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June 2019 Booklist

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold – The families of murderers (or attempted ones, like mine) grieve and suffer lasting consequences, too. It’s not often you hear their stories from this perspective. Sue Klebold, mother of one of the two boys behind the murders at Columbine, has written hers. There is some enlightening information and useful resources regarding mental illness and suicide.

I wish there had been something about gun laws, though she does discuss how media can produce copy cats and blueprints for the next shooter. She says she saw no signs of the impending massacre, but there were signs that her son was struggling with a “brain illness” (she prefers this term over “mental illness”) or other issues and so it was hard not to pass judgment on how she was either checked out or glossing over some facts. Regardless, her grief is real and deep and my heart goes out to her. Her lasting legacy –no matter what good she does in the world– will always include the caveat that she raised a boy who chose to massacre his classmates and a teacher in his suicide bid. That extraordinary burden could drive many to dark places. I’m very glad she is giving back and rising above and sharing her story.

The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson – I had no idea there was a sort of cult obsession with this murder case of the late 1800s until I went to find the link for the book to include here. Whoa! The options of books & movies overwhelms! This one was new and recommended by my library, I like crime and history, and the cover is delicious. So, that’s how I ended up reading this one over all the others.

Lizzie became the OJ Simpson/Casey Anthony of her time when she was arrested and tried for the murder of her father and stepmother. The crime was a “locked door” mystery that has never been solved. There are many theories that have been espoused over the decades. This book covers the crimes and the trial and doesn’t speculate. Though the author does mention other theories that have sprung up and the whys and wherefores. She also includes evidence and sidebars that the jury never heard.

Of particular interest to me was how a pail of bloody cloth (presumably used menstrual rags), a small bloodstain on the underside of her skirt and other blood evidence was treated. Men couldn’t bring themselves to review that sort of evidence and, of course, it was an all male judge, jury and prosecutor (women could not serve on juries in Massachusetts until 1950. NINETEEN HUNDRED AND FIFTY!) so the horror of a woman’s monthly cycle was ignored and the blood was insinuated to be proof of her guilt of an axe murder. There was also some question of her mental state due to her monthly flow. There was a prevailing opinion that women were susceptible of insanity and violence during menses. Oy. Anyway, all that was interesting. Had I realized the great wealth of books on the subject, I might have had trouble choosing. I’m not entirely sure this one would have been my choice, either. But it is all well researched and thoughtfully laid out. I enjoyed it.

The jury made their decision and there were no appeals. So, did she or didn’t she? I’ll leave that to you to decide.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson – Powerful. This book is an important testimony to how deeply unfair and brutal criminal law and punishment can be. Stevenson is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and has devoted his life to helping the poor, young, mentally ill and wrongfully convicted navigate the cruel, racist and inhumane criminal justice system. At several points I was full on sobbing; wailing and grief-stricken for everyone involved in the cases laid out in this incredible book. I was particularly anguished at the execution of one inmate Herbert Richardson, and for who and what we are as a human race. Stevenson has gained every ounce of my respect. I am awed by his tireless commitment to his life’s work and will be the first to line up for the movie of his life. It can and should be made. What an inspiration.

An Anonymous Girl: A Novel by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen – This was much needed junk food after some intense reads. I rolled my eyes hard more than a few times reading this and yet didn’t stop thinking about it and was enjoying it all play out. I had read the first book by this pair, The Wife Between Us, and enjoyed their writing. Both books are classified as a mystery but, no, I totally disagree. They are character studies and there is some slight intrigue and psychological thriller-y aspects to both. But this one was just some good fast food before I dove back into some history and true crime.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson – I *should* love this book. It’s filled with history (the Chicago World’s Fair and the architects behind it) and murder (a serial killer preys on victims). Even though it’s the Chicago fair, I love reading about them since my borough of Queens has hosted two. I’ve even owned a beautifully framed Chicago World’s Fair poster for almost 25 years. But this book doesn’t do it for me. This was actually my 2nd time trying to read it. The first time I gave up before I was even 1/3 of the way through. This time I slogged through but it was, indeed, a slog. Way too much about the architectural plans and construction hiccups, longer than it needed to be and cuts to the juicy chase way too late in the book. Apparently Leo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese are teaming up to tell the story (A film or series? Not sure.) and I will give that a go because the subjects *do* interest me.

My Year of Rest & Relaxation: A Novel by Ottessa Moshfegh – This is a fictionalized account of a total twat. Amusing and well written. I was disappointed overall, mostly because there was no real growth for the main character. Okay, sure she was clinically depressed and self medicating and by the end of her year is no longer doing that. So, growth? But the author invoking 9/11? Nah. You lost me. I’d rather it be a memoir or some other non-fiction so at least there can be some growth or redemption or lesson. If Or, if it’s gonna be fiction, then something like “Fleabag” where the main character is an asshole but it pays off. I totally recommend Fleabag instead. A few times it felt like the book’s main point was to serve as a pop culture snapshot of what NYC was like in the early aughts and before 9/11. It could be that I’m too close to the source material and so any time a date was mentioned I recalled where I was and knew where we were headed. I’m really curious as to why this is such a hit. It *is* well written and the unabashed asshole-ish nature of the main character is fun at times, but I don’t get it.

A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation by David W. Blight Ph. D. – Part biography and part first-person narratives of two men, John Washington and Wallace Turnage, who escaped slavery to freedom in the years before and during the Civil War. The narratives by Washington and Turnage are rare and extraordinary. Turnage was cunning, daring and brave beyond measure and his account is more detailed on the numerous failed escape attempts that led to his eventual freedom. Washington’s was more intimate in recounting his deep loss and longing for love, home and family. I shook and sobbed at his recounting being separated from his mother who had been hired away. The night before, she came to his bed. “Her tears mingled with mine amid kisses and heart felt sorrow … I would rather die” than leave her. That trauma is what gave him the steely resolve to escape.

I bookmarked this line by Blight speculating on why these two men chose to write: “Perhaps they could never quite realize their tomorrow, until they had told the story of their yesterday.” <3

As someone who has written a memoir, that quote and this one by author Richard Rodriguez on reasons why former fugitive slaves turned to 1st-person narrative struck a chord. “Autobiography seems to me appropriate to anyone who has suffered some startling change, a two-life lifetime. To anyone who has been able to marvel at the sharp change in his life. ‘I was there once and now my god I am here. Was blind but now I see.'”
That is exactly why I had wanted to write my story so many years ago. Indeed I underwent a startling change and lived a two-life (or more) lifetime well before I was 30 and a few more since then.

A small complaint on the editing / layout choice of the book: Blight prefaces the narratives with each man’s life history and genealogical information which was a bit of a spoiler and takes away the power of their own words. I think I’d have rather read their personal accounts first and *then* had a summary or historical timeline as to what became of them and their families. Or maybe have the biographical notes mixed throughout. Their narratives seemed a little tacked on. Of course, due to the nature of the subject, the narratives still carry so much emotion and importance no matter where in the book they land.

Editing choices aside, this book should be studied in schools and is a treasure.


January 2019 Booklist
February 2019 Booklist
March 2019 Booklist
April 2019 Booklist
May 2019 Booklist