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Search tags: biographies-and-memoirs
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text 2019-10-22 20:33
Halloween Bingo 2019: Twenty Third Extra Square
Evil Has a Name - Full Cast,Peter McDonnell,Steven Kramer,Various Authors,Paul Holes,Jim Clemente

 

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review 2019-10-21 00:31
A LIFE SPENT IN SEARCH OF TRUTH & ENLIGHTENMENT
My Life: J.G. Bennett and G.I. Gurdjieff: The Memoirs of Elizabeth Bennett - Elizabeth Bennett

"My Life: J.G. Bennett and G.I. Gurdjieff: The Memoirs of Elizabeth Bennett" is an incomplete memoir by the author. It spans from her formative years as the daughter of a house master at Eton College, the health challenges she faced as a little girl and adolescent, the 5 years she spent in service with the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) during the Second World War, to her meeting with J.G. Bennett near the end of the war --- a man 20 years her senior best described as far-seeing in thought, attitude, and action, with whom she would later share her life and bear him 4 children -- and the charismatic mystic and teacher G.I. Gurdjieff.

The memoir is focused more on relating the experiences Elizabeth Bennett had with Gurdjieff in France in the late 1940s (til his death in 1949), as well as with Bennett (whom she referred to as 'Mr. B') through the mid-1950s. There are also numerous color drawings made by Elizabeth Bennett herself during various phases of her life (she passed away in August 1991 from cancer; she was 72) and what loose ends there are in the memoir are filled in by her 2 sons. On the whole, this is a very readable book, written in a very honest, straightforward manner.
 

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review 2019-10-03 21:40
Chase Darkness With Me / Billy Jensen
Chase Darkness with Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders - Billy Jensen

Have you ever wanted to solve a murder? Gather the clues the police overlooked? Put together the pieces? Identify the suspect?

Journalist Billy Jensen spent fifteen years investigating unsolved murders, fighting for the families of victims. Every story he wrote had one thing in common―they didn't have an ending. The killer was still out there.

But after the sudden death of a friend, crime writer and author of I'll Be Gone in the Dark, Michelle McNamara, Billy became fed up. Following a dark night, he came up with a plan. A plan to investigate past the point when the cops had given up. A plan to solve the murders himself.

You'll ride shotgun as Billy identifies the Halloween Mask Murderer, finds a missing girl in the California Redwoods, and investigates the only other murder in New York City on 9/11. You'll hear intimate details of the hunts for two of the most terrifying serial killers in history: his friend Michelle McNamara's pursuit of the Golden State Killer and his own quest to find the murderer of the Allenstown Four. And Billy gives you the tools―and the rules―to help solve murders yourself.

 

3 to 3.5 stars??

I’m very conflicted about this book. On the one hand, I read it cover to cover as quickly as I could. On the other hand, there were a bunch of things that bothered me about it. The author was one of the people responsible for getting Michelle McNamara’s book I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer finished and ready for publication. And I appreciate that, because I loved that book. Jensen admits that he’s not the writer that McNamara was and I’d agree with him on that assessment.

Here’s one of my issues--he tries to keep so many balls in the air, juggling a variety of crimes, like some ADD true crime addict. I can’t help but speculate that he would do more conspicuous good if he’d limit himself a bit and concentrate on one or two cases at a time.

Another thing that bugs me: what his wife and family have to put up with, i.e. what seems like a lot of absence and neglect. They must be very forgiving people, because I don’t think I’d put up with it. I don’t think that this is someone to be taking life advice from, not if you value your relationships anyway.

There’s absolutely no doubt that there are a plethora of true crime podcasts, radio shows, and books in the market right now and that more and more people are attempting to make their mark by solving cold cases. What I truly did appreciate was the chapter on how to conduct yourself should you choose to follow in their footsteps. Advice to be professional, not using people’s names in public forums like Facebook and Twitter when they are leads or suspects, not doxxing your competitors, and in general being polite and staying as neutral as possible. If you are going to do this, do it the right way and don’t be an internet troll. Think carefully about it, as this isn’t just a hobby, it has the potential to ruin people’s lives if you come to the wrong conclusions.

Although I can’t say that I’m not intrigued by this phenomenon, I do recognize that I don’t have the obsessive nature required to do a good job of these tasks. I think I will stick to family genealogy research and leave crime to those better suited to that pursuit.

In the meanwhile, I’m enjoying the modern take on the true crime book. If you enjoyed this book, I would highly recommend I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer and True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray.

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review 2019-09-05 23:17
The Real Lolita / Sarah Weinman
The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World - Sarah Weinman

Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is one of the most beloved and notorious novels of all time. And yet very few of its readers know that the subject of the novel was inspired by a real-life case: the 1948 abduction of eleven-year-old Sally Horner.

Weaving together suspenseful crime narrative, cultural and social history, and literary investigation, The Real Lolita tells Sally Horner’s full story for the very first time. Drawing upon extensive investigations, legal documents, public records, and interviews with remaining relatives, Sarah Weinman uncovers how much Nabokov knew of the Sally Horner case and the efforts he took to disguise that knowledge during the process of writing and publishing Lolita.

Sally Horner’s story echoes the stories of countless girls and women who never had the chance to speak for themselves. By diving deeper in the publication history of Lolita and restoring Sally to her rightful place in the lore of the novel’s creation, The Real Lolita casts a new light on the dark inspiration for a modern classic.
 

 

I read this book to fill the Truly Terrifying square of my 2019 Halloween Bingo Card.

I heard the author of The Real Lolita interviewed on the radio and was immediately intrigued. I’ve read true crime. I’ve read biography and books seeking to trace an author’s process. But this is the first book I’ve read that really combines the two and does so effectively.

When I think about Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, I think about a work of fiction. But where did Nabokov get his idea from? It turns out that this true crime story may have provided the final details and framework for this recognized classic of fiction. Weinman has spent time in the author’s archives and has been able to connect the dots in a most convincing way.

But the author doesn’t forget the real girl--Sally Horner--and her awful predicament. Her separation from her family by an unscrupulous man and his sexual abuse of this extremely young girl. I was struck by how differently we look at society and children now--it wouldn’t be likely nowadays that a mother would send her daughter off with a person she didn’t know. It was a more trusting age, trusting that people had good intentions towards others. And yet, even in our more suspicious times, young girls still get kidnapped. Witness first person accounts like Elizabeth Smart’s My Story and non-fiction like Captive: One House, Three Women and Ten Years in Hell by Allan Hall. Indeed, the author read some of these accounts to assess what Sally’s life with her abductor might have been like.

It seems that Nabokov was interested in this theme long before the Sally Horner disappearance, but her situation seems to have resonated with him somehow. What he did was fictionalize the whole experience from Humbert Humbert’s perspective and give us an amazingly literate look at the criminal’s point of view. His wife’s notes, however, indicate that he wanted the audience to recognize the plight of Lolita in the fraudulent worldview of Humbert.

I haven’t yet read Lolita and I wondered whether I actually would, but this book makes me think that I must give it a try. Thank you, Ms. Weinman, for giving me a reason for attempting what is acknowledged to be a great novel.

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review 2019-08-28 21:09
The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes / Andrew Lycett
Conan Doyle: Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes. - Andrew Lycett

***2019 The Summer of Sherlock***

 

Reading a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle seemed like a necessary thing during my Summer of Sherlock.  Last summer, I read Andrew Lycett’s bio of Ian Fleming during my Summer of Spies and found that it greatly enhanced my enjoyment of Fleming’s Bond novels.  Perhaps I should have tackled this biography earlier in my summer and it might have given me more insight into the man’s writing.  

 

ACD was born in the Victorian era and lived until the British Interwar period.  He saw a lot of change during his lifetime, some of which he could embrace and some of which made him angry.  So really, just like most of us! In many ways, he was a man of contradictions: a man with scientific training who was fascinated with mysticism; a deeply conservative man who nevertheless held some very progressive opinions; a Victorian gentleman who strove to become modern.

 

According to his eldest daughter, Mary, “He didn’t concur with the Victorian view that women should marry at all costs--for he thought the un-married woman, with her freedom, was a whole lot happier than a woman married to the wrong man and, he added, ‘The worst of it is, the poor things can never tell till they have married the chap!’”  This is somewhat ironic, as he obviously considered himself one of the good ones, which might have been disputed by Mary’s mother, his first wife Louise. ACD spent the last 6-8 years of her life cavorting around with the woman who became his second wife one year after Louise finally expired of tuberculosis. He then proceeded to be absolutely abominable to his two children from his first marriage, until his son’s death after WWI from the Spanish flu, when he seemed to become a little more sympathetic to Mary and the two were reconciled.  Until then, he seemed like the worst sort of child support avoiding cad. In all fairness, his letters & papers appear to have been pruned by the children of the second family, who seem to have wanted Mary & Kingsley to disappear from history, so who knows what the true state of affairs was?

 

It can’t have helped that Mary looked very much like her mother (at least from the photos included in the book, there is no mistaking their relationship to my eyes).  But it does speak volumes that Mary had to arrange the funeral and burial of her brother, a task better suited to their well-to-do father.  

 

By contrast, his 3 children from his marriage to Jean seem to have been spoiled rotten.  ACD made his own good fortune by working hard, first as a doctor, then as an author, all the while being very careful of his finances.  And he can’t be said to be miserly, as he assisted and supported a whole fleet of family members and frequently contributed to causes and campaigns that he valued.  It must have been rather frustrating to him to see his younger children behaving in irresponsible and spendthrift ways.

 

ACD seems to have been an extroverted person, a real networker before networking was a thing.  He knew a tremendous number of authors: Oscar Wilde, J.M. Barrie, H. Rider Haggard, H.G. Wells, Rudyard Kipling, among others.  He couldn’t always maintain cordial relationships with all of them, but he was aware of them and probably read their works, as they seemed to read his.  He was also very much a sportsman, enjoying cricket, golf, billiards and car racing. In those ways, he was very much a man of his time.

 

Would he be disappointed that the 21st century knows him almost exclusively for his Sherlock Holmes stories?  Would he be surprised at the number of modern authors who have made use of Holmes and Watson to spin more stories of their own?  It’s funny how we are too close to our own output to realize which aspects of it are the best--he seems to have always viewed Holmes as a distraction from his more “substantive” writing and as a way to make some quick money when it was needed.  Another irony here, when a man who devoted his last years to spiritualism used the ultra-rational Sherlock Holmes to raise a few bucks to support that cause!  

 

Its too bad that his estate, especially the letters and manuscripts, got divided up like some kind of pie between his youngest 3 children and then the early deaths of the sons left some of it to daughters-in-law.  One observer noted that they were glad not to be involved in the debacle, as all of the people involved were decidedly unpleasant to deal with. As a result, ACD’s papers are scattered between quite a large number of institutions, making the life of the researcher more difficult.  Lycett in his afterword describes his trials and tribulations in trying to access, utilize and obtain permission to quote ACD. Lycett may the the first biographer to be able to use these documents, but someone else undoubtedly will take another stab at it when the dust (and the estates) are settled.

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