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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Top Ten Tuesday, What Ben Read, What Shannon Read

Top Ten Favorite Childhood Picture Books

Yeah, I know, late again for Top Ten Tuesday, but I loved this week’s theme and couldn’t not participate! So here we are.

This week, it’s Top Ten Favorite Picture Books from your childhood. I thought that because Ben also has a great reading history in this department, we should do a shared list (much like the characters list we did last month).

So, my five are first and Ben’s five follow.

Shannon’s Top Five Favorites

Ack, this list has me all sappy remembering these books and being read to as a kid. Get ready for some non-high-brow literature, baby. Here we go.

ADayattheBeachBook1. A Day at the Beach by Mircea Vasiliu

I was truly tickled to see that this one had reviews and comments on Goodreads. I loved going through this as a kid because everything is labeled and I could pick out all the things I recognized and all the things our (Great Lakes) beaches didn’t offer: crabs, giant seashells, etc. I still have my copy of this and every time my eye passes over it on the shelf, I remember being little and running through the waves with a butt covered in sand and sticky lemonade spills. So pure.

p.s. I did a bunch of Googling but couldn’t find a spread to share and I think my copy might be at my dad’s house or with one of my siblings.

 

2. Fairy Tales: A Puppet Treasury Book, Illustrations by Tadasu Izawa and Shigemi Hijikata

img_20190704_102456327I memorized every single story and image in this creepy-ass 3D puppet illustration fairy tale book. The witch in Hansel and Gretel is truly alarming. Some internet sleuthing tells me that this was a popular form of “illustration” and that my compendium of stories were originally released as individual books with various editions in the 60s and 70s. There’s no copyright date inside the volume I have, just individual copyrights for the illustrations. It was bought for me in the 80s. Creepy? Yes. But now I also see now that I hold a bit of picture book history in my personal library.

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14927513. The Christmas Day Kitten by James Herriot, Illustrations by Ruth Brown 

This one was given to me by my mom’s cousin and his wife. It’s written by Jim Herriot of rural-veterinarian-writer fame. It’s a sweet story about a mother cat who brought her kitten to the home of an elderly woman before she (the mother cat) died. Very real talk for a little kid, but I loved sweet stories about animals. I also read this to Jacob when he was little.

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4. This random children’s Bible

We were pretty Catholic when I was growing up. I received this as a baptism gift and my dad read it to me at bedtime.  I’m no longer religious, but I still have the Bible, which went through both my siblings after me, then passed on to Jacob. I’ll probably have it forever and/or pass it on to grandchildren or, if Jacob doesn’t have children, possibly nieces or nephews.

 

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5. The Bedtime Book 

This was a board book and I am now kicking myself because I can’t find. I’ve had it since I was little. It’s a board book. There is a little girl on the cover praying and the book is shaped around her silhouette. Gonna’ check with my siblings to see if either of them have it. I couldn’t find it online and really, it offers no literary significance. It was just special to us because it was read to us about a million times. Sort of our version of Goodnight Moon, which I don’t remember having as a kid.

 

Ben’s Top Five Favorites

Top 5 Records presents: the top 5 picture books of my childhood. Dr. Seuss boutsa be all up in the mothafuckin house. 😉 With longer to work on it I might make slightly different selections, but I think this is a pretty decent list.

2272201. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, illustrated by Michael Hague

The story itself is delightful, Tolkien’s Middle Earth is enchanting, and what little kid wouldn’t love an epic adventure where a half-size character gets to play the hero? Hague’s illustrations are a delightful mix of evocative scene-setting and dramatic action. On top of all that, it was a birthday present from one of my favorite Aunts. One of my all-time favorite books, picture or otherwise.

TheHobbit

77752. Happy Birthday to You by Dr. Seuss

I could fill this whole list with just Dr. Seuss books. But this one has a family tradition behind it. Also, if Wikipedia is correct, it is the first all-color picture book. So it’ll stand in for other favorites like Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are, On Beyond Zebra, and I Had Trouble In Getting To Solla Sollew. We would always get Happy Birthday To You from the library when any of the Rooney children had a birthday coming up, and my Dad would read it in honor of the birthday child. I find myself noting the sage injunction, “You have to be born, or you don’t get a present” to this very day.

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Did this book contribute to the fact that I keep wanting to treat myself and those around me to slightly-extravagant birthday celebrations? Maaaaayyyyybe…..

 

2979113. The Grey Lady and The Strawberry Snatcher by Molly Bang

The whole book is just beautiful, slightly surreal pictures. The style is sort of Toulouse-Lautrec meets Dixit. Despite the absence of words the story is quite clearly told, and there is plenty of action and suspense.

 

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17631114. Upside-Downers by Mitsumasa Anno

This book is really fun and creative. It’s written half upside down, and half right-side up. But which is which? The playing card-themed characters bicker about who is doing it wrong. Finally the matter comes before the Kings. “Oh king, great king your Heartiness, aren’t we the ones who are up? Oh King, kind king your Clubbiness aren’t they the ones who are down?”

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101185. Saint George and The Dragon by Margaret Hodges, Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

If you didn’t get this book from the Scholastic book fair back in the day, you were missing out. It has vivid illustrations, with some cool little details in the sidebars that reward a closer examination. The prose hints at alliterative verse, giving it a somewhat poetic effect. There are a few awkwardly turned phrases here and there, but as a kid I wasn’t about to scrutinize minor authorial foibles. LOOK AT THAT FREAKIN’ DRAGON!

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Thus ends another belated Top Ten Tuesday. Did you participate? If so, leave your link below!

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Flat Broke with Two Goats

34931315._SY475_This post is about the book Flat Broke with Two Goats by Jennifer McGaha—a.k.a. Much Ado About a Cabin.

It is a very long post and for that I’m sorry. I JUST HAVE A LOT OF FEELINGS.

Allow me to explain.

Jennifer and her husband David used to live in Suburbia. David made a “six figure” salary as a freelance accountant and Jennifer taught about three classes a year as an adjunct English professor, which brought in around $10,000 a year.

They decided to send their three kids to a private middle and high school nearly an hour away from their home because Jennifer and David didn’t have a good experience going through their local public schools as kids and they wanted better for their children.

David’s salary was more than enough, and seemed to be getting better all the time, so when their good friends told the couple that they were selling their beautiful rambling Cape Cod in a gated neighborhood, Jennifer and David opted to buy it. They settled in nicely for the next eight years and, while David continued to handle the bread-winning, Jennifer focused on raising their three kids, now teenagers, volunteering at their schools and organizing their birthday parties, making sure homework got done, etc.

One day in the future, when their two oldest children were off at college and their youngest was in school, a man knocked on the door. Jennifer answered thinking it might be a delivery person, but no, it was a repo man, there to take back her minivan, which hadn’t been paid on in several months.

This, apparently, was the first sign of financial trouble in Jennifer and David’s lives as far as Jennifer was aware. And then, one night, Jennifer realizes David is crying into his pillow. When she questions him, he responds that they owe back taxes. A lot of back taxes. As David was “in charge” of the couple’s finances, Jennifer gave him a talking to and David apologized profusely, saying he would “fix it.”

And this is where I began to question Jennifer and David’s decision-making and general competence. This memoir takes place right after the Great Recession and the burst housing bubble that left so many Americans in terrible debt. So, I do have some empathy here. You bought a big house and sent your kids to expensive schools because you thought you could depend on your high income. Then the market crashes. Happens to a lot of people.

When it became impossible to make mortgage payments, Jennifer and David stopped making payments because when you’re about to be foreclosed on, it doesn’t make sense to shovel your available cash into a sinking ship. Totally understandable and I don’t have any qualms with this.

But then follows a series of terrible choices:

-David floats the idea of moving into a cabin owned by a distant relative, which they can rent for $250 per month and fix up. Because even though they’re broke and in, Jennifer says, $350,000 of debt, they can somehow afford to fix up a house? David is even fantasizing about adding skylights at some point….?!?!

-Watch out, boys. We’ve got a runner. Jennifer half agrees to move into this cabin, but then is so angry at David for ruining their finances that she fantasizes about leaving him and, in fact, applies for, then takes a five-month teaching job in a city 12 hours away. She takes one of their dogs and lives in a rehabbed boxcar while she teaches there. She develops a whole life for herself in this other city, including friends and even a guy she kind of dates. David has to reminder her at the end that she promised to come home even though she doesn’t want to.

-The cabin is in the mountains, next to a picturesque waterfall, which is right out the front door. So that’s cool. But it needs total rehabbing. They can’t even count on hot water for showers. At one point, they’re at Lowe’s trying to decide what kind of new flooring to put in and I’m like, WHERE ARE YOU GETTING THE MONEY FOR THIS SHIT? YOU SHOULD BE COUNTING EVERY FUCKING PENNY NOT DEBATING HARDWOOD AND LINOLEUM. Live with the old, ugly carpet while you get your shit together. God, this is stressful to read about.

-The owners of the Cape Cod move all Jennifer and David’s stuff into the garage of the Cape Cod because it has taken Jennifer and David an unreasonable amount of time to move out and even though Jennifer and David still technically own the house, the sellers, to whom they pay their mortgage payments directly, are apparently sick of waiting for them to move out. So Jennifer and David go over and break into the garage of their old house with a sledgehammer to get their stuff out. I don’t even know what to say about this.

-In addition to his accounting business, which is suffering due to the down economy, David also decides to “take over” a local Chipotle franchise. This is not totally explained in the book. David spends a bunch of time coming up with new menu items and Jennifer suggests craft beer options, so I think the Chipotle was maybe being turned into a different restaurant? Jennifer and David invest money into it but only “break even” and then hand it back over to the actual owner when they can’t make it profitable…This…sounds like a nightmare for a financially sound couple. I have so many questions but the details are murky in the book, so I don’t really know what to think about this episode.

-Next……they buy chickens! WHAT? Why? The IRS is suing you. You have almost no income. You are on the verge of divorce. But, you know what we should make sure to take care of? Our personal preference for farm fresh eggs. What the fuck.

-Next……let’s buy some goats! They do. They buy goats.

These are truly people who, due to an upper-middle-class upbringing, do not understand the value of a dollar. Jennifer acknowledges that their financial incompetence is due to their not being taught how to handle money…but then the couple doesn’t seem to be trying to better their situation by making good decisions and it is so painful to watch them flounder.

Here’s a passage to give you a sense of the privilege from which they come and the general lack of maturity/self-awareness with which they handled their situation throughout the book:

One day, I came home after mountain biking for hours. I was sweaty and muddy, my leg bruised and bloody from where I had grazed a tree. There was nothing I wanted more than a hot shower. When I stripped off all my clothes and hopped in the shower only to find there was no hot water. I was furious. I pulled a towel around me and went downstairs to find David.

“I didn’t choose to live here,” I said. “You did. And if you want me to stay, you will make sure we have hot, running water in this house.”

It wasn’t fair, but I was angry, and I needed someone other than myself to blame for my unhappiness. David looked stunned. He loved living here, could not imagine living in a real house or neighborhood again.

“It’s like Disneyland here,” he told me once. “There is so much fun stuff to do!”

A real house? *Eyeroll* And his comment about Disneyland made me laugh. They are so clearly playing at being poor. To them, being broke is about a cabin in the woods next to a picturesque waterfall. It means raising chickens and planting a garden. It means homesteading.

But, dude, homesteading, if you haven’t inherited a homestead, which maybe your family has worked for generations and held on to despite economic depressions and recessions, not to mention the rise of big agriculture, is fucking expensive. I mean, did they buy plant starters for the garden? Cheap seeds? Fertilizer? Where did they get the tools? These people can only just cover their bills.

But never fear. Here comes Jennifer, bastion of thrift. When she gets back from her teaching stint, Jennifer realizes she has “a lot of time” on her hands. And since she’s an avid cook and has always wanted to learn to make cheese, she decides to try her hand at it.

QUESTION: IF YOU HAVE FREE TIME, WHY DON’T YOU GET A JOB, JENNIFER?

Once, before Jennifer’s out of state teaching stint, she’s lamenting to some friends that there are no good jobs for a writer available to her and her friend suggests that she get a job at their local Belk’s department store. Her response is along the lines of “LOL, have you seen how I dress?” as she looks pointedly at her quirky outfit of mini skirt, cowboy boots, and a necklace made from recycled Coke bottles. Because goddess forbid you sacrifice your personal style for a salary.  No one ever does that.

The fact that there’s a recipe after every chapter and the book blurb lauds Jennifer and David’s “firm foot in the traditions of Appalachia” is kind of galling. I can’t imagine a poor person in Appalachia reading it and doing anything but laughing. When you can’t heat your home in the winter, making your own garden fresh pesto is just not that high on the list. The recipes are, at best, tone deaf.

This couple has a firmer foot in upper-middle-class America and this “embrace our Appalachian heritage to save money” nonsense is just that: nonsense. Instead of homesteading, they needed to read a Dave Ramsey book and go to marriage counseling.

So, Jennifer does go back to teaching part-time and sometimes teaching workshops, but the IRS is garnishing her wages, so the whole situation probably feels impossible. And she does have enough self-awareness to admit that she knows buying goats won’t actually change their lives, but instead will shore up her spirit while she waits for the IRS to settle their debts. You do what you can with what you know.

I don’t know what it’s like to be in that much debt, though I do know what it’s like to be heavily in debt, thanks to my student loans. Frightening. That’s what it’s like.

And some times you just get tired of the constant stress and have to say, fuck it, let’s buy some goats.

But you don’t then take out student loans and enroll in an MFA program. And that’s exactly what Jennifer did.

QUESTION: WHO LET THIS PERSON TAKE OUT STUDENT LOANS?

Then Jennifer’s ailing grandma comes to visit and Jennifer takes that as a sign that her grandmother is trying to reassure Jennifer that she’ll be OK even though her grandmother is dying.

That’s the end of the book.

I just. I can’t even.

Have you read it? Did you have a kinder reaction than I did? Do share!

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth

Book cover: Heartland: A Memoir if working hard and being broke in America by Sarah SmarshI’m not sure I can adequately sum up the many wonderful parts of Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh in a blog post. But I’ll do my best.

Firstly, Smarsh’s story of growing up poor and “country” in Kansas brings a realness and a deeply personal perspective to an examination of being poor and white in the U.S. Through a combination of scenes and vignettes, we are led through a story of one family’s struggle to get by in rural Kansas.

The Goodreads blurb explains the overall concept best, “During Sarah Smarsh’s turbulent childhood in Kansas in the 1980s and 1990s, the forces of cyclical poverty and the country’s changing economic policies solidified her family’s place among the working poor. By telling the story of her life and the lives of the people she loves, Smarsh challenges us to look more closely at the class divide in our country and examine the myths about people thought to be less because they earn less.”

Her narrative set-up is unique. Throughout the book, she speaks directly to “August,” her as yet un-conceived daughter. I thought I would hate that device. And it’s getting a lot of guff on Goodreads, but honestly, I think the way she uses it is kind of brilliant. It sounds airy-fairy, but by the end of the book you come to understand that she is sort of speaking to a version of  herself or even to her Higher Self (as the New Agers say).

The idea that Smarsh would end up a pregnant teen is one that hangs over her as she grows up. She’s the daughter of a teen mom and so is her mom and so was her grandmother. This lineage leads us through a timeline of generational poverty, inherited by the daughters of each subsequent mother, right through to Sarah’s childhood in the 80s and 90s.

An examination of the system that keeps poor people poor is woven throughout. Herbert Hoover, Regan, Bush, and Clinton (the demonizer of the “welfare queen”) are all mentioned and their policies criticized. Sarah also examines the judgement placed on poor people just for being poor in the U.S. Being poor is often seen as a moral failure here and is likely to be blamed on an individual’s choices rather than acknowledged as the result of a systematic problem.

Here’s a quote:

Our struggles forced a question about America that many were not willing to face: If a person could go to work every day and still not be able to pay the bills and the reason wasn’t racism, what less articulated problem was afoot? When I was growing up, the United States had convinced itself that class didn’t exist here. I’m not sure I even encountered the concept until I read some old British novel in high school. This lack of acknowledgment at once invalidated what we were experiencing and shamed us if we tried to express it. Class was not discussed, let alone understood. This meant that, for a child of my disposition—given to prodding every family secret, to sifting through old drawers for clues about the mysterious people I loved—every day had the quiet underpinning of frustration. The defining feeling of my childhood was that of being told there wasn’t a problem when I knew damn well there was.

So this book is much more than a memoir. It tells the story of one woman and one family, but it also provides cultural context for that story.

Finishing this book, I was emotional. I kept thinking, “What can we do? What can we do?” Unchecked capitalism is definitively not working. But what are the answers? How do we fix a broken system, one where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer? It’s modern, Western society’s whole set-up. But it only works for a few of us.

The problem is so big. And I’m not educated or smart enough, let alone powerful enough, to know how to solve any of it. I can only cast my vote in the way I think best and help where I can. I don’t know.

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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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