage, incidentally).

MadamLalaurieAfter reading some reviews online, I turned to Madame Lalaurie, Mistress of the Haunted House by Carolyn Morrow Long. Despite is sensational title, this is an exhaustively researched biography that endeavors to tell the real story of Delphine’s life, and her alleged crimes, based on original sources, along with an examination of the legends. I was delighted that the book also provides a good history of the city from its founding and life during the Civil War era.

I love to read both true crime and well-researched biographies of historically significant women and this book definitely fits the bill there—but knowing that Delphine was about to torture/kill her slaves, knowing that she “owned” people at all, was creepy and the whole biography has a depressing mood. If you read it, I recommend a palate cleanser afterwards or, if you read books simultaneously, opt something more light-hearted in between chapters.

At any rate, Morrow Long provides a 3D view of Delphine. We see her grow up in the upper echelons of New Orleans society. Her family history is interwoven with the history of the city as her grandfather brought the (MacCarthy) family there from Ireland during the French colonial era.

We hear about Delphine’s childhood and her three marriages, as well as what’s known about her family, friends, and of course, her slaves, or what’s known of them based on record and rumor.

If you don’t know the history, I won’t ruin it for you. I will say that the major plot points were covered by our ghost tour guide but at the end, she very mysteriously declared “…and Delphine was never seen or heard from again…” Lol. That’s not what happened. If you don’t want to read the book, check wikipedia.

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

This is Where You Belong

 

ThisisWhereYouBelongbookI listened to this audiobook version of This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live by Melody Warnick on my walks home from work in the past couple of weeks, which made for some delightful synchronicity.

This book is part memoir, part self-help, part reporting. Warnick tells the story of her family’s propensity to move to new cities, rather than staying put, and the process of deciding where to move and why. Through her “Love Where You Live Project,” she then conducts experiments in how one can intentionally cultivate a feeling of “place attachment” where it doesn’t exists.

Warnick conducts interviews with experts and plain old residents like herself in various cities across the country. But she focuses on Blacksburg, Virginia, where her family moved due to her husband’s job (Go Hokies?).

River

I take a bridge over the river on my walks home. It’s especially pretty in the springtime, though behind me is a super busy street.

Throughout each chapter, she lays out Love Where You Live “principles,” like “If you want to love your town, act like someone who loves your town would act.” In little ways and small ways. For example, you see some trash on the ground in the park: would a person who loved your town pick it up? Probably. So get to it. Cultivate a sense of ownership over the space.

Each chapter also ends with a Love Where You Live Checklist based on the strategies discussed, offering practical advice for creating positive feeling/attachment to the city you live in. Some of these were unique and helpful and some, I thought, were common sense.

But maybe that’s because I’m already place attached. For example, patronize businesses you don’t want to go away. If you like that you have an independent bookstore in your town, spend money there to ensure its future. Etc., etc.

I enjoyed listening to the audiobook, especially while I was walking home from work through a few different “landmark” areas in my city. It genuinely made me appreciate where I live a little more.

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America

40415813Have you ever had trouble losing weight? I sure have. If you follow me on Insta—and I suspect you don’t because I’m not exactly a major influencer— you know that I am on my own weight loss journey. It is slow going and any weight loss I achieve is the product of dedication, determination, and weeks and weeks of pure mind-fucking.

Weight loss is hard.

So I appreciated journalist Tommy Tomlinson’s exploration of his own journey  in The Elephant in the the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America as he works his way down from 460 pounds. This is not your typical weight loss memoir. Tommy goes down a couple of clothing sizes by the end of the book, but that’s not the point. The point is that he continually works his way up toward health from a deep physical and emotional well that he has dug himself. Understanding why you got where you are, and motivating yourself to change is the crux of the battle.

Here’s a particularly poignant passage on addiction:

This is the cruel trick of most addictions. They’re so good at short-term comfort. I’m hungry, I’m lonely, I need to feel a part of the world. Other people soothe those pains with the bottle or the needle. I soothe them with burgers and fries. It pushes the hurt down the road a little bit, like paying the minimum on your credit card bill every month. The debt never gets settled. Those little moments of comfort are also moments of avoiding the discomfort behind it. In that small instant when the salt and grease get into my veins, it’s a release. But then, when I look up and out and back, my life is measured not in days or years or heartbeats but in an unbroken string of takeout bags.

This man leads the examined life and is straight proof that fat people aren’t “lazy,” not mentally and not physically. There are a million reasons why someone gets fat. Among them are behavioral conditioning, hormones, and genetics. And for most of us, getting out of the hole we’ve dug, requires, yeah, a whole lot dedication, determination, and mind-fucking.

Even if you don’t struggle with food or your weight, I recommend this memoir. Tommy is an adept writer and just so damn relatable. You’ll find intelligence and humor in these pages, whether you’re interested in the topic or not.

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