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review 2019-02-14 18:14
A FRIEND'S PERSPECTIVE ON THE LITERARY GREAT WHO WAS GORE VIDAL
Sympathy for the Devil: Four Decades of Friendship with Gore Vidal - Michael Mewshaw

"Sympathy for the Devil: Four Decades of Friendship with Gore Vidal " is a book that takes the reader through the various stages of the relationship Michael Mewshaw had with the great writer, essayist, gadfly/wit, intellectual, and political polemicist who was Gore Vidal.

For me, as someone who once met Gore Vidal (albeit briefly) at a public event in which he was interviewed about his life and career and later signed copies of what proved to be his final novel, "THE GOLDEN AGE", I learned more about Gore Vidal on a personal level from reading "Sympathy for the Devil" than I had ever given thought to. Vidal had been my favorite living writer for close to 20 years, and in all that time, I gave little thought to his personal life. From reading his novel and hearing him expound on various themes on TV and radio, I became caught up in his persona. He was a very fascinating person. And though I never agreed with him on every matter he spoke about, Gore Vidal was never dull.

The following observation Mewshaw made about Vidal, made me sad, because it summed up the beginning of a slow and steady decline of a singularly unique figure on the literary and world stage: “In the space of time I had known him, Gore had become the kind of novelist he used to blister with disdain. Having mocked Faulkner, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald as rummies and lampooned his contemporaries – Mailer, [Tennessee] Williams, and Capote – as lushes who squandered their talent, having described Irwin Shaw and James Jones in their last years on Long Island as looking like ‘a couple of mangy old lions’, he was now as bad as any of them, and nobody except Howard [Auster, who was Vidal’s longtime companion and protector] dared tell him to take a look in the mirror.”

For anyone who is either a Gore Vidal fan or simply curious about who he was, this is the book for you. I highly recommend it.

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review 2019-02-13 23:12
Flocks by Leigh Nichols
Flocks - Leigh Nichols

'Flocks' by Leigh Nichols is a memoir about growing up in the South in a breaking home, being a part of a religious community, being intelligent, and not belonging for reasons that can't be expressed. There have been a lot of graphic memoirs published lately, the medium allows for a balance of raw honesty and subtle expression that is appealing.

 

I'll be honest, I picked this up at Winter Institute because of the dolls on the cover. I was thinking of adding to my husband's side collection of books featuring dolls and toys. The subject matter of a young trans man working his way towards acceptance and happiness is better that your average creepy doll book.

 

I liked how open Nichols was about his faith and what it meant to him growing up and now. It was a simultaneous source of comfort and pain to him, and it took a long time to reconcile the intolerance and hostility and the kindness and support coming from the same individuals. This is a thorny problem to grapple and I think Nichols does it well. Though there really isn't anything I would call "adult content", the depth of this work makes it more suitable to mature teens or older readers.

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review 2019-02-07 16:06
I'll Be Gone in the Dark / Michelle McNamara
I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer - Michelle McNamara,Patton Oswalt,Gillian Flynn

For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called "the Golden State Killer." Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

 

I love reading true crime, but I’ve always been aware of the fact that, as a reader, I am actively choosing to be a consumer of someone else’s tragedy. So like any responsible consumer, I try to be careful in the choices I make. I read only the best: writers who are dogged, insightful, and humane. It was inevitable that I would find Michelle.


So says Gillian Flynn in her introduction to this fascinating book. She is so right about author Michelle McNamara. Her writing is top notch—right up there with Truman Capote in his classic In Cold Blood. So many true crime writers get bogged down in details, so intent on giving the reader every tiny fact that they neglect to tell a story. McNamara goes down the rabbit hole of details regularly, but she doesn’t make the reader accompany her—she sorts things out, investigates tirelessly, then reports her results.

This is as much a memoir of McNamara’s obsession and search for this killer as it is a history of the crimes and investigation. I felt like I got to know her and I liked what I saw. She would have been a fascinating coffee date and I got the feeling that she missed her calling, that she should definitely have been a professional investigator of some kind.

The saddest thing for me about the book was that Michelle died two years too soon to know the identity of the man she was searching for. From her descriptions in the narrative, I was unsurprised that it was Paul Holes who made the DNA discovery. He seems to possess the same investigative drive that Michelle embodied. As for justice, I guess this is a “better late than never” scenario.

The title of the book makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up, coming as it does from a line from the criminal himself: “Make one move and you’ll be silent forever and I’ll be gone in the dark.”

If you, like me, tore through this book and wished it was a bit longer, try James Renner’s True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray, which provides a very similar reading experience.

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text 2019-02-06 18:41
Reading progress update: I've read 47 out of 592 pages.
Die Menschheit hat den Verstand verloren: Tageb├╝cher 1939-1945 - Astrid Lindgren,Angelika Kutsch,Gabriele Haefs

Sound familiar?

"1940

9 FEBRUARY. What a world, what an existence! Reading the papers is a depressing pastime. Bombs and machine guns hounding women and children in Finland, the oceans full of mines and submarines, neutral sailors dying, or at best being rescued in the nick of time after days and nights of privation on some wretched raft, the behind-the-scenes tragedy of the Polish population (nobody’s supposed to know what’s happening, but some things get into the papers anyway), special sections on trams for “the German master race,” the Poles not allowed out after 8 in the evening, and so on. The Germans talk about their “harsh but just treatment” of the Poles -- so then we know. What hatred it will generate! In the end the world will be so full of hate that it chokes us."

And that's just for starters -- we haven't even gotten to the concentration camps yet, though there has already been much suffering; chiefly in Finland and Poland.

 

I'm reading the book in German; source of the English excerpt quoted above HERE.  Highly recommended, both the book as a whole and (as a taster) the verbatim excerpts provided on HistoryNet and in the Telegraph review.  Lindgren was an astute observer and analyst; she did not miss a single important event and development, and she uncannily distills them down to their essential importance.  E.g., here's the beginning of her final entry, on New Year's Eve 1945 (which I haven't gotten to yet, of course, but which you'll see if you read the excerpts on HistoryNet or in the Telegraph review, and which is referenced verbatim in the introduction of this book -- at least in the German version):

"Nineteen forty-five brought two remarkable things. Peace after the Second World War and the atom bomb. I wonder what the future will have to say about the atom bomb, and whether it will mark a whole new era in human existence, or not. Peace doesn't offer much hope of sanctuary, overshadowed as it is by the atom bomb."*

Almost 50 years of post-WWII world history, acutely foretold in three concise sentences.  What a remarkable woman.

________________________

 

* Final sentence my own translation; not contained in the excerpts made available online.

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text 2019-02-05 14:51
Reading progress update: I've read 169 out of 352 pages.
I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer - Michelle McNamara,Patton Oswalt,Gillian Flynn

 

OMG, this book is absolutely addictive!  I am so saddened to learn that the author died so young, and we won't get any more of these meditations on true crime.

 

Gillian Flynn wrote the introduction, and reminds us that we are consuming the tragedies of other real people.  She advises that we stick with the best and Michelle McNamara is definitely one of those.

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