{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.

Two Nonfiction Mini Reviews

Unmentionable Cover via Goodreads

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill

Have you ever wished you could live in an earlier, more romantic era?

Ladies, welcome to the 19th century, where there’s arsenic in your face cream, a pot of cold pee sits under your bed, and all of your underwear is crotchless. (Why? Shush, dear. A lady doesn’t question.) (via Goodreads)

So, there’s this movie called Kate & Leopold. It came out in 2001, starring Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman. In it, Jackman’s gentlemanly, but smart Leopold falls through a time hole linking 1876 and 2001 and falls in love with Ryan’s successful, but lonely ad exec Kate. All in all, it’s one of those generally smart, funny rom coms that populated the 90s, but died out in the 2000s. It has a great supporting cast (Liev Schreiber, Breckin Meyer, Bradley Whitford) and a soundtrack song by Sting. I would utterly adore this movie (did I mention Hugh Jackman in a rom com?)…except for the ending. Spoiler for an 18 year old movie: Kate goes back to 1876 with Leopold to stay. She obviously hadn’t read Therese Oneill’s Unmentionable.

I love reading newspapers from the late Victorian era and I’ve been interested in the manners/health books of the era, but haven’t had the time to get into them. Oneill has done that work for me. Unmentionable goes into all the distinctly un-romantic aspects of being a woman (and really a white, upper-class woman) in the late 19th-early 20th centuries. The snarky tone is mostly funny, especially paired with illustrations and advertisement from the period. My one nag is that I wish dates were used a little more.

Original Publishing info: Little, Brown and Company, 2016
My Copy: OverDrive Read, Tempe Public Library
Genre: history, pop culture

Cover via Goodreads

The Spectacle of Illusion: Deception, Magic, and the Paranormal by Matthew Tompkins

In The Spectacle of Illusion, professional magician-turned experimental psychologist Dr. Matthew L. Tompkins investigates the arts of deception as practiced and popularized by mesmerists, magicians and psychics since the early 18th century. Organized thematically within a broadly chronological trajectory, this compelling book explores how illusions perpetuated by magicians and fraudulent mystics can not only deceive our senses but also teach us about the inner workings of our minds. Indeed, modern scientists are increasingly turning to magic tricks to develop new techniques to examine human perception, memory and belief. Beginning by discussing mesmerism and spiritualism, the book moves on to consider how professional magicians such as John Nevil Maskelyne and Harry Houdini engaged with these movements – particularly how they set out to challenge and debunk paranormal claims. It also relates the interactions between magicians, mystics and scientists over the past 200 years, and reveals how the researchers who attempted to investigate magical and paranormal phenomena were themselves deceived, and what this can teach us about deception. (via Goodreads)

The Spectacle of Illusion was published to coincide with Smoke and Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic, an exhibit at the Wellcome Collection in London. (The exhibit is open until Sept. 15th, so if you’re in London and interested, you’re lucky and should go.) The book delves into how from the 18th century through the present we have approached the paranormal (a relatively recent term) from the point of view of science. The problem, though, is that science hasn’t always been good at dealing with human deception. Enter those masters of deception: the magicians. Of special note are the debunkers, like Maskelyne and Houdini, and the modern discipline of experimental psychology which investigates how our brain experiences non-normal experiences like magic tricks and “paranormal” events.

A Goodreads reviewer referred to this book as “specialist” and it occurs to me that I might have read so much on the above subjects that I don’t know what that means anymore. I think Thomkins provides a good introduction to these subjects without going too deep. This book didn’t break new ground in my knowledge base, but I highly enjoyed it.  The strength of The Spectacle of Illusion is the hundreds of pictures and illustrations found throughout. It’s a beautiful book, more on the coffee table book end of the spectrum than dry academic text.

Original Publishing info: Distributed Art Publishers (DAP), 2019
My Copy: Hardback purchased from Amazon
Genre: history, psychology, magic

Review ~ Magic is Dead

Cover via Goodreads

Magic Is Dead: My Journey into the World’s Most Secretive Society of Magicians by Ian Frisch

Magic Is Dead is Ian Frisch’s head-first dive into a hidden world full of extraordinary characters and highly guarded secrets. It is a story of imagination, deception, and art that spotlights today’s most brilliant young magicians—a mysterious club known as the52, who are revolutionizing an ancient art form under the mantra Magic Is Dead.

Ian brings us with him as he not only gets to know this fascinating world, but also becomes an integral part of it. We meet the52’s founding members—Laura London, Daniel Madison, and Chris Ramsay—and explore their personal demons, professional aspirations, and what drew them to their craft. We join them at private gatherings of the most extraordinary magicians working today, follow them to magic conventions in Las Vegas and England, and discover some of the best tricks of the trade. We also encounter David Blaine; hang out with Penn Jillette; meet Dynamo, the U.K.’s most famous magician; and go behind the scenes of a Netflix magic show. Magic Is Dead is also a chronicle of magic’s rich history and how it has changed in the internet age, as the young guns embrace social media and move away from the old-school take on the craft.

As he tells the story of the52, and his role as its most unlikely member, Ian reveals his own connection with trickery and deceit and how he first learned the elements that make magic work from his poker-playing mother. He recalls their adventures in card rooms and casinos after his father’s sudden death, and shares a touching moment that he had, as a working journalist, with his childhood idol Shaquille O’Neal.

“Magic—the romanticism of the inexplicable, the awe and admiration of the unexpected—is an underlying force in how we view the world and its myriad possibilities,” Ian writes. As his journey continues, Ian not only becomes a performer and creator of magic—even fooling the late Anthony Bourdain during a chance encounter—he also cements a new brotherhood, and begins to understand his relationship with his father, fifteen years after his death. Written with psychological acuity and a keen eye for detail, Magic Is Dead is an engrossing tale full of wonder and surprise. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t that interested in this book. It was marketed *very* heavily to me on Amazon, which was a little off-putting, due to my purchase history of other magic books. The Amazon recommendation algorithm, combined with the publisher’s marketing push, didn’t really notice that magic history is more my thing. Plus, secrets in magic are sort of bullshit. The aura of secrecy is more important than actual secrecy. So, a super secret society of magicians really isn’t a selling point for me. But, it was available through the library, so I figured, “Okay, fine.”

What Worked
Actually, I’m glad I read it. I learned a lot about how the new generation of magicians are using social media. I knew that YouTube has been changing the way that younger magicians are learning magic. Instead of in-person pilgrimages to meet old masters, many performers are learning techniques from peers via online videos. And of course there is the argument that amateur learning from amateur doesn’t lead to excellence, but that’s not the entire story of what’s been going on in magic in the last decade. YouTube and Instagram are being used more as advertisement for products that these young magicians are creating. Instead of playing vaudeville circuits or being booked as a night club act, series of single trick videos have established these magicians’ brands.

With the title Magic is Dead, I expected a level of irreverence toward the older generations. That really isn’t the case. Performers like Chris Ramsay and Daniel Madison do respect where magic has come from even as they deviate from it. Frisch provides an occasional primer on magic history in the course of the narrative. For me, it wasn’t anything I didn’t know.

What Didn’t Work
Frisch is a journalist and his writing is pretty bare bones. He’s better at telling smaller stories than weaving them into a something longer. I also generally find memoirs by young people to be suspect. No matter how many improbable things might have happened in their relatively short lives, I feel like a good memoir should have a bigger scope. I expected there to be more of a twist or, in faux magic parlance, a turn to his inclusion in the52, but really this is Frisch’s story of finding a hobby, maybe a profession, maybe an art that has led him to some current truths.

But the one thing I really didn’t care for in Magic is Dead (and in Nate Staniforth’s Here Is Real Magic, which I read last year) is the air of self-importance that seems to surround many of the younger magicians. Frisch had been part of the magic scene for two years when he starts working on a trick with the intent to be impactful, not just to innovate, perform and market a trick.  Actually, if you’ll allow me my old curmudgeon hat for a moment, I think this is an aspect that many young people suffer from. Everything must be Special and Important. While most people might what to achieve something of that level, it’s very odd to me and a little distasteful to come out and state, “I’m going to be important in this field.”

Overall
As I said, I did find value in reading Magic is Dead. If you like modern magic, this is a decent read. Frisch does know his stuff. Below is the magic trick he created. I know I recently saw it performed by a different magician, but that’s Frisch’s intent. I also think this is a very talented lot; magic will and already has been impacted by the members of the52.

Original Publishing info: HarperCollins, 2019
My Copy: Kindle ebook, Greater Phoenix Digital Library
Genre: memoir

Review ~ Conjure Times

Conjure Times cover

Conjure Times: The History of Black Magicians in America by James Haskins & Kathleen Benson

Throughout American history, black magicians have achieved great skill in both the magician’s tricks of the trade as well as the psychology of entertaining an audience. However, because of slavery and, later, racial segregation and discrimination, few have been able to make their living as magicians. Those who have succeeded are rare indeed, and although some have left a mark on history, many exist only as names on old playbills or in newspaper advertisements. Jim Haskins delivers an illuminating portrait of these unheralded pioneers — a tribute to African-Americans who paved the way for and will inspire future generations. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I’ve been reading about magic history for some time now, but I realized I knew very little about African-American magicians aside from Adalaide Herrmann’s mention of the black assistants in their show. The assistant was known as Boomsky, though several magicians played that part. Indeed, the last of the Boomskies, M. H. Everett went on to have a fairly good career after Herrmann’s death.

What did I learn?
African-American magicians have different career lineages. While some, like Everett, were assistants for white magicians, most learned magic from other black magicians—most of whom are relatively unknown to history. They didn’t learn from the likes of Kellar or Dai Vernon, but rather Alanzo Moore or Clarence Hunter. While it seems that white magicians weren’t opposed to helping and mentoring black students, they just really weren’t available due to different performance circles.

An early stage opportunity for black magicians was as part of minstrel shows. These eventually gained a little more legitimacy as vaudeville shows, but the stages and audiences were still segregated. Black magicians didn’t perform for white audiences because they prevented from doing so. Well, unless they wanted to take the persona of a “Hindoo” illusionist. Many did and made a decent living at it. Eventually, desegregation led to more and more performing opportunities.

There was also a barrier due to types of gaffed products available. For example, the thumb tip is  a versatile tool for many magic tricks, but not if it isn’t available in the proper skin tone.

What more did I want?
Conjure Times is aimed at young readers, so none of the biographies are particularly in-depth. There’s a list of sources that I’m definitely going to check out. Also, it was published in 2001 and deserves a new edition. Not included in the modern section, for example, is Kendrick McDonald, who was the first African-American to serve as the president of the Society of American Magicians.

You didn’t think I wasn’t going to include a video did you?

Overall
Informative and a good starting point.

Publishing info: Walker & Company, 2001
My Copy: Hardback, Tempe Public Library
Genre: history

Sunday Salon, 6/2/19

Sunday Salon

Reading

I’m setting those library books up and knocking them down! (Okay, not really…) Finished Poe: A Life Cut Short and Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters last week. I’ve already reviewed the first and I have the second queued up for later in the coming week.

Deal Me In: This week I pulled 2, the first wild card of the year! Yesterday, I got off on a tangent and ended up reading about one of favorite subjects: historical automata! I read “The Android Clarinetist by Cornelis Jacobus Van Oeckelen (1838)” by Albert Rice from the Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society (no. 40 (2014), pg 163-189). It was a summary of Van Oeckelen’s life as an inventor as well as a technical run-down of the automaton, which is currently owned by John Gaughan. Just a neat little slice of history.

DealMeIn
Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

In the coming week, I will be reading The History of Soul 2065 by Barbara Krasnoff, one of the few ARCs I’m reviewing this year. I’m also going to try to get to The Spectacle of Illusion.

The History of Soul 2065 Spectacle of Illusion

Watching

My movie pick of the week? Ocean’s 8 (2018). It’s not quite as sharp as Ocean’s 11, but it’s still a fun heist movie with a really great cast.

Doing

Watercolor Class:

The first “assignment” was to do an abstract using different techniques (wet on dry, wet on wet, etc.). I ended up doing it twice. There are things I like about both, but I’m pretty pleased with how the second one came out. I’m still struggling with the inexactness of watercolors. It’s a learning process in more ways than one.

What I’m Not Doing: Jury duty! I got a federal summons at the beginning of May, but luckily (for me) they don’t need a jury in the coming week. I’ve never done jury duty before. I was half looking forward to it for the experience, but going downtown and actually having to do it was another matter.


The Sunday Salon is a linkup hosted by Deb @ Readerbuzz