Tag Archives: nonfiction

Review ~ The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton

This book was provided to me by Thistle Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cover via Goodreads

The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton And Other Singular Tales from the Victorian Press by Jeremy Clay

HOLIDAYMAKER FIGHTS OFF AFRICAN LION IN WELSH HOTEL ROOM

MAN SWALLOWS MOUSE AND DIES

WIFE DRIVEN MAD BY HUSBAND TICKLING FEET

PALLBEARER KILLED BY COFFIN IN GRAVEYARD

LIBERALS EAT DOG

From the newspaper archives of the British Library, Jeremy Clay has unearthed the long-lost stories that enthralled and appalled Victorian Britain.

Within these pages are the riotous farces and tragedies of 19th-century life, a time when life was hard, pleasures short-lived, and gloating over other people’s misfortune a thoroughly acceptable form of entertainment.

Deliciously appalling and deliriously funny, The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton will have you, one way or another, in tears. . . (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
One of my favorite things about the digital age is scanned historical newspapers. Sure, they’re primary sources, but of course with a twist. The press is never neutral and what’s reported is only a subset of what’s really going on. In the cracks are stories like “The Burglar Caught By a Skeleton.”

What Worked
Jeremy Clay does a great job gathering up a selection of the skrewiest Victorian news stories. Think that dumb bets are the invention of the Tide Pod generation? Not so! An “election enthusiast” in 1892 probably died after losing a bet and swallowing a live turtle. And I can only imagine that Aymard traveling from Thoissey to Lyon along the Saone on an ice flow, making pancakes along the way, would be a YouTube sensation. Details may change but many things don’t. Still, I’m not sure I’ve read anything lately that left me so often speechless.

The articles are sorted into categories, each with a brief preface by Clay to get you in the mood.

What Didn’t Work
The only thing to note: this is a dip-in book. Sit down intending to read it straight through and you’ll come away in a muddle. Better to read a couple articles a day and leisurely enjoy them. Most are quite short. In fact, and this is no fault of our editor, many of the newspaper writers ended their stories abruptly, leaving me to exclaim, “…but I have questions!”

Overall
The stories in The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton are sensational, often funny and often gruesome. Occasionally both. I consider it a fun, light read and entertaining glimpse into the Victorian era.

Publishing info, my copy: PDF/Kindle, Thistle Publishing, May 21, 2018
Acquired: date, place
Genre: genre

20 15 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books

Review ~ NeuroTribes

Cover via Goodreads

NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity
by Steve Silberman, read by William Hughes

What is autism? A lifelong disability, or a naturally occurring form of cognitive difference akin to certain forms of genius? In truth, it is all of these things and more—and the future of our society depends on our understanding it. WIRED reporter Steve Silberman unearths the secret history of autism, long suppressed by the same clinicians who became famous for discovering it, and finds surprising answers to the crucial question of why the number of diagnoses has soared in recent years.

Going back to the earliest days of autism research and chronicling the brave and lonely journey of autistic people and their families through the decades, Silberman provides long-sought solutions to the autism puzzle, while mapping out a path for our society toward a more humane world in which people with learning differences and those who love them have access to the resources they need to live happier, healthier, more secure, and more meaningful lives.

Along the way, he reveals the untold story of Hans Asperger, the father of Asperger’s syndrome, whose “little professors” were targeted by the darkest social-engineering experiment in human history; exposes the covert campaign by child psychiatrist Leo Kanner to suppress knowledge of the autism spectrum for fifty years; and casts light on the growing movement of “neurodiversity” activists seeking respect, support, technological innovation, accommodations in the workplace and in education, and the right to self-determination for those with cognitive differences. (via Goodreads)

This has been a tough “review” to write. It’s probably going to be more of a collection of thoughts, only some of which have to do with the book.

I.

Within the book blogging community, we talk a lot about how important it is to read diversely, but often this doesn’t really extend to neurodiversity. While we want to read about and attempt to understand the experiences of those different from us, reading the works of someone who thinks differently is challenging. Deep down, we still want to relate. We want a way into a character/author and that might be absent. But wouldn’t it be worth it to have that better understanding?

II.

I spent most of the time listening to this book being very angry.

I am surprised, I guess, by my reaction at how children are treated. I’m not a parent. I have no intention of being a parent, so take the following with a grain of salt: it strikes me as deeply unfair that parents should feel they deserve a certain type of child—a “normal” child—and only seek to fix a child that doesn’t match this expectation. Or to only show disappointment in a child that doesn’t meet that expectation.*

It’s hard to hear about kids on the spectrum who aren’t meeting their parent’s expectations in ways that are very parent-oriented. They’re not being cuddly enough, not being talkative enough (or maybe being too talkative). They don’t want to go to a noisy birthday party or a crowded mall to sit on Santa’s knee. They just want to be themselves…except that’s not what their parents want.

I realize there are many forms of autism and raising a child with disruptive tendencies isn’t easy; that it might be almost impossible to understand a child who has a radically different way of thinking. I know I can’t understand how hard that must be. But why do parents seem to go into parenthood only expecting the very best situation?

* Obviously, this is not all parents. There are lots of parents out there doing their best to recognize their children as people.

III.

NeuroTribes is probably the most in-depth history of autism at the moment. The history aspect is important because it informs the way we look at autism today. It shows us just how much of an uphill battle it is to see people on the spectrum not as broken, but as different. We need a shift in the way we think about neurodiversity.

Publishing info, my copy: Audio, Blackstone Audio, Inc., Aug. 25, 2015
Acquired: Tempe Public Library Overdrive Digital Collection
Genre: Nonfiction

Review ~ Missoula

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

Cover via Goodreads

Acquaintance rape is a crime like no other. Unlike burglary or embezzlement or any other felony, the victim often comes under more suspicion than the alleged perpetrator. This is especially true if the victim is sexually active; if she had been drinking prior to the assault — and if the man she accuses plays on a popular sports team. For a woman in this situation, the pain of being forced into sex against her will is only the beginning of her ordeal. If she decides to go to the police, undertrained officers sometimes ask if she has a boyfriend, implying that she is covering up infidelity. She is told rape is extremely difficult to prove, and repeatedly asked if she really wants to press charges. If she does want to charge her assailant, district attorneys frequently refuse to prosecute. If the assailant is indicted, even though victim’s name is supposed to be kept confidential, rumors start in the community and on social media, labeling her a slut, unbalanced, an attention-seeker. The vanishingly small but highly publicized incidents of false accusations are used to dismiss her claims in the press. If the case goes to trial, the woman’s entire personal life often becomes fair game for the defense attorneys.

In Missoula, Krakauer chronicles the searing experiences of several women in Missoula — the nights when they were raped; their fear and self-doubt in the aftermath; the way they were treated by the police, prosecutors, defense attorneys; the public vilification and private anguish; their bravery in pushing forward and what it cost them.

Some of them went to the police. Some declined to go to the police, or to press charges, but sought redress from the university, which has its own, noncriminal judicial process when a student is accused of rape. In two cases the police agreed to press charges and the district attorney agreed to prosecute. One case led to a conviction; one to an acquittal. Those women courageous enough to press charges or to speak publicly about their experiences were attacked in the media, on Grizzly football fan sites, and/or to their faces. The university expelled three of the accused rapists, but one was reinstated by state officials in a secret proceeding. One district attorney testified for an alleged rapist at his university hearing. She later left the prosecutor’s office and successfully defended the Grizzlies’ star quarterback in his rape trial. The horror of being raped, in each woman’s case, was magnified by the mechanics of the justice system and the reaction of the community.

Krakauer’s dispassionate, carefully documented account of what these women endured cuts through the abstract ideological debate about campus rape. College-age women are not raped because they are promiscuous, or drunk, or send mixed signals, or feel guilty about casual sex, or seek attention. They are the victims of a terrible crime and deserving of compassion from society and fairness from a justice system that is clearly broken.(via Goodreads)

Actually, this isn’t a review. This is truly taking my tagline to heart: “opinions about books and other things.”

I.

Recently, I read a review of this book by another blogger who commented that one of the thing she found semi-confusing about Missoula was its “Well, what *is* this thing called acquaintance rape?” attitude. As a book published in 2015, shouldn’t it be as aware of the phenomenon as its readers–that is to say, its female readers of a certain age and background who are fairly informed? A disturbing fact of the matter is that many people don’t understand and don’t necessarily want to pick through a situation that isn’t as unambiguous as some ski-masked rapist jumping out the bushes.

II.

I wonder if some of my anxiousness in November was due to my listening material. While cleaning, I was listening to Missoula. While playing video games, I’ve been listening to Undisclosed, a follow-up podcast to last year’s season of Serial. Undisclosed combs through the investigation and conviction of Adnan Seyd. In both cases, it’s fairly obvious how flawed our justice system can be and how mistaken our assumptions about the behaviors of others often is.

III.

The author of this book is male. It shouldn’t matter that the the author is male, but to be honest, it did matter to me. It mattered that a male nonfiction writer was willing to tell this story. The narrator of my audio book is female, which led to a dissonance, again perhaps only for me. I imagine the publishers decided that it was a better choice given the quotes by the women involved. How immediately different would my thoughts on Missoula be if the voice had been male?

Publishing info, my copy: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, 2015
Acquired: Tempe Library Overdrive Digital Collection
Genre: Nonfiction

Magic Monday Review ~ Miracle Mongers and Their Methods

MagicMonday

I like Mondays. On Monday, I am refreshed from the weekend and exhilarated by the possibilities of the week ahead. I also like magic. I like its history, its intersection with technology, and its crafty use of human nature.  I figured I’d combine the two and make a Monday feature that is truly me: a little bit of magic and a look at the week ahead.

Cover via Goodreads

Miracle Mongers and Their Methods by Harry Houdini

The legendary magician and illusionist Harry Houdini turns a critical eye to the astonishing claims of those in his own profession. Using personal research and observations, Houdini reveals the cunning techniques employed by fire-eaters, sword swallowers, and other masters of deception to mystify and amaze audiences around the world. This classic skeptical work explores and exposes the methods of such “wonders” as “The Incombustible Spaniard,” “Defiers of Poisonous Reptiles,” and many others. Originally published in the 1920s, Miracle Mongers and Their Methods scrupulously examines the direct predecessors of modern psychics and mentalists. …(via Goodreads)

Making the jump to debunking psychics and mediums misses a rather important point about Houdini. He was an incredible athlete. Near the end of his career, he did indeed pit himself against mediums, but this book isn’t about that at all. This book is a catalog of the great purveyors of physical “miracles.” While Houdini does expose the techniques, there’s a great respect in this recitation of fire-eaters, sword-swallowers, poison defiers, strong men (and women) and the like. While Houdini was sensitive about his own methods being made public, he makes an important observation about exposure: Many of these performers were debunked time and time again during their careers without it hurting business.

I would guess that the text wasn’t really written by Houdini (he had ghost writers), but the source material was curated by him and I would say that the enthusiasm is certainly his. It should also be noted that any advice given about snake bite cures in this book is *terrible*.

Publisher: Public domain edition
Publication date: Originally 1920
Genre: non-fiction

What Am I Reading This Week?

Nevermore Great Expectations Supernatural Fairy Tales
  • Nevermore by William Hjortsberg – Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houdini, and the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe walk into a bar…
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – I always forget how much I enjoy Dickens.
  • A wild card for DMI and I’m picking “Lazarus” by Leonid Andreyev
  • A book of optical illusions
  • Some fairy tales retold for #COYER on the weekend!

What Am I Working On?

The first week of writing in July didn’t go as well as planned. I wasn’t feeling great and I got hung up on an action scene. I hate action scenes.

Also this week, I need to update ALL THE WEBPAGES. Entangled Continua got a mini make-over this weekend and I need to update book availability.