In Cold Blood has been on my TBR list for a good long while. I’m pretty sure the copy I have is from Paperback Swap, and it’s been ages since I’ve used them. For a time I contemplated writing a true crime book myself, so it seemed incongruous that I hadn’t read one of the most famous true crime books; one that is often cited as a great American work of literature.
It was quite different than I expected. The writing is breathless and occasionally lurid. I actually kind of have trouble completely calling In Cold Blood nonfiction due to its style as well as due to accusations of literary license by people involved. I didn’t dislike the book, but I can tell that my taste for true crime has soured. It’s hard for me to take much enjoyment from the tragedy others.
On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers has been the perfect read to kick off 20 Books of Summer. What’s better than creepy pirate horror? I also question my decision to have not included Treasure Island on my initial books of summer list.
Still keeping up with my poor friend Jonathan Harker via Dracula Daily.
This was Ladies of Horror Fiction’s May book selection. I almost gave up on this book because its first 10% is pretty much all domestic drama, mostly Rob and her awful husband fighting. Luckily, Ward started weaving in some creepy threads kept me reading. Ultimately, Sundial goes in a science fiction direction that I’m not too sure about. That, mixed with a melodramatic aspect that wouldn’t be out of place on a CW show, makes for a somewhat entertaining read, but I really would have been happier with just the creepiness.
Come Clean by Sara Gran
Heard about Come Clean book from a Tor post on possession in books. One of the things that freaked my out about The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty when I first read it was that the possession of Regan starts with noises in the attic that no one pays attention to. I don’t know if that’s a general “you’ve got demons” trope, but it’s the jumping off point for Come Clean. Oddly, I felt the first person perspective of Amanda took away from the horror of her becoming possessed. While she’s helpless to stop it, she also isn’t really part of bad things happening during to blackouts. I did like the background that Gran brings to the demon Naamah: that Adam rejected his second wife because he saw what was inside her. You can read that literally or figuratively.
Deal Me In, Week 19
Q♠️, “Wake Up, I Miss You” by Rachel Swirsky – From Into the Night’s archives, but not strongly horror in my opinion. Very dream-like because it is full of dreaming. Not quite sure what the Queen of Teeth is meant to be.
Bloodlines: Odyssey of a Native Daughter by Janet Campbell Hale
In the fall of 1995, as junior in college, I took a Native American literature course. Since it counted for the college of arts and sciences’ cultural minority requisite, many of the students were there because they had to be. I was there because I had to be too, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to do the work. Plus, it wasn’t uninteresting. I took an introductory anthropology class and a course called “Stories and the Human Experience” that semester too and they all meshed together nicely. At the end of the semester my instructor gifted me with Janet Campbell Hale’s Bloodlines.
At the beginning of Bloodlines, Janet Campbell Hale warns that autobiography isn’t always entirely true. Some stories are better if they aren’t entirely true. Yet, I have little reason to suspect that Hale isn’t telling the truth. Her narratives move from the history of the Coeur d’Alene and Kootenay peoples to her own fragmented childhood, spent traveling with her mother. Her writing is clear and unadorned, but still lyrical.
I learn from Wikipedia that Hale died just last year of complications due to COVID-19. According to LinkedIn, my professor moved on to non-teaching pastures, establishing a company that combines archaeology and law to help deal with cultural property issues in the Great Plains.
Deal Me In, Week 18
18♦️ “The Tyger” by Tegan Moore – As I kid, I very much enjoyed museums. That might have been because a trip to Lincoln to visit Morrill Hall was a treat. I don’t know why I didn’t go to the museum more when I was a student at UNL. So, I understand Jules a little. This is a gentle fantasy and, for once, I didn’t mind the kid narrator.
As I mentioned, it’s Bout of Books this week. My reading has been pretty slow though, so far.
Sundial by Catriona Ward – This seems to be going well for me, but the beginning had me worried.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.”
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.”
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