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review 2017-03-27 08:19
Anatomy of Innocence
Anatomy of Innocence: Testimonies of the... Anatomy of Innocence: Testimonies of the Wrongfully Convicted - Laura Caldwell,Leslie S. Klinger,Scott Turow,Barry Scheck

Anatomy of Innocence

edited by Laura Caldwell and Leslie S. Klinger

 

What an intriguing concept: have a mystery writer--someone who makes a living inventing crimes and delving into a fictitious criminal justice system--with a real-life exoneree, someone for whom a red herring was a life-altering tragedy and not just an entertaining plot twist.

 

I will admit I didn't read the blurb carefully enough: I hadn't realized that these would be retellings by the writers rather than interviews. Why is the distinction so important? Because retellings run the risk of stealing the speaker's voice, transforming the story to fulfil the writer's preconceived notions, and commodifying the result. A collection like this is powerful but also dangerous: while it can give voices to those who have already been forced to suffer in silence, it can also stifle them. To my mind, examples of both exist in the collection. The worst offender, in my opinion, was Laurie R. King, who attributes incredibly naive thoughts and utterly simplistic language to her interviewee. She is so condescending that it made my teeth hurt. I generally was less happy about the chapters that tried to "novelify" people's lives with overblown drama and suspense, but I deeply appreciated those that gave an account of the interview itself as a journalist would. Probably my favourite retelling was Lee Child's recounting of Kirk Bloodsworth's story, which is told as an interview, with Bloodsworth telling his story in his own words. It is touching, and most importantly, it doesn't pretend to go behind his eyes but gets out of the way and helps him tell his story.

 

The crimes and circumstances run the gamut, from a woman accused of shaking a baby to death to a murdered wife to a gang shooting to a vicious rape, from a clear case of racist scapegoating to mistaken eyewitnesses to damning circumstantial evidence. Many of the cases involve police who forced confessions by torturing their suspects. In some of the stories, exoneration means the real culprit was found; in others, that the state was shown to have been corrupt or not to have proved its case. (As a side note, all of the stories are present unambiguous innocence of the exoneree and negligence or evil on the part of the state, which often means dropping other aspects of the cases that muddy the water. While I understand the rationale, I prefer not to be fed an oversimplification.) Each chapter ends with an editor's note discussing the history and current status of one part of the case, from DNA testing to negligent counsel to faulty forensic science to forced confessions and mistaken eyewitnesses. If you weren't aware of the extremely broken state of the US justice system, this collection will be an eyeopener. Even if you are, Anatomy of Innocence provides an interesting opportunity to hear the repercussions of a fallible justice system on people's lives.

 

~~I received an advanced reader copy of this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, W.W. Norton and Company, in exchange for my honest review. Thanks!~~


Cross-posted on Goodreads.

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review 2017-03-26 02:50
Home to Our Valleys!
Home to Our Valleys! : True Story of the Incredible Glorious Return of the Waldenses to Their Native Land - Walter C. Utt

The Vaudois were a little Christian group that throughout the Middle Ages were not considered “orthodox” by The Church resulting in persecution and attempts to wipe them out, however after the Protestant Reformation they were considered important to many prominent Protestant leaders throughout Europe especially after Louis XIV influenced the Duke of Savoy to attack them.  Home to Our Valleys! is the retelling of the Vaudois’ return from exile during the onset of the War of the Grand Alliance by author Walter Utt using the official account of Vaudois leader Henri Arnaud as well as numerous primary sources from around Europe.

 

The Vaudois home valleys were in the Piedmont region of Italy, then known as the Duchy of Savoy, right next to the border with Louis XIV’s France.  Their exile as the result of French influence on the Duke of Savoy just after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, made them refugees in Switzerland and German lands alongside the Huguenots.  It was these combined refuges that came together in a 1000 man strong force that left Swiss territory into Savoy marching for home, a journey that included a sliver of France jutting into Savoy territory.  Although this force avoided major battles, it continued to win minor skirmishes before reaching their home at which point their campaign turned into a guerrilla action against French forces operating in Savoy territory.

 

The overall subject of the book was very interesting, but was undermined by Utt’s decision of how to tell this story.  At times the book read like nonfiction then as historical fiction, going back and forth throughout.  This inconsistency is what really drove my rating of this book so low because while after thinking long and hard that for the most part this was a nonfictional account of the Vaudois with apparently reconstructed conversations between individuals as best guessed by Utt.

 

The fact that I had to debate what type of book this was while reading it and a while afterwards, took considerable attention away from content Utt was writing about.  The subject matter in Home to Our Valleys! is very interesting, but was lost in the style of writing that Utt chose to write in making the overall book underwhelming.

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review 2017-03-21 21:29
Unplanned by Abby Johnson
Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader's Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line - Cindy Lambert,Abby Johnson

This book has been on my TBR for quite some time, and I finally made it a priority to read it after having the opportunity to hear Abby Johnson speak at a local event. Her story is in turns tragic and inspiring on many levels. While it is no great literary work, I didn't expect it to be, and, with a story like this, it doesn't need to be.

It is no surprise that this book rates higher with pro-life readers than pro-choice, but what I really appreciated about Abby's point of view was that she humanizes both. Turned off equally by extremism on both sides, Abby points out that most people tend to be doing what they truly feel is best for women. That is what put her in her increasingly awkward position with Planned Parenthood.

At one time, PP was possibly more pro-woman and less pro-profits, but, as happens with many not-for-profits, they began to see themselves as a business rather than a charity. As we all know based on news since Abby has left PP, abortion is big business. She joined PP as a college junior because she believed that the organization cared about women as much as she did. Maybe, at that time, they still did.

When you give the devil a foothold, he has a way of taking over, so it didn't take long for abortion to become a necessary evil in Abby's mind. She even courageously confesses to having two abortions herself. She chides her younger self for her way of thinking.

If I have this child? Why wasn't it obvious to me that I already had a child, who was growing inside of me? Once you are pregnant, there is no if. That child, though tiny and in an early stage of development, already exists! But I didn't yet see that. What I saw, and by now was reinforcing in the minds of other young women as part of the Planned Parenthood organization, was that I was in a condition of pregnancy, not that I was now the mother of a child already dependent upon my own body for sustenance. I am amazed at how semantics can shape thought.

Abby talks a lot about semantics in this book and how the PP talking points are designed to minimize the decision that women in crisis situations are making. Yet, for years, she believed that compassion was their driving force, that providing education and birth control was PP's chief goal in order to perform as few abortions as necessary. It was how she justified her position there. She was helping women.

Of course, Abby isn't the only one to work at PP because they want to help women. It is easy to vilify the organization based on their misleading statements and illegal practices, but there must still be good people working there who truly believe they are doing what they can to help women in their time of need. Abby is no longer one of them.

I'd begun at Planned Parenthood, as many of my coworkers had, out of a sense of idealism and a desire to help women in crisis, but it seemed to me the emphasis had shifted at the organization. It seemed like maybe that's not what a lot of people were believing anymore because that's not where the money was. The money wasn't in family planning, the money wasn't in prevention, the money was in abortion, and so I had a problem with that.

She could no longer keep her blinders on when a combination of things happened. First, she gained the position of clinic director and was given an insider's view of how decisions were made and what organization priorities were. Second, the abortion quota. No longer could Abby believe the lie that PP wished to minimize abortions through education and birth control when she was informed that the number of abortions at her clinic needed to double because "that's how we make our money" and free birth control needed to be cut back because it was too expensive. Finally, Abby was asked, despite a complete lack of medical training, to assist with an ultrasound guided abortion. Watching that 12 week old baby fight for its life only to be torn apart as the doctor made lighthearted jokes was more than her conscience could take.

Throughout this story, Abby doesn't pull punches when it comes to the actions of the "other side" either. She and her husband were denied membership to their church because she worked for an abortion clinic. Instead of reaching out in love, these Christians closed their doors. She also expresses anger toward pro-life protesters who use graphic signage and guilt instead of prayer and kindness to spread their message. Since she was working at PP when Dr. Tiller was murdered by a pro-life extremist, she knows what she is talking about.

In the end, Abby became a spokesperson for the pro-life movement, largely due to actions of PP. She would have quietly gone away, but PP made a media spectacle out of it. They attempted to damage Abby's reputation (after naming her employee of the year the year before) and create public sympathy for the organization but ended up creating a much larger pro-life stir.

Over the course of more than a decade, Abby has endured attacks from PP, negative media attention, loss of friends, and public scrutiny of her life. Yet, when she talks about her decision to leave PP, it is without regrets. She has learned to trust that, "He had chosen to demonstrate through me, that He redeems the foolish, the broken, the sinful, and then uses them to accomplish His purposes."

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text 2017-03-19 21:06
Reading progress update: I've read 10%.
A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Nonfiction - Terry Pratchett,Neil Gaiman

On why he starts his next book immediately after finishing the first:

 

"It also means you have an excuse for not tidying away your reference books, a consideration not to be lightly cast aside in this office, where books are used as bookmarks for other books."

 

You know, I feel I would have liked this man a great deal, if only because it makes me feel better to know I am not the only one who does that. 

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review 2017-03-16 20:01
Eat That Frog!
Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time - Brian Tracy

Informative collection of mantras and ideas to help you handle time and work more efficiently.

 

Nothing new per se, but I always enjoy reminding myself of the principles involved. This book does that nicely.

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