BookRiot: A Book of Nonviolent True Crime

As I’m writing this my husband has the pellet stove on for the first time this season. I will try not to spend all the it’s-getting-colder-season complaining that it’s getting colder.  But it’s not even October!

In a more positive spin on it’s-not-even-October (lots-of-hypens on today’s post, yes?) I have now completed 22 of the 24 BookRiot tasks reading two books per category!  As much as I try not to shuffle the less appealing reads to the end of the year, it happens.  My excuse is that during my least favorite months of the year, January and February, I absolutely need the diversion of interesting books. Preferably whilst crafting.

A Book of Nonviolent True Crime

Ugh, I don’t hate nonfiction, I just don’t always get into it the way I can get swept away by fiction.  I like hearing multiple perspectives on a story, as I have said before, and learning how things came to be in the world, events explained, but I just don’t seek it out in the same way that I do fiction.  Probably because my job is a lot of puzzle assembly and I enjoy it but on my free time I usually want something a little different. To mix it up.

So I really dragged my feet on getting this one done.  I could have dragged them harder.  Much harder. But in the interest of full disclosure, a lot of scary reads were done before I started muddling through this category.

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The Dinosaur Artist:  Art, Obsession, Betrayal and the Quest for Earth’s Ultimate Trophy,  Paige Williams

Eric Prokopi, an obsessive and life long fossil hunter, brings an entire dinosaur skeleton to auction in NYC.  A dinosaur native to Mongolia. People start asking questions as to how such a prize is no longer in its home country and Prokopi starts watching things fall apart.

Okay, so a three sentence synopsis of a 432 page book might not feel like I’m giving it an entirely fair shake.  And of course, being nonfiction, there are numerous threads to follow as this narrative, this story of a full T. Bataar showing up at a NYC auction for sale.  Perspectives of fossil collectors versus academics and striking a balance between them and their political agendas. The story of how Eric Prokopi came to be and who he is as a person and his life moving ahead as a family as well as a fossil hunter.  And natural history sprinkled in there with some history and sociology, all the things I can easily get behind, pet interests I’ll never have the space in my life to pursue. I guess the ability to dabble could be the draw of nonfiction for most people.

I was drawn in enough to google pictures of all the major players.  I usually don’t get to books as recent as this one, especially not nonfiction, published last year, with dates in history where I was muddling around my own corner of the world.   He’s not that much older than I am. Despite this being a significant deviation of my usual reading habits I found myself enjoying it. There is always a human interest story behind how crimes happen, and this one is about passion and the thrill of the hunt.  I can appreciate a man chasing his passion, even if it gets a little too far ahead of him. All of us passionate people have a tendency to get in over our heads.

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Can You Ever Forgive Me? Memoirs of a Literary Forger, Lee Israel

In this memoir turned true crime story, Leonora Israel, a writer in dire straits, turns to forging letters of famous people to dealers as well as forging letters to trade with real ones in order to sell them and make a living.

So, let me say, when I was poking around in the available books for this, I didn’t think I was going to read about a forger.  Like I mentioned in my review of The Dinosaur Artist, I like nonfiction that gives me a chance to dabble in my interests.  Forgery of authentic literary items didn’t sound appealing or align with my interests.  I ended up choosing this one because it’s short, and I kinda didn’t want to work for it like I did The Dinosaur Artist, and because it was recommended as funny. It was both of those things, at less than three hours a listen and because it is written by the person who was sharp enough to make passable forgeries of the brilliance of Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward, among others, it is pretty funny.  It did help with getting through this category when I had been considering The Feather Thief, another story about people wanting to possess invaluable natural history items, but I kept selecting other things to read next.  

This is brilliant and it is funny, but the narrator is not and does not become likeable at any point.  You can see where the forgery started out of being driven to desperation, so I had some empathy for the situation (flies), but I felt that she could have just done a few to get money and then changed to something more reputable.  If one is doing enough research to write passable false letters, why not write historical fiction? I know she was writing in a time where you couldn’t build your own self publishing empire after flopping in traditional publishing, but she easily could have made something reputable about the research and legwork she was already putting in.  She struggles with alcoholism and while she’s open about the mistakes that she makes while drinking, but if you’re looking for someone to change as a result of their mistakes I’m not sure this is your book. I know it’s a movie now and I’ll be interested to see if there’s a little more character change instead of just satiric wit.

I didn’t like the title and initially it seemed at such odds with the tone of the memoir, but no fears:  it makes sense when you get there. I wonder if the movie will make her more likeable.

Two posts left for September and it remains to be seen how soon I’m starting the scaries.  They’re read, but there’s the question of how well I will motivate myself to finish business books, which, even though they do appeal to my Psychologist side, that remains to be answered. One is read. Almost. There.

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The Final Summer of Shorts

It’s the final week of shorts and already the last week of July.

It’s been an awesome July, watching my son play football unexpectedly well (my kid is good at sports but last year he wasn’t ready to run the ball until the last game), soaking up the greenery of the world at this time of year, and the week I took off to take my son to robotics camp where I got a ton of reading done and pushed myself to get back into some sort of writing.  It has been a challenge with all the changes at work and the busy of summer to focus on creative things, but the week off with some time to myself seemed to help.

As far as shorts are concerned, this of course was a rabbit hole.  So many collections to read and explore and admire. I could have done two months plus of shorts with what I had in my collection still, but I wanted to be sure I got through the BookRiot books for this year, too.   I spent my reading time doing both during my rides back and forth to Albany and my pillaging a library out there while he was at camp.

There was a Starbucks trip but the books were better at the library.

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Trigger Warning:  Short Fictions and Disturbances,  Neil Gaiman

A collection of short works by Neil, a few were poetry,  a few were like fairy tales, a few were the typical short stories/science fiction/fantasy some with characters borrowed from other places. I thankfully listened to the forward in which he talks about how this collection hangs rather loosely together and where they are from.  The title of Trigger Warning is to suggest that these pieces are united by hopefully getting the reader to feel about the works presented.   He talks about trigger warnings on things on the internet now and his wanting people to read about things that will make them think and feel, stir them up a bit, learn from them, even if the experience is intense.  I have seen others have conflicting views on trigger warnings, believing them to not be valuable things.  I probably am mixed, there is enough trauma in this world to give people the warning that they can avoid encountering something that makes them feel triggered or unsafe.  It can be a way of rebuilding a sense of safety.

You’d think the writings would be a little more provocative with that kind of title, and the stories are good, and thought provoking, and like the blurb promises, “talks about who we are behind the mask”, but they aren’t over the top or super edgy.  This is only my third work I have read by Gaiman but it seems to be in keeping with his other works, thought provoking, interesting, but not too edgy.  Things wouldn’t have made as much sense without the forward, however, I am in a bit of a slump about being confident in my writing and he talks about all the commissions and accolades the collected works have gotten.  Not that I ever thought I would be Neil Gaiman, but it was a pretty strong reminder that I was not put on this earth to be Neil.

I liked his fairy tale like stories the best, like the layers he added to the Sleeper and the Spindle, and the stories where there are murderous plots afoot.  I keep thinking about the story were a dwarf is led to a cave of treasures and what he finds there. It was difficult having him narrate the entire book in terms of keeping track of the beginning and ends of stories.  In Memory Wall there were different narrators for different stories and the end of one story was announced and the beginning of another, which was helpful.  It got confusing especially in Calendar of Tales, which would have been even more confusing without the forward, due to them being shorts.  Not that Gaiman cannot do a lovely job of narrating stories in his British accent and emphasis in all the places that he intended.  He absolutely can do that.  And he didn’t have the weird ending to stories like Oyeyemi where I felt left in the lurch, like I was still missing something.  Neil Gaiman is an artist and I need to read American Gods and his other stuff. T.B.R.

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Tenth of December, George Saunders

A collection of true to life stories that are hilarious but still manage to say important things, grab and move a reader.

I loved Lincoln in the Bardo, but I felt that that book would not have been accessible in the book format, more over audio, so that is a part of the reason I got this lovey on audio.  It’s definitely not like Lincoln in the Bardo, but that doesn’t make it any less brilliant.  I have seen in advertised all over my bookish life but I had no idea how laugh out loud funny this would be along with it’s poignancy.  I was driving my kid to robotics camp an hour away and laughing out loud.  I have seen in the reviews that it’s hilarious, but I don’t always see the hilarity that other readers see, but this time I did.  Wow.  It was all at once sad, poignant, funny, and moving.  He captured the streams of consciousness that can be heartbreaking as well as just who we are as humans in our every day lives.

Probably my favorite story is the one where the young man who has helicopter parents and a healthy case of tourettes has to make a decision about doing the right thing in a scary situation.  The way the child thinks is funny but the conflict he comes across in the narrative is also very real.  I think it’s a common conflict of teens after years of being told what to do, when all of a sudden they are placed in situations where they need to start acting on their own and what that transition is about, especially when they are in a world that does not allow them autonomy. And that was just the opener, the rest of the stories tumbling  out in their surprising hilarity after.

It wasn’t, as one Amazon reviewer put it, typical New Yorker fiction about white rich people and angst. All of these were very real.  And I can’t say enough about how funny they were too.  I was surprised by the humor that he could put into genuine, real situations.

I am tagging this post also as audio masterpieces because the author narration significantly added to the experience of both of these books.

Two excellent collections of shorts to take in, to finish off the eight I did for this blog series.

Back to BookRiot for August!  The year is already growing short!

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BookRiot 2019: Humor Books

I have to justify the exceptions I have made in this post to the I hate celebrity memoirs complaint that I have been blogging about for years.

I hate them, and I have talked about why likely on multiple occasions.  So then why, when I have to read a humor book, would I choose to read these?  There are plenty of funny books out there that aren’t autobiographies. But, there are plenty that are.  And not all of them are exercises in white privilege.

One of them I talk about in this post is, and one is most certainly not.

They were both mostly consumed via audio, as is always best with a humor memoir read by the author.

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Born a Crime, Trevor Noah

This audiobook was the highest-rated new book of 2016 and the best male narrator that year.  Very highly recommended by a friend of mine who, while very bright, doesn’t always go in for heavy books.  She has done her share of them, certainly, and when she tells me I need to read a heavier topic book I take heed.  I had to finally listen to this long time TBR surfer.

And it’s so not about white privilege and at times so very not funny that partway through the book I looked up the genre to be sure that I didn’t once again read something that I thought fit the BookRiot category but in fact did not once I had committed myself (The Friend, In Cold Blood, hopefully not etc). It’s the story of a man growing up colored (mixed race) in South Africa and apartheid.   Of course his brilliance is in finding a way to laugh at years of being a child who doesn’t fit in anywhere.   And the hardship afforded him by living in his place and time.  The lack of options. The struggle with not fitting in with the white or the black kids.

Essentially, his spicy mother, with her own rough personal history, steals this show.  This wouldn’t have been as brilliant, or as heartbreaking at times, without her.  She’s tough but she’s 110% heart, so even in her most desperate power struggles with her son and her most extreme parenting choices you can see her good intentions shining through.  Her constant efforts are always to get her kid into the kind of shape that wouldn’t participate in trouble and therefore go unnoticed for the darker forces in the world.  And even though she is tough, she is desperately loved and her son feels like a team with her against the world.  I love her devotion to God and her ability to survive and thrive despite all the misfortunes dealt her.  I even googled her face after reading this because I just had to see it.

So it is a credit to the other book I read that I could still get through it and care about the narrator despite the next universe level of privilege:

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Yes, Please, Amy Poehler

Also, a long time TBR lister, if that fact is surprising to you. It probably is.  The other memoirs I have read for past challenges were mostly not books I had been wanting and meaning to read.

But I had been meaning to read this because I read Bossypants by Tina Fey, and I wanted to read the other side of the comedy duo. I like Amy’s work with Tina.  And I liked this more than Bossypants, even though I feel that I have seen more of Tina’s work than Amy’s.

It was better because Amy’s brand of humor is not constantly self deprecating, like Tina’s is. Tina’s self deprecating humor is rampant in her show 30 Rock and her book is similar.  I had always thought that she was lovely and she talked about how fat and hairy she is in real life.  It can be funny, certainly, but it was in the teeth gritting amount of it. Amy made comments that she is short and has difficult eyebrows and her personality quirks, but they did not feel as central to the narrative.

The other reason I could stomach this after Born a Crime is the fact that Poehler emphasizes her luck throughout.  She openly acknowledges a life of unconditional love and support from her family and how she saw things a differently than people who didn’t have that experience.  And she has a whole chapter on mindfulness, which she states is time travel, which is an interesting way to put it.  Mindfulness is about taking more control of your feelings and thoughts, but she makes it even more evident by framing it as a way to control time.

Poehler is funny and poignant, of course, and she put in a lot of time to be where she is, which is a good reminder to anyone who really wants to make it in the creative world (and academic world, for that matter.  It took me over ten years to go from HS grad to licensed Psychologist) but she also takes the time to be grateful.  She talks about motherhood and those young years with no money but all the time in the world in ways I can relate to.  Because yes I’m privileged too.  I love how she talks about motherhood and her silly boys and the active decision not to answer questions in a way that could scar them for life.

One of the only things she wrote about that I couldn’t really relate to was doing drugs.  It’s never been super appealing to me and I mostly just drank during my youth, in amounts in college that were not healthy but a certain level of drunk was way more optimal then than it is in my sweet mom, full time job, chasing the writing/running thing life.  I like to sleep and too much alcohol ruins a good 9-10 hour go on the weekend.

I don’t expect the privileged to grovel for forgiveness in their privilege.  I certainly don’t have that kind of time.  But when you take a moment to breathe in the sweetness you have been dealt, and use your privilege for the improvement of the lives of others, that’s better than drinking yourself into ruin and lamenting your lost looks.  I mean, often washed up stars that end up like that have their own trauma and demons.

So I have my excuses, but I did enjoy both of these.  And I have been pleased with my TBR getting hacked into this year.  I’m probably reading too much long and should be burying my face in shorts because I have been writing those for submission.

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