{Book} The City on the Edge of Forever Teleplay

The City on the Edge of Forever Teleplay

The City on the Edge of Forever Teleplay by Harlan Ellison

The controversy has raged for almost 30 years–now readers can judge for themselves. Harlan Ellison wrote the original award-winning teleplay for “The City on the Edge of Forever, ” which was rewritten and became the most-loved Star Trek episode of all time. Ellison sued Paramount in protest and won. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Choose This Book?
Was wanting an audio book to listen to while playing Minecraft. Saw this on hoopla, checked it out. I actually own this book in paperback form too, but it was nice to hear the teleplay as a full cast recording with Ellison reading the introduction.

What Did I Think?
The differences between the beloved Star Trek episode and the award-winning teleplay are interesting, worth your time if you like to examine different versions/translations of media. There’s also dirt on the beef Ellison had with Gene Roddenberry, which again, if you’re into that kind of thing… Ellison bolsters his arguments with testimonies from many people involved with Star Trek and Star Trek fandom, including original cast members. Including Walter Koenig (Chekov) whom Ellison had a contentious frenemy-ship with.

And I have stories about both Walter Koenig and Harlan Ellison.

In 1989, I went to a science fiction convention with my mom. It was the local Omaha convention, probably smaller than it is now. All of geekdom has become more mainstream. The big media guest was Walter Koenig. He did a short talk and took audience questions. I don’t remember much of the talk, it was pretty standard Trek stuff. Walter Koenig seemed like a pleasant, nice gentleman. After the talk, he hustled from the stage up the side aisle of the auditorium to get to the autograph table at the back. And he passed our row just as I was leaving. And I tripped Walter Koenig. It was pretty much a nonevent, but still…

In 2006, I attended the Nebula Award weekend here in Tempe. The grand master award that year went to Harlan Ellison. As part of the programming, Harlan Ellison gave a talk in ballroom. (He did not take audience questions.) I was sitting in an end chair along the center aisle. I remember it being late in the day, I was tired and I am short so I was sitting sort of crossways, leaning into the aisle. (No, I did not trip Harlan Ellison.) Ellison was introduced and started in on his schitck, then he stopped. “Are you alright?” he asked. “You know, they’re not going to put you in jail if you moved that chair two feet to the right.” I assured him I was fine.

I didn’t get either’s autograph.

Original Publishing info: White Wolf Publishing, 1996
My Copy: audio, Skyboat Media, 2016
Genre: science fiction, nonfiction

{Books} by Helene Hanff

84, Charing Cross Road
So, this is how I remember becoming acquainted with the works of Helene Hanff:

In 1991, the movie The Silence of the Lambs came out. I immediately became a fan of Anthony Hopkins. He went on my watch-everything list (along with Jeremy Irons, Peter O’ Toole, and Anthony Perkins). Now, this was the early 90s. I couldn’t just search for Hopkins on Just Watch and find which streaming service are showing any particular movie of his. No. I had to scour through the satellite TV guide and plan my weekly movie watching/taping. One of those movie I managed to catch was 84, Charing Cross Road (1987, dir. David Jones). It was a lovely movie about one of my favorite things, books. And I discovered that it was in fact based on a book, which I promptly put on my must-read list. Now, again, this was the early 90s and I couldn’t go to Amazon and just order it. No. I pestered my mom to take me to bookstores. (These were my high school years, but I don’t drive.) I finally found a copy at Combs & Combs in the swanky area of Omaha known as Rockbrook. And then, I found out that Helene Hanff wrote other books… Lather, rinse, repeat.

(Funny, I’d never thought to look for Helene Hanff on You Tube. She is here pretty much exactly as I imagined.)

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street Underfoot in Show Business
Apple of My Eye Q's Legacy

Over the years, I collected more of Helene Hanff’s books. The are comfort reading for me, and beginning in mid-December, I needed some comfort reading. All five books are short and I read through them over the last three months. Underfoot in Show Business is chronologically the first Hanff published, pre-84, Charing Cross Road. It tells of her early years as a struggling playwright in New York in the 1930s and 40s. If you’ve already read Charing Cross, you will recognize some of the events and people from the letters in that book. They overlap. All of these books overlap as a sort of biography mosaic.

84, Charing Cross Road is a narrative told in letters between Hanff and a Frank Doel, a bookseller in England. Again in the background are Hanff’s money and employment woes as she writes plays, telescripts, and short histories for children. The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street and Q’s Legacy are what happened after 84, Charing Cross Road is a hit. Hanff finally visits London and surrounding England for the book’s release and later for the BBC’s TV adaptation. Apple of My Eye is sort of the odd book out, but not really. In it, Hanff showcases her other favorite city, New York City. These three books are travelogue heavy, but that’s okay. Hanff balances her experience of places with their histories.

I love Helene Hanff’s voice. She’s smart, opinionated, and funny, though occasionally a little unkind. She is eternally befuddled by how success came to her, however fleeting or conversely enduring. May we all be so lucky.

{Book} Bad Blood

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the female Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup “unicorn” promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would make blood tests significantly faster and easier. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at $9 billion, putting Holmes’s worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn’t work.

For years, Holmes had been misleading investors, FDA officials, and her own employees. When Carreyrou, working at The Wall Street Journal, got a tip from a former Theranos employee and started asking questions, both Carreyrou and the Journal were threatened with lawsuits. Undaunted, the newspaper ran the first of dozens of Theranos articles in late 2015. By early 2017, the company’s value was zero and Holmes faced potential legal action from the government and her investors. Here is the riveting story of the biggest corporate fraud since Enron, a disturbing cautionary tale set amid the bold promises and gold-rush frenzy of Silicon Valley. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Choose This Book?
I’m not sure how many Nonfiction November lists Bad Blood has been on since it came out in 2018. This was also my Moby-Dick rebound book. I needed a palate cleanser. I intended to read a magic-related book, but I decided instead to read a book about deception.

What Did I Think?
Wow.

Okay, first of all, despite my husband’s occasional mention of the company and seeing Bad Blood on many Nonfic November lists, I really had no ideas about Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes. My husband follows tech and financial news and had commented on several occasions before and after the scandal broke that the company’s promised products seemed unlikely. He has degrees in computer engineering and computational biosciences, so he knows a few relevant things.

But I didn’t take an immediate interest in this story. I was worried that, well, occasionally, as much as we like to see women succeed, we also seem to revel in their failures. I didn’t really want to participate in reading a pile-on. But Bad Blood isn’t that. This story would still be a story if it were a 20-something Standford dropout guy behind it.

The level of deception perpetrated by Holmes and her partner Sunny Balwani is pretty staggering. Employees who asked questions were dismissed. Investors who asked questions were dazzled with (truth adjacent) tales. What’s the recipe for a decade-long con? Start with a charismatic spokesperson. Add an idea that everyone wants to believe in. To the true believer-ship, add one part of fear of missing out. Stir in millions of dollars until bubbling with a healthy head of sunk cost fallacy. Unfortunately, there was only a rock in the bottom of the pot…

I am an optimistic person; I like to think the best of others. I don’t think Holmes was ever entirely altruistic about Theranos, but I don’t think Theranos started as an utter scam either. The technology that Holmes originally patented is…science fiction. It was shooting for the stars. That doesn’t mean the company couldn’t have honestly pivoted its resources toward an innovation that was more down-to-earth. As I said, I started Bad Blood the day after finishing Moby-Dick. I can’t help but seeing some Ahab in Elizabeth Holmes. Her obsession, whether with being the next Steve Jobs or with a not-quite (or at least not-yet) possible technology sunk her and took a lot of people with her.

Fascinating tale, told well enough.

Original Publishing info: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2018
My Copy: Tempe Overdrive Digital Collection, Kindle & Browser
Genre: nonfiction, science & technology

{Books} Two from True Crime

Alligator Candy Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession

 

Why Did I Choose These Books?
I chose both of these books due to my continuing investigation into true crime as a genre. Savage Appetites was recommended to be by multiple people because it is very much what I want to learn about: why do we “like” true crime. Alligator Candy was a book I chose through Goodreads’ “Readers Also Enjoyed.”

Alligator Candy: A Memoir by David Kushner

Every life has a defining moment, a single act that charts the course we take and determines who we become. For Kushner, it was Jon’s disappearance—a tragedy that shocked his family and the community at large. Decades later, now a grown man with kids of his own, Kushner found himself unsatisfied with his own memories and decided to revisit the episode a different way: through the eyes of a reporter. His investigation brought him back to the places and people he once knew and slowly made him realize just how much his past had affected his present. After sifting through hundreds of documents and reports, conducting dozens of interviews, and poring over numerous firsthand accounts, he has produced a powerful and inspiring story of loss, perseverance, and memory. Alligator Candy is searing and unforgettable. (via Goodreads)

What Did I Think?
When David Kushner was four years old, his older brother went missing and was later found dead. Obviously, being so young at the time, his memories surrounding the events are very hazy and muddled. For example, did his brother go off on his bike to the store just to get David some Snappy Gator candy? And that’s what really intrigued me about this particular story. Kushner grows up in the shadow of his brother, but gradually realizes how unreliable memory is. The memoir is about family and personal survival and how he came to find some truths about the event.

I listened to Alligator Candy as an audio book narrated by the actor Bronson Pinchot. As I keep saying about these true crime books, this was a hard “read.” Pinchot does a wonderful job reading it.

Original Publishing info: Simon & Schuster 2016
My Copy: Audio, hoopla Digital Library
Genre: memoir

Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession by Rachel Monroe

A provocative and original investigation of our cultural fascination with crime, linking four archetypes—Detective, Victim, Defender, Killer—to four true stories about women driven by obsession.

In this illuminating exploration of women, violence, and obsession, Rachel Monroe interrogates the appeal of true crime through four narratives of fixation. In the 1940s, a frustrated heiress began creating dollhouse crime scenes depicting murders, suicides, and accidental deaths. Known as the “Mother of Forensic Science,” she revolutionized the field of what was then called legal medicine. In the aftermath of the Manson Family murders, a young woman moved into Sharon Tate’s guesthouse and, over the next two decades, entwined herself with the Tate family. In the mid-nineties, a landscape architect in Brooklyn fell in love with a convicted murderer, the supposed ringleader of the West Memphis Three, through an intense series of letters. After they married, she devoted her life to getting him freed from death row. And in 2015, a teenager deeply involved in the online fandom for the Columbine killers planned a mass shooting of her own. (via Goodreads)

What Did I Think?
I hadn’t realized just how much the audience for true crime skewed toward female. I knew that it did, but when Rachel Monroe writes about the true crime convention that she attends, I didn’t expect that the vast majority of attendees would be women. Monroe writes about four case studies which illustrate what she finds to be archetypes of true crime fans: the detective, the defender, the victim, and the killer.

I’m not entirely sure I agree with Monroe’s theory that women especially are true crime fans because we slot into these types. It doesn’t quite feel right to me and, as Rennie from What’s Nonfiction, pointed out, it might be because these case studies are pretty  extreme. Monroe also floats the idea that because women taught at a young age to be wary and alert, true crime is sort of further training: maybe if we empathize alternately with the detectives, defenders, victims and killers, we can be better prepared for bad situations. Ironically, though true crime probably has never been more popular, violent crime rates are generally down.

My favorite of these four women profiled (which probably exposes my true crime archetype) was Francis Glessner Lee—the detective. Lee, an heiress, spent her later years creating miniature crime scenes to be used as a teaching tool. She also championed the cause of scientific investigation of crimes and is considered the mother of forensic science.

Original Publishing info: Scribner 2019
My Copy: Overdrive, Tempe Public Library

{Book} Columbine

Columbine

Columbine by Dave Cullen

EXPANDED WITH A NEW EPILOGUE “The tragedies keep coming. As we reel from the latest horror . . . ” So begins a new epilogue, illustrating how Columbine became the template for nearly two decades of “spectacle murders.” It is a false script, seized upon by a generation of new killers. In the wake of Newtown, Aurora, and Virginia Tech, the imperative to understand the crime that sparked this plague grows more urgent every year. What really happened April 20, 1999? The horror left an indelible stamp on the American psyche, but most of what we “know” is wrong. It wasn’t about jocks, Goths, or the Trench Coat Mafia. Dave Cullen was one of the first reporters on scene, and spent ten years on this book-widely recognized as the definitive account. With a keen investigative eye and psychological acumen, he draws on mountains of evidence, insight from the world’s leading forensic psychologists, and the killers’ own words and drawings-several reproduced in a new appendix. Cullen paints raw portraits of two polar opposite killers. They contrast starkly with the flashes of resilience and redemption among the survivors. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Read This Book?
Columbine was probably the most recommended book I saw during this year’s Nonfiction November. I was in the market for true crime, though not necessarily this flavor of crime. Regardless, I saw the opportunity to check it out from the library and took it.

What Did I Think?
The Columbine High School shootings happened at a time when I had stopped watching TV for the most part (I had no cable and OTA in Lincoln, NE was sketchy) and I hadn’t become a regular consumer of online news—there was relatively little of anything to be had online in 1999. I knew the shootings had happened and that they were at the time the most fatal such incident, but honestly after it had left the immediate news cycle, I never followed up. I knew what happened right?

Well, honestly, even in the moment I was skeptical of some of the media’s conclusions. Music and video games weren’t the cause. The rest seemed plausible enough, though, didn’t it? Two outcasts had had enough and plotted their revenge.  But that wasn’t what happened. That was a narrative the media latched on to based on not-very-good early information. It was easy and it made sense in the moment. Law enforcement didn’t do much to counter that narrative. They had their own problems. Alas, the story is more complex and nuanced, as reality often is.

I am rather awed by the amount of compassion that Dave Cullen has in his writing for everyone, including the shooters and their families. There are many things that are still unknown and will never be known, but Cullen doesn’t luridly speculate. It would be easy to do so.

I’ve been thinking about why anyone should read a book like Columbine. Perhaps, yes, knowing the minds of these killers might be valuable, even to the general populous. The stories of the victims’ families and the triumphs of the injured are by turns tragic and inspiring. More broadly though, I hope that Columbine serves as a reminder that, as uncomfortable as it might be, nothing is ever as simple as one might think. That is a valuable thing to keep in mind.

Original Publishing info: Grand Central Publishing, 2009
My Copy: Overdrive, Tempe Public Library
Genre: nonfiction, true crime

{Books} Ghostbuster’s Daughter & Pumpkinheads


Shockingly, I announced a TBR near the beginning of the month and haven’t read anything from it. I should possibly always find/replace “books to-be-read” with “book-I’m-not-going-to-read-yet.”

Ghostbuster's Daughter cover Ghostbuster’s Daughter: Life with My Dad, Harold Ramis by Violet Ramis Stiel

At the beginning of the month, I jumped into reading some heavy stuff about axe-murderers and hysterical news papers for NaNoWriMo. I intended to read The Beautiful Cigar Girl for NonFicNov, but it was too much of the same thing.

Instead, I checked my elibrary “wishlist” and chose something different: Ghostbuster’s Daughter. Not only is Harold Ramis my favorite Ghostbuster, but he wrote and directed several of my favorite movies. I was looking forward to some nice movie trivia bits. This books has some of that, but it’s mostly about Violet Ramis Stiel. And her life is… somewhat interesting? It’s definitely a look at a person who has been a very privileged and only sometimes aware of that.

Pumpkinheads cover Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell (author), Faith Erin Hicks (illustrator)

I put this on hold at the library on October 7th and just got it this week. I had really hoped to read it before Halloween, but que sera, sera.

Pumpkinheads was pretty much exactly what I expected: autumn-in-Nebraska setting, fluffy romance, and some honest-to-goodness funny bits. I also really appreciated that Deja’s secondary mission for her last night working at the pumpkin patch (a Disneyland version of a pumpkin patch) is to sample all the snacks. And the art was lovely!

 

Nonfiction November 2019 ~ Week 4

Week 4: (Nov. 18 to 22) – What Makes a Favorite?

Hosted by Leeann at Shelf Aware

We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites.

I like stories that are told (or topics that are explored) within wider context.

Erik Larson’s books are prime examples of this. In The Devil in the White City, for example, it’s not not just the story of the Chicago World’s Fair or just the story of H. H. Holmes, but the combination of the two—and how one enabled the other.

Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear The Magician and the Cardsharp: The Search for America's Greatest Sleight-of-Hand Artist

Even within my favorite topic, magic history, the best books aren’t the ones about the doings of a single magician. Jim Steinmeyer’s Hiding the Elephant looks at the golden age of magic through the lens of a single trick: Houdini’s disappearing elephant. One of my favorite biographies, The Magician and the Cardsharp by Karl Johnson, is about Dai Vernon and his search for a gambler who could deal cards from the center of a deck of cards.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age

One last example: I’ve read quite a few biographies of Nikola Tesla and some of them are quite good, but my favorite is W. Bernard Carlson’s Tesla: Inventor of the Electric Age, which puts Tesla’s major inventions in the context of the wider political and economical world. It also goes deeper into electrical engineering than I’m comfortable with, but I respect that about it.